KEY TO THE HIGHWAY
© 1996 by Quil Lawrence
If I were a wrinkled old con-man, aging away in the world capitol of hustling and rip-off games, I would tell my children a short fable as I kicked them out on the street to ply the family trade. I would tell them that every tourist has a secret little golden pouch, like the venom-gland of a cobra or the heart of an artichoke. I would tell them that as these curious and courageous back-packers trot about the planet, they are never without their precious golden pockets. What's inside the little treasure chest? Their trains and planes and rental jeeps, their el-Minzah hotel rooms, their cous-cous and kufta and wine and whisky, their Tuareg-silver rings, and their Berber-wool blankets. But more than just the checks and tickets: Their key to the highway, their magic little badges that allow them freely in any border except those that no one would want to cross, American Express checks that you can sell quickly for half their cover value, train tickets that you scalp to other tourists (their own kind!) but low, an American passport Sell it or don't; here is the djinn in the lamp.
Stealing a passport is like pulling the wings off a fly. For just a day or two (which is at least a week here) the poor exile feels just like the rest. To look across the straits and feel the snowy mountains in Andalusia crack their message on the water, "You can see me but you can't cross." Just for a short while an American without that cute little blue book is stuck in the third world No laundry machine, no touch-tone phone; No return boarding pass, no wake up Dorothy; No run-up-the-gang-plank-wave fuck-you to the con men at the port.
I finally crawled up the ramp to the hydro-foil at seven a.m., two weeks later than I had planned. As the ferry pulled away toward Spain I pulled the cork from a bottle of Ksar, and got drunk before breakfast. The ferry only takes an hour, but Tangier is on Greenwich Mean Time, a couple hours earlier than Spain. When I breeze through Algeciras customs it is four hours and fifty years later. I spent months resetting my clock.
These days, the only people who don't hate Tangier are the Tangerians, and none of them go so far as to love it. Gone are the days when Tangier was the romantic haven for all the hippest ex-patriot artists, musicians and writers. I even heard that Mr. Bowels is moving to Thailand. I like Tangier. Maybe if a few tiny events had not passed I would have said I love Tangier, but then it would have been a misinformed affection, a cuckold who is bragging of his wife's fidelity. The old city, the medina, just couldn't let me depart in blissful ignorance. I should perhaps take this as a friendly gesture; the city that had become my home couldn't let me go without showing me what a dirty stinking filthy companion it really is. After four months of good luck and hospitality, Tangier made me curse it.
I speak as though it was deceptive from the start, but this is not so. Tangier made no pretense of honesty. I was hustled on my very first morning in the city, before I had shaken off the trans-Atlantic jet lag. Muhammad (his real name) sidled up to me as I wandered down the Boulevard. My mind was certainly a cloud; just one cup of Moroccan coffee left me sleepless the night before in my hotel. Perhaps it was the imbalance of having traveled so far. Modern travel allows the body to go so far with no comprehension of the meaning of distance. Is there a part that moves slowly on behind? As though jet-planes have broken the soul barrier, and there is adjustment time before the action is explained fully. The time between when the cowboy falls off his horse and when the shot is heard from a mile across the mesa.
I had just been mistaken for a postcard vendor at the newsstand and was patting myself on the back for my chameleon skin color and hair cut. With the oldest and cheapest lines he became my guide, "I am student, want to practice English, I show you around, no money, ok?" This was a lesson to learn: never trust anyone who approaches you. If it is a bystander who doesn't give a damn about you, then his Moroccan hospitality will command that he help you. If it is some inoffensive looking person who initiates the exchange, then without exception he is a liar and perhaps worse. I didn't want to believe this and I was corrected. The desperate con artistry of Morocco is not stronger than its immense hospitality; it is just more available.
Muhammad walks along beside me chattering about Tangier, asking me questions, pointing out things. I quickly realize that I dislike like company when I'm exploring a city, or maybe just the feeling of debt I'm accruing. My bearings in this city are very poor and we are walking through narrowing streets of the medina. Ancient cities cannot be found in North America. Quebec is the only walled city on the continent, and what could be less threatening than Canada? Arab old cities seem a thousand and one times removed from the old cities of Europe. The streets wind tighter, the houses clutch the side walks more jealously. To a North American Tangier is another planet.
