Book Nine (The Morning of the Mogul) will soon be released. This is Chapter III, as a gift to my readers. Enjoy! For those who want a discount, please, fill up the form at the end of this post. I’ll be in contact with you. Thank you!
Throughout the afternoon, I waited in vain for a call from Hassan. When it didn’t happen, I assumed he was busy with the Mafioso, so I turned on the TV and relaxed on the bed in my shoes, watching an old film. I was tired and resolved not to take any unplanned steps. I couldn’t leave the hotel for an extended period. When would Hassan decide to ring me? I have no idea and no mobile. I was just out of prison and almost out of touch with the new reality of the country to which I must adapt every day, every hour, every minute.
I started to feel a little hollow in my stomach around 8 p.m. Apart from a small sandwich, I hadn’t eaten anything. So I decided to get ready for dinner.
The blue evening was weaving its dark mantle about the balcony. I turned on the lights and dressed in a white shirt, a silky tie, and a dinner jacket. It was unnecessary to change my trousers, but I polished my shoes; and after one last look at the glass, I turned out the light and left the room.
When I was in the lift, a couple of Europeans walked in at the third landing; then, in a fraction of a second before the iron gate closed, it appeared to me that the two shadows slinking in the corridor, of whom I had caught a glimpse, are pretty identical to Hassan and the Mughli from the backside. I would have run after them, but the couple blocked the way. The gate closed before I could move; because the couple was smiling and saying good evening to everyone, I smiled back and nodded. The two other people were Arabs who were chattering loudly and bragging about Spanish castles. They were well-turbaned and clad in the traditional dishdasha that trailed to their ankles.
– Eight centuries we dwelled there, and for all that era, Spain was ours, said the younger, who appeared to be returning from a trip to Spain.
– Not just Spain said the elderly man. We should have stayed in France, Italy, Greece, and other Western nations. The Arabs were the world’s rulers. Those castles you visited in Spain were spreading the light of knowledge and progress at a time when the entire European continent was still plunged into the darkest ignorance. The brightest minds in Europe are aware of their debt to Muslims, but they are resentful.
– They wouldn’t be who they are if they weren’t, the young guy retorted.
The European couple remained deaf and quiet. That dubious outburst of rage ashamed me. It was not generous. What happened to kindness and hospitality? Suppose the couple understands Arabic. What would they think of these two jerks?
– Dogs, they’re all disbelieving dogs and sons of b*tches, the old man continued. Look at the epidemics they’re spreading, alcohol, drugs, free sex, immorality. It is a complete breakdown of values. Europe is a dog’s dinner.
– When we lost the same values, we lost Spain, the young guy said.
– Look at these two…
But before the old man could add anything, we reached the ground, and the automatic gate opened. The two Europeans left, and I followed them across the lobby, which appeared more lively at that hour. A piece of sweat music was played on the piano. Several Arabs and foreigners were sitting on the sofas. The reception desk was crowded with arrivals, whose luggage was piled on the floor. The pages were busy, and the movement was febrile. The small exchange agency remained open, as did the other shops and stores selling newspapers and magazines, tobacco, English and French pocket-books, stamps and postcards, cameras, films, small batteries, sports clothes and utensils, bath costumes, and various souvenirs, handcrafted goods, watches, spectacles, traditional robes and turbans, daggers, copper plates, artificial palm trees and plastic camels, luxurious pipes, colourful rugs, silver ash-tray… It was just like the market at home. I lingered outside the window shops since I wasn’t in a rush, hoping to see Hassan and the Maffiosi emerge, but it was in vain.
Finally, tired of the noise and dazzled by the lights, I pushed forward and turned to the left, walking along the bright corridor until I reached the restaurant where customers were already eating.
A stout young man in an immaculate white jacket, black trousers, and bow tie greeted me at the door and inquired, “Are you alone, sir?”
