With his face down, the muezzin contemplated for a while. Finally, raising his head slowly and putting a hand on his chin, he said, “What about an imam in a mosque in France?” He pushed back his perforated fez and scratched his scalp.
“An imam in a mosque in France?” Lahcen said, his eyes dilating as wide as the bell of an oboe. Such an idea had never crossed his head. “Lahcen, whose legs had never ventured beyond the souk of Ouled Abbou?”
The muezzin explained that he had a very close friend who was an imam in Limoges, in France, who also occupied the position of vice-president of the Moroccan community in the city. His friend had helped many a Moroccan to immigrate to France and work as imams and teachers of Arabic and the Koran. Lahcen’s imagination was now fired with images of France, the supermarket trolleys, the fast rushing metros, the Eifel Tower, La Seine shimmering gloriously in the moonlight, the flashing streetlights, the well-lit buildings, and public gardens planted with lavender and roses and flowers in the shape of a bird, a butterfly, a heart, or a clock. These images enchanted him.
Gazing at his guest with eyes full of colourful pictures of France, Lahcen said to himself, now the time had come to make good use of his money and effect a drastic change in his humdrum predictable life. He decided to give it to the muezzin to make him an imam in France. With the will of Allah, Lahcen of Ouled Abbou shall become an imam in the home of the Christians. He knew his mother would be proud of him.
He removed the mattress, took out the box, and opened the lid. The money was wrapped in a piece of cloth. His fingers slowly unwrapped the layers of cloth to reveal bundles of banknotes held together by so many rubber bands. Lahcen felt sacrilegious. Overcoming his anxiety, which was tantamount to fear of castration, he piled the stacks on the table, carefully counted each stack separately, and handed it to the muezzin.
Upon handing him the last stack, he said, “That completes eighty thousand dirhams.” He slapped the table with his huge open palm, like a player slamming down his last card. “What good is money if it doesn’t buy you a better life? No more than autumn leaves baked crisp by the sun.” He was proud, pleased with himself to have taken such a decision.
Having thrust the last stack of banknotes deep into his satchel, the muezzin rose up and took his leave. Contemplating the muezzin striding away with the satchel containing the money tossed nonchalantly over his shoulder, Lahcen felt as if a vital organ had been ripped out of his body. He stretched himself out on the bed, feeling worse than a father who had given his only daughter in marriage to a precarious groom.
Lahcen waited for six long anxious months with no tidings of the muezzin. Then, returning from the weekly souk on a dusty Sunday afternoon, he saw the muezzin rattling the iron ring of his door and calling out his name loudly. A group of three or four emaciated puppies was yipping, wagging their tails, and jumping up his djellaba while he was cursing and kicking them away. Lahcen took him in and saved him from the impertinent dogs.
“Lahcen, I’m awfully sorry for the delay, things have become so complicated. You know this fear of Islam and Muslims has made immigration to Europe a complicated matter. So, to kill two pigeons with one stone, my friend suggests wedding you to a Française. If you accept marrying a nasraniya, everything will be fine and smooth. No more hassles and headaches. What say you?”
“Of course I agree, gladly and wholeheartedly, not once, but a thousand times!”
“Excellent! Excellent! I’m so relieved, alhamdu lillah.” The muezzin smiled, “I was apprehensive lest you might spurn the idea of marrying a nasraniya!”
“Spurn the idea? Who wouldn’t dream of such a prospect? Only shi maskhut al walidin (an impious son who is cursed by his parents). By God, I’ll seize this opportunity with my nails and canines.” A shiver of delight shot through his body, bringing a grin of sheer delight onto his face, from ear to ear.