The following is based on a true story about a journey I took with my boyfriend. We traveled through Morocco in the 80s and it didn’t quite go as planned.
We had been to the post office everyday, but there were no letters for us. We had no idea what was happening or when Nigel would be coming over. Things were getting desperate now. He was supposed to be bringing all our money from the things he had sold for us — we were expecting about 700 pounds. Yet we still hadn’t heard anything from him.
We had really settled in and on some evenings we invited Muhammad round to smoke with us, our landlord would come round too, his initial request about not smoking in the room, long forgotten. It was a very relaxed atmosphere, Muhammad was becoming quite a friend and spent many evenings with us. They all had a great sense of humour and the conversations were always interesting.
One day on our way to the beach Ray got a little girl’s ball off a roof terrace for her. A while later she came down to the beach with a tray of food for us! This was the part of this culture we loved. Their generosity was unbelievable. Muhammad had even taken pitty on us and said that we could have a bucket of water from his father’s water tank every day — but his father soon put a stop to that and quite understandably. Water was a precious commodity.
Another time, we took a stroll down to the beach, Ray made a joint and we went and sat on the rocks. As soon as he lit it up and started to smoke, a young Moroccan, about the same age as us suddenly appeared out of nowhere; he was probably asleep under the rocks. He came close and gestured with his hand that he wanted to smoke. Ray passed the joint to him. He drew on it, gave an approving nod and walked off with it in his hand. Ray and I had laughed so much.
Our money was getting extremely low now and we were getting very bored with each other’s company. Walking on the beach and swimming in the ocean was no longer a novelty. I wanted to socialise with the New Zealand couple but Ray didn’t seem to want me to talk to anybody without his consent. He was acting so strange. I thought that maybe he was worried about the money situation.
Maybe we shouldn’t have bought all that hash.
We finally struck up a friendship with the New Zealand couple — only because I had insisted. They were really nice. Jeane was fluent in French and a few years older than me, in her twenties. She was very smart, maybe that is the reason Ray didn’t want me to speak to her. Her boyfriend was the typical ‘gentle giant type’, a real ‘jock’, but he was so nice. They were both surfers. That didn’t come as a surprise. She was telling me that Taghazout was a great place for surfing and while she was talking, I noticed that her hair clip was walking around her head. I had noticed it the night before too but wasn’t sure if I could believe my eyes. Especially after the laughing incident. It took me a moment to realise that it was a live chameleon!
They invited us for dinner the next evening. Their room was just on the other side of the village; about 100 metres away. It was much nicer than ours. They had a table! Luxury! — Well it was actually a large wooden spool for powerline cables.
Bounties and a table! Who were these people?
They had a small branch set in one corner of the room for the’pet’chameleon, it was quite sweet. Their room was on the first floor, also facing the beach. The paint wasn’t chipped on the window frame and their ‘toilet’ flushed. They also had running water!
It was funny how the things we had taken for granted before this trip we were now really beginning to appreciate more and more. Just to be able to get a bath — or even a hot shower!
The meal was amazing. I thought Jeane had to be a genius to be able to rustle up a meal like that. I could barely make mint tea — and it was awful. Afterwards we had a smoke with them. John, Jeane’s boyfriend, didn’t smoke tobacco and made his own joint without any tobacco at all. Ray was laughing at him. I have to admit, it was kind of funny seeing him pull on this toothpick like joint. It was more of a paper pipe than a joint. I definitely wanted to hang out with these people more though!
The next day we went back to the post office. Things were getting critical, our money was almost finished. If Nigel didn’t show up soon with that cash we would be in big trouble.
We phoned Ray’s mother for news. She seemed pleased to hear from us and said she had not seen nor heard anything from Nigel. We couldn’t speak for long because we didn’t have too much money so we had to keep it short. Ray was now even more unsure of what was going on with Nigel.
“I bet he is trying to rip us off!” He said as he slammed the phone down and stormed out of the post office.
We spent the morning sitting outside the Post Office, looking at little red bugs; who must have been mating because they would join together and become one long bug. That is how bad it had become. Fascinating! It was quite depressing — we only had about 2 pounds left.
We went back home. Whad been back on the cheese and bread diet for a while now — no more omelettes at Muhammad’s. Even the weed was running low — gladly I didn’t need it as much as Ray seemed to. He made up a spliff and was just about to light it when we heard a knock on the main door.
