The Shamanic Storyteller’s Journey: the Tales, the Craft, the Magic.

Reconnect with the Ancient Spirit of the Storyteller Through Shamanic Ritual & Practice.

Fri 15th to Sun 17th May 2015

Rhiwargor Waterfall landscape in Snowdonia National Park during Summer

Humans are born to tell stories around the campfire – & listen to them too!

On this weekend residential workshop, we will support you in finding your own unique storytelling voice through the craft of writing.

How you use this is your choice.

 Tell your own story

Tell nature’s story

 Enhance Shamanic practices

Fiction, non-fiction, lyrics, poetry or journeying

 Come play & dream: explore the woodlands or snuggle down in the quiet places.

The residential space is part of The Middlewood Trust & is an ecological & environmentally friendly building set ½ a mile down a non-vehicular road.

The cost is £200 including ALL food, basic, shared accommodation or camping.

£50 non-refundable deposit will secure your place to Julie  julieaerwin[at]aol[dot]com

Jayne Johnson – I work as a Shamanic Practitioner, an Embodied Relational Therapist & Wild Therapist, indoors & outdoors, in Hebden Bridge, West Yorks. My work includes my own version of Western Shamanism, connecting us with our roots in this Land we walk. I run workshops & trainings providing facilitation in wild & remote places for reconnection with Nature & the turning of the seasonal cycles. 07854146986 – mail[at]jaynejohnson[dot]co[dot]ukwww.shamanismembodied.com

Julie Erwin – I write, co-run a publishing co-operative, teach yoga & practise shamanism. I live on the Pennines with one husband, three sons, a dog, two cats, three chickens & four vegetable beds – don’t ask me which one I love the most. I have one published novel, two more in progress & I’ve written many short stories, several of them published. A poem or six lurk in my dim and distant past. http://www.jaedancer.com

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Stillness Dancing: an introduction to Al Aswani, the police officer in Crooked Cage.

Al Aswani was as surprised as anybody that he had reached captain, given his sympathies for the Bedu and antagonism towards the capital. No one could argue with his success rate, however. His intricate network of informants, coupled with his keen mind and nose for trouble, meant his enemies could not touch him — unless they chose to assassinate him. Even so, his progression surprised him; it was more usual for politics and tribe to count for more than performance. Maybe my superiors are setting me up for something.

Al Aswani’s pale grey eyes and paler skin set him apart from the Bedu locals, although he grew up in the desert and his closest friend was Bedu. From childhood he had seen injustice meted out to his friend’s family. Then he had been powerless; now he used his position to redress the balance where he could. Not all Bedu are innocents, of course, but mostly the clashes with police are down to different worldviews — they see things differently.

He listened now with only half an ear to Mohammed’s guests. He had heard a whisper that something was about to happen at Mohammed’s camp. I’m almost certain Mohammed knows nothing about it. He does employ Karim ibn Ibrahim though, who worked for that old bastard Anez who, rumour has it, stopped a hair’s breadth short of declaring a blood feud against Karim. What is that all about? The whole situation smelled bad. Who gained from seeing Anez hamstrung, his son in prison and his resources under close scrutiny?

Plenty of traders would leap to fill the gap but who was brave or foolish enough to risk a blood feud by betraying Anez in the first place? And what’s brewing at Mohammed’s camp? Are they trading in something illegal — drugs, weapons, ancient artefacts or even, may Allah curse the bastards, humans? I hate that trade, and it is growing. Or some long forgotten feud…? That doesn’t feel right. The tourists; maybe they’re involved?

Al Aswani focused his gaze on the two women in front of him. They were less conventional than the package tourists of the resorts. These women were clearly prepared to rough it. Perhaps they were seekers of the non-existent romance of Bedu life. Fools! There’s no mystery in not being able to see your belly full beyond the next week, or the ridiculous mortality rate among Bedu men, or looking and feeling twenty years older than you are because of the harsh realities of life in the desert, or on the edges of civilisation. The recent bombings added to the hardship. Young men foolish enough not to go to ground out of reach of the arrogant pricks from the capital, filled his prisons. The unlucky ones got themselves shot and buried in secret graves — so the rumours went.

Al Aswani turned his head, shook himself out of his thoughts and moved his attention from the women to Karim. Unlike Mohammed, he looked Al Aswani in the eyes.

A crowd of locals had gathered at the edges of the bar. Al Aswani ignored them all. ‘So, Karim, you’re working with Mohammed now, rather than Anez. I hear he is not very happy with you. He thinks you betrayed his son.’ The locals held their tongues, straining to hear the conversation.

