(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
I was shivering violently. The atmosphere in my hotel room was thick with malevolence; it was like inhaling pure venom. The force nailed me to the mattress and blew up my thoughts, replacing them with pure panic. Anyone glancing in the window would have seen nothing. My antagonist was invisible and pervasive. But so is wind. Suddenly evil seemed as natural to the world as weather. And it waited for me to do something.
“Why don’t they just get the fuck out of there?!” There always comes that moment in a haunted house movie when the viewer mutters that question. No doubt the actors wanted to know, too, when they read the script: “What’s my motivation for staying?” To which the director replies, “It’s a movie.”
This was not a movie. Not a dream either. Why didn’t I make an effort, break through the paralysis, rocket out of bed and flee the room? Human beings were out there. I had no room phone, and the front desk was closed, but there had to be a night clerk I could rouse, or someone out on the street. So what if I was naked? And what would I tell these people? What were asylums like in Morocco?
A tiny point of intuition pricked through the storm in my head. It said that if I made any move, the unseen force would invade me; I would irreversibly forfeit my body and self to an outside entity. I think I am talking about demonic possession here. The stuff of cheesy Catholic fright-night flicks; you could sneer in the West, but here in Morocco, who knew what was possible? I had nothing to fall back on but instinct. Its voice was plain: don’t budge or make a sound.
So I held myself rigid with resistance, fighting the evil at my borders; and I marked the slow beat of time until daybreak, when the room would fill with light.
No one in the world who cared about me knew I was here, except Khadija, who was long gone, back in Casablanca by now. I prayed to God to protect me. I prayed to my grandfather, too. But I knew I had removed my protection, all on my own. I had invoked strange spirits in a strange country by black magic, without having any handle on the rules. I didn’t believe in the Devil, except as archetype. But this thing in the room existed, in the now, living and real. From here on I would believe in demons.
At that moment I heard a loud thumping.
It was the muezzin, somewhere in a mosque minaret, tapping his microphone. Testing, testing. And then his amplified voice lifted and soared over the neighborhood, issuing the call to prayer. What a sweet song that was to my ears. The horrifying presence in my room ebbed; filtering back to the underworld, it vanished.
The daylight arrived. I checked out of the hotel and hauled my suitcase to my new apartment. The electricity was on. Telephone service was too expensive; without a phone, I had to walk to the local Hertz office to speak with the manager, one of Khadija’s distant cousins who spoke English.
I asked him to recommend someone to teach me Arabic. My new housekeeper, Naíma, was arriving today by train from Khouribga with her mother, and neither one of them spoke French or English. He said he would ask around. Then I begged him to teach me a few phrases on the spot, because I needed them right away.
Witch and witch’s daughter arrived on schedule. I nearly knocked Fatima over, flinging my arms around her. Of all the people in the world I wanted to see today, she was the one. Naíma’s eyes shone with excitement; it was her first trip to Marrakesh, and the first time in her life she’d be off her mother’s leash. She held out her hand and spoke timidly. I already knew those three words in Arabic pretty well: “Give me money.”
While Naíma went off to the souk to buy food for dinner, Fatima and I sat in my living room, which was bare except for the two mattresses I’d bought to serve as couches. The sehúra whipped out her cards to read for me. I whipped out mine. This was how we communicated.
Fatima dealt a few cards and tapped one depicting a man. “Jinn!” She mimed: “He’s coming! You smile! Very happy!”
I slapped down one of my cards: Le Diable. “Bad,” I said in my few words of recently memorized Arabic, “No more jinn. Please! Jinn goes away.”
She looked taken aback.
I laid some cash on the devil card. That she understood. She stuck the bills in her bodice. “Wakha,” she said. Okay.
Please, I prayed, make him – make it all – go away.
(To be continued.)