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.
When we got back home, we spoke to the landlord and managed to get Nigel a room in the same house as us, right next door in fact. A couple turned up who had been on the same flight as Nigel and they also got a room there. Ann and Barry, they were both training to be nurses.
This was almost beginning to pan out as we had hoped. Other people!
That evening the usual crowd came round and we introduced them to our newly arrived friends. We smoked and chatted and Nigel got more and more paranoid as the night went on. His legs were constantly shaking and twitching, like a hyperactive child.
Meanwhile Ray started to behave very strangely too. He kept putting his arm around me and completely encroaching on my space, and stroking me like I was his pet puppy. It was most out of character. He would never display acts of affection in front of others, it was very ‘uncool’. He was saying that Nigel was jealous because we had made friends and we had managed to do this on our own.
Something weird was going on and I had no idea what it was.
Nigel said that he was tired and had to go to bed and the nurses left too. We decided that first thing in the morning we would go and cash the travelers cheques. We all called it a night and went to bed. Ray seemed to be deeply disturbed by something but I couldn’t quite figure out what. He told me that he was furious with Nigel. The way he had completely dissed his mother and favoured mine ‘all of a sudden’. I told him not to worry about it. He asked me if I had noticed the way he trembled, and I had to admit that I had, it was impossible not to.
“He wants to split us up, he’s jealous” Ray kept saying. He was extremely tense and wasn’t making much sense at all.
“Come on Ray, let’s just go to sleep,” I pleaded.
He seemed to settle down a little, we lay down and we eventually both fell asleep.
Ray woke me early the next morning to go and cash the traveler’s cheques. Nigel was already awake but had been just sitting in his room. We all decided that first we would go for something to eat and then get the bus to Agadir.
The rest was a bit of a blur, as I kept out of it completely, for my own sanity. Ray and Nigel were going to deal with the cashing of the cheques and that was that. It seemed that they had started to take a very Arabic approach — ignoring the woman. So, I sat in the corner while they spoke to the desk clerks in the various banks. They did not want to cash the cheques in one bank for some reason I couldn’t fathom. Each time they went to a bank they would squabble with one another like a married couple.
After the cashing of the cheques we went to a café to unwind a bit. The tension between them was mounting. I just couldn’t understand what the matter was. We had waited so long for Nigel to arrive and now this! I had only known Ray and Nigel 8 months before taking this trip, I thought I knew them pretty well but I had never seen them behave like this before. Nigel had complete control and was making small talk. Ray, on the other hand, looked visibly distressed, and he was going out of his way to please Nigel, his voice was calm, like he had suddenly figured everything out — I mean everything. Like the meaning of life and all the answers to the universe.
“It is all going to be fine now,” he said, patting Nigel on the shoulder. His gesture was sincere even though it seemed a little condescending.
Nigal backed away and continued to talk.
We didn’t stay in the city long we were anxious to get back to the village and go to the expensive café for something to eat; after all we were loaded now. Nigel had managed to get together almost 700 pounds. After cashing the cheques we felt like kings and queens for a while, only it seemed that there was a catch. They told me what they had done as I sipped my coffee, and completely spoiled my regal moment.
“You did what?” I asked them both in disbelief.
“We cashed all the checks,” answered Ray with his calm, I know the answers to all the universe, attitude.
“Ray…Dirham is dead money outside of Morocco, we can’t change it again, anywhere! How are we going to get back to Portugal?”
We had originally planned to go back to Portugal, but beforehand we wanted to visit Fez and Marrakesh, the real Morocco — for tourists.
So we didn’t have 700 pounds after all, we had the equivalent in Dirham.
I couldn’t believe it. Ray explained to me that he was worried because all the cheques were in Nigel’s name and it was the most sensible thing to do. Apparently the banks would only change into dirham, that is why they went to a few different ones, to see if the others would change into pounds, but they all had the same policy, only dirham.
So how did Moroccans go on holiday? I wasn’t going to ask that. This was obviously a policy the banks had to get your pounds and make you spend all your money in the country.
Ray’s real fear was that Nigel was going to run off with the money, I had no idea why he had become so distrusting and paranoid all of a sudden.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, just chilling and smoking. Gladly the hash was running out, and I was hoping that Ray had no intention of buying more. It was too dangerous. Even possession of a few grams could get you sent to prison. Just a week before a German man had gone to prison for having 3 grams on him. We heard they had put him in a 3 by 3 metre cell with one window and eight other prisoners; and they even took his shoe laces! Later the same day his ‘girlfriend’ was picked up for being drunk on the beach, she was Moroccan though, she also went to prison.
I was determined to chill no matter what! No more stress! We had money, the beach; what more could we ask for?
The afternoon went quickly, we went and ate some fish in the square and drank some mint tea. The two of them didn’t really talk much and when they did, they just disagreed with each other. Ray now seemed to think he was some kind of guru, his voice soft and slow. He had only travelled from the south to the north and was acting like he was born there. Nigel was freaking out because of the lack of European tourists. We just made fun of him, as we often did — maybe we shouldn’t have.
That night our usual crowd came round and Ray was very quiet. I spoke to the nurses and they told me they were in their first year of the course. Ann was from Liverpool and Barry was from Manchester, they had decided to make the journey before going back to school after the holidays. I couldn’t believe that we were at the end of June already! We had been in Morocco for five weeks!
