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A Pigeon in Amsterdam

By Tahar BEN JELLOUN Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam

When the sun was not too hot, he liked to sit like this on a café terrace, his eyes closed and stories of little import floating through his mind. He ordered fresh-squeezed orange juice and savored it, slowly. He loved such simple pleasures, and he reminded himself that Morocco was indeed a marvelous country after all. The oranges were naturally sweet and the waiters were polite and friendly. His reverie was now interrupted by a warm voice, that of a young woman, a beautiful and enigmatic brunette. She asked him whether he recognized her. He did. She was a friend of his dentist; they had met at a party in Marrakech after the exhibition of an Irish painter. He remembered how her alluring dance to the Oriental rhythms had mesmerized all the men. Spurred by their applause, she had climbed on a table and moved as if in a trance, playing with her long hair, her breasts and her eyes, which she would close and then open from time to time for a wink. She was not a professional; she was better than that: Dancing was in her blood, and given the looks on the men’s faces, it was not difficult to imagine what she could do with this sensuality in a moment of intimacy.

He invited her to sit down and recommended the orange juice. She told him that a glass of white wine would be better, but that a woman drinking wine on a café terrace in Casablanca could only be a whore or a Western tourist. So she opted for the juice. They spoke of this and that, of trivialities. Suddenly she interrupted the chitchat. – This is such a boring conversation. We sound like we’re in one of those Egyptian or Moroccan soap operas — one or the other, they’re all alike, they’re all so empty and vulgar. And people actually like them.
– I don’t know if people really like them, or if they’re just deemed worthy of nothing better and so that’s what’s they get.
He invited her to have lunch. She wasn’t available, but promised to call him before the end of the week. He watched her as she walked off, imagining her naked body under her spring dress. He wanted her, and she had known it from the moment she had greeted him. Simple intuition. She knew that she radiated a blatant, unsettling eroticism. At the age of 30, she had reached the height of her beauty and she wielded it with a skill most probably inherited from her mother or from an aunt known for having been the mistress of an important official. He was content, curious and wary. He knew that this type of woman toyed with men, unscrupulously and cynically. He told himself that she was in all likelihood corrupt.

He didn’t even know her name. He decided to call her Pandora, after the character played by the sublime Ava Gardner in the eponymous film by Albert Lewin. That character, with her bewitching beauty and eroticism, destroys all the men she loves. She is other-worldly, and in the end returns to the famous Flying Dutchman on his boat. The Moroccan Pandora, however, possessed neither the magical nor the poetic powers to bring about the inevitable destruction of her lovers. The Moroccan Pandora, a shapely brunette, was clearly enamored with herself, a temptress determined to bring men to their knees as she plundered their bank accounts. But he had not seen or sensed this. The following Saturday, they met for dinner at the restaurant La Mer on the Casablanca corniche. She arrived with a young biology student whom she introduced as her best friend. The friend was neither pretty nor ugly. She was plain, the perfect sidekick for a woman who constantly needed to have her beauty confirmed. After dinner, they went to a trendy nightclub. He hated places like that, but he didn’t want to cross Pandora, who took his arm as they walked so that he could feel her breasts, firm, against him. Suddenly she asked him, “Why did you never marry?” “I was married, but it didn’t work. Marriage is a bizarre contract; everyone signs it and then breaks it. It’s the biggest misunderstanding in the history of mankind.” She broke into laughter.

By 2 a.m., he had had enough. At 58, he no longer had the energy for this type of evening. He offered to bring them home. Pandora pouted a bit but then stood up, followed by her friend. She asked that he drop them at a taxi stand. He assumed that she didn’t want him to know where she lived. He thought perhaps she was ashamed of her neighborhood. He didn’t insist. When they parted, she brushed her lips across his as she kissed him goodbye on the cheeks. But he was so tired that he thought it best that the night end there. They exchanged telephone numbers. Pandora whispered to him, “Once you make love with me, you will never desire another woman!” She then went running off, leaving him to wonder why she had said that. For more than a month, it was impossible to reach her. He left messages that she didn’t return. He finally decided to stop calling. One night, just before midnight, she called him. “I was traveling for the company that I work for,” she said. He was sure she was lying. She didn’t work. He had deduced that much. She suggested that they meet for a drink the next day. He invited her to come to his place. This time she arrived with a different young woman, who was more attractive than the biology student; her name was Ibithage and she said she was studying law. Why not? It was possible, he thought. When he was in the kitchen preparing the drinks, Pandora joined him, rubbing lightly against him. He asked why she always brought along a friend. She laughed.
“It’s more fun with three!” She then quickly added, “Don’t get any ideas! We’re serious ladies!”

He decided to go along with the game, playing the perfect fool. Pandora went out for a moment to buy cigarettes. After a while, when she hadn’t returned, Ibtihage invited him to dance. He understood that it was an invitation to partake in other delights. Pandora didn’t come back. He went to bed with her friend, who was an expert in sexual acrobatics. He thought to himself, “Only Moroccan women can be so free, so sensual; beneath the image of the little saint preparing her law degree, Ibtihage is a hurricane!” As she was preparing to leave, she asked if he would drive her home, adding, “Taxis are not safe at this hour.” He dressed, but then sensed that she was waiting for something. He refused to believe that a law student would prostitute herself to make ends meet. No. No money. He promised to give her a gift. In the car, she didn’t say a word. He dropped her off in a deserted street, watching as she ran off and then entered a house. Not a word, meanwhile, from Pandora. He took no offense. Her friend disappeared, too. Months later, Pandora called him from a Casablanca clinic, where her mother had been hospitalized.

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