The Alleys of Marrakesh

PETER MAYNE is an Englishman, now in his thirty-fifth year, who has been living in Morocco and who has taken up an antique life where time does not exist. in the alleys of Marrakesh. Because he wanted to write, he stopped trying to be a businessman. He was in Kashmir when the British moved out, and the Pakistanis, whom he had come to admire, invited him to serve them in their newly set up government. For two years he worked without stint in the Ministry of Refugees and Rehabilitation. Then, as the tension eased off, he decided that he would retire to another portion of the Muslim world and invite his thoughts. This is what happened.

by PETER MAYNE

7

DERB ESH-SHEMS — the alley of the sun — is not a very smart address, but I wanted my own front door. Without it I felt I did not belong in this city, and I have need of even synthetic roots. The house has no water, though it seems to have electricity. I fetch the water every morning in two buckets and do my best to make this quantity last for twenty-four hours. The public waterpoint is in a main road that runs at right angles to our alley. The pump is generally surrounded by neighbors’ womenfolk, Berbers mostly, wives and daughters.

It is good water, this municipal supply, and drinkable. Fetching it takes about fifteen minutes, if you allow for waiting at the pump for your turn and for the actual return journey, with something in hand for the lengthy exchange of greetings when you meet neighbors on the way. Being new, and the only European hereabouts, everyone is interested in me. I have a great many neighbors, all of them with time on their bands and many who are still ignorant of who I am and why I have come to stay in their street. They don’t like to ask direct questions all at once, so it takes time.

I was a little dismayed when I first saw the house. Idrees, the simar or real-estate agent, who likes to please if he can, had not described it very accurately, and I risked taking it without first having a look. But now that I am in it I like it very much. I begin to feel that I have a stake in the city. I like my front door. The key is gigantic, incidentally — far too big to go into my pocket, and this in itself has produced a mild embarrassment. It seems that to carry a key in the hand — as I must, for where else can I put it? — indicates that I am searching for someone to carry home to bed with me. “I have a room and this is the key to it! the situation proclaims.

I have no furniture yet, except a mattress and bedding, two buckets, and sufficient in the way of kitchen things to cook my food. A suitcase has to serve me as bedside table. I have a room with undulating dès floors, white-plastered walls and ceiling, and a window in the front overlooking the alley. Dès, by the way, is an alabasterlike surface made with quicklime and something, and pounded hard us stone. It has a wonderful creamy patina and when it cracks (which it does as a rule quite soon) it becomes veined as it it were a real alabaster or marble. There is a very small landing open to the sky outside my room, and this serves as a kitchen, being provided with a plaster skirt over the place for the brazier. The plaster skirt keeps the rain out of the pot and also draws the smoke and cooking-smells up through a chimney to the hca vens.

Stairs lead down to the entrance vestibule, and under the staircase is a lavatory of a very rudimentary nature. It is no more than a little hole in the ground with a brick on each side chipped into the shape of feet. I am already quite accustomed to it. As a matter of fact I have to back into it, my head bowed to avoid the undersides of the staircase. Underneath my room is a tiny shop which belongs to a charcoal seller. Quite convenient, I think.

Living in this house is very much like camping, but a good deal more pleasant because it is warm and dry (except in the kitchen) and there are no ants. There are also no mice, as a result of my assaults on them during the past few nights. I have blocked their holes, too.

It is a poor quarter, certainly, but it does not smell at all; or, it it smells, it smells much as I do and so I don’t notice it — like everyone eating garlic and enjoying it. The only really serious problem that has presented itself is how to use my typewriter. Lying back on my mattress with a fat pillow to support my shoulders, I can manage to write in longhand. But typing remains awkward. I have tried using the suitcase as a typing table, but this does not solve the problem of where to dispose my legs. Stretched out on either side of the machine they protest, and ache. A proper chair and table are more or less out of the question in a room so low. The proportions of the room are designed, of course, for living on the floor and for feeding off a table of about footstool height (the suitcase again); moreover, the floors in this city are seldom true enough to carry a four-legged table securely. This is certainly why Moorish tables are so often threelegged. Three legs find their own balance, four don’t, and wedges of paper arc at best a miserable palliative. Apart from these little inconveniences I am very content, and I shall learn to cook.

