A Conversation with
Mamnoon and
Cora Bradley





I’m standing outside Cora Bradley’s apartment with my hand resting on the doorknob. Cora graciously agreed to meet with me, yet I can’t bring myself to enter her apartment. I love all the characters in A Maiden’s Honor, even Naa’il Dhar. Though I shouldn’t admit it, Cora is my favorite character. She is everything that I strive to be – strong, gracious, intelligent, and forgiving. I put her through hell in this story, and I feel guilty about what I did to her. The coward in me wants to cancel the meeting, but I know I need to face her.

Mamnoon: Josanna

I jump when I hear Mamnoon’s baritone voice booming behind me. I turn around and force a smile.
Josanna: Hello, my friend. It’s good to see you.

Mamnoon: Cora said that you were going to visit her today.

I wince.
Josanna: Yes, I am.

Mamnoon knocks on the arch door. I shudder when I hear Cora’s alto voice say, “Come in.” Mamnoon opens the door and ushers me inside. 

Cora lives in a beautiful studio apartment. I love the Ottoman architecture, especially the arch doors and windows and the tiled walls. My favorite part in the apartment is the courtyard garden. The sound of the water trickling in the fountain is soothing. Perhaps that is the reason why my characters enjoy spending so much time in their courtyards. Cora is no exception. She is sitting on the bench beside the fountain. She rises from the bench and approaches me. Her movements are slow. It’s clear that she’s in a lot of pain, yet Cora still manages to greet me with a smile.

Cora: Hello Josanna. How nice to see you again. (She says after hugging me.)

Josanna: It’s good to see you too, Cora.

Cora: Shall we adjourn to the courtyard?

Josanna: Sure.

Cora and Mamnoon sit on the bench, at my insistence, I sit on the edge of the fountain. 

Josanna: I appreciate your willingness to meet with me today.

Cora: Of course, you are always welcome, Josanna.

I wince again. The knot in my stomach begins to tighten.

Josanna: Cora, about what happened to you in the story.

Cora: Don’t. I can see that you feel guilty. As I told His Excellency, God gave me the strength to endure it. You gave me peace in the end. How can I be bitter?

Josanna: You’re very kind.

Mamnoon: What do we owe the honor of your visit?

Josanna: Well, as you know, my story is going to be released to the world in a month or so. I’m asking you and the others to tell readers about their favorite scene.

Cora: Oh. (She thinks for a moment.) I think my favorite scene is when I protected the little girl in the harem.

Mamnoon’s eyes widen.
Mamnoon: You like that one the best?

Josanna: What scene do you think she should like the best?

Mamnoon: I thought Cora would like one of the scenes of us together.   

Cora offers me an impish grin.
Cora: I like that scene because I felt like myself for the first time since I left the United States. I also like the scene when his Excellency confronts me about my behavior.  (She reaches for Mamnoon’s hand and looks at him tenderly.) Besides, you were with me then, as you have been since I came to Algiers.

Mamnoon: So I was. (He smiles back.)

Josanna: Mamnoon, do you have a favorite scene.

Mamnoon: I suppose I like that one as much as the others.

Josanna: Thank you both.


“Are you ready to return to your apartment?” Mamnoon asked.

Cora was too focused on the scene unfolding in front of her to answer. Dressed in an orange silk concubine uniform, Tess headed to the front door with a few other women wearing similar clothing. It was dinner time. The slaves were busy serving food to their mistresses. The servant that drew Cora’s attention was the one Ula was beating. She was a pretty girl that couldn't have been more than ten years old. It broke Cora’s heart seeing cuts and bruises on the child's sweet face. Cora ran up to Ula and blocked her hand before she could hit the girl again. “Leave her alone.”

“What are you going to do, report me to the Dey?” Ula sneered back.

“No, I’m perfectly capable of fighting my own battles.” Cora punched Ula’s jaw. The concubine toppled into her friends who steadied her enough to charge back. Cora darted and grabbed Ula from the side. She forced Naa’il’s former paramour to hunch over and kneed Ula in the stomach before breaking a bowl over her head. The concubine collapsed to the floor, unconscious. “Does anyone else want to challenge me?” Cora shouted, staring defiantly at the women surrounding her. “Anyone who attacks another child will answer to me.” 

“That's enough!” Bashira shouted as Mamnoon grabbed Cora’s arms from behind. “The rest of you return to your assigned places, or you will not get any dinner tonight.” The women scattered and returned to their normal activity upon seeing the valide’s uncompromising glare. “Cora, come with me. Mamnoon, send word to His Excellency that there has been an incident involving Cora. She will wait for him in the box.”
Winking to Mamnoon, Cora turned on her heels and trotted back to the discipline room with two guards struggling to keep up. One opened the door to the room, which was nothing more than a small closet. Cora stepped inside and slid to the floor with her knees pressed against her chest.


***

Mamnoon opened the door twenty minutes later. “His Excellency wants to see you.” He offered his hand to Cora and pulled her to her feet.

Cora bit her lip. “Is he angry?”

“Yes.” Mamnoon paused. “His Excellency already knew about your altercation.”

“Oh dear.” Cora sighed. She found Naa’il pacing back and forth across the floor in her apartment with his fingers interlaced behind his back. He looked as angry as she had ever seen him. Cora kept her distance when she spotted the scowl on his lips. “Good afternoon, Your Excellency. I did not expect to see you today,” she said casually.

“I understand that you got into an altercation this afternoon.”

“Yes, I did. A woman attacked a little girl; I made her stop,” she proudly explained.

“That is not acceptable behavior for my wife,” Naa’il shouted.

“What was I supposed to do; allow this woman to beat the child to death?” Cora shouted back.

“She is a slave.” Naa’il’s voice boomed over hers.

“She is an innocent child. We may be your property, but we are all God’s children and are therefore precious to Him. We laugh, we cry, we love, and want to be loved. There is nothing more offensive than mistreating children. I will not apologize for stopping that attack, and I will fight for every child that is mistreated in the harem!” Cora looked away and bit her lip. “Your Excellency, I am honored that you want to marry me,” she continued in a calmer tone. “I care enough about you not to want to do anything to dishonor your family. If you are concerned that I will embarrass you in some way, perhaps it is best that we not marry. Either way, I will not stop protecting mistreated children.”

Naa’il pursed his lips. “Who attacked the child?”

“I would rather not say.”

“You would rather not say,” Naa’il angrily repeated. He held his hands by his side, forming them into fists. “You are going to tell me.”

“This matter is settled. Bashira took the servant away from the woman, and I doubt she will give her another one. That is why you need not be involved.”

Naa’il headed towards the door. He rested his hand on the doorknob and looked back at her. “This matter is not settled. I will return to you during the morning of the third day; until then, you will remain here. I will inform you of my decision concerning your fate the next time we meet. I would encourage you to ponder your future while I am away.”



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