November 6, 2011
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My friend, Andrew, asked me when we were both fifteen if I would be a witness to the wedding, a secret from his parents, of his sister and her Algerian boyfriend. He brushed aside my objection that fifteen was too young to be a legal witness, and further assured me that no formal dress would be required on the day. ‘You can cover yourself in shit,’ he said. The couple having already been joined in an Islamic wedding, we arrived at the registry office at the latest possible moment, our lateness resulting from a long wait for the delivery of a cheap suit for Abdel, the groom. The registrar and assistant registrar were nice, efficient people, but they insisted that Andrew translate the words of the ceremony, line-by-line, from English into French for Abdel’s benefit, and that it had to be Andrew, not his more educated sister, who did this. My hatred of French lessons at school was such that I could hardly express my relief that they did not pick me for this task. After we had left the 450-seat auditorium, we went to a local shopping-centre for a cup of coffee, which in those days still felt to Andrew and me like a very grown-up thing to do.
I was wrong about the outcome: I thought that the divorce would take two years, but in fact they stayed together for the commendably long period of four years.