Chapter 10: Chaos of the Senses
Translated by Phoebe Bay Carter.
You know what will happen, of course. The couple will spend a few happy days together. But if the story were only a matter of happy days, there’d be no reason in telling it and I wouldn’t have bothered with the story of the faqih. So you’ve no doubt surmised that catastrophe is around the corner.
Now, perhaps you recall the story of Aziz’s wife, who tried to seduce the young Prophet Yusuf? Well, that is what happened here, just so. Okay, perhaps not just so. When the faqih arrived, the door was not bolted and he did not find a young man with a shirt torn from behind. Instead, he walked in to see his wife’s behind as she straddled the soft-bodied teenager who lay on their bed crying in pleasure.
The poor faqih did not kill the young Mohammed. Otherwise, how could he have grown up, married, and fathered the hero of our story, Jawad, who is the reason you now sit before me listening to my tale? He did not scream or protest. He did not say anything at all. He froze, yes he did. His jaw went slack, yes it did. Drool dribbled down his chin, yes it did. His eyes rolled back in their sockets, yes they did. And, what next? The faqih turned around, in all his rural naivete, and left. He was never to return to that house, and his wits were never to return to him. Weeks later, he would be seen wandering the city’s side streets, silent and wide-eyed, as though in a daze. Someone recognized and took him by the hand to lead him home. He followed along without putting up a fight until they neared his front door. Then he began kicking and screaming and ran off again. This happened several times before his neighbors gave up and doubt began to tickle the backs of their minds.
Meanwhile, the faqih’s wife continued inviting the teenage boy over, sometimes several times a day, until one day she moaned too loudly and the neighbors caught on. In the face of this scandal, the only solution Hajj Masoud could see was in a bullet from his rabbit-hunting rifle. And so his daughter became the last rabbit he would hunt. After that, never left his house again.
As for the teenager, Mohammed al-Idrisi, he’d been taken in by the faqih’s wife and she had flung open the door to his whims and fancies and not closed it behind her. So, the windows of his body remained open and his nose soon caught the scent of Spanish women. When they could no longer fulfill his growing needs, he found his way to the brothels of Ceuta, then to its bars, where he began to work, hopping from bar to café and café to bar between Ceuta and Tetouan and Tangier, going and coming during seven years of total freedom, until he was struck out of the blue by Cupid’s arrow. His captor was a young woman whose face bore the marks of Moroccan beauty haunted by memories of al-Andalus. He was working at the time as a waiter at a hotel café in downtown Tetouan. The fatherless girl’s mother agreed immediately to al-Idrisi’s proposal, let out a sigh of relief, and went to sleep for the first time in years without worrying about who would take care of her daughter.
Only months after his wife gave birth to their first-born, Jawad, their love faded and he returned to his old ways, letting his nose lead him one day to an older woman, the next day to a young one, and so on until the news reached his wife. The ensuing argument ended with a blow so violent it knocked her unconscious. When she came to, she found her son gone, and her husband, too.
For several months, he and his baby boy were guests of a Spanish diplomat’s wife in Tangier. Her husband had left once his term in Morocco was up, but his wife had fallen under Tangier’s spell and refused to go with him. Mohammed’s new mistress gave him everything he desired and looked after his child, but one day her patience ran out and she told him that if he didn’t find a solution to his son’s crying, which woke her up nightly, she would throw him out of the window one of these days.
A few days later, Fatima caught his eye and he decided he wanted her as the mother of his child. It wasn’t that he simply wanted to take advantage of her innocence. He really did like her. The sight of her made his heart flutter. Moreover, and this was more than he had ever expected, she made him forget his Spanish mistress and all the girls tucked away in the low houses down the narrow alleys. They settled in Tangier. He got a good job and they were able to lead a comfortable life. Within a few years, he’d saved up enough money to buy a big apartment downtown. He felt that, for the first time, life was smiling upon him. And for a long time, that was enough for him. For nearly twenty years, he led an honest life and was faithful to his wife. But then someone came along who seduced him once again.
 The story of Yusuf (or Joseph) appears in the Qur’an and the Bible. The wife of Yusuf’s master, Aziz (the biblical Potiphar) one day bolts the door behind Yusuf and tries to seduce him. When Yusuf runs for the door, she grabs his shirt from behind, tearing it. At the door, they meet her husband. Aziz threatens Yusuf, who says that it was she who tried to seduce him. To determine who is at fault, one of her family members suggests, “If his shirt is torn from the front, then she is telling the truth and he is lying. But if his shirt is torn from behind, then she is lying and he is telling the truth” (Qur’an 12:29, tr. Tarif Khalidi).