Regina tells the story to her granddaughter Ada:
"My father was the director of the National Bank of Egypt in Port Said, at the beginning of the twentieth century. We lived then on the second floor of a nice, comfortable house, just over the bank. One day when I was seventeen years old, one of my father's most prominent clients, a Turkish prince by the name of Fawzi Emir, saw me and instantly fell in love with me. It was such a tragedy! He asked father for my hand, and we all got the shock of our lives. Father was astounded. He knew what it meant to refuse such a proposal in Ottoman-ruled Egypt. The Emir could easily have him beheaded, and I would have been taken away by force to his harem. Father tactfully tried to remind the prince that I was Jewish, but the prince answered that it didn't matter, as when he was deeply in love, he usually overlooked such petty details.
"'I assure you Mr. Albert, your lovely daughter will be looked after as well as any of my Moslem wives,' he assured my father, while curling lasciviously his long black mustache.
"Father didn't lose his wits; he made excuses to the prince that I was already betrothed to his head clerk and that the wedding was to take place a month later. The head clerk, Mr. Jacob, had indeed asked for my hand, but both father and I had refused him. For one thing, he was eighteen years older than I, bald and fat and in addition, a widower with two kids! But papa, having said that to the prince, there was no way out. Father and mother set out immediately to arrange the wedding, declaring, 'Better a bald Jew, than a Turkish harem!'
"I wept and cried, 'But I don't love Jacob!'
"'So what? Do you prefer the Turkish prince?' my father asked.
"'You'll love him after the wedding my dear, you'll see,' my helpless mother tried to console me. 'Jacob is a kind-hearted and intelligent man; he loves you and has often asked for your hand, I'm sure he'll find the way to your heart in time.'
"'But he's old, heavy and ugly, and I don't love him!' I cried in exasperation, tears flowing down my cheeks.
"'What's love before marriage, you silly bova,' my father cried. 'It doesn't exist.'
"'I won't marry him, I won't, I won't, I won't!' I shouted frantically, when the time came closer.
"'You'll do exactly as you're told, Mademoiselle Regina,' my father said severely, 'or the Turkish prince will take you to his harem, and have us all executed.'
"'There's no such thing as love before marriage,' my mother pleaded tearfully again.
"But in my heart I knew that love existed before marriage. The summer before, when we were visiting our Aunt Claire in Cairo, I met my handsome, red-haired, second cousin Victor again, and we fell deeply in love. We mostly communicated with our eyes, as there was almost nowhere safe to meet far from our parents' frowns, except under the luscious mango tree. We kept it a secret, because we knew my father would never approve of such a match. For one thing, we were second cousins; secondly, Victor was only eighteen years old, just one year older than I was; he had just finished school and had not yet started to work. His father, moreover, did not have any position to speak of, as he was a simple clerk at one of the Jewish stores in town.
"When I saw that my father was adamant that I should marry Jacob, and that the preparations for the wedding were well under way, I had no other choice. I packed a small suitcase and secretly fled to Victor in Cairo. When I got there, I tearfully told him and his parents the whole tragic story. Victor was shocked and wanted to marry me straightaway, but his parents wouldn't hear of it, and they insisted on sending me back to Port Said.
"'Regina, you are an intelligent girl, if you don't go back and marry Jacob, the Turkish prince will not only execute your parents, but he will also kill all of us, including Victor! Is this what you want?'
"Alex, Victor's father, led me to the door, and he did not see Victor who made me a sign to meet him under the mango tree where we used to meet in the past.
"'There's no way out,' Victor said. 'We have to take our fate into our own hands.'
"He wiped my tears and looking at me with his big beautiful hazel eyes, and he said, 'Now that you have come to me, my Regina, I won't ever let you go!' Instantly, he became my knight in armor who was going to save me from the Turkish dragon.
"We fled to Alexandria, to the Nebi Daniel Synagogue, where we were wed by an old rabbi who believed, or pretended to believe our story that we were both orphans from Cairo and had no relatives to help us get married. He seemed to enjoy marrying a young couple eloping in secret. His eyes twinkled and he chuckled throughout the ceremony. He lent us his own ring when he found out we didn't have any, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoyed the part he was playing.
"When my father heard what had happened, he was furious. He swore I wasn't his daughter anymore, that he would never admit me into his house, and we wouldn't ever have a penny from him. Seeing how miserable and betrayed father felt, the Turkish prince eventually forgave him, judging that it was enough punishment for him to have lost a daughter to a penniless schoolboy in Cairo.
"We tried to manage on our own, Victor and I, but from time to time mother sent me a little money in secret, without my father's knowledge. Victor who found work in a draper's shop, earned very little and I went to look for work. As you can imagine, in those days a Jewish woman from the middle-class who worked out of the house was something unheard of. But I didn't care; I loved Victor and wanted to be with him, close to his smiling freckled face and his flaming red hair...
"I went to the Jewish Hospital, and read at its entrance: 'Don't tell me who you are, tell me where it hurts.' I went in and told the Head Nurse, I can't tell you who I am, I can only tell you my heart hurts because I just got married and we don't have any money, and I badly need a job. The Head Nurse, Thea, smiled benevolently and hired me as an apprentice. I then took a nursing course and eventually became a professional nurse. We were so happy in those days, and when your mother, Fortunee, was born, it doubled and tripled our joy..."
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A nostalgic half-smile appeared on Regina's trembling lips, and her eyes became distant and misty. She was again so beautiful, despite her deep wrinkles, and I could well imagine how my daring young grandfather, Victor, fell in love with her.
Bova: idiot in Ladino, the Jewish Spanish of the fifteenth century which many Sephardic Jews spoke in Egypt after they fled from the Spanish Inquisition. About one third of the 90,000 Jews who lived in Egypt in the twentieth century, were Sephardi and spoke Ladino.