Muhammad's conversation shifts to money. Not to pay him, not yet, but he's sussing out my tax bracket. This school you are attending, it is expensive? Who pays? I give him the "poorboy on scholarship" routine that I know so well. I guess the haggling has begun. I've been walking wide around the corners and wondering if he has friends who will be waiting to jump me. "Nobody give you trouble here, you in good hands. Everybody knows me here."
When we step through the next archway I lose my breath. We are at the Kasbah, a spot that will become my favorite in the city. The rampart outside the wall hangs a hundred feet above the beach on a cliff. Air moves with the ocean and cools off the sun we have been walking through. I can see Spain and I get my first tug to cross the channel. What must it be like to see it every day? I can always tell that I'm a yankee when confronted with things of great age. The Appalachian mountains were surely still mud when Iberia first appeared to North Africa.
The stone walkway continues along the wall and narrows before entering the fort again. There are plenty of people milling about, enjoying the air, but I am the only obvious outsider. I sit on the short wall hanging over the edge and stare. I am quite ready to lose Muhammad. He has been speaking to the other Tangerians in Maghrebi, and then turns to me. "OK I go now, you give me small tip. Fifty Dirham maybe."
I do my best naive,"You said no money."
"Listen, I show you Kasbah, I take you all around, you give me little something, we be happy."
I only have eighteen Dirham on me, and eleven dollar bills. Oh, yes, and a fortune in traveller's checks. How far is he willing to go? I try ignoring him.
"Lissen. You want trouble? I give you trouble. Everybody here they know me. You just give me little something. Five dollar."
I am alone. I look around at the people he was chatting with and they all mind their own affairs. As usual I'm beginning to wonder when my luck is going to run out,
"Muhammad . . ."
"Who tell you my name Muhammad. That my crazy-name. Lissen. You give me five dollar, I be happy you be happy. You want trouble I have to cut your face or something."
He's taken off his chain necklace, I'm not sure if it's to hit me with or just so it will be unharmed when he cuts my face or something. "I can only give you one dollar. I need the other money for school."
"No, that is nothing. You give me dollar I throw it to the ground. You give me four dollar."
A few months later Muhammad told me about how badly he needed money that day. The first story was about taking his girlfriend out for the night, another time he told me it was money he needed for dope. Still he was very insistent that he had in no way taken the money from me; I had given it to him, from my hand to his. In fact that is true. I lost my nerve to haggle further, gave him the four bucks and hurried off in the direction I had come.
"You no go that way, that very bad for you. You go that way, back to boulevard."
He points toward a road wide enough for a car. I begrudgingly take his advice. I ask the first man I see if this is the road to the city center and he nods. I walk quickly away from the Kasbah where everyone now knows that I'm a sucker.
Muhammad is not the villain of this story. When he so kindly introduced me to the realities of Tangier, I was still forgiving and had my whole trip ahead of me. Muhammad in fact is one of the heroes who tried in vain to catch the true Ibliss, whose name is TrombaOh, Puke and Beatings Upon Him. Muhammad was among the first I sought after I was robbed, but there it is, I cannot avoid telling the humiliation any longer. But don't let me get away with making it seem some death-defying ordeal, as I did with that first con-job. Tromba, drunken child of a filthy whore that he is, was barely able to avoid picking my pocket. It must have been like candy from a baby, and as tempting as lemonade in Ramadan at noon.
Anyone with any sense will not carry such valuables with them, and if it is unavoidable they will keep them in that magic little concealed pocket, close to their skin. So relaxed had I become in Tangier that I was carrying the pouch in my front pants-pocket, and worse, I no longer was in the habit of tying the thing to my belt.
Tromba enters stage left in the orange souk the Fundak a word that means both hotel and stable, and the implication of a home for animals is not incorrect. He approached me and I diagnosed the situation as another routine solicitation by a pathetic human being. We become immune to everyday tragedy; when a woman with one arm and two children laying on the sidewalk with flies crawling on their eyes asks me for eleven cents and I say no, I know I am living in Tangier. This encounter seemed like nothing new. A man with an unwashed, unshaven face staggered towards me and put his hand out for money. I gave my practised reply, "Ma `andeshI don't have it," the type of acceptable lie that allows us to walk by those who have so much less. It was no surprise that this didn't phase him.