8

I STILL come each morning to the Café de France for a bit. My way now leads me across the Djema’a el-Fna with the sun in my eyes. I reach it by way of a side entry, so that this is not the formal approach with its public gardens and post, office and the Banque d’État du Maroc. I come in past the handcarts and what will later in the day be transformed into a secondhand clothes market. But in the morning as I pass by on my way the handcart men arc squatting between the shafts of their char cites drinking tea, because they have not long been awake. Some of them are still asleep, curled up on their charette platforms. There is quite a crowd round them, but they are not customers. They are waiting their turn at the public washhouse behind. These arc obviously people with no established homes of their own in the city: in from the bled — which is the word for countryside — stopping in fondouks and doss houses where washing arrangements are inadequate. Later there will be another kind of crowd here, grouped around men who make a living with a species of three-card trick.

Beyond the handcart men and the washhouses stretches the Djema’a el-Fna. It is the quietest moment of its whole day. At this hour the only attractions as a rule are snake charmers (who need sun for their performance), one or two storytellers, and singers in the Egyptian style.

Two days ago, as I sat in the Café de France, I became aware that someone was making a “ssss . . . ssss from the roadway. I looked up from my scribbling. I had no reason to suppose the signal was intended for me, but it was such an urgent, unignornbio noise that I looked up automatically. Everyone else in the café was looking for the source el the noise loo. The source was Moulay Abdullah: he is my landlord at Dcrbesh-Shcms No. 4, and rather a nice little person as far as I can judge from a single meeting. I waved to him and he came over to join me at my table, all smiles and good humor. I don’t think he wanted anything in particular.

“Lā bās?” he inquired of me— “No harm?” — and I answered in the proper way. When we had completed the full exchange I suggested that I order him a coffee and he said no, that he was just passing by and saw me; and then he started on his inquiries after my health again, with me responding again as well as I could. Then he left me with a handshake and a courteous bow.

“Ti connais Moulay ‘Abdullah?” The garçon was standing beside me.

“Mais oui! He is my landlord.”

“Ah! You have rented a bireau?”

“Bureau?“

‘Yes. Bīreau. You have rented it?”

I didn’t quite follow. We were speaking in French and I understood perfectly what he was saying, but not what he meant.

“Where you write,” he explained.

“But I write here. Don’t you see me writing every day?”

“Oui, mats. ... If people want you to write things, you must have a bīreau where they come and you write for them. No one comes here for you to write for them. I was thinking that Moulay ‘Abdullah had come for a letter. I was saying in my head. ‘He commences to succeed!‘”

“But I am writing a book,”

“A book?" He looked earnestly at me and waggled his head.

“Yes. A book. A roman — a novel. It is a book about ... I didn’t know how to explain what a novel is. “It is like the stories they tell on the Djema’a el-Fna, but not quite like. My book is about things that come out of my head, not things that my father has told me. I am inventing my story.”

“Ah,” he said. “Je comp rends,” and he looked over my shoulder at my notebook, shaking his head sadly. ”I cannot read that. Will you please tell me the story?”

I said, “It is really a very silly story. Let us forget about it.” I shut the notebook.

“Long and silly,”he said. “Will you please give me a cigarette?”

I gave him one. He smiled and went off.

The conversation with the garçon-de-café was two days ago, but since then I get the impression that Moulay ‘Abdullah’s public display of friendship and the now known fact that I have rented a little house from him have broken the ice, and that the “regulars” at the café are thawing. They cannot yet quite place me, perhaps, but my association with the Moulay — who by virtue of being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed is regarded as a superior person — helps enormously. I have already had indications of the change. Before luncheon, for example, one of the old regulars threaded his way between the tables to mine and sat himself down beside me. He held out his hand. I took it and looked inquiringly at him. He was behaving exactly as if we had known each other for years.

