Slipping a cotton djellaba over my head, I opened the door and stepped out into a courtyard bathed in the glow of a full moon that was sailing directly above the house. She was hunched on the edge of the fountain, legs tucked, arms wrapped around them, her attention on the running water splashing into the fountain. Often at night I hear the late night sounds of the Medina, the lone artisan tapping away, the clip clop of a donkey passing down the alley. But this night there was nothing. Not even a finger of breeze reached out for my face as I stood in a silence and stillness so complete that I thought my breathing to be an intrusion.
The hood of her aqua djellaba was up, covering her hair, her face was not towards me, but facing the fountain and yet I knew that if she turned I would see those amber eyes, that cinnamon skin. And turn she would, I was certain, for this was a moment woven deep in the tapestry that lay between us.
You bled for me.
The voice was so deep, inside me, around me, accompanied by a slight shifting of the air and the scent of orange-flower water.
I have never taken a Nazarene.
Despite the warm evening I was struck with a sudden chill and began to shake uncontrollably, to the point where I feared I would fall to the ground. Small patches of my skin quivered and I twitched in involuntary spasms. Under my flesh my bones were aching and itchy.
She laughed, sharp and cold as razorblades. You desire to feed my hunger, Nazarene?
'What do you want?' It was my mouth moving but my voice sounded as if it came from elsewhere. A bubble of fear rose in me, emerging in an involuntary gasp.
Be still! She commanded and my shaking stopped. Then she turned her head towards me and brushed the hood back from her face; that face, the amber eyes, lips the colour of pomegranate juice. She was Mira, but not the Mira I knew.
You will never have her if you have me. The words were flung at me like a dagger and I staggered back, recoiling from her power.
'Who are you,' I whispered, knowing that if I was being tested, I was failing.
Do you want to call me by her name?
I shook my head.
There are many names I am called. Lalla Dghughiyya I am named by some because it was Sidi Ahmed who brought me here centuries ago. Others call me Lalla A'isha Gnawiyya, Lalla A'isha Sudaniyya or Lalla...
'A'isha Qandisha,' I repeated, knowing even as I spoke it that it was more than just a name. It was promise and threat, pleasure and pain. It was a prison into which I was begging admittance.
You will only have me. Swear it. Swear it now
And no other, unless I tell you to so.
She stood, or rather was suddenly standing, for I didn't see her move until she was before me; the tallest woman I have ever seen. Running a finger down the front of her djellaba she cut the fabric and gathered it with her other hand so she remained covered.
Tell me your true name.
A quiver of fear ran through me but I told her.
Marcus, Marcus... she rolled it around her mouth like a morsel of flesh; the sound of it on her voice, a balm that soothed away the past and glowed a soft burnt orange.
Without another word she walked past me to what had been the door of my salon. In place of the great cedar panels was a gate of peacock feathers that parted as she went inside. Far away in the recess of my brain a voice told me not to follow, insisting that this was delusion and that I could stop myself if I wanted. The stupid voice had no idea... and neither did I.
Let me try and describe the indescribable.
Stepping through that iridescent gate I entered the shimmering realm of A'isha's wild and untamed magic; a realm so foreign, so removed from my western concepts of magic, as to be incomprehensible. This was not some folklore born from stereotypes handed down from generation to generation, no myth from bygone ages incarnate. I had entered a space that existed without names or form, a space that lived and engulfed me, a space in which thought was alien and yet all that existed was thought.
The space was A'isha in all her forms. I have a vivid recollection of her standing naked in front of me, a beauty so terrifying that I recoiled as if my eyes had been splashed with acid. The moment of transition, of fear and disorientation, passed and I became at one with the space. Enraged by a lust so deep it transcended flesh; I stood my ground and claimed her.
A'isha kissed me and I dissolved into the cavern of her mouth, a chamber of delirium and transcendence. Roots of a giant fig tree curled through the space, through us, her legs ancient and strong, her hair, the matted fibres of wet roots from plants above the grotto. Water or perhaps it was blood, flowed on a stone floor that transformed, becoming soft moist moss, then mud, as we sunk down. In this dank swamp a beast was rutting, its haunches punching air that swirled, thick with smoke, from guttering candles and incense.
This is Ayn Kabir and in this place you will obey me absolutely.
Anger welled up in me, a massive anger, at the realisation that, until this moment, I had been denying my true nature and in that moment of revelation, I saw that the rutting beast was me.
Her transformations were endless. One moment it was Aisling, her back arched, her head thrashing from side to side; Rachel too, grim and determined, her cries of passion a thin keening in blackness on the edge of hearing. There were others, but always it was A'isha, gorging herself, feeding an insatiable hunger that consumed me time and again, yet left me charged, prepared to indulge her every whim. With my senses scrambled in the warp of chaos she was creating I saw, rather than heard, my own voice woven, a blood red weft on her loom: Hahiya jat Hahiya jat Hahiya jat Lalla 'A'isha!
I would not leave you with the impression that she was incapable of tenderness, but those rare moments came later. Sweet glowing moments filled with amber eyes, cinnamon skin slicked salty with sweat and the smile of a quiescent Mira, curled as soft and compliant as a faun, offering me her nipples while nibbling my neck with lips stained with the memory of pomegranate.
Are all the Nazarene like you? Her mouth was drawn in a cruel smile.
'I can't speak for others.'
A change flowed around us and she stood, dressed again in Mira's body, above where I lay, spent, on the courtyard tiles. In her hand a knife, ivory handle tilted towards me; a challenge rather than a request. Taking it, I slit the flesh on my arm and felt a swelling joy as this now diminutive woman gently cleaned the wound with her tongue. Over her shoulder I saw that the doors of my salon were once again solid cedar.
Finally she looked me in the eye and spoke with the voice of ice.
You shall have none but me and should you speak of this to anyone I shall kill you.To please me you will wear black and red, grow a beard and not cut your hair. You will only burn black jawi incense and when I demand it you will perform the hadra. Is that understood?
There was no need for me to respond for she knew that in that moment I would agree to everything she asked of me.
Good, then I will come again, inshallah.
Inshallah, I mumbled as I tumbled backwards.