‘He’s wrong,’ replied Karim.

‘His son is in an Israeli jail, you’re not, and the word is it should have been you over the border that night.’ Al Aswani could see the British women watching, comprehension on one of their faces. Interesting; she speaks Arabic.

Karim didn’t flinch. ‘It was none of my doing.’

‘Whose then?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I’d bring you in but my prisons are already full.’ Al Aswani rose from the table, inclined his head to Mohammed and walked to his waiting driver.

Something. Al Aswani hated that sense of a thing almost in his grasp.

It will come to me.

****

The same questions had plagued Karim since his banishment. Is there a connection? Or just bad luck; Sinai Justice infiltrated? It didn’t make sense any other way. Karim realised even the little he’d said to Al Aswani was probably too much but there seemed little point in denying common gossip.

An edge of guilt nibbled at his thoughts. And I am still no closer to knowing what happened to my father. Abu Dahn had confirmed what the Iraqi had said; he suspected that Anez had murdered Ibrahim. The holy man could add nothing more. Ibrahim had not shared his reasons for calling a meeting of elders.

‘Go to Hassan. He may be the key to this,’ Abu Dahn had said before sending him to work for Mohammed. Hassan had been away on business and Sue’s demands meant Karim had not got around to re-visiting him. Karim frowned as he watched Al Aswani’s car disappear in a cloud of dust.

‘So, ladies, did you get anything nice from the market?’ Sue’s voice was pitched too high. ‘What would you like to drink? You must be very hot.’

‘I want a cold beer.’ Lilliane spoke a little too loudly.

Karim looked closer. Something happened in the market; what did she see? How much did she just understand?

‘Is that OK here?’

She’s still pale.

Sue flapped her hands around in dismissal. ‘Yes, yes. It is a tourist resort.’

Karim felt Lilliane’s eyes on him, wide and questioning.

She senses it too; something unseen is happening here. What is it?

****

Mohammed forced a smile onto his face and moved to the bar to order beers for their guests, tea for him and Sue.

What does Al Aswani know?

****

Lilliane drank her beer without looking at anyone. Karim’s a smuggler?

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Crooked Cage 4

Now, whilst Mimi leads Claire through the alleyways of the medina to her home for mint tea, and you contemplate being my apprentice, let me transport you across the city to another recent arrival. His name is Al Aswani. Look how he swivels in his chair, boots shiny, considering the data on the screen. He’s both on a mission and escaping a very tricky political situation in his own country. Don’t ask for details; they escape me. He didn’t like his boss, his boss didn’t like him, and he annoyed the political elite.

He has the same passion that I have—freeing women. Watch.

Al Aswani read the report again, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. It was written in French, taxing his concentration. At least all the others had been in standard Arabic. Each night of his first two weeks in Marrakesh he’d gone back to his apartment with a headache. He tried not to grumble. He’d made the choice to apply for the post with Interpol, working on closing down international gangs trafficking in human beings.

He turned to the younger police officer beside him. ‘So how do we get closer, infiltrate deeper?’ Al Aswani liked Usem. The young Berber man had a streak of independent, lateral thinking that he was sure would be useful out in the field. He had ruffled enough feathers for him to be assigned babysitting duty with Al Aswani. Unsurprisingly, Usem had leapt at the opportunity rather than taking it as a reprimand.

‘They use desert routes. My family knows the desert. We have connections through large areas, with many of the tribes.’ Usem’s eyes were that strange shade of brown that seemed to have a glow of gold. Al Aswani had seen many a female head turn discreetly as they’d strolled to the young man’s family home, Usem wearing the loose, bright blue desert turban, on their way to a meal in his honour. There were similarities between the Berbers and his native Bedu in Sinai; the natural generosity born out of necessity in a harsh environment. A sweep of homesickness washed at Al Aswani.

© 2014 Jae Erwin

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Crooked Cage 3

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It may seem harsh to ask such questions so soon and in such a public place, but I tell you, real healing only happens when the pain is faced. That is my purpose. I am Rakia of the desert, healer and seer. I came in with the heat and I’ll stay until the sandstorm hits. For it will.

Claire’s voice dropped to a lifeless monotone. ‘My husband, David, died eight months ago. It was sudden, a brain haemorrhage. One day he was there, the next he was gone.’ Slow tears trickled from the eye I could see, along the crease by her nose and dripped onto the marble beneath her cheek.

