It is the season of the women in white and the mat man is dead. Up on the roof a man is calling out to Lalla Malika. He has been calling for weeks, hour after hour. It is the season of the women in white. Their men are gone, taken by the cold, or heartbreak or poverty. For forty days they wear no colour, no makeup, no perfume. Their hands have no trace of henna. Their men are gone, just like the mat man. He was the last
Hidden away behind his door of rough-hewn planks the mat man dried the grasses he had harvested in summer. Patiently he wove the mats for the mosques until the Chinese stole the market, bringing in their container loads of plastic mats. The effect was toxic. The mat man fell to making placemats for tourists. He is gone. He was the last.
Downward now, into the streets. In the alleyways the wafting smells of hammam smoke, hot bread from a firane, kefta cooking, tagine magic and spices, charcoal braziers and incense. Luban jawi - the black Javanese incense for the djinn who is not Malika. She, they say, not mentioning her name, she, who lives in water. She who comes at night and claims the men Malika has not caught.
Malika, come now. The call is fainter here, down on the cobbled street, darker too, here where the sun has averted its eye as if to shade the fact that Malika is not coming.
The cry of Malika fades away, replaced by the shuttle clicking of a loom behind a windowless wall. Children’s fingers hard at work. In dark spaces, gloom and cold surround the bucket maker amidst his cedar shavings and chips. And to the other side a man, face locked in a perpetual squint, embroidering sequins on a wedding dress for a woman whose destiny, like all her sisters, is to cast the garment aside and dress in white and walk the street alone.
Outside his door. The mat man no longer works here, squatting over his ancient wooden loom. He is gone, like Malika, and somewhere, walking in the alleyways amidst the noise and smoke and heady odours, is another woman dressed in white.