"You give money... I know karate"
This is a new twist I've not heard, but still unimpressed, I wave him away.
"I cut you... you give me dirham." The man has produced a jackknife from his shabby coat and is pointing in my general direction. While this was also a first, I had learned to be comfortable in Tangier. For all the poor tourists swindled in this town, there are very few who are physically hurt. Simple economics: tourism fuels the economy and also the informal economy here in Morocco that provides some income to the teeming masses of unemployed. Hurting tourists hurts tourism and everyone loses. In the interest of preserving good business, the Moroccan police have made a habit of severely punishing anyone who is daring enough to harm a foreigner. Electricity was mentioned as the most popular form of torture, but many other methods of punishment have been used to discourage violent crime. Tangier is a small town and even in the twisting medina, there is no hiding place that cannot be sold-out.
So I was not nervous at knife point. I told Tromba, "Asir fihaluk go away."
What happened next was so clumsy that it was truly art. This little man in his knit-cap and coke-bottle glasses, the guy karate-chopped me. He was like Hong-Kong Fuey. The edge of his right hand cut the air in front of my chest and his right foot stepped under me. Still in stride I bumped into him. At this final annoyance I gave him a shove and cursed, "Asir Ta-Kawudd!" Arabic is a derivative language; words consist of a root that is suffixed or prefixed or varied to change the shade of the meaning. In this case I was using the Command asir "go," combined with the reflexive derivative of the infinitive root Kawudd "to fuck." "Go fuck yourselfAsir Ta-Kawudd."
I assumed that I would never see his face again. Ten minutes later, as my friend and I entered the neighborhood near the American litigation building, I warned my friend that he should mind his pockets in this dangerous area of town. Then I realized that He had taken it.
"It's gone," I stuttered.
"What's gone?" asked Michael.
How many times since that day have I daydreamed that the afternoon had proceeded differently? I had tied my pouch under my shirt or that I had noticed the robbery. With Michael's assistance I repulsed the would-be raider of my purse; we grabbed him and stole his wallet or better yet, beat him up. But no, I was plucked clean and the bad guys escaped.
To my credit I can report that I only panicked for ten minutes, perhaps a quarter-hour. My confidence melted. I ran back to the cafe where I had spent the morning with the impossible dream that I had dropped it myself, but the weight of my mistake was filling my stomach. With my best friend Abdessamad I went to the police station.
The police station is by the old Spanish church in the new city. While crosses are not as conspicuous in Tangier as they might be in other parts of Morocco, it is still an easy landmark. An armored vehicle with a water-canon sits in the yard, waiting patiently to hose down any flames of dissent. We wait in line behind a man whose hand is wrapped in a now-red cloth; his leg is cut and has soaked his blue jeans black in three wide stains. There is an Imam who is first in line. He has apprehended a man stealing Korans from the Mosque. The Imam is negotiating some community service for the thief, whom he has agreed to feed.
My problem does not appear so grave to the tired policeman who hears my story in Abdessamad's Arabic. Michael is an artist and offers to draw a picture of the man.
"Tell your friend," says the cop in dialect, wiping his hands on his dirty uniform and grinning around his cigarette, "that we are not in America. There are three of you, eyeh? Go find the man, and bring him to us. You can take him."
The Thousand Levels of Desperation
Thus with the official channels exhausted we once again meet Muhammad, my first host in the Maghreb. I found him standing outside Trika's restaurant in the old city. Trika is a sculptor who has turned to running a beautiful cave of a tavern just beneath the Kasbah. I have decided that I love Trika dearly, though I would never allow him to be alone with any unarmed female friend or family member. Selective suspension of judgement, though irresponsible, makes me friends wherever I go. I wonder how many apply this clause to me.
Trika and I often enjoyed heavy drinking together. Our friendship was sealed the night he dropped his trousers in front of his customers as an act of sheer audacity. By fate or chance I was wearing underwear and displayed my red-white-and-blue Mickey Mouse briefs. We became brothers.
I spent many evenings in Trika's care. When we drank too much I would sleep in the restaurant, stretching out the long cushioned benches in the alcove-booths of the restaurant. The huge candles would burn out leaving black trails up the white stone walls. The candles rested atop enormous and heavy brass sticks. The path to his place and to the Kasbah were among the few routes I could navigate in the medina. He would always insist that I drink at least a bottle of wine with him, and if I had my guitar that I play "Suzy-Q." Trika is a good Muslim and strictly gave up drink during his Ramadan fast: like a Jew giving up lobster for the time between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur. Some drinkers give up booze a full month in advance of the fast. The day after the holiest of months is drowned in the fastbreaking of faithful drunks.