“Write, please,” he said in Arabic, bringing a checkbook out of his pocket and laying it on the table. I was a little surprised but I filled in a check form to his dictation. He watched me writing, then grabbed the check form and pen, and signed in very wiggly Arabic script. Smiling happily but with no more than a suggestion of thanks, he got up and went back to his friends. I saw him showing them his check. After he had gone a man near-by in denims leaned over and said in French, “That man is very, very notable. You know him i He is . . .” and he said a name I neither recognized nor now remember.

Can it be that I have arrived?

9

A MONGST my neighbors in the derb is a middleaged Berber woman who tells me that she was at one time servant to a French bachelor. This explains her speaking French with such remarkable fluency. She is known as ‘Aysha, though she says this is not her real name, and she is the one who told me about the significance of a big key swinging on one’s finger. She is often at her door — just over the way from mine—and is much liked in the qu artier. She has been helpful to me as a newcomer, telling me where to buy this and that, what 1o pay, offering her services if I am in trouble or need of them. She has also warned me very emphatically against the charcoal seller whose shop is under my room. “False weights,” she says darkly. But in this matter it is already clear that she has quest ionable motives. She wants me to transfer my custom to another charcoal seller, who has a shop at the end of the derb. I have said I will, but I don’t think I will, for ‘Abdeslem (the first-named charcoal seller) seems perfectly honest to me and has been able to explain ‘Aysha’s real purpose. This he has done in a mixture of Arabic and French. He has also told me a good deal about ‘Aysha herself.

According to ‘Abdeslem, ‘Aysha re-entered and subsequently retired from a whorehouse after she left the French bachelor. She had put by a competence and is now able to live contentedly and alone, and to choose her partners instead of having to take what comes. She has presented the world at large with two children, possibly even three, though there is doubt about the third. Of the two known children, one is a boy and the other a girl. Both are now old enough to be on their own. The boy is said to be handsome, but the girl is not, and though ‘Aysha’s influence has secured her a post al her old “house” in the guar tier réservé, people say (hat she is not allowed to do more than swab down the floors. Anyway, whatever the situation, her children visit her from time to time with little contributions of food or money.

Even now that ‘Aysha’s professional life is behind her, she helps to supply a warm, bosomy sense of womanhood to life in our derb. There are plenty of other women, of course, but they all seem to be other people’s wives or marriageable daughters and so on, and they hurry past with their hāiks pulled over their faces so that they amount to not much more than an untidy reminder that they exist if only they were attainable.

’Aysha pesters no one: she pays — or is paid — a I market rates as ‘Abdeslem admits, and it seems that she has developed a powerful feeling for this handsome young man. He is rather handsome in the manner here appreciated: square and bold-looking, with features somewhat negroid though of the color of burlap sacking. He has large teeth, two of them gold, the rest a brilliant white, and a very friendly smile which reveals them all. ‘Aysha has probably been very pretty herself: she has a round face, bright eyes with a mark tattooed between them. She also has a tattoo mark which runs from ihe center of her lower lip and down over her chin. She still seems to keep a very good figure, but her charm lies in the vivacity of her expression.

’Abdeslem has no objection to ‘Aysha’s feeling for him —on the contrary, it was rather convenient to begin with, since she lives just across the road. He has no objection to aphrodisiacs either, though he hotly denies that they were ever necessary. What he does object to is that as soon as she learned that he was bestowing his favors elsewhere as well, she changed her tactics. She began giving him magic possets which had the negative effect. He has ceased feeding at her table but the results of her possets persist, he admits, He is justifiably annoyed, and has charged me with secrecy on the subject. He sits moping at his door, and it must be a great mortification to him to sec ‘Aysha rocking with laughter at hers.

