(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
When I woke on the banquette in Khadija’s living room, I saw her daughter was up already. She was cleaning the closet, hoping to earn her mother’s gratitude by re-organizing Khadija’s and the boyfriend’s clothes.
Khadija had secretly applied a magic potion to the lining of the boyfriend’s Cardin suits, the collars of his Italian shirts, even inside his soccer shorts. When his skin came in contact with the powerful brew he would be seized with the desire to clear out of her apartment. She’d been warned that if anyone else touched his clothes, the potion would have the same effect.
Now that her daughter's fingers had grazed his jacket lining, I wondered if she too would blow this crib. Khadija wouldn’t mind; the girl was getting in the way of her love life. Already she was planning to buy more spells from the witch of Khouribga, to guarantee she’d have plenty of romance once the boyfriend left. She was so excited by the possibilities of magic, she’d become like a kid in a sorcery supermarket, grabbing spells from every shelf. At last count she was targeting three different men, and had collected DNA samples from all three without their knowing. She’d even bedded her top choice for the express purpose of wiping his sperm off with a cloth to bring to the witch. Fatima could do incredible things with a man’s giz, could make him crazy with desire and – the impossible – render him devoted, courteous and respectful.
Today was the day we were returning to the sehúra’s house, so that I could be joined to my jinn and thus have all my wishes granted. I was finding this whole adventure hilarious. As Khadija drove my rental car to Khouribga, I mused about all the spells she could have asked for, instead of wasting them on men. A better job. Her own car. Equal rights for Moroccan women. “Or,” I said when she turned the Bob Dylan tape up louder, “if it had to be a man, you could’ve asked for Bob Dylan.”
“That would be more expensive than yours,” she laughed. “Five sheeps, at least.”
When we arrived at Fatima’s house, it was nearing sundown. My sheep was tethered outside; a butcher crouched alongside, waiting for the evening prayer. Khadija went inside to settle up her business with the sehúra. Fatima’s daughter Naíma came out with glasses of mint tea for the butcher and myself. I smiled at her and received a shy smile in return.
Naíma was shy by nature and cloistered by necessity. After her father died, her mother was left with no money except from her sorcery fees and occasional stipends from her brother, barely enough to feed her three children. So she married off Naíma when she turned 14 to a much older man. He divorced her five years later when she failed to produce children, returning her to Fatima’s house. Fatima kept her close, never allowing her out unaccompanied. Young men circled like hounds; in a small town, a deflowered and divorced young woman was considered fair game. Naíma’s life was over, basically, and she was once more a burden on her mother. My heart went out to the girl.
At twilight came the muezzin’s amplified call to prayer. Naíma held the sheep as the butcher prepared his knife.
I had tried to bury the thought, but as the man’s blade sliced through the animal’s throat and its blood jetted in a high arc, I had to face the fact that this poor creature was being sacrificed to my whim. In that moment I wished I hadn’t started the whole thing. It was selfish and absurd, to contract this witch for a genie, a magic feat that would never succeed, except to provide humorous copy.
On the other hand, I told myself, a sheep was an incredible luxury for this family; the meat would feed them for weeks. Inflation was so high in Morocco that the poor could no longer afford to buy the traditional sheep for the big feast following Ramadan, a deep humiliation. Fatima’s brother always gave them one for the feast, but for the rest of the year they could only crave red meat.
The butcher let the animal fall to the ground; its legs galloped in the air, as if it was dreaming of its escape; slowing as the last of its blood surged out onto the tiled doorstep. “I’m sorry,” I whispered as I looked away. My eyes met Naíma’s, who gave me a look of sympathy.
Emerging with Khadija, her mother caught the look between us. As she spoke, Khadija translated: I should take Naíma with me to Marrakesh to be my maid; she was an excellent cook and fierce bargainer in the market, knew a lot of spells, plus it would be good for her to get out of the house and away from Khouribga. As two women alone, we could chaperone each other. Khadija thought it was a great idea, and Naíma’s eyes glowed with a desperate hope, so I agreed.
Fatima bent and touched two fingers to the pool of animal blood. She dabbed it under my heel, and then Naíma’s. “There,” she said. “Now you are blood sisters.”
The butcher dissected my sacrificial sheep. The entrails that would spoil right away were sped to the kitchen where Naíma went to work. Her kid brother manned the grill outside, the sheep’s head hit the fire and the smell of charred meat filled the night. Hungry-eyed neighbors drifted over and crowded into Fatima’s little salon.
For myself, I hadn’t eaten red meat or poultry in nine years, only fish. So I sat out the course when everyone snatched flesh from the sheep’s head, including the eyes, down to bare bone and clenched teeth. Then I was presented with spiced liver wrapped in intestine. I declined, but Fatima insisted: I had to eat at least one bite from the sheep or the spell wouldn’t work and my jinn wouldn’t come. And when is that scheduled to be? I asked. Khadija explained it would have to wait until everyone was asleep. I chewed bravely on one lump of liver; when I’d failed to reduce or alter its shape in any way, I swallowed it whole.
The dinner dragged on, after which someone with a boom box played Egyptian music and Fatima’s youngest daughter danced while the others clapped. Then they all watched “Star Trek” on the TV. At last the neighbors left and the younger kids went to bed.
By now it was midnight. Khadija and I were tired, with a two-hour drive back to Casablanca ahead of us. Nevertheless, the evening had only just begun.
Naíma set a table of food for the spirits – the jinnoon – a bowl of milk, a plate of dates and hard-boiled eggs, and mutton stew. Fatima told her to go to bed. Then the sehúra fetched a puffy caftan for me to put on, with a gaudy pattern of roses drizzled in gold metallic thread; and a wide gold belt. “What’s this for?” I asked.
Khadija said it was Naíma’s wedding outfit. “She says you are getting married to your jinn.”
I complained crankily, “She never said anything about marriage.”
“You have to, or he won’t be with you. Fatima says she had to marry her jinn, too. That’s how it works.”
I had to submit to makeup, too: kohl around my eyes, lipstick, blush. Then Fatima perched me on the banquette like a doll in tissue paper, lit some candles and turned off the overhead bulb. Seated at the table, she threw some herbs and sticky incense on the coals of a clay brazier. Khadija stretched out on the other banquette and immediately went to sleep. The cuckoo clock bird banged open its little door and went crazy chirping: midnight.
Fatima muttered some incantations and rocked on her seat. She threw pieces of dates at the door. I yawned.
Silence. A half hour later, the bird racketed again. Then the overhead light suddenly flicked on. Then off. One more time, on and off. Ooo, spooky. Is that the best she can do? I thought cynically: Naíma stands outside the door working the light switch? I supposed it was too much to expect they’d have a fog machine.
Yet, out of all reason, I started to be afraid. Outside the window, there were occasional sounds of a town at night: a cart rolling by, a motorbike in the distance, dogs ahowl, a donkey’s bray, an insomniac rooster. But here inside, in the dim candlelight, there was a small fat woman keening and mumbling, another woman asleep on the banquette, and something else…filling the room…
It’s your fear, I told myself.
And then Fatima’s eyes popped open, bulging; she gasped, moaned, her mouth twisted in a grimace of pain. She held her hands up as if to ward off something; then flinched, as if struck.
I shook Khadija’s shoulder. “What’s happening? Wake up!”
But Khadija was already awake, her eyes wide. Her breath rasped as she clutched her neck. She sat bolt upright and looked at Fatima.
The sehúra was whimpering and crying. She yelled angrily at Khadija in Arabic; my friend answered in cowed tones. Khadija then turned to me.
“Khadija, what the fuck is going on?!”
(To be continued.)
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