I became re-acquainted with my friend Muhammad one night at Trika's. The sound of the music was bouncing up the street and there were a few kids outside listening. Trika yelled to a boy for cigarettes. People love to have inferiors. I've seen Moroccan young men buy smokes singly instead of the cheaper pack just for the pleasure of sending a street rat running to get a few Camels for a five-cent tip. The thousand levels of desperation in Tangier provides nearly everybody with someone to shit on. The boy was Muhammad.
"Trika, do you know that boy?"
"Yes. His name is Muhammad, he lives upstairs."
"He hustled me on my first day in Tangier." I had seen Muhammad since in the street, he had been friendly even hustlers warm to anyone who stays for some time in Tangier.
"That is normal" said Trika, absent-mindedly rubbing his considerable belly, "How much did you give him?"
Trika fell back in his chair laughing at the outrageous amount. Then Muhammad smiled at me and said hello. Trika gave him a dirham, ten cents. From that evening on I saw him around town. We occasionally had coffee at the Cafe de Paris.
I had never seen Trika dizzied by the maze of Tangier, and this casual opulence and control made me think he would be the one to help me. I counted two lefts and then headed up the alley to Trika's. Outside the closed door of the restaurant sits Muhammad. He sees my face, "What the problem?"
"Some one robbed me. He got
everything . . ."I don't know how to express the magnitude of the helplessness. We were planning to leave in a week. What do I do? Can I leave the country? Am I stranded here? How can I even prove I'm me?
Muhammad stands up without hesitation, "Let's go."
We fall in stride beside him as his friends slip into the woodwork. He explains to me as we walk, "I know a man, his name Mustafa. He's not hustler." He gestures to himself and his surrounding area, then with a shrug reveals, "He sells drugs. He knows everything that happen in Fundak. He's the big boss of that area. Even police come to him to find what is happening."
The area behind the market is hidden from view. Most visitors to Tangier would never know that it exists, and they'd be better off not knowing. Muhammad and a con-man friend are my escorts there and they seem nervous. His friend looks over to me and says with a tremor, "This is a bad place."
It is a bad place. Even I who thought that Muhammad was tough can see that. There is a normal Moroccan cafe full of men, but it seems to be home to an all-star team of thugs. They are all sitting at tables and staring at the television that hangs above the front doorway so they are looking out but over as our heads pass by. They are watching a kung-fu movie, I can tell by the hokey sound effects. Their heads turn back and forth with each phoney sounding punch. It's like they're watching tennis. Everyone has a visible scar on his face, one unattractive fellow has a puckered seam where he was slashed almost ear-to-ear. Yuck.
We pop into a dirty stall where a shrivelled man sits on top of an old soda cooler. He has a filthy djelaba, the traditional all-purpose Moroccan robe that doubles as a sleeping bag for this man by the looks. Muhammad talks in quick dialect and I catch the name Mustafa.
"We wait," then aside to me, "Buy something."
I ask for a coke and the man gets me a warm coca-cola from the "cooler." We wait in silence for twenty minutes, barely a second here in Morocco where five minutes can stretch to sixty. Mustafa is worth the wait. He is built like Silvester Stallone he's a head shorter than me but looks like he could stop a falling anvil without wincing. His muscles dance in the sleeves of his tee-shirt as he reaches into his pocket and takes out a film container. He assesses me while opening the container and taps out a line of brown powder onto the ridge of his right thumb.
"You lost a passport, eleven hundred dirham, traveller's checks, a plane ticket, a train pass and a little book from your school."
By now it has been some six hours since I was robbed. I hadn't told anyone the exact contents of the pouch, I had hoped to reduce the reward money by understating the amount of cash. The book he means is my address book. Mustafa swings his arm as he talks but the powdered Kif, or Taba, doesn't fall off his hand, not a speck.
"It was in a little pouch with a logo on the corner," he finishes and with a jerk he cocks his head, raises his wrist and snorts along the line of his thumb in one motion. Another snort for good measure. His nostrils are deep black holes above his trimmed moustache. He shivers and then regains his cold stare.