Nigel went to bed, Muhammad left and the rest of us stayed up well into the early hours. Everything was fine until we heard cries from Nigel’s room. Actually it was more like moans and groans than cries.
We knocked on the door but he didn’t open it, so we went straight in to see what the matter was. He was rolled up in a fetal position on his bed; he seemed to be in agony and he was sweating profusely. We asked the nurses to take a look at him. They suspected immediately that he must have caught a stomach bug, or something similar. It looked like he had a fever. Luckily they had a thermometer with them. We tried to take his temperature but it was impossible to get a correct reading as he kept squirming about on the bed and shaking the thermometer out from under his arm. He seemed to be getting worse. He couldn’t even talk to us.
“He is doing it on purpose!” Ray said quietly to me.
“Ray, why would he pretend to be ill?” I enquired, wondering why anybody would try and fake this.
“Because he is jealous…because we traveled all the way through Morocco and he didn’t…and we did it together…”
This was getting a bit old now and he wasn’t making much sense at all with these petty accusations. That was when he started to chain smoke, Nigel had brought hundreds of cigarettes over with him, so I suppose someone had to smoke them. The nurses were of no use whatsoever, I couldn’t really expect too much though, they were only students after all. They both stood leaning against the wall, expressionless, Ray paced about the room. I got a cloth and wiped Nigel’s face. He was sweating so much, I didn’t reckon he was faking it. I looked at Ray.
“Why don’t you go and get help instead of smoking and pacing up and down the room?” I ordered. “Anyone would think he was expecting a baby!”
“Where?” Asked Ray. Although visbly frustrated and angry, his response was calm. It was almost like his real question was ‘Why?’. He almost seemed happy to see Nigel suffering. Ray’s eyes took on a manic look I had never seen before.
“Go to Jerry’s, Muhammad’s, anybody’s, just go get help!”
Nigel kept squirming around and was making me impatient, Ray wasn’t helping any either. If he could just make a decision already! The nurses now sat on the floor sat silently observing the situation, and possibly wishing they were somewhere else right now. I asked them what we could do and they just looked at me blankly.
“Take him to the hospital”, they answered flatly.
That was the best suggestion yet! As it turned out, they were geniuses! Ray decided he would go and get Jerry.
He knew where Jerry lived, we had been round to his place before, it was nice. Jerry had made shelves from wooden fruit crates for his clothes, and he also had a table. It was like a penthouse compared to our place.
Ray left and the nurses went off to bed.
So, I was alone in the room with Nigel. I was talking to him but he would not respond at all. There was an awful smell in the room like he had possibly ‘had an accident’. Well I sure wasn’t going to check. I started to wonder what the hell I was doing there. This trip was not what I had expected at all— we should have stayed in Portugal and become entertainers in a local café — the offer had been there!
Nigel was murmuring things I could not comprehend, like that girl in the Exorcist; I toyed with the idea that he could be possessed, just to entertain myself and that any moment he would sit up and his head would do a 360º turn!
Suddenly he sat bolt upright and looked right into my eyes, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead. I nearly ‘cacked’ myself!
He crumpled up again and continued to writhe on the bed. He appeared to be in agony.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Ray came back with Jerry. They were furious. They had asked the police on the roadblock for help and they wouldn’t help them, they both started to give me a detailed account of how the conversation went, and who said what — but I had to interrupt them.
“Just go and get Muhammad then!” I screeched.
They pair of them just paced and smoked. I couldn’t stay in the room any longer and I had to leave.
“I am going to get Muhammad…” I said as I got up and left the room, “…you two stay here!”
I didn’t even know where Muhammad lived! I went straight to the square. Day was breaking already, I saw the young boy who helped out in the café and asked him to take me to Muhammad’s place. God knows what he must have thought.
We got Muhammad out of bed, but he was so sweet about it and gave me a warm smile when he saw me. His room was immaculate. Very sparce with just a small dresser and a bed like ours on the floor, but with nice bedding. Not a scabby sleeping bag that was now full of sand from the beach.
“You should have come to me first,” he said as we left his house.
He said he would meet me back at our house, to let me know what was happening and went off somewhere to phone an ambulance. The post office wasn’t open yet and I think there was only one other phone in the entire village.
He arrived back at the house almost immediately after I did and assured us that the ambulance was on its way.
It seemed to take forever.
We could hear the sirens in the distance, closing in, I felt better already. It wouldn’t take long before Nigel would be on his way to the hospital. A part of me suddenly resented his presence and his being ill. Things had just been so weird since his arrival. Ray’s behaviour, his behaviour — everything.
The ambulance pulled up outside and the whole village came out to see what was happening with the crazy tourists. It must have been years since they had seen anything like this. A reminder of those crazy hippies, the ones Muhammad used to talk about. As we prepared to leave, Nigel mentioned the travel insurance he had with him for the hospital. We got his passport and anything else we thought we might need and went in the ambulance with him to the hospital.
He continued to writhe around in pain, and then suddenly he lay motionless. Ray was not even paying attention, he was extremely tense and seemed to have drifted off into some far off land in his head, for his own sanity probably. Nigel suddenly stopped writhing and lay motionless on the stretcher, I truly thought for a moment that he had died. This would be awful! He and Ray had been friends for years, he would not take it well, I couldn’t even imagine how it could affect him if he died here! He was almost like a brother.
Strangely though, a part of me felt relieved that it was over. I had such a bad feeling that it was only just beginning though.
Suddenly he started to squirm and writhe again.