“Must this go on forever?” he cries rhetorically. “Must I sell my dear little shop and go?”

I have counseled him to go back to ‘Aysha, adding as comfort that she will eventually grow tired of him and will meantime have removed the magic. But my well-intentioned advice has hurt him deeply. His amour-propre is affronted to think that anyone should tire of him. Moreover, ‘Aysha herself has recently been seen giving love potions to the public ovenman — everyone knows those little pink cukes she prepares. The ovenman has a new shirt. ‘Abdeslem has not had a new shirt for a very long time.

Perhaps I had better speak to ‘Aysha. Because of her dear-friendliness with the French bachelor she regards herself as linked wilh all Europeans and may therefore listen to me. I shall tell her that she is breaking ‘Abdeslem’s heart — or in any ease that she seems to have gone further than necessary 1O teach him a lesson.

10

AYSUA sent her daughter round this morning wit h a message. I supposed it was the girl employed at ‘Aysha’s alma mater, and when she had delivered the message I asked her if she worked.

“Jyyeh,” she said, nodding.

“Where?” I asked vaguely, pretending that it really didn’t matter at all to me, though I longed to know. She looked so small to be working, even if she isn’t allowed to do much more than the menial tasks of the household.

“Ed-dar el-merhba,” she said. The house of the bienvenu. ‘Abdeslem was peeping out of his charcoal booth and called to her: —

“You’re getting quite big, aren’t you?” and the girl nodded seriously. “Why have you come here?”

I was glad of this question because I hadn’t followed exactly what it was all about. The girl repeated what she had presumably told me and ‘Abdeslem looked at me in inquiry, as if to ask if I had understood.

“ ‘Aysha is giving a dyafa tonight. She asks you to come too.”

A dyafa is a party. “A proper dyafa? Wilh dancers?”

“Very proper. You will come? 1 will tel! the girl you will come, yak?”

“Of course I will come.”

The child was following all this and directly she heard that I was coming too, lnsha’ Allah, she said something softly and quickly to Abdeslem. ‘Abdeslem nodded and turned back to me.

“What will you bring?” he asked.

“I shall bring . . . well, what shall I bring? Wine?”

“Not wine,” he said in the voice of one who has caught another out in a social gaffe. “Not wine. You had better bring chickens.” He swung round to the girl, asking: “Chickens?”

’Abdeslem was taking so keen an interest in ‘Aysha’s dyafa that I wondered whether there had been a reconciliation between him and the hostess. I had heard nothing to that effect.

“Have you been reconciled to ‘Aysha, then?” I whispered to him behind my hand. I have noticed that this is the polite way of exchanging a confidence in the presence of others who oughl not to he allowed to hear.

’Abdeslem took up the pan from ha charcoal scales to whisper behind and said, “I shall come too, I nsha’Allah. But don’t tell them. I don’t want her to make anything spécial. Ti vois?”

I said to the child, “Thank you very much, and may the blessing of God be upon you, my little love. I will come, if God wills, and I will bring for you two chickens. Tell your noble mother that I ask God to bless her.”

She smiled, pretended to kiss my hand, started forward as if to kiss ‘Abdeslem’s and then didn’t after all (so perhaps the reconciliation is still incomplete), and left us. I think I saw ‘Aysha’s headscarf— the one with pictures of the Sultan printed on it in full color—whisk back into her door as the girl went in. So probably ‘Aysha had been watching the conversation. She generally watches everything that goes on in our derb, but I had the impression that this was important, because of ‘Abdeslem.

“Who else is coming to the party ? I asked ‘Abdeslem.

“I do not know. But I think there will certainly be the gentleman from the Postes et Télégraphes — the one who brings the letters. And his fiancee” (“fiancee” is usually said in French, and means something less, and yet something more, than in French) “and also perhaps Sidi Bou Djem’a. And others whom ‘Aysha has known. Will you wear the costume gris? Yes? I do not consider that the cravate marronne rayée verts is quite good for that costume. I was seeing you two days ago so dressed and I was thinking, ‘Tiens! What dommage! Thai cravate does not at all go with that costume.’”

