Determined to pull herself together, Hafida sighed and straightened her back. Now her inner one was telling her she should sell this big place and move back to Dar Chems or the great house in R'hamna, but what about Delphine? She loved her life in Paris where she was still an important personality, had many friends and family, invested heavily in the theatre and was a big art collector. Even now, years later, her films with Francesco were still being shown in theatres and on television.
As for dear Mokhtar... now that Radouan was gone she supposed he would want to go back to Marrakech where his wife and children were always waiting patiently to see him. Poor fellow, he was in such a state. A faithful shadow he had been these last few years always with Radouan. Now suddenly he was a ghost. As he grew older and death approached, Radouan couldn’t sleep unless Mokhtar was near him, sleeping at the foot of his bed, or more often than not, holding Radouan in his arms until he drifted off.
From the beginning, by making him his valet, she reflected, her husband had kept his passion for Mokhtar a big secret - as he should have - never spoke of it to her or anyone else. It was a life long affair between the two of them which began before she came on the scene. Finally, after they were really too old to be anything but dear friends, one day Radouan had told her the whole story.
She gazed down at him and laughed indulgently.
‘At least it kept you at home, achiki... you didn’t go out looking around like so many of your friends.’
She remembered with amusement how startled Radouan had been by that remark and thought how in some ways he was very naïve. For example: he had never suspected her relationship with Delphine!
Delphine was his white pigeon on the roof; a love-hate relationship and he’d been terrified of losing her and insanely jealous. He was the big cat and she was the bird in a golden cage, not a pigeon either, but a bird of Paradise. And because Francesco had such a hold over her, all the time promising her fame and fortune, Radouan had grown to hate him, had agents following them day and night and wanted to know everything she did. It wasn’t just that he hated Francesco for sleeping with her; he certainly knew Delphine had slept around before he met her. No, the problem was Radouan felt Francesco had betrayed him, broken his solemn oath, the bonds of their old friendship, their camaraderie, and that was unforgivable!
When her second film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, she remembered, Delphine became a really big star, and Radouan had gone quietly hemq, mad, and sometimes not so quietly either. Tried to conceal his feelings, but she would catch him grinding his teeth and knew he was fighting the desire to revenge himself on Delphine, have one of his tantrums and go over the top… passer ses nerfs sur quelqu’un! ‘Her words of the night are coated with butter,’ he had screamed one night referring to Delphine, ‘but as soon as the day shines on them they melt.’* Pop-up: (from the Thousand and One Nights).
He’d been certain she wanted to destroy his mind, so why, Hafida asked herself, why had he bought up all the original prints of her films, had digital copies made and watched them for hours on end, even traveled with them?
Because of her career, Delphine couldn’t live with him and yet he couldn’t live without her. She smiled to herself and stroked Radouan’s forehead.
‘And I sat on the sidelines having your babies, Khalili, but I was secretly applauding her.’
Thinking of those times now so remote, she shook her head and frowned. It was just after Delphine began her third film that Francesco had been murdered by three young toughs in a part of Rome famous for that sort of thing; they had strangled him with his own scarf and stolen his car. There had been a witness in another car, but he was too afraid to get out and stop them. One of the boys was caught, claimed he wasn’t involved and didn’t know who the others were. He was jailed for awhile but was soon let out. Francesco dead! He was so brilliant, so alive! Hafida remembered how shocked she had been and that no one else was - although they were surprised he would have been so stupid as to frequent such a notorious area.
Radouan had pretended to be furious, but underneath she was sure he felt Francesco got what was coming to him. ‘He who eats honey must be prepared for the sting of bees,’ he would say solemnly when anyone mentioned it.
She remembered they had been in Marrakech at the time, out at Dar Chems. One of those wonderful summer nights, with music, wine, and dancing, and they had gone to bed. Then just before dawn the phone rang and she remembered Radouan muttering in Arabic from the Holy Qur’an:
‘I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak from the misbehavior of his creations; from the baleful night when she spreads her darkness; from the malevolence of witches; from the vindictiveness of the envier, when he envies… At this hour it’s always bad news!’