"The man's name is Tromba. He has stolen from people here before, it's not good for business, the tourists don't come if they scared. We can no sell them drugs, no get tips... bad for everybody. Tromba he drink beer, he go to Tetuan, he be back tomorrow, we take him here behind souk."
This ends our interview. Muhammad suggests that we look in bars for Tromba, "If we find him, we kill him before police."
Every bar we enter contains a friend of Muhammad's or an acquaintance eager to appear friendly. The report is that Tromba was buying drinks for everyone. By the time we have walked the length of the Boulevard the word is on the street. As we turn corners men jump over back alley walls to tell us where Tromba was last spotted. By the next day strangers in the Café du Paris are asking if I've recovered my things yet, and cursing the thieves on my behalf.
That night I went with Michael, Abdessamad and Muhammad to Trika's for dinner. In honor of my newfound poverty he had a huge cous-cous prepared. As I walk through the archway he rushes forward and attempts to pick my pocket. He explodes in laughter and takes me under his arm.
"You know they try to pickpocket me too? In the souk last week I catch him with his hand on my wallet! A little boy. And I grab his hand and they fucking cut me!" He shows me a cut along the back of his hand that is scabbed and yellow now. "I had that little shit boy by his arm and then this man cut my hand. I let the boy go and they run away. This fucking country!" Trika laughs and he takes out the first bottle of wine.
Around the table sits Michael, a blond blue-eyed American with his square build next to Abdessamad, dark-skinned with short tight African curls, trim and muscular. Trika with his drinker's body and face, Muhammad, as always doing his best tough and old look, and one of the women who helps in Trika's kitchen. She has never spoken to me so I don't know her name. If it is possible to be out of place at this table, the little girl sitting next to Trika is out of place. Nadia is nine years old and charms us into a stupor.
"Where are you from?" she says with enunciation and accent that would make an English nanny proud. She has a clean cream-white face and straight sandy hair. She speaks to us in beautiful English, too. Muhammad and the woman in perfect Dareeja (if a street language can be anything but perfect) and then tests my Fus-ha, classical Arabic. I gather that her parents live in the medina and that at least one of them is British.
I grab my guitar from Trika's kitchen and play her some kids' songs. She has a few to offer, "Yes Jesus loves me" and "I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, deep in my heart (where?) deep in my heart... And if the devil doesn't like it he can sit on a tack (ouch!)." Sitting drinking off my frustration at being robbed with a few Muslim friends and singing songs that Nadia learned in Sunday-school: this could be the winner of the very competitive contest for strangest scene in Tangier.
Punishment and Repentance
Police stations in Tangier make the rest of the country seem fast-paced and punctual. Waiting at one in the old city for two hours, I have been watching the theatrics of a middle aged Tangerian woman. She is pleading the case of her poor son whom the police have arrested for theft. She moans and screeches, she begs and pleads, she preaches and interrogates. This is like being in a restaurant and my meal is hours late. Complaint will only piss off the waiter. The woman plays her trump card that these manly Muslims cannot resist, she faints. It looks like bullshit to me, but the officers quickly rush to her aid, not surprised that she has collapsed under the strain.
Two more cops drag a sorry-looking man through the door. They slam him against the far wall by the window that looks at the local bus station. All I can gather is that he has been caught picking a pocket, the rest of the conversation is lost to me in the rain of slaps and punches from the cops. He must be resisting arrest, I guess.
When I finally speak to a detective I get a little progress just in the creation of a written report. I am to take this report to the main station in the new city. Every damn cop in this town has made their own Dick Tracy investigation into my case they won't even tell me what room I need to go wait in unless I give them all the details of my robbery. After they have determined that no clues have been overlooked and there's no promotion to be reaped from this hapless American, they send me along to the next clerk, who repeats the process.
In the afternoon I sit at the Café du Paris and stare across the street. I drink one tiny drop of coffee diluted slightly with a cup of hot milk. And I wait. No one finds it odd that a man sits in a cafe for three hours, not talking, not reading a paper, not conducting a business lunch. The waiters don't even get antsy.