Mimi had turned her head to watch and listen. Jasmina had slowed her scrubbing. I began the firm sweeping strokes from Claire’s heel to her shoulder. ‘Only eight months? And you’ve been here a month already? That’s a big change so soon.’

‘I had no reason to stay. The plans were already in place just waiting for him to retire.’

‘What about your family?’ asked Mimi. Family is everything in Morocco, as she well knows.

Claire sucked in a couple of ragged breaths. ‘My parents died years ago. David’s never really took to me…’

Mimi lifted her head a little. ‘Children?’

It always comes back to that for Mimi. She will have taken note of Claire’s smooth belly I’m sure.

Claire shook her head as far as the stone would allow.

The only sound in the place was the rasping of glove against skin and the constantly changing notes of the running water. I let it be; allowed them both to drift with their thoughts. We kept the silence through each stage, each room of the hammam—a soft, embracing silence—until we were all back in the curtain-swathed lounge.

‘Take a little time in here, Claire, before you go back out into the heat and bustle of the medina.’ I sat close enough for my thigh to lie alongside hers. Touch is as important as sound for a message to seep in. ‘A weekly visit is good, for your body and your heart.’

Mimi raised herself up on one elbow from lounging on the sofa. ‘Madame, would you like to come for a drink, mint tea? My house is close by.’

I know that Claire has been told of the friendliness of Moroccans, at her language classes. She goes to the school twice a week now, after the first intense week of daily classes. And still she hesitates, with that suspicion that many westerners have for the generosity of North Africa. ‘You should go, Claire, or do you have so many friends here that you have no time in your schedule?’ I put a little sting in my voice. They need each other.

‘Thank you. That would be lovely, if it’s not too much trouble.’

****

I watched from above as Mimi led the way through the narrow, covered passageway, past vendors, blind beggars and dead-looking doors. Claire scuttled behind, trying to memorise her route back to the hammam and her own house.

I know you’re wondering how I watch. It is my gift. Imagine that I am a breeze, a swirl of air chasing above and around everything. I see, I know, I taste all that is needed for my task. My body does what is required wherever it is and my spirit roams. Perhaps one day I will teach you how. Would you like to be my apprentice? Think about it, let me know.

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Desert People

Dark nomad-001

(Photo courtesy of Sally Harrison)

I’ll begin with a kind of health warning. I’ve only seen a snapshot of desert people; a tiny fragment of time, sanitised for western tastes, and separated to some degree from real-life concerns. I am fully aware that some truly dreadful things happen in these parts of the world. And the same is true the world over; good and bad have always lain side by side.

I’m not sure where my fascination with the desert came from, perhaps the film Lawrence of Arabia, watched whilst sprawling on the rug in front of the t.v. as a teenager, or maybe nature documentaries or wild-west desert canyons in western movies. In my more romantic moments, I imagine I have an affinity with the desert. I am fascinated by how plants, animals and humans survive in such conditions. And it’s more than a cognitive thing. It’s a heart thing, too.

My first contact with anything approaching the aridity of the desert was a holiday to Cyprus in my late teens, stunned by the hair-dryer heat as we got off the plane. I had never been anywhere so hot, or so different. I adored the exotic surroundings, prickly pears at the roadside, misshapen trees alone in the middle of a beige-baked landscape, and slow moving locals with impossible loads on the backs of donkeys. I felt like I had come home. I cried when I had to leave and, on my return to my physical home, I attempted to learn Greek from a tiny book, determined that I would go back and live there. It was a short-lived dream in the ‘real-world’ of exams, universities, jobs, careers.

Every holiday since that includes dry heat and rugged landscapes, invokes a wistful comment to my husband. “I should have been born somewhere like this; somewhere hot and wild.”

My first visit to a ‘real’ desert started out as a bit of a disappointment. In my mind were rolling, deep-red sand dunes, fluttering, dark nomadic tents, Omar Sharif in full tribal gear…you get the picture. What I got, in Sinai, was a landscape that looked like a quarry, stone and palm-frond huts, and a small man in jeans and t-shirt driving a huge 4×4. Not the kind of place you fall in love with, and yet I did.

The desert creeps up on you. It captures something deep inside.

I’ve just returned from a trip to a different desert, a different tribal people and yet the similarities are striking. This time the desert, in Saharan Morocco, was picture-postcard perfect; dunes, tents and mysterious men with dark eyes—you know the ones, swathed in deep blue turbans…ahem! Our guide greeted us at Marrakech airport wearing a bright yellow turban, striding through the crowds and turning heads from every direction. So easy to fall in love with the place. And I cried again when I left—my heart broken wide open by the desert.