Then he sighed and mumbled hallo and it was Delphine. Yes, Delphine, and she was hysterical; kept screaming that she knew he was behind it. Insisted he find the other two boys... that she knew he could.
Radouan had held out the phone to her so Hafida could hear and Delphine had screamed and screamed ‘...cochon fils de cochon fils de pute... salopard... salope... sable negre... LE DIEU TE MAUDIT!” Then silence and Radouan hung up. ‘Sounding like one of her films’, he mumbled and immediately fell asleep.
Minutes later the phone rang again and it was Toni demanding that he be in Rome the following afternoon. It was absolutely imperative for him to be there; for his reputation, ‘to keep Delphine from spreading things against you, stupid; to support her and take care of the funeral arrangements!’ Radouan objected that the funeral arrangements were a matter for Francesco’s family, said he didn’t even know how Christians did these things; but sure, he would be there and would arrange a memorial gathering to pay tribute to Francesco.
Hafida opened her eyes, bent over and kissed Radouan’s forehead.
‘It was at that moment you chose to tell me you were married to Delphine, habibi… Why? I still can’t believe it! I thought it very cruel of you... TERRIBLE! Or was it just thoughtlessness?’
She remembered how upset she had been; and worried that she might have a miscarriage. She was eight months pregnant with Othman, who would be born on her twenty-first birthday. So she refused to accompany Radouan to Rome, went out to R’hamna where the new house had finally been finished and she could find peace of mind and be well looked after by Radouan’s mother and her women.
But it was worse for Delphine who had been inconsolable, mohbata, mentally demolished and frustrated by Francesco’s death. Demolished, because he was very eccentrique, aux goutts speciaux, you might say and because she was mad for him and terribly frustrated because she wanted to finish the picture they'd been working on. But no one knew what the ending was supposed to be and no other director would touch it because how could they finish the work of a great genius like Francesco Monte? Impossible! And even though Radouan had offered to finance the completion and distribution of the film, the project had finally been dropped. Nowadays, Hafida reflected, the film was considered so important the unfinished version was being shown and there had been proposals for various endings.
After the funeral and the tribute to Francesco which had been broadcast live on Italian TV, somehow Radouan had persuaded Delphine to return with him to R’hamna! ‘Only God knows what he’s up too now,’ Hafida remembered saying to herself at the time. Maybe he thought quiet village life and a family atmosphere would calm Delphine down. Even so, she recalled, at the time she had thought it a very strange thing for him to have done, especially as he knew very well how upset she was - not because he was married to Delphine, but that they had deceived her for so many years.
Mach Allah. His actions were to have consequences beyond anything he could have imagined. Though of course she and Delphine had been friends for several years, now their relationship would change. Delphine arrived with him in October of 2003 and the days passed. Hafida remembered how Delphine used to come into her sitting room and she would teach her Moroccan card games like Ronda and Tijari. Sometimes Mokhtar and Radouan would join them. Delphine had just celebrated her twenty-ninth birthday and said she felt like an old woman. Often she would stand naked in Hafida's mirrored dressing room examining her body for blemishes or wrinkles... staring at her self and weeping. Slowly, however, the quiet life at R’hamna seemed to have a good effect on her and she began to forget her film star image - or outgrow it. Something of an accomplishment Hafida thought, for although it was obvious Delphine had been captivated by her own media image, she had managed to exorcise this malefic djinn.
So Delphine had been there at her bedside when Othman was born - their second boy! Radouan had been very pleased and for Delphine it had been like a sudden clap of thunder, a raad, une coup de tonnerre, which grounded her and brought her back into the real world. Three months later Delphine confessed she was pregnant with Radouan’s child, and that they had been married for years.