“Do you want to wear the cravate marronne rayee verte then?”

He had started to make a little pyramid of charcoal and now popped a big piece on top as a sort of cairn.

“B-el-haqq. I had not considered yet. But yes, if you wish. With my veste en velours vert? Is it that you propose?”

“I think that is what we had in mind, isn’t it?”

It was the first time I had entered ‘Aysha’s house, and I was surprised to find how completely equipped it is for a party such as this. Of course she may have borrowed things too. The walls of the principal room were lnmg with hāitis. and wherever there was space on the little tables she had put vases filled with paper flowers. She had also made paper shades for the electric-light bulbs, of which there were two in the room and a third which came in on the end of a long flex from the patio and was hooked over a picture frame.

When I got there I found ‘Abdeslem already seated on one of the divans. The tea things had been placed before him, which most certainly meant that he was back in favor. The senior guest is traditionally given the honor of making and pouring out the mint ten. He was busy preparing the first brew, but he found time to look up and make me a dignified bow from the waist.

’Aysha was rapt urous, in a succession of muslin dresses, each with its embroidered blazon of flowers. She also wore her gold-braid cordage and belts, and a good deal of golden jewelry on her arms and neck and ears and forehead, and some on the breast too. I had never seen her before like this and I thought she looked lovely. I told her so and she pinched me on the behind and said, “Mā shūfti shāy! ” by which I suppose she meant “Just wait! You haven’t seen a thing!” Then she introduced me to Si Fulan (Postes et Télégraphcs) and his fiancée, a girl named Zwina who was behaving very demurely and didn’t want to take off her veil till ‘Aysha insisted. She was not very pretty when she took it off. There were two or three other men as well, one of them a big Negro dressed in a black-and-white striped djellaba. He said his name was Bou Djem’a.

Everyone was very welcoming and nice, and ‘Abdeslem was by now starting to serve the tea. He had already tasted the brew in the special tasting glass, nodded approvingly, poured what remained in the glass back into the teapot, and looked round at us. A dozen little glasses of about the size and shape of the small tumblers used for claret in nineteenth-century England stood in front of him. They had rims decorated in various colors. ‘Aysha came round with a plate of biscuits.

I dare say that parties of this kind always start very formally. Each talked to his neighbors, and I did the best I could with mine — the big Negro Bou Djem’a on one side, the fiancee Zwina on the other. They were very patient with my Arabic, and spoke slowly and clearly — at least Bou Djem’a did — so that I might understand; or perhaps this is the way he ordinarily talks. More people came in and sat down, but ‘Aysha did not always introduce newcomers. I think that some of them were not considered up to much socially. I thought I saw the water-carrier, for example, but when I looked again he had gone. Perhaps I was mistaken. ‘Aysha’s two children were acting as servitors and I expect there was some slaveling outside in the little patio to keep the braziers going and help serve.

For the dinner we had to group ourselves round two or three circular tables drawn up to the divans, managing as best we might. I could see that with all the will in the world my two chickens could not feed the party, and when food came it proved to be a sort of tajīn — beef stewed with black olives and poivrons. Not bad, but I wondered about my chickens. A second dish arrived after the tajīn, and this time it was my chickens, stewed with rounds of lemon. The other tables were being given something else, which I could not clearly see. Finally couscous. I have eaten couscous in Paris and been told that it would be much better in North Africa. Now I have eaten it in Morocco and I think that it must probably be much better in Algeria or somewhere else. It seems to me that semolina is always less good than rice, even indifferent rice, and the meat accompaniment was unremarkable. We finished the dish all the same.

Then sweets: big, black slabs like fudge, and a gâteau very similar to mille-feutilles but oozing with honey. The sweets were really the best part of the meal, I think, and I took more of the fudge, to Bou Djem’a’s amusement.

