He was working the clay, soaking it in water, making it soft. Preparing the base he would filter by hand. He knew his project would take months, but he had to do it. Surprise her. Win her father over. He had borrowed the supplies and the tools from his uncle, a maâlem**, who worked in a zillij factory in Fez.
Zayirah came from money, and he didn’t. They grew up together. They went to the same public school. Her father was a teacher at that school. Otherwise she would probably have attended a private school, just like most children in her position. Her grand parents were important people, especially on her mum’s side. Orators and political figures, who had so much influence that they could probably overthrow the regime, if they wanted to. Fortunately for their king, it was not in their interest, nor would it even cross their minds.
Ayman was now pouring the moist clay onto the metallic square-shaped frame that would constitute the first step of his lengthy endeavor to create her portrait. He knew her face by heart. He loved drawing it everywhere. On paper. On the ground. Using tiny rocks in the schoolyard. Works of art with a limited exposure and life span that he would hide, destroy, or disseminate, as soon as she would approach. He was good at drawing. He felt like it was the only way he could impress her. Her father. And win their heart.
She had attended the same afterschool lessons he had. That is how they became so close. How he fell hopelessly in love with her, even before he was old enough to know what love was. She was kind of his tutor at first, but he learned fast, and soon they became petty competitors. They always tried to better each other, push each other further. That is why Zayirah’s father had let him in, in the first place. He thought of their childhood friendship as a positive, innocent, dynamic duo that would learn from one another.
Ayman was now daydreaming, sitting quietly next to his work and thinking of her, imagining her mosaic in his head. After a good half hour, he got up and headed to school – her shiny dark hair and the softness of her piecing brown eyes imprinted in his mind. His first labor day was over. It was the turn of the summer sunrays to work their magic and dry the raw tiles that he had crafted at dawn.
Zillij is a mosaic tile technique connected with Morocco and Mooorish architecture.
A maâlem** is a master craftman.
Further reading and documenting :