Then something very unusual occurred. Several months after Delphine’s first son was born, having been casual friends for years, they had decided to spend the day in a luxurious new health spa near Asni and were alone in their own private hamam. By then, Hafida had lost over thirty kilos. Delphine told her she looked voluptuous and kissed her breasts and she had replied that she was fit because of all the hard work she had been doing taking care of her ever growing family. Without another word Delphine began exploring her secret parts and they had made love.
Even after so many years had passed, Hafida reflected, shyness still prevented her from thinking too much about their passions; what they had done and had continued to do over the years whenever they could. It had always been a separate compartment in her life, a ritual space, which she would enter and lose her self completely with Delphine. When they made love it was like they were two houris flying through space in each other’s arms at a terrific speed.
Hafida was sure Radouan had never known. At first, she remembered, she thought Delphine had seduced her to get even with Radouan over Francesco’s death. But later when Delphine had sworn to keep their relationship secret, she began to trust her and their passion had grown and mellowed.
She gazed down at Radouan.
‘You were right, khalili, on our wedding night, when you said I’d had sex before we were married... yes, I had, but not with men - and so had Delphine so it was nothing new for either of us.’
She and Delphine, how hard they had tried to include Toni in everything, but their efforts had proven useless. What an amazing woman their co-wife had been, so generous, self-confident and with an optimism that was contagious. However the way she distanced herself from you with certain gestures and her brittle laughter made you realize she was a like a castle surrounded by a moat of despair; the drawbridge had always been up and only Radouan and Pero had managed to get across and break through the gate. She stared down at him affectionately, he was like that, her darling husband, like an errant knight, a chevalier and that’s what life had been between Toni and him: a constant battle!
But despite his rebelliousness from the beginning he had been willing to learn from Toni. Yes, because she had come from another world, made his world larger, given up her country and her way of life and finally married him. And it was she who saved him taught him to think ahead and plan.’
‘In many ways, habibi, you were a person who could see far into the future... a crazy seer, that’s what Toni knew, and it was also your biggest problem. Many times you were so far into the future, you were unable to deal with the present... Making plans for the day or by the week, the month or year bored you... you hated it and were impulsive because you knew you had the Baraka and were protected. For years you floated on the moments as they passed, Carpe Diem as they say in Latin, Seize the Day, yes... by acting on instinct like those gallant wind surfers at Sidi Kouki, always optimistic that the next wave...’
‘Well, that’s why last night was so terrible, wasn’t it, my husband -because it was so strange... as though your Baraka had suddenly deserted you. Or perhaps it was the angel Jibril, seeing that in your old age you were having problems dancing with your granddaughter, decided he would take you straight away to Paradise where you could dance forever...’
‘Right now my Khalili, I pray that’s where you are... dancing in the gardens of Paradise. In my life I have seen many dancers, habibi, but none like you. How can I forget the first time I saw you dance, there in the courtyard of your grandmother’s house the night of our wedding before you came up to me... I couldn’t believe you were human.’
Hafida dabbed at her eyes that were filled with tears again.
‘Now please habibi, just look at us survivors... Delphine, Mokhtar, and me... like pieces of old wrecked furniture washed up here on the banks of the Seine. Look how I’m holding back my tears, my darling... I’m not sure I like surviving... it’s too painful, too triste... poor Mokhtar, I’m worried now he’s going to go hemq... What does he have of you khalili, nothing? At least Delphine and I, we have your children, your flesh and blood... but Mokhtar?’
She stroked Radouan’s forehead and whispered,
‘Achiki, just now I swear I saw you standing over there in the doorway smiling at me and talking with Toni and Prospero smiling as if all my concerns and grief were ridiculous… If your ghost is here in Paris won’t it be lonely without us...? How will it get to Dar Chems? The mausoleum the Baroness built is there, it has a place waiting for you already inscribed with your name. Youssef is there and Nicholas, Toni and Prospero... There is room in the mausoleum for Delphine and Fouzia and me too...also Mokhtar if he wants to be there... about twenty five places I believe.’
