Monday, May 17, 2010

The Stowaway

'I'm sure your thoughts are not with me,
But with the country to where you're going.'
– Bob Dylan, Boots of Spanish Leather

On our trip we discovered two things: the journey is the destination, and accent is everything. We didn't discover much about each other, but that's not the point of travelling. Ruby always used to tell me I was the most boring aspect of whichever country we visited together. Besides, I didn't talk that much anyway, and Casey stopped talking to me altogether in Tangier.

As I sat upstairs on the number 41 bus going home, the condensation covered the windows. It was 4:30am, the bus was packed and I realised how much I missed her. I felt sleepy and drunk, but liked the way the bus curved the corners and I didn't know where I was or where I was going. It felt like the last mysterious trip, and I felt a sadness as well as a happiness. I missed her as soon as we parted at Victoria station, New Year's eve morning. I hadn't realised how much I liked her. It was an instant hit in the stomach as soon as we parted. Like with love or being punched.

Casey had phoned me on the Saturday to ask me if I wanted to go to Goa, India with her. No, I said, but what about Morocco, it's cheaper and nearer. She thought that was a good idea and on the Sunday I booked two return tickets for Malaga, Spain.

Two or three things I know about her. She will always remember certain things about the trip. The stowaway; the soup in Fes; the cafe in Tetouan; sitting down in the lounge on the boat in Tangier, heading towards Algeciras, Spain, feeling warmth and comfort, a bit of love too, for the first time in days.

Our plane was delayed for four hours at Gatwick. It was my first time at Gatwick. Casey had been there before a few years ago, and noticed that it's changed. All I could see were freaks and geeks, badly dressed ugly people. An airport being a perfect microcosm of society. We sat in a pub for a few hours, with businessman in suits over the way, like they'd just finished work, and we forgot it was an airport. Casey with her Courvoisier and ginger ale, me with my lager. She bought cream shoes at the airport for £40, especially for the journey. The shoes were in a shop a few doors along from the pub. Casey came back and described them to me, and I dashed along to have a look at them. We had all our luggage at the pub, so both of us couldn't look at the shoes together. I think it may have been the fourth time I went to the shop that I saw the right ones, agreed they were nice, and she bought them.

The next morning in Malaga, a crisp, sunshining day with sunglasses, cheap cigarettes and lovely coffee, sitting outside the cafe. It feels nice, the sun, the coffee, Casey. She’s extremely excited and can’t contain herself. We both feel lighter and agree we should live here, which is something I’ve said about every country I’ve ever been to. But we like Spain’s pace of life, and its coffee.

A train through to Algeciras. We both love train rides and the possibility of them. Train systems are also a microcosm of society, but perhaps everything is. Spanish trains are great. You can smoke on them. The seats turn into beds. The landscape rolls by and I realise my smallness and I feel meek but content, just aware of the general scheme of things.

Casey’s got her mind on other things: the man writing opposite us she thinks is a writer. She imagines a life with him, in Ronda, where he gets off. He looks selfish but wears Clark’s shoes, so he must be all right. (We stopped off at Ronda on our way back... maybe Casey had Bruce Chatwin in her thoughts: in 1978 he rented a house in Ronda for five months to write his second book, The Viceroy of Ouidah. He filled twenty yellow legal writing pads with his Mont Blanc pen filled with Asprey's brown ink. He said that Ronda looked like an 'iced cake'. Though gay, Chatwin did like black women with big behinds.)

Rainy and dirty in a cafe in Algerciras as the electricity goes off and everything is dark just as a dirty old gypsy woman tries to sell me her dirty bread.

From Algericas to Ceuta, in Morocco, but Spanish and it was Christmas Eve and we ended up in a cafe with a group of people. Ceuta is just weird. Not exactly Muslim, not exactly Spanish. I don’t think Ceuta itself knows what it is. In the bar in Ceuta the crazy, annoying black woman who just talked and talked and laughed and laughed to me non-stop for hours. She stroked her arm and repeatedly said, 'Allemande, Anglais, yes, Francais, yes, Moroc, no.' Then she’d point upstairs and make a sleeping sign with her hands. ‘Yes?’ No, no, no and no.

Ceuta on Christmas day and everything seems shut, except McDonald's by the beach. We have a Coke. The whole town is deserted. We wander and find a nice cafe, the only one open. Coffee and bread. Merry Christmas.

We start walking to the border: the border into Morocco proper. We start walking in the wrong direction, of course. Then we get a taxi to the border. Overland borders. Kinda fascinating: on one side, Ceuta, cleanliness, on the other, Morocco, what looks like a garbage dump.

Even though Driton, my Kosovan friend at work in London, had been on Ramadan for the past few weeks, for some reason I didn't connect the two. It was only when I lit a cigarette on the other side of Ceuta, which was Morocco, with everyone looking at me, that the realisation came. When finally people started shouting at me then throwing stones at me, I stopped smoking altogether during the day.

Walking by myself in Tetouan to find a pack of cigarettes at night, I feel no weight, just the feeling of the night and strangers greet me, and when I ask one man where I can buy cigarettes he says he doesn't know but gives me one of his Marlboros instead. When I go back I say to Casey, 'I've just realised I'm always going to be alone but that's how I like it.' Casey looks shocked. I say, 'Oh, I don't mean here, now with you. I like being with you. I mean in the general scheme of things, I'm always going to be alone.'

Winter in Fes: something almost romantic about it. We found the only cafe open in Fes during the day. The curtains were drawn, the lights turned off. The door slightly ajar. I felt nervous, and got up and closed it slightly. Other tourists filtered in. The atmosphere was sober. We knew we were being bad. We chained smoked cigarettes and coffee. My stomach felt bad, and I felt guilty.

