(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
I woke every morning at dawn to the sounds of mopeds, cartwheels rolling and donkeys braying as their owners, the tangerine farmers, thrashed them through narrow streets to the market. Household maids with trays of rounded dough on their heads hurried to the communal oven so there would be freshly baked loaves for their employers’ breakfasts. Then came the mint-sellers’ cries as they trundled their wheelbarrows full of the fragrant herb that, later in the morning, would infuse the hundreds of thousands of glasses of mint tea downed by thousands of Casablanca inhabitants throughout the day.
After breakfast, matrons emerged on the streets, heading for their married daughters’ houses for a morning of serious interfering. Their short veils, edged in lace, were tied under their noses to cover their mouths; they wore long djellabas over their clothes: gray and beige were in favor because this was a big city where the women considered themselves, relative to the rest of Morocco, sophisticated. Their daughters were so modern that they never wore djellabas at all or never spoke Arabic; they insisted on quarreling with their mothers in French.
A local tailor was making me a pink djellaba, which I would wear for the rest of the year. Not that I would ever blend in.
Wrapped in a blanket, listening to the street noise, I lay on some banquette cushions in Khadija’s living room. On the other banquette, her 15-year-old daughter slept on. I met Khadija through her cousin Ali, who worked in the local Citibank. I met Ali through my elder brother who was stationed in the Athens branch of Citibank. The Ali-Khadija connection tied me into a respected and very numerous family that extended into every major city in Morocco. Thus, wherever I went I had contacts.
My intention was to hole up in Marrakesh until the summer heat from the desert grew impossible, then move north to somewhere I hadn’t decided on. Khadija was going to drive me to Marrakesh and help me find an apartment. But her boss wouldn’t give her a week off until next month, so I was stuck in Casa for all of January.
I folded my blanket and rearranged the banquette. Khadija came in from her bedroom, the only other room in her small apartment, closing the door quietly so as not to wake her boyfriend. Khadija’s daughter, awake now, got on all fours to brush the carpet. Her mother lit her first cigarette of the day while waiting for the part-time maid to finish pummeling the laundry in the bathtub and bring in our breakfast. The new Bob Dylan cassette tape I brought her from America bawled from the hi-fi.
Khadija wasn’t used to having her daughter around. Her ex-husband got custody of their little girl after the divorce. Khadija had been sixteen when she married him. They divorced shortly after the baby was born but remained on amicable terms. Released from child-rearing, Khadija went back to school, learned English, and now had a good job working for a wealthy businessman related to the royal family.
As far as her own family was concerned, Khadija had done her social duty by getting married and producing at least one child, so they tolerated her increasingly modern behavior as she enjoyed the independence that only a divorced woman was permitted. They even accepted her live-in boyfriend, largely because he played on the Moroccan soccer team and was therefore tantamount to a prince.
Khadija’s neighbor Asía joined us for breakfast. Her husband had gone to work; she left her kids with her maid. Asía envied Khadija a lot; she would’ve given anything to be divorced. She too had been married at sixteen. Her brother picked out one of his friends to be her husband, extolling his virtues: “He’s well-mannered, hard-working, makes a good salary, doesn’t smoke or drink or chase women or boys. You are very lucky.”
Asía protested, “You mean he doesn’t know how to have fun!” Twelve years and three children later, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She never let him touch her, told him she didn’t love him, but still he wouldn’t consent to a divorce. His attitude was: why should he go through all the trouble and expense of getting another wife, when his life was just the way it should be, and the way things usually were, in Morocco? That is, not so good and not so bad.
Asía was quite downhearted. To make things worse, her affair with Khadija’s ex-husband wasn’t going very well.
Khadija didn’t love her boyfriend anymore either. He seldom made love to her, stayed out late, filled her living room with his rowdy teammates without asking her permission or paying for the food they expected; and, like them, he was stupid. He had “shit for brains.” She loved this American expression I taught her. But the one that really had her rolling on the carpet was “Needledick the Bugfucker,” so she called him that as well as “shit for brains” to his face, howling with laughter because he didn’t understand English.
Khadija told the soccer hero a hundred times: it’s over. He was unimpressed. His attitude was: why should he move out of her apartment where he lived rent-free and the maid washed his clothes?
Both Khadija and Asía wanted me to read their cards. They’d asked me to read for them every morning since I arrived. By now I was bored with it, and I couldn’t believe they weren’t bored, too, because their future didn’t change much from day to day. But that was exactly their frustration: they wanted their lives to change.
Waiting for a miracle wasn’t practical. As I mentioned, these were modern, sophisticated women. So they told me their plan. Khadija would borrow a car from her boss and take the day off on some pretext. Asía would lie to her husband about where she’d be all day. Then they would drive to Khouribga, a mining town about two hours from Casa.
What’s in Khouribga? I asked.
Khadija put her index finger to her lips, the universal gesture for strict secrecy. She told me they were going to see a “sehúra” – a witch.
Did I want to come?
(To be continued.)
- I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.