Chantez, chantez

Laurent told my mom he had to go to the car to get some things, and gestured for me to join. It was the kind of gesture that implied wrongdoing, a wink from across the table.

We were in the old part of Marrakech, staying in a palace owned by an English guy my step-dad found on the Internet, who rented it out for a week along with a guide and a housekeeper/cook.

The old part of Marrakech is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, it’s where they have the traditional, Berber-style markets.

Laurent wanted to buy hash. We had been driving for a few days, down the Spanish coast from southern France and around a lot of the country already, by way of Casablanca.

It was a time in my life where we all wore caftans around the house, a custom we picked up from John. The caftans were easy to get in and out of, and my mom spent considerable time getting curry and red wine stains out of them.

It made sense I wear the caftans in Morocco; I thought it would help me fit in. But it seemed to have the opposite effect. The J. Peterman caftan and my new beard drew long looks and comments from some of the young Moroccan men.

Oooooh…Ali-baba! they’d say, rubbing their jaws and nodding.

It didn’t feel hostile, and Laurent was a hulk of a guy, so I wasn’t worried.

It was dark that first night and there weren’t many people out on the streets. We memorized the number of turns to work our way out to a fountain near an intersection; Laurent found a few teenagers, and started speaking French to them. In only a few minutes, he had managed to score. We were told to wait though while one of them went off, and the other two stayed.

I squatted on the dirt road in my caftan, trying not to draw attention, trying to fit in. I had never been part of a drug deal in a foreign country, and while I trusted Laurent, it still didn’t feel like a good idea.

Laurent gave the kid a cigarette and they made small talk, in French. I knew a bit,  and could tell the kid was asking where I was from (Les États-Unis). When Laurent said “Seattle,” the kid’s ears pricked up and he said “Chantez, chantez!”

I didn’t understand. I asked Laurent for help: the kid kept imploring to me Chantez, chantez, s-il vous plait!

Zay want you to sing, Laurent said.

They liked Nirvana but didn’t seem to have access to it for some reason, and so it was up to me. I hummed the tune “Come As You Are” and they closed their eyes and smiled, while I sang.

Laurent mixed the hash with tobacco and we passed around the cigarette, taking turns, looking pensively out over the city from the rooftop terrace, waiting for something to change. But it only made me nervous, and more aware of my heart.

I woke to the sound of a humming, pre-dawn. The humming was amplified, projected through old speakers and growing louder like a bee’s nest, outside. The palace roof was open to the sky, and the bottom floor was tiled with small gutters around the edges for when it rained.

I realized the humming was the sound of the morning prayers coming from the mosques, and I grabbed my mini-recorder and raced up the spiral stairs to the rooftop. It built in a patchwork of sound and chanting throughout the city.

We bought scarves, lanterns, fine fabrics. We haggled. At night, our guide grilled lamb for us on a miniature barbecue on the bottom floor, and the smoke rose out of the palace to the sky.

My mom was interested in the hash, and hopeful it would get her high, but it didn’t work. I felt queasy, and went to bed, then awoke freezing cold in the middle of the night, delirious, hallucinating. I remained in bed for a day or so, and the doctor came to check me. He looked at me gravely and said “Insha’Allah” when he saw the reading on the thermometer. There was blood in my urine and I couldn’t get up.

We left Morocco in our French rental car with Paris plates, John and I both on anti-diarrhea medicine, with a couple of live chameleons, and a car stuffed full of crap from the souk. The chameleons died some time later; the lanterns are in the attic.

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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