As I confirmed, he asked me to follow him, which I did. In the dark light of the candelabrums, the room was full of unfamiliar faces, busy eating and chatting. There were a few ladies. However, the majority of them appeared to be foreigners. The Arab women were appropriately muffled, disguised, and escorted by both children and husbands. The latter ate quietly or read the menu or a newspaper between courses to appear busy or important. They rarely address their wives and prefer to look elsewhere when not pretending to read.
I was seated at a table near the transparent glass wall. I could tell a native family from a foreigner not just by their clothing and appearance but also by their behaviour. The locals are more reticent or shy. They have a restraint about them that is visible not just in their stiff, slinking, or awkward manners but also in their austere, nearly shuttered looks. They’d eat silently, staring at the empty space like mute bazaar dolls. The foreigners, on the other hand, are jovial and chatty. Their behaviour is comfortable, their faces relaxed, and their eyes bright. Looking at them, one gets the impression that they are willing to converse casually with the first person who comes up to them. They are clearly not choked by the burden that crushes locals. Nothing, however, suggests that the war is approaching. For many of my fellow compatriots, the hotel’s social life provides an escape from the daily routine.
As the evening grew dimmer and more electric bulbs were turned on, I could see the garden being invaded by waves of night and light pushing through the glass wall. The moon was rising over the buildings surrounding the hotel. It appeared to be gazing at me, like a featureless face still unfinished on a large painting. I saw a swimming pool in the garden’s centre through the thick, entwined branches and the obscure leaves dancing in the chilling breeze. Around the pool, people sat on long chairs scattered beneath the trees, chatting or staring mutely at the dark water reflecting the moonshine.
As the maitre d’hotel walked away, wishing me a lovely evening, I noticed that the European couple who had been with me in the lift had moved to the table to my left. The lady caught my eye and smiled; I returned her grin. She was a middle-aged woman; tall, slim, well turned and sculpted, with a round face, clear-eyed, golden-haired, thin-mouthed, and her curls wrapped around her shoulders, and she seemed to be having a good time with that man who appeared to be her husband. He was much older, stout, broad-shouldered, white-haired, with a greying small moustache, a high forehead, two prominent eyes, and a nose half a banana long and curved. He didn’t grin but looked at me listlessly as if I were part of the furniture or didn’t exist. They were both dressed elegantly for the evening. He wore a well-cut blue suit with a grey tie over a silky white shirt, and she wore a long dashing and streaming black gown that highlighted her feminine qualities in abundance.
However, I didn’t notice the couple right away because I was preoccupied with Hassan and the Mughli being together at the time, and God only knew what they were planning. Even when I sat down with the menu card in my hands, gazing listlessly now at the card, now at the garden, it took a while for me to notice the presence of the two Europeans. And it was the lady’s mysterious, keen, hinting perfume that had already dizzied me in the lift, that was fondling my nostrils and wheedling me again so rapturously that it was just impossible for me to remain insensitively unaware of her presence; such a perfume caused me to turn my head involuntarily after the first moment of distraction, to seek the source of that magical invasion whose charming sweetness I could hardly ignore. Then I noticed the couple, and when our gazes connected, the lady grinned, causing a true ravage in my bosom. And while I returned her smile, I couldn’t help but wonder why such a polite fairy was dining with that ancient astronaut when I was alone and ready to entertain her. But I instantly repressed that crazy thought, just as I had suppressed the strange yearning to settle down in the restroom. Obviously, my mood is pretty quirky and even a little unsociable at the moment, which is most certainly a result of my sudden wealth.
It takes an entire world to become “nouveau riche.” It is more complex than one might imagine. In fact, it may be confusing if one’s wealth is a little imaginary, hypothetically speculative and excessively exaggerated.