Michael and Abdessamad join me in the late afternoon. Omar, a twelve-year-old con-man comes to get me a few moments later. I met Omar one day when he tried to con me on the Boulevard. From his tiny adolescent body seeps pure confidence, as though the whole city was working for him. I've seen Omar walking with other toughs who, despite their grown bodies and full beards, appeared to be following his lead. After a few months he would give me nods of recognition. He speaks a few foreign languages besides his native Arabic, French and Spanish. I think he has probably already committed crimes, had sex, and probably killed. He says there is a crowd in the Grand Socco.
People are gathered in the little park in the center of the Socco. At a distance I can see that one of them is trying to leave. As we get closer Muhammad approaches and says that Tromba is back and he runs to get Mustafa. The crowd is all hustlers. Michael and I make our way to the center of the small crowd to see the bastard.
"Is it him?" they are all asking, "Hatha hua?" Is it him? I am so anxious to see the little fucker who has violated me. I have this vague image of him in my mind. I look at the man in the center of the throng. He's had a shave and ditched his glasses. He's wearing different clothes and no cap. Is it him? He's telling everyone that he would never rob a foreigner. He has never seen this American before. I ask if this is the man who was seen with all the money, if this is the man who spent all that money on booze and went to Tetuan. I get a shower of "Eyeh!" Is it him? I'm looking at Michael and he has the same frustrated face.
Mustafa arrives and everyone makes way for him. What must he have done to inspire this reverence? But maybe it wouldn't take much action to earn respect in this city of so much talk and idle time. Here where action is impossible to most a fairy tale for fools and children. Perhaps it never takes much from a man of action. He is short with the crowd, pointing out that such commotion will surely draw cops. Tromba follows Mustafa down a narrow street, a whipped dog. Abdessamad, Michael, Muhammad and I fall in step.
In the alley Mustafa unhurriedly does another line of taba. Tromba is pleading throughout the little man's practised motions, but Mustafa pays him less attention that he would a fly, and people don't pay flies much attention here. I am unsettled by our location. It's just past dark and there is no one to see a thing in this alley. We are spitting-distance from the Socco, but it feels remote. The few who pass instantly read the situation as something they didn't see, don't see, have no recollection of seeing, officer. Mustafa has had his fix and grabs Tromba by his shirt.
"I didn't Mustafa. I would never steal from a foreigner!" Tromba puts his hands together to make a prayer but Mustafa slaps his hands apart.
"Is this the man?"
If I say yes, what happens? Perhaps I could convince a reader who doesn't know me that I was obsessed with the consequences of my actions for Tromba. Would I be able to bear the guilt of having a man killed, beaten in a back alley? Would the revenge or the shallow earthly goods be worth the price? I hadn't given that a thought. I was trying to figure if I would get any of my stuff back. I began to develop the picture I have still in my head. My passport, shiny blue with the fierce eagle embossed. With the picture inside I had taken when I was in Boston with long hair and a zit on the left side of my chin. With the stamps from Guatemala with a Quetzal on it and the "Save the Nubian Monuments" stamp from Egypt. My little key to the highway sitting at the bottom of a trash heap in Tetuan. My virgin Eurail five-day flex pass, my crispy American Express traveller's checks that look so much like real money, my return plane ticket, all in a trash heap in Tetuan, a redundancy really, Tetuan is a trash heap. There in the alley, my realization set in like a dull fish hook. I can still see the damn thing rotting there as I write this little tale.
Mustafa was tired of this crap. He took off his coat and handed it to Muhammad. Tromba was terrified even more at this sight and whimpered just below audibility. He was too scared to speak.
"Is it the man?"
If I say yes, they beat him senseless and I never see my things again. If I go to the police they beat him senseless and I never see my things again. I'm not sure how much I'm already expected to pay Mustafa, the other con-men have been running around like puppies hoping to be there when the reward money is divvied. But here he is! Here's the fucker who has put me through all this hell, made me feel paranoid in my happy home, made me (to this day) flinch in crowds and cover my pockets. I've got him and I can have them teach him a lesson.
"Is it him?"
We let Tromba go. If that wasn't enough, I saw him the next morning on the Boulevard, drunk as an aardvark, pouring himself down the sidewalk. He recognized me through his morning fog and insisted that he was a good man who would never hurt anyone. I'm sure if he did by accident or freak chance hurt someone he would then never proceed to get drunk with stolen money and breath toxic fumes into the face of the poor schmuck he'd robbed.
