Our window is blanketed by a square bruise of purple and the floor is soaked with rain, the water seeping into the tiles.
The radio, on last night and quietly soothing us with Ella Fitzgerald, broadcasted from a radio tower in the quiet mountains of Switzerland, clear as day, is silent. There has been a power outage and we shower in the dark, blessed with natural light from the sea. The budgies still trill. Today, we are in Tanger and the sun will soon be blazing. We tread downstairs for breakfast and clear our minds. I sneer at my older self, a less attractive British woman with smart grey hair and a young Spanish girlfriend and The Connection bats her eyes at me and purses her little lips.
My lips are starting to crease from my tant pis frown of indifference and I put on a freshly pressed shirt and off we go. Our agenda is unclear, but it is assumed that we will head toward the beach, to the surf and sea and perhaps the sunny underbelly of the old town. I have a desperate hunger to scale the buildings with hundreds of rooms and no inhabitants and crouch in the sun, piss on my familiarity.
Instead, I descend the rocky steps, one scuffed loafer at a time. In merely a day, we are nodding at the shopkeepers of the bakery we supped at last night, making eye contact with local neighbors and receiving nods. There are the standard flirtations and creased eyebrows—masculine dress on a gallivanting woman has that effect, but no one makes a move and we are on our way soon enough. Beautiful things are around every corner—a woman sells me a round loaf of bread and grasps my hand, repeating its name in Arabic for my confused brain, khobz! I am called “sir” by a confused shopkeeper, and when I nod, he grins toothily. We arrive at the beach, kilometers of empty, dusty discothèques still advertising parties for New Year’s Eve and a disorienting tile pattern of waves mimicking the sea. Two boys are renting out battered pair of roller skates for 2 dirham to glide across the empty dance floors in the day. Against my better judgment, we pass them by, their shouts absorbed by the sand and sea.
We walk along the beach for some time, what seems longer because our steps are deterred by the cushion of the sand. Sandy shoes dot the waves, their pairs and owners seemingly missing. What initially looks ominous is dashed by the sight of twenty shoeless teens, their feet sandy and gangly as they kick around a soccer ball. Surprisingly, more Moroccans dot the beach than expected. In fact, we see not a single tourist haranguing the sleepy parked camels in the shade nor photographing the sprawling sea, and we walk in peace.
Our socks are filled with sand and she ties me to the headboard with a fuchsia scarf, taunts me with her mind and supine body. Touches herself millimeters from my heaving flesh—“do you like that? Do you like watching me come without you?” and claws her fingers down my face, a hand clenched deadly around my throat. She fists me dry, her fingers splitting me as I quake. I do not want to push myself off that brink so she does it for me, ramming inside and grunting primal sounds and my knees quiver on the bed. I am on the surface and she plunges me under, choking and sputtering under her touch. My lust and the blood from my chapped lips stains the pristine, crisp sheets.
It is her lack of need for me that makes me orgasm to hard, the unfettered beauty of it all.
We go out as the sun sets, clomping up the stairs like excited kids, winding around and running just as the call for prayer starts. Its atonal low beckons and skirts its way into the windows, reverberating through the walls and snaking us upstairs to the fresh air of the terrace, where we stand and embrace the sea. Where it raised my proverbial hackles yesterday, today, I am excited and filled with a rush of envelopment surrounding my skin. I gaze out into the lightness and become it, if only for a blip in time, and we skirt the rocky steps to find our dinner.
The Connection declines fish and I am not keen on spending another hefty sum at the abandoned hotel, so we opt for a squat restaurant whose tantalizing aromas curl their finger and gesture our way, various meat sizzling on a glowing charcoal grill. The owner and his family serve us outside. We eat with chipped plates and plastic chairs, but we are treated like kings and princes, or better yet, like family ourselves. The hospitality is simple but rallying, an unembellished embrace like the call for prayer in person, and we gorge ourselves on hot charcoal chicken and tangerines, peppered fresh olives and warm bread, and mint tea—“Moroccan whiskey!” the owner says as he pours from two feet above each glass, laughing with his whole body, and we leave feeling loved and understood. I imagine myself in a crumbling apartment above the Kasbah and wonder, what if, how if?
But for now we are in the riad and we tiptoe back before dark sets in. We feel chummy and sit in the cushioned living room, its shelves bowed with books and old, musty throw pillows smelling of home, and I lay my head on her lap. Wine is uncorked and we are talking and I want answers, answers that I may not have sought had my tongue not been loosened by the smutty, warm thickness of the alcohol. I ask and ask and ask and she is frantic and frazzled and suddenly cups her hand and slaps me square in the face. I leap up, eyes blazing, on my lips phrases about limits and anger and boundaries until—
“What’s this all about?” He laughs and ambles into the room and I feel a cold pit of disgust in my spine. It is a man from earlier, an old Scottish gentleman whose voice booms through the tiny walls of the riad. He had lost his key and resigned himself to sitting on the couches, talking to anyone who would listen. Until now, he had seemed harmless.
Until now, though, he wasn’t standing over us, shaking his head.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. You two—together? That’s absolutely disgusting. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life!” He laughs and I am about to get up when he walks away, into the next room. Through the ornate ironwork carvings we hear him laughing with a friend. My blood boils, but I try to convince myself that he had a momentary, senile, drunk slip of the tongue, and has moved on to something else. And then, he returns.
He can’t stop talking about it. Are we together? Sexually? Can he join in? He’s marveling, confused, but smiling, and I am about to confront it when The Connection runs out of the room, sobbing. He keeps yelling after us, malice crackling in his laughter, and I follow her upstairs. She is afraid that we have been caught, that we will not be defended or helped, lonely in a country where we have given up our legal rights with the hard mechanical slap of a passport stamp and for a moment, I regret taking her here.
I order her tea, go downstairs. The other patrons of the hotel greet me and offer me another glass of wine, and we get to talking. After a while, The Connection pads down and curls herself beneath me, and we enter a casual round-table of volleying and receiving questions from the two couples, older, heterosexual, but kind, and I feel like both an adult and a partner.
The Scot comes behind us and I feel the air in the room thicken with tension. We ignore him and continue the conversation, but he refuses to be left, his voice cutting through our hushed discussions. He will not let the subject rest. “It’s fookin’ disgusting, is what it is, you two together. I’ve never seen anything like it! I’m a Scot, and it’s awful that this is what they let girls like you do in America!”
One of the men and I are on our feet. He is closer as I do not want to be in the line of the brutish old man’s swing and I trust my friend to land a better punch than I. The Scot will not be moved. He squats imperviously in the center of the room. He will not leave, he will not go back to bed, he will not let us leave. He wants to stew in his superiority and jab at us. He raises his voice and points at me, at us.
“Just disgusting,” and that’s when I get close to him. The anger radiates heat off my skin, and my fury is palpable. He has echoed what I worry they think, that I am a grotesque parody of in-between and it makes me want to kick him to a bloody pulp, his privilege shattered at my feet. My knees are shaking and my fists are clenched and I am about to push him when our host, a polite Moroccan gentleman steps in, his hands raised and fanning near us, begging us to calm down. He has his phone out, he tells the man, and he will call the police if he does not stop harassing us. The Scot does not calm down and the proprietor ushers him out, talking to the officer on the phone and smiling at us.
Later, he returns to ensure that we are okay, and reassures us that in the morning, the man will have to leave. We know he had a nicer room than us, that he was staying longer, that he would have, in the long run, earned more money for the little riad during the down season, and still, they defended us. They stood up for us in a country where what we did was illegal and they made sure we were okay because they saw us as people.
That, that is the Africa I sought and received.