(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
The road to Khouribga was impossibly rutted. Khadija drove like a demon, her high-heeled French boot gluing the pedal to the floor; every time we hit a pothole my head bumped the ceiling of the Fiat. The only good roads in Morocco were in the areas where the King had palaces.
Asía rode up front beside Khadija; the two rattled on in Arabic, in a vitriolic tone; I assumed they were discussing the myriad ways in which they going to fuck over their men, with the help of this witch. The sehúra we were about to see had a reputation for efficient spells.
Meanwhile I sat in the backseat congratulating myself on my good fortune. I had my notebook ready: what a story! I’d managed to instill enough trust in these women that they were willing to bring me along on their mission; and I would get a rare glimpse into the secretive underworld of sorcery, which was highly illegal. Even fortunetelling was banned.
Though Moroccan Arabs and Berbers were committed Muslims, the animism that had filtered up from Africa long ago was inextricably entwined with their spiritual culture. Superstition, magic, and a thriving population of spirits jostled up against the seven pillars of Islam.
Basically the King had outlawed witchcraft to stop people from poisoning each other. The sehúrs were providing lethal substances folks could easily mix into their enemies’ food. I hoped that my two friends weren’t planning to go that far.
A hundred kilometers later we arrived at the cinderblock hovel where the sorceress lived. She was out visiting a client. We waited inside for her return. Obviously magic didn’t provide her with a lot of income: the rooms were cramped, furnishings humble, with the notable exception of a new TV and refrigerator, a European toilet, porcelain figurines of German shepherdesses, and a truly weird cuckoo clock that ejected a raucous wooden bird every fifteen minutes. These were all gifts from her brother, who lived in a better part of town and picked up presents for his sister when he traveled abroad on business.
The witch returned. Taking off her djellaba, she stripped to the short drawstring trousers that Berber women wore under everything, and sat crosslegged on the opposite banquette, feet tucked under her capacious bottom: a dumpy Buddha-like figure with traditional tattoos on her forehead and chin. Her gold teeth vigorously exercised a wad of bubble gum. Dangling from a chain around her ample neck was a gold hand of Fatima (the prophet’s daughter), a common Muslim talisman; two more hung from her ears. A lot of Moroccans didn’t use banks; they immediately converted their money into gold jewelry, wearing their savings accounts, so to speak.
The sehúra’s name was Fatima, too. Eyeing me suspiciously, she asked Khadija in Arabic what the hell she was doing, bringing along a “nasrani” (Christian). Khadija assured her that, not only could I keep a secret, but I was also a cardreader. She turned to me then with a big gold-flecked smile. So I was a fellow outlaw! To welcome me, she offered to read my cards for free.
Khadija translated patiently as Fatima did a couple of spreads, using a deck that seemed a cross between the Tarot and ordinary playing cards. “She says, there is a man coming into your life. Much love is there. You will have a lot of money soon.”
Later that year, when I had acquired a small Arabic vocabulary, and after I’d been to many more fortunetellers, I found that most readings boiled down to: “Man coming. Lots of money.” Or sometimes “Bad man coming. Takes your money.” It seemed that love and money were all their clients were interested in. I wasn’t there for either one. I only wanted a story, and so far Fatima was a very good one. Where it was going, I had no idea, but somehow it was going to enrich my writing, or at least make for some colorful dinner conversation when I got back to the U.S.
Fatima turned to Khadija next. “What is it you want?” Khadija explained her dire boyfriend situation.
Nodding, Fatima replied at length. I understood nothing; Fatima spoke neither French nor English. Khadija handed the witch a crumpled handkerchief from her purse, along with some money in payment.
Fatima asked Asía what she wanted. While Asía took her turn, Khadija filled me in: the sehúra had agreed to make Khadija a potion to be liberally applied to the insides of her boyfriend’s clothing and shoes. Once his skin came in contact with the potion, he would experience an overwhelming repulsion for her apartment. He would pack up and leave without delay. But Khadija should take care that no one else put on his clothes by accident, or that person would never come to her house again.
In order to concoct the potion, the witch required something from the boyfriend’s body, like hair, saliva: a sort of DNA sample. Khadija was prepared: she had brought a cloth she’d used to wipe off his semen after they made love the night before.
I looked up from our conversation to see Fatima was shaking her finger sternly in Asía’s face and talking animatedly. Khadija said the sehúra refused to do a spell for Asía; that if Asía’s husband gave her a divorce, she would lose everything: home, kids, security, and a man who in spite of everything loved her. The sad truth was, Asía’s life would never get any better than it was now.
Inwardly I had zero belief that Fatima’s magic spells actually worked, but I was impressed with the woman’s honesty, that she wouldn’t take the easy money and just give Asía what she wanted. And while I was thinking that, Fatima suddenly turned to me with an unexpected question.
“She’s asking you,” Khadijah said, “What do you want?”
(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.