In the Sheraton hotel, Fes, in happy hour, two beers for the price of one. A bit of luxury and a beer, is all we want. We watch the beautiful white girl with blonde straight hair sitting across the room. Casey thinks she's a model. She chats with the waiter. Next to us a prostitute comes and sits down.

I told Casey of my dream when we were on the boat from Tangier to Algeciras. It was dark and I was in the countryside. There was a huge sewage pipe running through the middle of the countryside. The pipe asked me what I wanted. I could have anything I wanted. I asked the pipe for love. A minute later, out came three pieces of green toast and the pipe told me they were love. Green toast.

Some days later, after we had parted, I had another dream. They are the only two dreams I have remembered in months. I dreamt I kissed her. Just a kiss, but we were locked together, as if forever. Our faces morphed and became one. It wasn't very nice.

The night and the light and the rain of Tangier. Or, as the French Canadians say: 'Danger Tangier'. In the taxi Casey said, 'Maybe we were only meant to meet so we could go to Morocco together.' I said nothing, but hoped that wasn't so. There were other places to go too.

We sat at a waterside restaurant in Tangier. It was cold and raining. I was excited about being in Tangier, but Casey obviously wasn't. We only wanted soup at the restaurant. We hadn't eaten properly for days and soup was all we could manage. 'With chips?' asks our waiter. No, just soup, with bread. A basket of bread was lying on our table. The waiter went to take it away. I pulled it back. Apparently we weren't allowed bread if we only ordered soup, which cost 5 dirhams. The waiter and I were playing tug of war with the basket of bread. Casey got up and stormed out. I shouted at her. She didn't look back. I let her go.

I walked out of the restaurant. I watched her as she walked up the hill to our hotel. I continued walking along the waterfront. A pretty couple sitting at a table outside a restaurant turned and smiled at me. I continued walking. I got to the point where the restaurants ended and it got dark and dodgy. I turned back. I needed some food. I stopped at the restaurant where the pretty couple were sitting. The man said something to me. I said, 'What?' He continued talking to me in French, and I said 'What?' again, and asked him if he spoke English. He said he did and asked me where I was from. 'England,' I said. Him and his girlfriend were French Canadian. They were young and pretty, and just a little boring, but a pleasant respite after days and nights spent with Casey. We spoke of Morocco, and I got my soup, avec du pain, and a Coke. They found me funny. I found them a willing audience. I asked them if they wanted to meet later in a bar, with Casey. I finished my soup and Coke, and agreed to meet them in fifteen minutes. I went back to our hotel room, Casey was moaning and pissed off, but managed to persuade her to come to the Marco Polo bar with me. It took her ten minutes or so to get ready, and we left.

When we arrived in the bar, it was full of prostitutes, dark and sleazy. The women looked more Asian than Arab. The barman wouldn't serve Casey a drink. He thought she was a Muslim, and Muslim women aren't allowed to drink during Ramadan. He inspects her passport for like five minutes, looking up at Casey, and then down again at her passport.

It felt good on the boat back. I was warm and Casey was in better spirits. There was a strange feeling lasting a few minutes where everyone around us seemed relaxed and happy too. Many people were sleeping, some were just relaxing, thinking, drinking, talking. I felt a feeling of love from all around me. I felt it inside myself, permeating my whole body. I told Casey. She said, love comes from without, not from within,' and I knew what she meant. I might have said I felt a love for her, but I didn't. I don't really say things like that to women anymore.

During Ramadan, food began to have a simple, almost spiritual and religious connotation. Our daily evening soup, bread and eggs had a simplicity and ritual significance bordering on the religious. And tasted great too.

On the train to Tangier, the passengers in our carriage felt unique. There was me, English and New Zealand, Casey, English and Jamaican, an Algerian, two young Moroccan men and an old Moroccan guy. The Algerian had a laptop. Casey said he looked like her father. I made everyone laugh with tales of Algeria, but Casey was not amused.

Suddenly, a black hand with pink fingernails appears from under my seat, just like in an old horror film. The hand was attached to a man, who is presently pulled out from under the seat.
'Vous ete derange?' The Algerian asks him.
'Non.' The man with the hand replies. He speaks French and is from Mali. He’s been travelling illegally from Mali for several days.

It's obvious that Casey fancies the Algerian, and when he goes to get up and leave, at a station just before Tangier, Casey goes all flustered and follows him out of the carriage. I feel pangs of jealousy; I can't help it. A minute later, I follow them. The Algerian has already left the train, and Casey is there outside the toilet, still a bit flustered. I wonder if she went to kiss him or swap addresses, but I don't ask. Of course, I love her.

We’d been on the bus to Fes all day. We were starving. When we approach Fes it is almost dark. The bus pulls into the station and everyone literally jumps off and runs into the nearest cafe. We do too. We sit at a table, illuminated by bare light bulb. We wait for our soup, bread and egg. After eating, a Moroccan woman comes over to Casey, sits down next to her, and starts speaking to Casey in Arabic, which Casey doesn’t understand, then French, which Casey doesn’t understand, and finally pigeon English, which Casey does understand, just. The woman thinks Casey is Moroccan and I am her French husband. She wants to know how easy it is for Moroccan women to marry European men. Casey has to explain.

(Spain, Morocco; December 1999)

We went on four journeys together in the space of a year. During the last one, to Dublin, we had a falling out, and never spoke again.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Yeah man, I love morocco!