By Mark Blickley -
I’m tired and I hate the daylight. This strange sun reflecting off the white
djellabas irritates me. It lights up a city of men tugging at their
genitals, smiling toothless smiles. It shows dogs and children, bones pressing
against skin, begging for relief. The sun releases the warm smell of urine
and I hate its familiarity. Sunshine gives clear, ugly faces to the staccato
voices echoing through the narrow, filthy streets. It is impossible to hide
anything under that sweet, burning Moroccan sun. I feel exposed.
Each day, I amuse myself with sketching until darkness frees me from
an imaginary world that hides me from the sun. The thick, violent sunset
is my signal-a multi-colored alarm that assures me it is safe to leave the
expensive hotel room.
Moroccan view, by Mark
The evenings are cool by the sea, so I follow the salt scent for a quarter
of a mile until I stand on the beach. The growing darkness makes the people
handsome. Eyes dominate. They make me feel secure. As long as I don’t have
to squint at the sun, which impairs my reading of men’s eyes, I feel safe.
At night the only reflections are friendship or danger, not white djellabas.
I listen to the waves slapping the beach. Women in veiled burnooses file
past me, clutching their small sons and staring at their feet. I smile at
the women. Their silhouettes against the horizon turn them into phantoms,
insuring them of a most respected position within the night.
The ocean sounds and phantoms become too familiar, so I walk up to the
boulevard just as the night lamps snap on. I love the lamps because unlike
the sunlight, they throw everything into shadow.
The boulevard is stretched with brightly-lit cafes housing lazy men and
frightened tourists. I feel sick when I see a table of my tour companions.
They’re caressing their cameras and huddling around the candle burning on
their café table, as if insisting that the flame and familiar bodies offer
some sort of protection. I spit, quickly turn my head, and cross the street.
The winding street to the medina is steep, and though it’s larger than
any other road in Tangier, it’s a slow walk because of the crowds. The odor
of raw sewage is carried by the sea breeze, and I like the contradiction
of the two smells. I bump into many men who curse me and flash their teeth.
I pause, stare into their faces, and continue undisturbed.
Children spot me. The smaller ones fleece the crowd using mirrors. When
they find a careless foreigner with a bulge in his back pocket, they signal
to their comrades for help. Soon a half-dozen desperate children run around
me, hoping to distract me long enough for one of them to lunge at my wallet.
I am amused by their ritual and pretend not to notice the small hand
sliding across my buttock. I am ashamed of the boy’s lack of skill. Like
an annoyed jackass I swiftly snap my leg back, creating a thud as my shoe
connects with the boy’s face. A scream, some swearing, and four more blocks
until the medina.
The entrance to the medina has competing merchants in blue jeans squatting
in stalls next to sleepy old men with henna beards. Violent bartering and
the rapid-fire tongues of children, along with the shouts of taxi drivers
and the hissing of horny young men, produce an uneven din that assaults
the ears in waves.
At every step a craftsman pleads in broken English to “make good business,
my friend.” I walk under the old stone passageway into the medina proper
and turn to face the square.
Children running at breakneck speeds and the rich variety of colored
djellabas, even more beautiful under the weak night lamps, fill me
with an incredible sense of well being - until I notice the lack of women.
I spin around, pushed to the side by two male couples with their arms
around each other’s waists, giggling. It angers me and I’m tempted to stomp
on their bare feet.
Two veiled women approach me, but the crowds are so thick that as soon
as I feel a tug on my sleeve I defensively cock my fist. When I see they
are females it excites me, and I lower my arm. Both women hold out a delicate
bracelet of ivory and silver. I shake my head, but the taller woman with
dark circles under her eyes giggles, “Is present. Gift. Go. Gift.” They
attach them to my wrists.
Flattered, I thank them and walk away. The women shriek, attracting the
crowd’s attention. “Two dirham each!” they cry.
“You said it was a gift!” I yell back - an explanation more to the crowd
than to the women. The women raise their voices until I can feel the entire
medina watching the transaction.
I take a five dirham bill out of my pocket that one of the women snatches
out of my hand as the other pulls the gift off my wrists. They disappear
into the crowd, but I can hear their squeakish voices detailing their triumph.
I laugh and am not ashamed of their skill.
I push through the crowd. I’m frightened and it excites me. My pace quickens
as I squeeze past a decaying movie house featuring Charlie Chaplin, and
rows of dilapidated cafes catering to men playing cards and rolling dice.
The stench of excrement mingles with the sweet aroma of mint tea as my fear
directs me to a café table.
The waiter is offended by my request for wine, so I order a mint tea
instead. The tea is hot; it burns my lip. Two card players from an adjoining
table look over and laugh. I exaggerate my pain and soon the entire table
joins in the laughter. A dark man in a frayed sweater signals me to join
The other card players ignore me. I jump into the game after watching
four rounds. They play a form of poker using a forty-card deck and I lose
twenty-three dirham in six hands. I leave without any acknowledgement from
I continue my walk up a dusty hill to the Casbah. The path is dark and
I notice teenagers following me. I pick up a large stone as I draw closer
to the ancient fort where the city’s poorest live. I can hear the teenagers’
strained whispers. Rats scurry from wall to wall as my footsteps crunch
on the cobblestones.
I feel a strange absence of danger. No one approaches me. I’m watched
in silence. Exhausted, I head back to my hotel. I toss my rock into the
shadows and listen to it scrape across the cobblestones. I feel defeated.
Leaning back on my hotel steps, I look up at the black sky turning blue.
The head of a new sunrise presses against the emptiness inside my chest.
Soon I will climb into bed and try to sleep. I’m tired and I hate the daylight.