From the perspective of this second visit, I can see what I missed first time around—well, I didn’t so much miss it, as I couldn’t define it. This time I felt it all, consciously. Last time I was asleep to what I was feeling. My body and heart knew but my mind had so many layers in the way.

The desert, to me, means freedom—some of which comes from, paradoxically, the restrictions that the desert imposes. So many of our social conventions imprison us but they’re so automatic that we don’t notice. In our desert camp, unsurprisingly, water was scarce, so the water was switched off between 6pm and 6am. The showers were basic and the water trickled. One day we had no water at all because the sand-storm cut the power. No water, no washing, no problem. Wet wipes cover the basic necessities, three minutes of a job. The desert heat and the local dress code meant that loose comfortable clothing, covering arms and legs freed me from social pressures of ‘attractive’ clothing, holiday swimwear, when you’re a, let’s say, robust, older woman, and the hassle of smothering sun cream everywhere. It’s a very small step, then, to let go of other conventions; make-up, mobile devices, running to a schedule. Even on holiday, schedules can dominate.

During my first trip to a desert, I was all wrapped up in doing. It took a while to drop into just being and even then my mind couldn’t recognise it for what it was. I could label this feeling ‘contentment’ but I couldn’t identify its source other than ‘the desert’. All the desert people I have met, admittedly a tiny proportion of the whole, live their life in the moment. There’s a general idea of what an activity, a day, or even a whole week might involve, but it is lightly held and can change at the drop of a head scarf. There was nothing in our Moroccan schedule about henna tattoos, but, out of our fascination with the decorated feet of two of the Berber women, came a slow, wonderful afternoon. The dining area, enclosed with hanging blankets from the previous day’s sandstorm, became an artist’s studio and a women’s retreat. The young woman henna artist, worked for hours as more and more of us were drawn to the ritual. The money she earned in an unexpected afternoon’s work would see her family secure for some time. This lightness of being leads to flexibility and joy.

In this space it is easy to feel the joy. From both desert trips, the images and sounds that tumble and jostle in my mind are joyous. There were two Bedu men who danced, every part of their bodies holding the rhythm, laughing and giggling together. A Berber man drumming, who, in a trance within seconds of his hands touching the skins, seemed to be listening to another dimension. Delight in the first wobbly steps of kittens out from behind their nest between the drums.  Drinking tea in the shade in companionable silence—two Bedu men, two British women. Berber women dancing, joy in their bodies, in the shelter of the dance tent, or in a music shop off the Jemaa el-Fnaa, drawn in off the square by the sound of the drums. Silence on the Saharan sand dunes at sunrise. The taxi driver, who brought us to the camp—supposed to return to Marrakech but who stayed for the rest of the week—dancing beside the campfire. Walkers sitting in the shade of a tamarind tree in the near-to-midday heat. When one makes the space to be, the joy is very close to the surface.

The desert is ferocious too, a fearsome place, as can be its people. That walk on the desert margins in the late morning heat, showed me my physical limits, and how a little bit of adaptation and being in the moment turns an ordeal into something joyful. The sand, in shadow, was cool, the light dappled, the breeze a blessing, and the company gentle. My fears, the first time in the desert, were vague and projected out onto the unfamiliar all around. This time my fears were specific and owned by me. Take care in the sun. Be more physically fit next time. Respect local customs; old ladies do not like their photographs being taken, however accidentally, and will hurl a stone unless persuaded otherwise.

Berber breakfast

(Photo courtesy of Sally Harrison)

A deep ache, which I didn’t know that the desert people soothed, until I returned home this time, was my need for community. Take a look at the photo above. Do you see how their shoulders touch? How their heads are close together in sharing breakfast? When they’re drumming, or watching others perform, it’s the same. Sinai or the Sahara it’s the same. Conversations around a campfire, both joyful and sorrowful, they’re shared. This one is hard to describe in pictures and sounds. It’s a feeling, a homecoming.

Throughout it all runs a deep code of generosity and courtesy. Once you are a guest, desert people will do everything in their power to meet your needs. It distresses them to imagine that something you need is amiss. Of course, this is a two-way deal; respect is required in both directions.

The most joyous thing on my recent trip was that this time I got to meet desert women in a setting other than being sold jewellery. Both settings, though, challenged my stereotypes. In Sinai, the women had mini businesses in their own right, selling jewellery, scarves and embroidered goods. We saw them in twos and threes on the beaches and at the side of roads hitchhiking.  The older women were treated with respect, listened to, escorted carefully down a stony slope. In Morocco the women on the staff were vibrant, confident women with strong voices and such a joy in life. They joined in the drumming with the men and, from what I could tell via body language and voice tone, demanded their share of the performance. They are direct, forthright and take no messing. They are not hidden away, nor meek and mild, despite their veils.