I have a lot of money. The Director of National Security himself recognised it. Yet, I don’t see it. A little voice whispers into my ear: “Who is the millionaire who sees his money, Bassam? Money is today just digital abstractions in mind.” That might be true if it does not imply that the invisible is useless, does it? You know what! This is tricky because being invisible does not mean being non-existent. We cannot see oxygen yet know it exists because we cannot survive without it. We cannot see the electromagnetic waves that transmit sounds and voices from an emitter to a receptor, yet what would our lives be like today if we did not have the telephone, the radio, the TV, etc.? Similarly, I recall being married once in the jail library, and while the witnesses are still living, my bride – alas! – has passed away. Allah have mercy on her soul! I don’t see her, but she exists in the sky.
I am a widower, not a bachelor.
Take ‘Ouja’s imam and grand savant, Haj Mukhtar. He had married an invisible princess, and although she was from the Jin species, she had well introduced him to the fantastic realm of the unseen world. He has since socialised with Jin royals: princes, duchesses, barons, etc. When I inquired about him during my recent stay in the village, I was told that he had gained new powers because, following the death of his father-in-law, the Jinni King (which had nothing to do with the massacre; it had occurred some months before it), the princess was summoned to her dad’s palace. She inherited her father’s reign, and Haj Mukhtar became the King’s consort of the jinni monarchy. This new status gave him a broader range of prerogatives. It kept him busy nearly all the time, although he had to be fair and make room in his agenda to the most urgent of ‘Ouja’s affairs. That included the Friday and the Eid prayers.
As King’s consort and the father of the heir to the throne, he could no longer devote much time to the villagers and the patients who came from the farthest reaches of the country to seek his assistance and were thus frequently forced to wait a week and sometimes a month or two or more – I was told – until he returned from the invisible kingdom.
Everyone now knows that Haj Mukhtar has the ability to become invisible at will after the coronation of his wife as Queen of the Jin Kingdom. But this is only one of his new powers. Some of ‘Ouja’s residents, whom I consider reliable, claimed to have seen Haj Mukhtar flying above the roofs of the town like a giant bird before fading into space. When I inquired, I was told that on the night of the Islamist Coup, one of the villagers was passing by Haj Mukhtar’s house after he had spent the evening playing dominoes in the coffee shop. Suddenly, the sky flashed, and the dark night glittered with dazzling coloured lights and whistling and buzzing sounds. As the man lifted his head, he noticed a strange object flapping above the roofs, hovering just above Haj Mukhtar’s house. It wasn’t an aeroplane, a helicopter or anything known. The man came to a complete halt, and even if he had wanted to continue walking, it would have been impossible because he was screwed in the street like a nail lodged into the pavement. Aside from his eyes, which continued to see, and his ears, which continued to hear, he felt his entire body become as immobile as a rock on the mountain.
Meanwhile, he reported, the strange object, which resembled a large saucer, sprouted bright lights that blinked and sparkled in the darkness with all the iridescent hues of a hundred rainbows. The zipping and whistling continued for a time he could not assess before silence regained the evening. Then, finally, a door opened in the centre of the saucer, and a dazzling yellow light was projected on the roof. The witness swore by Allah and the Prophet that he saw Haj Mukhtar standing straight on the top of his house, dressed in white. At the same time, a ladder descended slowly from the saucer. He climbed its steps until he reached the door of the aeroplane that was not an aeroplane and was engulfed inside. The gate closed, the saucer whistled and whizzed again, the lights gleamed and blinked with all their brilliant colours, and the strange thing went whirling and swirling in the air, moving higher and higher at incredible speed until it swooned and vanished behind the mountains, becoming a star among the stars. And it wasn’t until the saucer was high in the sky that the man who watched Haj Mukhtar’s incredible trip could recover and reclaim his freedom. He estimated the duration to be unknowable because his wristwatch still indicated the time when he left the coffee shop. It was as if he did not walk that distance from the coffee shop to Haj Mukhtar’s house.
Since then, some locals became convinced that the Jins, prodded by Haj Mukhtar, had undoubtedly participated in the Islamist coup against the former president.