The witch excused herself to go to the bathroom.
Khadija’s eyes were round with fright as she explained: “The spirit, the jinn, he came, but he left because someone here was haram.”
“Me?” I asked. Haram means unclean, forbidden, and the list of things that qualify as haram, according to Islamic law, is longer than your arm. A Christian or, in my case, a nonbeliever is definitely unclean.
“No, me,” Khadija said, shamefaced. “After I had sex last night I didn’t wash or go to the baths.” That’s on the list, for men as well as women: clean up after the nasty. “So the jinn was very angry. He wouldn’t come in the room.”
I had wondered how the sehúra was going to wriggle out of the deal we had struck. For $100 she’d agreed to conjure a genie or jinn, a spirit I could see and talk to, dedicated to me and me alone, a sort of muse who would help me with my book during my yearlong stay in Morocco. I never believed Fatima could actually pull this off, but my enduring fascination with hustlers led me on. (I’d written about a pair of con women in my first book.) I was curious to see how a magic spell scam would play out.
“Kind of far-fetched for an excuse but pretty clever,” I conceded. “So can we leave now?” I wanted nothing more than bed and sleep. It had been a long night of waiting for this persnickety jinn to show up.
“It’s true! He came!”
I looked at her, surprised. “Come on, did you see him?”
“I was sleeping, and then I felt hands around my neck.” She demonstrated, clutching her throat. “I was so scared. I was choking, I couldn’t breathe. That’s why I woke up. Fatima said it was her husband who was angry at me.”
“Her jinn, you know.”
Oh, right. I forgot Fatima had married one. All these jinns were confusing me.
Khadija went on, “And he was mad at her too, because she asked him to find a jinn for you, and then when the jinn came, everything wasn’t correct.”
At that moment Fatima returned, tears running down her cheeks and over her tattooed chin. She pulled down her trousers to show us the red marks on her thighs, rows of stripes, as if someone had whopped her with a long stick. She wailed something in Arabic.
Khadija gasped. “Look! She says her husband beat her very bad. He punished her.”
Now I was the one who was angry. This was really pathetic, that this so-called witch would go into the bathroom and smack herself with a broom handle, just to furnish me with proof of her jinn’s fury. But I supposed that for Fatima, a few bruises were worth it for the money.
I paid Fatima and thanked her, saying I was sorry for what happened and it was okay that the spell didn’t work out; never mind, keep the change. I grabbed Khadija and headed for the car. But the witch followed us, gabbling energetically. She pressed a packet of herbs into Khadija’s hand.
Khadija thrust it in her purse. “We must burn these in my apartment when we get back. And she says don’t make love with any other man so you are not haram when the jinn comes. He will appear first in dreams and then he will come for you to talk to.”
I’d heard it all before. Seeing my disbelief, Fatima shook her finger at me. Khadija translated: “You will see him. He is tall and very handsome. You will be so happy in love, and he will bring you inspiration, and lots of money. You will come back to Khouribga and tell her about it!”
Uh-huh. You will meet a tall, dark handsome stranger. You’ll be rich. Now pay me, and come back for more of my bullshit. That’s how the gypsy scam goes.
By the time we got back to Casablanca at sunup, I’d developed a cold. I pitched myself onto the banquette, grabbing a pillow. Khadija made a beeline for the kitchen and set to work burning the herbs Fatima had given her. “Don’t bother,” I called. “Go to sleep.”
“But maybe it will work!”
“Just like the spell she did for you?” I pointed out her lover’s clothes on the floor where he dropped them for the maid to pick up. “I don’t see your boyfriend moving out.”
And he didn’t move out the next day, or the next day. In fact, he seemed more comfortable than ever. Meanwhile I prepared for my move to Marrakesh the following week. I was ready for a change of address. Being sick, I also slept a lot; the cold sapped my energy. I ate oranges and got better.
Then one night I dreamed I was standing in an aisle between rows of seats, waiting for some event to begin. I joked with friends, “This is like waiting for my bridegroom.” As soon as I’d uttered the words, I turned and saw a man in a light-colored suit heading away from us, walking to the head of the aisle. He glanced back, his eyes meeting mine.
He was breathtakingly beautiful. His dark hair was swept back from a brow that seemed to glow like a live star over the elegant sloping bones of his face. His pale skin was tinged with a warm lingering gold as if he’d spent half his life in the sun and then been shut away from the light for a long while. His lips were flushed and curled at the edges in an arcane smile. A pair of remarkable eyebrows arched like black wings over eyes that were cold, and refractive as though a layer of blue ice within had shivered.
He paused in front of an altar, where he waited for me. I moved toward him in a strange fog – no, it was a veil over my face. A bridal veil. I loved him; we were meant for each other.
I arrived at his side. The altar was now a mirror. He stepped behind me, turning me to face it. Looking at our reflection, I saw he was naked now. His arms wrapped around me, crossing protectively over the bodice of my wedding gown. Though I was tall, he was so much taller; my head didn’t even come up to his shoulder. His solemn face hovered over the top of my veil, the black eyebrows lifted in anticipation.
I let him turn me around; he raised my veil slowly. I faced his polished chest. I felt his hands at my back, lifting me up to his mouth to kiss me. His fingers dug into my ribs sharply. I arched against the pain, gazing up his steep chest, which rose like a column into the clouds where it disappeared …
And then I was awake, my lips still parted for the kiss. My eyes were closed but the light of dawn shone through my lids. I could hear Khadija’s daughter stirring under her blanket on the opposite banquette. A motorbike went by outside the window.
I felt a tongue slip between my lips and unfurl inside my mouth. A man was on top of me. I didn’t dare move. He was naked, immense and powerfully built, his weight impressed on my body.
I felt him lift his head, withdrawing from the kiss. I opened my eyes. I could see nothing but a man’s chest hovering over my vision. And now his head was at my ear, and a low male voice asked, in a polite formal tone, “Did you do anything else with anyone who was available?”
(To be continued.)