It is too easy, in a world dominated by a few huge corporate media organisations, to believe there is only one kind of people in the Middle East or North Africa—hardened terrorists and their downtrodden women.  In truth, it is an intricate weaving, with the desert people and their land at the foundation.

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Crooked Cage 2

I guided Claire to the steam room. ‘The higher you sit.’ I told her, pointing to the white tiled shelves circling the room at two levels, ‘the warmer it is. Heat is good. The sweat clears out the stuff your body doesn’t want.’ Jasmina had already brought Mimi through but all that we could see of her in the steam was her knees down to her toes. Crooked toes, in need of room to spread, in need of a little tenderness.

Shuffling from foot to foot just within the doorway, Claire’s indecision was so British. She didn’t want to appear rude but she much preferred a little space.

I could feel her turmoil stirring up my own insides; she really didn’t want to offend. Be still, I crooned as if to a fretful baby at the breast. I poked my head around the corner to see if everything was in order in the next room (Jasmina grinned confirmation), then taking Claire’s hand again, I led her to sit near enough to Mimi that we could now see her taut face, her loose body. I sat too. ‘As this is your first visit to a hammam, let me tell you a little about the custom—just enough to make you comfortable but not so much as to spoil the surprises.’ The heat in the room was like a lover’s kiss to me, not as dry as in the desert but welcome all the same.

Claire fretted at her thick, dark-blonde hair—with strands of silver showing, smoothing down the frizz appearing at the ends and crinkling in her scalp. She dropped and crossed her hands in her lap in front of her smooth but soft belly, no stretch marks, and dipped her head forward, accepting.

‘The hammam is a place where women can relax, share their lives, make friends even. It is more than a place to get clean. Isn’t that so, Mimi?’

Mimi lurched a little. ‘How do you know my name?’

‘Monsieur Chafik must have mentioned it.’

‘I didn’t think he knew it.’ Mimi looked over my face, suspicion tightening hers further. ‘What did you say your name is again?’

‘I am Rakia.’

‘That’s a desert name; the Sahara.’

‘It is. I am.’

Mimi shook her head a little. ‘You are what?’

‘Of the Sahara.’

‘And you speak both French and English.’

‘I do.’

‘That’s unusual.’ Mimi seemed to hold the usual prejudice of city people towards the Berbers.

Perhaps I need to give her one story—to gain another—if I am to get her to open up a little. It needs to be believable. ‘We had a visiting teacher in our village who liked to practise both languages with us, to keep his skills fresh.  My parents approved; my mother foresaw a time when we might need to leave the desert.’ There, a perfectly normal story. ‘She was right, I am here.’ I let the silence settle a little. ‘So, Madame,’ I turned to Claire. ‘You say you have come here to live?’

She struggled with her voice. ‘Yes,’ tears resting on her lower eyelids, ‘it was my husband’s dream.’ Claire drew in a deep breath. ‘He died before he could realise it. It seemed only right that I see it through.’

Mimi’s chin quivered and she had tears to match. ‘That takes courage, Madame. My husband died also…’ The rest of what she almost told us, a sense of un-kept promises, she held onto. I let her keep them for now. There was plenty of time yet.

I looked to their flushed faces. ‘Time to move to the next room I think. Jasmina!’

The young woman, plain and yet beautiful, scuttled round the corner and held out her hand to Mimi. ‘Madame, this way please.’

I followed, leading Claire to the little stool at the end of the next room, between two of the three marble tummy stones and close to the running water fountain. ‘Sit.’ I rinsed her down using the copper ladle full of warm water and then scooped up a small handful of the slick black soap and began to wash, starting at her shoulders, down her back and along her arms. ‘This soap is good for the skin. It feels slippery and doesn’t foam much and it prepares the skin for the next stage—the glove.’

‘What is the soap made from?’ Claire anticipated my moves, stretching out her arms, shifting her hip or leg ahead of me.

‘Olives mostly and wood ash. Stand please.’ I rinsed her again. Jasmina was a little ahead of me and had already begun to the long sweeping strokes along Mimi’s supine body with the kissa—the exfoliating glove. ‘Climb onto the block please, Claire. This is where we clear the skin of all the debris. It is firm. Let me know if it is too much.’ I paused. ‘So, how long ago did your husband die? How did he die?’ The old layers need to be stripped away if the new life is to flourish.