‘But you told us many times, you were supposed to be buried at R’hamna, that you had promised your father, and made Adam swear he would be buried there beside you... all your ancestors there. So what do we do? It’s a problem... I want to be with you in death as I was in life, my husband, and I’m sure Delphine does too... and Fouzia, what about her? Certainly she will want to be with Prospero - so many problems…And what about Chaiir el Hamra’s house where you first kept our dear orphan when you rescued him? You wanted to make it a library for your poetry collection, a place of reading and meditation but never got round to it. I will give it to Mokhtar... I’m sure he will see that your wishes are carried out.’
Hafida sighed. In a few hours they would have to take Radouan away to wherever he was going to be buried. Something had to be decided very soon. Adam would not want him interred in the Mausoleum at Dar Chems because he found the origin of his father’s fortune an embarrassment and would insist that Radouan be buried at R’hamna. But what of Radouan’s promise to be beside the Baroness in death?
To outlast time, to be remembered in the future, to join the ranks of the immortals, The Baroness would certainly need Radouan’s help. There were many who considered him a Sufi Saint; Sidi Radouan-Jannat they called him and thought he was a great Maji who could rain down money on them. For sure, they would come and start worshipping him wherever he was buried; make a shrine and start a Zouwia. Beside him the Baroness would also achieve immortality.
As the first rays of the rising sun glanced off the glass domed ceiling of the ballroom she raised her eyes.
‘Ah see, habibi, the dawn is here... God protect us from the mischief of this day...from the photographers and journalists! What will I say to them about your accomplishments, my darling... the ones you would like to be remembered for rather than your misdeeds?
‘Foundation As-Sabil of course… how to summarize everything it did?
In Marrakech and other Moroccan cities it assisted with funds for sewage, waste disposal, and pollution control; then Radouan began thinking of village life and that R’hamna could be a model for improving villages throughout the country. Small was beautiful had become his philosophy. ‘Footpaths were better than super highways,’ she remembered him saying, ‘the more you used a footpath the easier it was to travel on. The more you used a super highway the more expensive it became to maintain.’ The first experiment, to improve his ancestral village without changing it that much, had been a qualified success. They had learned a lot but more had yet to be done. So many Moroccan towns and villages were older than those of France. Why not pay more attention to them?
So, As-Sabil had given R’hamna and a few other villages the money to increase their power supplies and improve their water and sewage systems. It had also paved the village lanes with real paving stones, improved communication systems and made sure there were schools with computers, first class teachers, and well stocked libraries; as well as up to date clinics and hospitals with qualified staffs.
She recalled how difficult all this had been, how fierce the opposition from Moroccan notables, landlords and politicians who thought of the local countrymen and women as slaves. Somehow Radouan had managed to charm, cajole and bribe these powerful people to do the right thing. And slowly, as villagers received the tools to reach out and become well informed, they felt less isolated, more creative, stopped being fatalistic, and were able take control of their lives. As-Sabil made low interest loans for various projects and small businesses. Cottage industries grew up and became profitable. Information Technology Outsourcing became a gold mine. Because of improved water and power systems people planted more orchards and raised more food.
Outside the villages, however, the land was still barren, exhausted by centuries of grazing, mono cropping and the cutting of trees and shrubs for fuel. As-Sabil imported thousands of meters of fencing and subsidized the slow, often painful, process of returning the land to fertility. As productivity increased, and since organic farming was labor intensive, many poor from the large cities returned to their native places drawn by the improved quality of life and its possibilities.
All these projects, originated by As-Sabil, were now facts of life. Strange, Hafida thought to herself, although the Baroness’ father had thwarted her marriage to her Fassi lover because he did not want his fortune to pass into the hands of a Moor, yet it was God’s will and was fated to happen through the attraction between the Baroness and Radouan. ‘Morocco sheltered the Baron from the Nazis during the Second World War,’ Prospero always said, ‘now God was repaying the country for this act of kindness through As-Sabil.
‘Praise belongs to Allah the Lord of All Being,’ Hafida whispered, ‘the All Merciful, All Compassionate, the Master of the Day of Doom.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006