“Monsieur Lahcen, do you know the girl in the picture?”
“Oui, Monsieur, bien sur! My fiancée, God willing.”
The Moroccan girl burst into laughter. The Consul turned and glanced at her, a flicker of irritation, almost resentment, in his blue eyes.
“Monsieur Lahcen, do you know her name?”
“Yes, of course, Lady Brijeet.” He smiled, pleased with his pronunciation.
“Monsieur Lahcen, are you aware that the picture you have here is of Brigitte Bardot, an actress? A movie actress?”
A look of dismay spread across Lahcen’s features. Why didn’t the muezzin inform him Lady Brijeet was an actress? Was he apprehensive lest he would spurn marrying an actress? For a moment Lahcen stared at the photo of the president with helpless perplexity. Then recovering from his dismay, he said coolly, “A movie actress? And so what? Doesn’t anything and everything happen according to the will of Allah?” He grinned deliberately, exhibiting the gap between his incisors, and, raising his right index finger, he said, “When inshaallah we become husband and wife, Lady Brijeet will wear decent clothes and perform only in decent movies. She shall behave and conduct herself with dignity, and self-restraint. I have no intention of compelling her to stay in the house. I’m not the sort of husband who forbids his wife to leave the house or work outside. I’m not that conventional. I’m modern with modern ideas. I believe in progress and technology and art.” He twisted his head to one side, pouting his lips in a grimace of satisfaction.
The girl let out a quick snigger, now covering her mouth with her thin fingers. The Consul threw a frown at her that silenced her on the spot. Her cheeks blushed redder and hotter than a ripe tomato.
“Monsieur Lahcen, tell me, how came you to meet Lady Brigitte Bardot?”
“Truth be told, Consul, we’ve never met. A friend of mine showed her my picture and me hers, and we mutually agreed to marry each other, that’s all. Every event on earth is maktub (written). Human beings have the fallacy of doing things themselves. The fact is, everything is divinely decreed, including my marriage to Lady Brijeet; it’s Allah’s plan coming to fruition, maktub.” He spoke these words with a loud, confident voice as though delivering a sermon in a crowded mosque. He felt a frisson of pleasure rippling in his mind. He gazed alternatively at the Consul and his insolent translator. Neither of them would be able to alter Allah’s destiny.
“And how, Monsieur Lahcen, will you communicate with your wife without speaking French?”
A massive, mischievous smile broke over Lahcen’s face. He was expecting this question, nay, waiting for it to be asked. Thrusting his hand into his pocket, he produced a small book and, brandishing it triumphantly before their eyes, said, “Parler le français en Cinq Jours. Voila, voici my instrument to the mastery of French. I shall dedicate myself to the study of this book with fanatical devotion. I’ve memorized two-thirds of the Koran in a short time. This slim book will be a mere millefeuille, to swallow without chewing.” He laughed, impressed at his improvised metaphor.
“Mr. Lahcen,” the Consul stood up, putting both hands flat on the table like an irritated teacher, “I’m so awfully sorry to tell you that all these documents are fake and that Brigitte Bardot, the woman in the photo, is now in her fifties. You seem to be an unwary, gullible fellow. In case you have given money to anyone for this transaction, and I have no doubt you did, well, I’m deeply sorry to tell you that you’ve been cruelly deceived and cheated.” Then the Consul added in Arabic, “Dahku alik, nasbu alik, you’ve been fooled and swindled!”