In the morning, Lahcen rendered his mother a visit. Having kissed her hand and crouched cross-legged on a goatskin before the low-legged tea table, he announced, tossing the picture of his French bride into his mother’s lap, “Ya ma, here is my fiancé. She is French, rumiya, nasraniya min firansa. When by the will of Allah she becomes my wife, I’ll call her by the name of Bouchra. Isn’t it a cute name, mother?”
“Cute name? Son, if you marry a nasraniya,” his mother said, without glancing at the picture, “you marry troubles! Even the mule of a dung-collector shall fleer and jest at your misfortunes.”
“No, no, no, mother. I beg you don’t say that! Don’t be so pessimistic. Mother, hope for the best and pray for the best, and bestow your blessings and prayers on your son. Bouchra will cause no troubles. When we come on holidays in our Mercedes station wagon, we’ll drive you to Sidi Hrazem, to the shrine of Moulay Driss, to Lalla Shafya, to the shrine of Muhammad bin Isa, and take you to all the way to visit the Lady of Tafoughalt, the miraculous healer. Isn’t it what you’ve always wanted, mother? A spiritual and a medical pilgrimage?”
“Listen, son, if you marry a woman for her blue eyes, you become blind and shall end your days a pauper in a wretched workhouse. Do you hear me?”
“Please mother, don’t be so superstitious. If I marry a blue-eyed woman, farewell to poverty.”
He reached out for her hand to kiss it, but she drew it away from him, whipped her head around and, casting a hard glare at him, said, “Had I known your purpose was to wed a nasraniya, I wouldn’t have lent you a single riyal. My son, the day you marry a nasraniya, you must cease to call me mother! Find another woman to call mother. Here is triq rda w hahiya triq sakht (the path of blessing and the path of perdition).” She pointed with her index finger to the right then to the left. “It’s up to you, my son, to decide which path to tread.”
Despite incurring his mother’s angry curse, Lahcen was resolved to wed the blue-eyed woman. In a strange, inexplicable way, his mother’s foreboding censure only provided Lahcen with the reassurance that the prospect of his taking a French wife was about to become a reality.
Now he needed to speed up the process lest Brijeet would change her mind. Nasraniyat, he told himself, were unstable in the choice of spouses. They became loyal and very attached to their partners only after the consummation of marriage. Like their shopping. They browse at supermarkets and magazines and become attached to something only after having paid for it. So, Lahcen sold his Peugeot 103, his brother’s bull, and a couple of sheep.
The muezzin received his money, and Lahcen went to the Consulate. The queue was almost a kilometre long and the sun mercilessly hot. When his turn finally came, a young girl who was standing in a booth behind a bulletproof window spoke to him in Arabic on a microphone. He slid the large envelope containing his passport and application documents through a slot. The girl perused them carefully for a while, then said, “Wait a minute. I’ll be back shortly.”
She took his documents with her and disappeared inside. She came back after a quarter of an hour and said softly and politely to Lahcen, “The Consul would like to see you and speak with you in person.”
Verily, Lahcen said to himself, this muezzin is an ingenuous djinn. He has managed for me to be received by the Consul! He felt immensely guilty at having at one point entertained doubts about the muezzin’s honesty and integrity.
Lahcen walked past the security guard inside the Consulate compound and was ushered into an air-conditioned room with a long oak table in the middle and leather chairs around it. The Consul was sitting at the far end of the table. In a corner behind him stood a large French flag in a brass holder and on the wall above his head was a framed picture of their president, shiny-bald, and stern-looking. The Consul spoke, and the young girl translated.