“Meziān oula la?” he asked. It was good, and I said so. “But I prefer when it is more sugared,” he went on. “When you come to my house you shall see. My woman makes nīmero wāhad.” Number one: first class! ‘Abdeslem caught my eye from the next table, nodding as ‘Aysha offered me still more. But there is a limit after all, and I said, “No, thank you. Later perhaps.” They were bringing round a ewer and a basin with towels and soap and we all cleaned ourselves up, for we had eaten with our fingers in the ordinary way, the fingers of the right hand.

11

EVEN before they served the next glass of mint tea, someone had taken out a stringed instrument and was tuning it. Nobody had asked him to play as far as I know, but it was reasonable that he should. It was a little two-stringed instrument, both strings tuned to the same note. The body was pendantshaped, wood probably, covered with coarse hide. Si FuIan’s fiancee leaned across me to say something confidential to Bou Djem’a and in doing so stamped on my foot. I moved it, and she stamped again, so I wondered if after all she had meant it the first time. Bou Djem’a whispered back to her and everyone looked their way. But Si Fulan seemed quite unperturbed about it. The musician had started to sing meanwhile.

It was less a song than a story, and the music was less music than an intermittent twanging to mark pauses between stanzas, or simply when the singer wanted a rest, as on the Djema’a el-Fna. Tea was on its way round again. Everybody sipped it with a great intake of breath, partly because it was so hot and partly because it is considered better taken this way — just a few drops at a time and a great deal of air.

In the middle of the song and the tea-drinking some more guests arrived, amongst them the night watchman of our derb and a girl who, on taking off her hāik, was so pretty that. we all stopped sipping to look. The fiancée gave a tiny little snort. Even the singer stopped. Bou Djem’a quite frankly said, “Ah-h ... !” very loudly indeed, followed by some kissing noises.

“Halwa? Zid, jbed shuwīya,” the fiancée said softly, holding out the plate of sweetmeats. “Hādak.El-kāhla.” She picked up a piece of the black fudge and gave it to me, smiling. I took it and thanked her. The singer had started a new song and Si Fulan stretched across the fiancée saying, “C’est une aulre chanson. Une nouvelle. I will tell you what he is singing.”And off he went, a sentence or so behind the singer.

“From a city of the cities of el-Moghrob a voyager set out on his way to Marrakesh, He was poor but vigorous, and he walked all day across plains and little hills with no thought for beasts or robbers because of the singing in his belly . . .”

“Do you like Si Fulan’s fiancee?” Bou Djem’a whispered to me.

“No. Not much.”

“Neither do I. She is too thin. Look at her!”

“I don’t want to look at her.” I was looking at the new girl, as a matter of fact, and Bou Djem a noticed this.

That is the good one. Meziāna! Hādak meziāna,” and he made more kissing noises. I tried to stop him, but he paid no attention, and Si Fulan was prodding at me across the fiancée. “Listen,”he was saying: —

“. . . But by eventide when the sun left the world and all became darkness the voyager was weary and perhaps frightened too . . .”

’Abdeslem had left the room a moment before and now returned, but instead of going back to his seat he shamelessly wedged himself in between the new girl and the night watchman. I could see that ‘Aysha was not pleased.

“. . . lamplight flowing from a window,”continued Si Fulan, raising his voice slightly to drown the very indecent noises that Bou Djem’a was now aiming across to the far divan. “The voyager entered. ‘I wish of God and of you,’said he to the widow woman, ‘to eat and to drink and to rest for the night, for I have voyaged all day without sustenance.’ ”

“Give me a halwa,” Bou Djem’a hissed at me but without looking. I stretched for the plate and he took two. One he popped straight into his own mouth and the second he thrust vaguely in the direction of mine, still without looking. I ate it out of politeness and then turned back to Si Fulan in answer to his tweaking. He seemed mildly annoyed at my divided attention and allowed it to show in his voice, though it did not at all suit the context:—

“ ‘Alas, I have nought but these chickens that you see,’replied the widow woman, pointing about the hut, ‘and the three boiled eggs that even now complete their cooking upon the fire.’ ’Merci beancoupremarked the voyager, and he took and ate the three eggs.”