A daily piece of writing from an international group of writers.

Oh, and maybe some guests.

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Crooked Cage

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(Photograph courtesy of Abi Hopkins)

The little dog lapped water from the rose-petal strewn pool in the middle of the waiting area of the hammam and then flopped on to the floor, exposing her half-full teats to Claire. Her puppies slept in a cool corner. I know, for I put them there, away from treading feet.

Perching on the edge of the sofa, so that her feet reached the floor without having to use her tiptoes, Claire fiddled with the straps of her rucksack. She took in the space, its light dim and warm, reflecting off the burgundy-shot-with-silver fabric draping the high arched entrance reaching up towards the ceiling dome. Soft spears of light shot from small openings in the dome, picking out tiles on the floor.

Claire was about to inch along the seats to take a closer look at the up-lit wall sculptures when the owner swept aside the curtain, escorting a darker-skinned woman, her head-scarf tight, into the lounge.

‘Madame Bounou, salaam alekum. How are you?’ As he spoke, Monsieur Chafik was close enough to her for reassurance but not so close as to offend. That is the way of the city people, but not of mine—the people of the desert—we sit tight together, taking comfort in the touch of shoulder to shoulder, heads close.

‘Well enough, Monsieur Chafik. I hear this heat is here for a while,’ said Mimi, for that is the name she is known by.

‘True, true. So the weather people tell us.’ Monsieur Chafik smiled his wide, strong smile, almost as wide as his well-fed belly, and the room embraced both women further. I know, I can sense these things. Monsieur Chafik keeps a place-of-heart, or I wouldn’t be here.

‘We have a new masseuse. She tells me her speciality is clearing away life’s calcifications.’ Monsieur Chafik waved Mimi to the cushions.

This is where I make my entrance. My name is Rakia. I am a large woman, big thighs, buttocks, strong arms. I need it for my work. I see, hear and know things that you probably think I shouldn’t. You may be wondering who I am. For now, it suffices for you to know that I am the teller of stories. Be at ease, make yourself comfortable and listen.

‘Ah, Rakia,’ said Monsieur Chafik, turning at the slap of my flip flops on the tiled floor. ‘There you are. Here is Madame Bounou, she is a regular here, and a new lady, Madame…?’

Claire raised her eyebrows in surprise at the familiarity. She wasn’t used to being drawn into a family—for that’s what was happening, I know these things—Monsieur Chafik is a good man like that. I can rely on him to follow his heart.

‘Williamson, Madame Williamson,’ said Claire.

The poor little dove shrank in on herself and peered around the corner of her face, terrified of her own shadow, or perhaps it was my size and my smile. There’s too much heat in my smile for these northern women, at least, to begin with.

‘Madame Williamson.’ Monsieur Chafik acknowledged. ‘Monsieur Roche from the post office sent her here. A place of healing, no?’

I smiled my big smile at Monsieur Chafik and, with a curl of my fingers I welcomed the two women to my world. ‘This way my loves.’

Madame Bounou knew the process and followed the corridor around to the changing area. She put her bag in a locker and began to strip, ignoring the tiny curtained cubicles barely big enough for a mouse.

Claire hovered in the archway.

I took her hand to draw her forward. At first she stiffened her fingers in my grip, afraid of the intimacy. Then my magic took over and she softened. ‘Take off your clothes. Here is underwear.’ I handed her the plastic-wrapped strange little garment intended to maintain modesty. Ridiculous. A woman’s body, between women, is a known thing. ‘Please use the sandals. Put your things in a locker. When you are ready I will take you through to the steam room.’ I felt the roll of the words on my tongue, filling my mouth, strange words, foreign words; my magic providing them so that Claire and Mimi would understand. ‘This is your first time here?’

‘Yes. I’ve been in Marrakech for a month now but I haven’t been to a hammam before.’ Claire wrestled her way out of a cotton top; a sensible one that protected her arms and chest from the sun and unwanted attention. She rolled her loose trousers down and replaced her underwear with the paper thing.

Mimi closed the locker door, nodded to me and followed the curve of the white tiled wall to the washing room where the black soap, running water and a young woman—Jasmina, my colleague—waited.

‘A month! How long are you staying?’ I led her slowly, to be sure she wouldn’t slip. The hammam sandals were too big for her tiny feet.

Claire kept her fingers close to the wall, ready to catch it if she fell. ‘I’ve come here to live.’

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