I wish I could say that the retaliation never entered my head, that the idea of violence was inherently repulsive. But it was close, not an easy decision. Muhammad was pissed with me: "Say it is the man! This is him! He spent all your money!" Mustafa saw what was going on and left, perhaps seeing there was some doubt in our identification, maybe just disgusted with these foreigners who had got him away from his cafe just to balk at a little blood.
For my cold feet, for my lack of cojones, for my mercy, for my hesitation, for cowardice and indecision, well if for anything for my stupidity, I sat. I sat in punishment and repentance. This had none of the quick danger of my adventures with Tromba, Mustafa, and the many scar-faced thugs. For days, I sat in the halls of the Tangier police station.
Bureaucrats do not need time. They are beyond and above it. If they so desired, they could be done with their days before the nine-fifteen coffee break. But they do not chose to do this, and not out of malice. I am no slanderer of these powerful creatures, nor would I take their name in irony. They are the guardians and missionaries of true faith, and they are on this Earth to test us. When they told me that the form must be typed in Arabic and French and to come back tomorrow, I did. When they said that the man who can type Arabic is not in today come back tomorrow, I did. When they said that there was a tiny typo on the French copy that ruined the form and that the man who types French will be back
tomorrow. . . .when they said that the photos I had developed were the wrong size, bring new ones in the morning. . . .when they said that the staple put through the photo (by the police in the other station) invalidated the form, it should be glue, and when they said that the glue invalidated the form, it should be stapled, I knew that they were testing my faith in the universe, and my desire to gain salvation in the form of a form. This system prevents fraud, except when perpetrated by the truly righteous.
On the final day I did lose it. The line was that the form was perfect, it just lacked the signature of the chief, who, oh darn has just left for the prison. I begged and pleaded with the two cops, I fed them lies and truths and made a true pain of myself. But how could they find me wanting? They made a quick call and surprise, surprise, Alhhamdulallah praise god, the chief came down the stairs from his office. He signed the paper. They gave me the paper. I could prove that I had been robbed of my passport, I could explain why my new passport (Inshahallah if god decides to give me one) would bear no entry stamp. I left the police station.Alhhamdulallah.
I still like Tangier. My memory is an optimist; by next year I will not remember anything unpleasant about the city. But I do know that from the moment that pig-fucker robbed me to the moment I touched Spain, I hated Tangier. To spite me the city gripped my little white ass and threatened not to let me go. I ran to the capitol and the embassy in Rabat. After a week's work in Rabat I gained a new passport with a grim photo of a tan, recently robbed American. I ran to the Algerian border, but Tangier would not be slighted so; I was denied a visa. With loathing in my heart, and no money for a plane, I took a bus across the Rif and arrived in Tangier at five am. I spent all my remaining dirham on food for the journey. I had a new train ticket but no money to spend until I reached Ireland. I carried my pack out to the ferry, passing the tiny spot of Tangier that still belongs to France, the groggy cons waiting for the first ferry of fresh meat to arrive from Algeciras.
When I met the customs man, even with my new passport he sent me downstairs to wait for the police officer in charge. It had been far too easy, there was no way the city would let go. Frantic as the ferry charged up its engines, I saw the closed police office and gave up all hope. Maybe it was a final sign of good will from my adopted home that the cop showed up on time, three hours early for Morocco. Tangier's parting gift could not be anonymously given by a customs man. It was spurned lover's act of good will, given with cruelty, the price tag left on the package. I waited in polite disbelief as he opened his office and shut the door in my face. After a few moments and he asked what the hell I wanted. There I took my beautiful document out from my shirt. The French copy. He looked it over with none of the awe it deserved. He scrawled me a quick note and I floated back up the stairs and on to the boat. The fog hid the snowy mountains in Spain, but I knew they were there. I cautiously relaxed as the port let go of the ferry.
[Navigating Way Net]
Copyright 1996 by Quil Lawrence. Readers may redistribute this article to other individuals for noncommercial use, provided that the text, all html codes, and this notice remain intact and unaltered in any way. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. If you have any questions about permissions, please contact <[CONTACT PAGE]> Preferred Citation: Quil Lawrence, "Key to the Highway," DISSONANCE (September 30, 1996 [http://way.net/diss onance/key2hwy.html]).