I saw with interest that ‘Aysha had beckoned away the night watchman and that he now came back to the divan, smacked the new girl on the leg, and quickly slipped into the space beside her in the moment that she recoiled under the blow. It was stuffy in the room, but I was very content. In fact I felt wonderful, and I thought the new girl looked wonderful too, warm, and such big brown eyes — would they be brown? I was uncertain at that distance—big, anyway. I think I started to tell Bou Djem’a about it. I wanted to make some sort of plan, but Si Fulan was really being tiresomely exacting: —

“You must listen.”

“He does not wish to listen,” the fiancée said coldly to him. “He is watching that little qahba.” Qahba,” murmured Bou Djem’a contentedly.

“Next day the voyager thanked the widow woman, made his farewell, and left on his journey to Marrakesh and after several years he became rich and important, whereas the widow woman remained poor.”

“Good,” I said, without thinking.

“Good? What can you mean?” Si Fulan was indignant.

“I’m sorry, I said. ”I meant Bad : I’m very sorry.” I didn’t know what had come over me. I felt that I was likely to start laughing soon and I searched my brain for the funny circumstance that was responsible. “I can’t think,” I said, or something of the sort.

“You have only to listen,” Si Fulan said sternly. “You have eaten too much halwa.”

My brain was getting clearer and clearer. I saw exactly what sort of plan I had to make. I think I squeezed the fiancée a little in order to console her for being so thin and plain when the new girl was so beautiful; and, momentarily inattentive, I did not notice that Bou Djem’a had slipped away on hands and knees. It was only when I turned to outline my plan to him that I found him gone. He was several yards distant by now and my blood was up. Treachery! I jumped up, flew across the room, and brought him back. I was of course very powerful at the time.

“He is crying,” the fiancee said morosely, nodding towards Bou Djem’a, and it was true. “I tire of these tears. Men,” she said. “Men. Even a little piece of halwa is stronger than a man.”

Si Fulan had been droning on all this time and suddenly realized that I had not heard. He was very angry.

“You are missing the fine part!" he cried. “Have you heard how an enemy of the voyager-now-rich goes to the widow and causes her to complain to the Pasha? Have you heard?”

“No. I’m sorry. I seem to have been very busy lately. But what had she to complain of? And what have you to complain of, Si Fulan?” My voice sounded very loud.

“Hush,” he said placalingly. “Nothing for me. But she had. The enemy of the now-rich voyager makes her to complain to the Pasha in this way: ‘O sir, think of my riches gone! Think of my three little eggs from which would have emerged chicks, and think of the eggs they too were waiting to lay, and the more chicks, and this throughout the years that this rich man is being rich in Marrakesh and me poor in my hovel. Think!’”

“The fine part is now coming,” said the fiancée.

“Good,” I said politely. The new girl seemed to be looking up sideways at ‘Abdeslem across the night watchman, and ‘Abdeslem’s arm was stretched across the night watchman’s shoulders quite as far as her neck, which I was certain could mean no good for anyone. “You had better tell ‘Aysha,” I whispered to Bou Djem’a, but unfortunately Bou Djem’a was now sleeping. We did not like to disturb him.

“ . . . ‘ Where is the defendant ?’ cried the Pasha.” Si Fulan was making a glorious effort. “. . . ‘But where is the defendant?’ A man stepped forward very neat and said, ‘By your leave, I am sent by the defendant to say he is unable to come today.’ ‘And why?’ asked the Pasha. ‘Because he is gone to his fields,’the neat man replied. ‘What does he in those fields?’ ‘I think, monsieur, that he is at planting out boiled beans so that he may reap a rich harvest in the years to come — richer even than from boiled eggs!’ Thereupon the Pasha laughed heartily and dismissed the case.”