We both looked at each other. It was too early for our usual get together and we had no idea who it could be.
I went to the door and just before I opened it. I saw in my head, who it was and instead of feeling pleased, my heart sank. I almost didn’t want to open it. I prepared myself. On the other side, as I expected, stood Nigel. The first thing that struck me was how pale he looked, he looked so white he almost looked ill. He was a whiter shade of pale! We had become used to seeing people with tanned skin though, and in comparison, Nigel looked positively ghostly.
My expression must have shown everything I was think thinking as he hessitated before giving me a hug. I am not really a hugger, but I really did not want to hug him back. My initial urge was to push him away. Something deep inside screamed, “Go Away!” The strangest thing of all is that I had absolutely no idea at all, why I felt like that.
He was our friend.
I took him down the corridor and asked him how he had managed to find us. He said that it had been easy — we were the only English in the village. Sweat poured off his forehead and his pale yellow shirt was clinging to him. He asked after Ray as he dragged all his baggage down the corridor.
Nigel entered our room and Ray stood up and greeted him; He didn’t look too pleased to see Nigel either.
“I can’t believe I remembered where to get the taxi” exclaimed Nigel, proud of himself. He sat down and wiped his forehead and then started to unload all his baggage.
“How come you didn’t write?” asked Ray.
Nigel looked surprised.
“I wrote loads of times! Didn’t you get the letters I sent to Portugal?”
“We got one; but you said you were going to write to us here!”
“I did. Didn’t you get any of them? I wrote to you about a week ago saying I was coming over.”
The discussion began to get a little heated.
“I phoned my mum and she said she hadn’t seen you for ages.”
Nigel looked at us with an air of disbelief. His fine curly blonde hair and blue eyes almost gave him a boyish appeal. He still looked like a ghost. His pale blue eyes were bloodshot. They looked small, his round face was flushed.
“I told her that, if you called, to tell you that I was coming over today.”
Ray lit up the spliff and passed it to Nigel.They both seemed to mellow a bit, until Nigel started to talk about my mum and sister. Apparently he had gone round to fix the washing machine and had ended up staying there about a week, he had slept on the sofa. He said that they had helped him pack and washed all his clothes for the journey, and he had even cooked for them. Nigel was a great cook — He once made a roast dinner for us, which we ended up eating about midnight, but it was well worth the wait. The best roast potatoes ever.
For some reason this information about my family seemed to infuriate Ray.
I was more interested in what Nigel was pulling out of his rucksack: a walkman with speakers and a whole bunch of mixed tapes! It had been so long since we had listened to music and chilled. We set up some sounds straight away. He pulled out pack after pack of cigarettes too, a bottle of vodka, sweets and crisps..
“What about the money?” probed Ray, “Did you bring the money?”.
“I got a traveler’s cheques, “ said Nigel, “I thought it would be better. We can cash them tomorrow”.
This sounded like a plan, it was too late for the bank today so it would have to be tomorrow. Ray backed off a little bit and seemed more at ease. There was still a very tense feeling between them both, so I suggested we went out to the beach or something.
Nigel stood up and looked out of the window.
“The beach is full of Moroccans!” he exclaimed in a rather hysterical tone.
We started to laugh at him.
“ We are in Morocco” I said “ What did you expect?”
Why did I ask?
“ When I came here it was just Europeans, we would all go down to the beach and roast chickens in the sand…”
“Yeah and watch the sunset over the sea…” Ray and I blurted out at the same time. That seemed to break the tension and we all laughed together.
It ended up being a very relaxing afternoon. I lay on the towel catching the sun while Ray and Nigel caught up on the latest news from mutual friends. Things had worked out well. Nigel had got over his fear of Moroccans and we had finally gone for a swim. It was the funniest thing we had ever seen. He didn’t seem to know how. He just threw himself into the water and rose to the surface again. He looked like some kind of deranged dolphin. We laughed so much.
Later on we went for a meal together in the more expensive café, Nigel didn’t want to go to Muhammad’s place. We all had a burger and chips! Even Ray had one! All the tension had gone — it was just like it had been before our trip. We joked and laughed, caught up on the gossip from back home and they both started teasing me, as they would.
That would be the last time we would joke and laugh though.