Lahcen’s heart skipped a beat at the mention of money. Like someone with asthma, he coughed and breathed heavily.
“How much?” he asked.
The muezzin was not in a hurry to mention the required sum. First, he gave him several documents with stamps and red seals in different shapes and colours, then handed him an envelope containing the picture of his French bride. Lahcen pushed the papers aside, took the photo gently out of the envelope, and gazed and gazed at the woman, imagining her actually in his room between his arms. He desperately wished the muezzin wasn’t looking at him because he felt an urge to kiss the woman in the photo and press her to his breast. The voice of the muezzin interrupted his reverie.
“Now you must get ready to go to the Consulate and apply for a marriage visa.”
“The sooner, the better. Once the payment is received.”
“How much?” The alarm in his voice was evident.
The muezzin pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and read out the figure, “Thirteen thousand, nine hundred dirhams.”
“Come in a week. I’ll do my best to collect it, inshaallah. Now, let’s drink a good cup of steaming mint tea.”
The muezzin excused himself on some important business to attend to and drove away. Lahcen was delighted the muezzin hadn’t stayed to drink tea with him for he was impatient to be alone in his room and admire the charms of his foreign bride, his future wife. Yes, Lahcen would be the husband of the woman in the picture. Her lips were full and rosy, like cherries; her golden hair shone like the rays of the sun; her almond-shaped eyes were heavily rimmed with kohl. She was a perfect houri of paradise, he told himself; praise to Allah, the creator of such beauty. And even though she was a Christian, looking at a face like hers makes a believer’s faith grow stronger. The believer who was so fortunate as to adorn his dwelling with such a beauteous pearl never goes astray, nor does he loaf and fritter away his time in cafés and cinemas or playing cards with friends.
Lahcen imagined the woman in the picture in a thin pink nightgown, stretching full length upon her bed in her flat in a high building. Her golden hair shone under the light, and her warm, moist skin glowed through the gauzy fabric of her dress. She had turned on both bedside table lamps to admire the picture of her Moorish bridegroom and scrutinize every particular detail in it. Like a magic touch of fire the gap between his teeth would arouse her, make her swoon with love, and she would surrender herself to her passion and let it consume her. Her name was Brijeet. The muezzin had written it for him in Arabic letters, and Lahcen had swiftly memorized it. He knew that European women were fond of swarthy virile Arabs, especially those with a gap between their front teeth.
At night, he fought against sleep. He imagined Brijeet driving her car fast on the motorway to meet him at the airport with flowers and a broad affectionate smile. He would walk with her to the parking area and get into her car. She would drive him to her flat, and they would take the lift to the eleventh or twelfth floor. The flat would be arranged and decorated to welcome him and celebrate their marriage. The fridge in the kitchen would be packed with all kinds of delicious food, a variety of high quality cheese, low fat and whole milk, jars of jam, boxed eggs, salads in square plastic containers, and in the door, bottles of coke, juices, and sparkling mineral water. He would pour himself a glass of water, murmur bismillah, and drink it in three sips. Because her bridegroom was a Muslim, she bought no alcohol or pork.
After consummation, Lahcen and Brijeet would go together to shop at a supermarket or, perhaps a giant suburban mall. He would insist that she should buy only the items from the shopping list she had prepared in the kitchen while he had been taking his shower. He would call her Bouchra, the Arab name he had chosen for her.