Bou Djem’a had woken and said, ”Halwa.”

“Do not give,” the fiancée muttered. “Already he is useless with halwa”

Si Fulan was beaming at me through the mist that had come up in the last few minutes. “Now tell me how you enjoyed the story, monsieur,” he said, but somehow, nice as he was, I had no wish to speak with him. I wished to speak to the new girl. I don’t exactly remember the sequence of events, whether perhaps it was now that I danced a slow romantic valse in the costume of a Hussar; there was certainly a horse somewhere, and flashes of fire — from the horse’s nostrils, probably. And Bou Djem’a behaved rather badly in some way that I now forget, something to do with the fiancee, I fancy, though possibly that was later, and not Bou Djem’a at all. Much later. I am uncertain of the time.

12

I AWOKE late this morning, fresh as a daisy but disorientated. I am sorry to say that the fiancée was there, and that actually it was she who woke me. I don’t really like her very much and I cannot think how it came about that she was in my house at all, but she was, and when she brought me my mint tea she gave me a smacking kiss and said, “Min dāba kull shah nesaub-lek atay, yak?” — which means that henceforth this fiancée whom I don’t in the least care about intended to wake me each morning with a pot of mint tea. I looked round for Si Fulan but he did not seem to be there.

“Where is Si Fulan?" I asked her reprovingly.

Ikūn f-id-dar dyāl-uh. . . . He must be in his house. I am your fiancee now.”

She looks awful in the light of day— but then I dare say that I do too. I didn’t quite know what to do about it. I had to consult with ‘Aysha quietly, perhaps with ‘Abdeslem too. Between them they would know how to deal with such a situation. What had happened to the “new girl,” incidentally?

“Give me money and I will buy svenj,” the fiancée was saying. Svenj are little belgnets in rings and I cannot say how much I disliked the thought of them. But I thought too that if once she were out of the house perhaps it would be easier. So I gave her money.

“The svenj I prefer arc to be purchased from a stall opposite the tabac on the Djema’a el-Fna,” I told her. Somehow my tongue did not seem to get round the Arabic words as well as it ought. Last night there had been no difficulty with it at all.

She had the effrontery to pout. “What a long way . . .”

“Nevermind, my little love,” I said. “You have good strong legs.” She has, too. She had hitched up her overskirts, for housework I suppose, and I could see them. She took the money and went.

Directly I heard the front door shut, I hurried out of bed and ran downstairs. Bou Djem’a was lying asleep in the vestibule. On the floor. I went into t he alley. ‘Abdeslem’s charcoal shop was shuttered. ‘Aysha’s door was closed too, but I crossed and knocked on it. Neighbors were passing and smiled at me, and one of them laughed outright. Then ‘Aysha came to her door.

Thank God for ‘Aysha! She is wonderful. She said that I might leave the fiancée to her — and Bou Djem’a too, and that would be the end of it, but . . . Her lips tightened.

“You know about ‘Abdeslem? And that little putain who came with the night watchman?”

“How should I know?”

“That girl is already with the Pasha’s police because she is entirely without authority and must be punished. And ‘Abdeslem is . . . well, ‘Abdeslem . . , I have had to give him some little possets. You are aware of these possets? Yes, I thought you would know. Possets, and some rather particular powders and ... A Berber lady helped and advised. It was necessary to hold ‘Abdeslem down like a chicken that is to be filled. Friends very kindly assisted. If you require charcoal today, cher Monsieur Peter, I must ask you to go to the brave homme at the end of our derb. It seems that ‘Abdeslem’s boutique is locked from the outside.” Slowly she wiggled a key on the end of a string. “You enjoyed the dyafa, yes? Bou Djem’a also makes good halwa — he uses the hashish from his bled: he pretends it is better. But mine also is good, yes?”

(To be concluded)