She shut her eyes completely. She didn’t fall asleep, but was lost in listening to the music and the sound of chirping small birds. In her half-awake state, she saw a beach surrounded by palm trees, and on the beach naked people bathing and basking in the sun. Some women had beautiful flowers hanging in their hair, flowers that glittered under the glow of the sun. When Said turned to his companion, her face looked dreamy and innocent like a small child’s. He picked up another cigarette, lit it for himself, and with some difficulty found a parking place for his car. Suaad opened her eyes and asked him to light up a cigarette for her too. The rain had almost stopped now, but when Said looked up at the sky, it still looked pitch black to him.
No doubt, it will rain again in a moment, as well as tomorrow, and after tomorrow, he thought, the land needs rain. All people complain about the lack of water including his father who owns lands in the “Almuzakara” area, an area still without irrigation canals. The digging of the canals stopped at the lands of a rich person related to an important official in the government. Said wished with all his heart that it would rain but not for his sake. He owns an apartment and a car and his wife also owns a car, and he also has a bank account; all this is not easily available for people his age.
Suaad left the car and closed the door lazily and indifferently while trying to wrap the collar of her coat around her neck.
“You need to close the door hard; it’s not that cold and it also stopped raining.”
She opened the door and closed it again violently this time to make sure it was shut. Then they walked toward the Tanjawi’s. The voice of Stevie Wonder was coming from inside, quietly spreading into the corners of the place, which was small and decorated with many colors. Some girls were sitting on the benches in front of the counter, but men outnumbered women. The workers in their clean uniforms were fast and agile. One of them was flipping a piece of steak in the air, dancing to the Stevie Wonder song.
A girl who was leaning on her arms raised her head. She was beautiful but looked tired from lack of sleep and overdrinking. It seemed that she was lonely. She called the waiter who was dancing, but another waiter who was not dancing jumped over to her.
“A glass of ice water here,” she ordered.
“You drank a lot of ice water tonight. What’s wrong with you? Did you smoke a lot of hash?”
“Mind your own business, or I’ll go up to Tanjawi upstairs.”
“Go to him. Tanjawi doesn’t like your kind.”
“Get me a glass of ice water and mind your own business.”
The waiter brought her a glass of water and put a piece of ice in it and she drank it all at once and then went back to leaning on her arms. The waiter said: “If you’r getting sleepy, just go home.” But she ignored him.
Said and Suaad were standing in the crowd after ordering two sandwiches. Some people were eating rapidly while standing. He picked up the sandwiches and they left to eat inside the car because little drops of rain were still falling here and there. Suaad opened her wrapped sandwich and started devouring it. While she was busy chewing, Said asked:
“Didn’t you eat anything today? Why are you eating so ravenously?”
She didn’t answer. Her mouth was busy chewing her food. A piece of tomato fell on her coat and she picked it up and quickly put it in her mouth. A shadow passed behind the car and Said turned around to see a policeman knocking at the window. When he opened it, the policeman greeted them and asked for Said’s papers. He looked inside the car in the backseats and examined Suaad’s face without asking for her papers:
“Who is she?” He asked.
“Go to bed. It’s getting late. Otherwise you could spend the night in the police station.”
The policeman gave him his papers back and left. “Those pigs are like flies everywhere,” Suaad commented.
“Shut up or I’ll send you to him. The guy was a gentleman and yet you say “pigs”. If you were not with me, you’d have spent your night in the police station.”
“And what for? Did I kill somebody?”
“What do you do at night? They are patrolling the area to crack down on suspicious activities. There are many thieves nowadays, and the rate of crimes has gone up,” he explained.
“I’m just a…” she shrugged her shoulders, “the real thieves sleep quietly in their homes.”
“Don’t talk about what doesn’t concern you.”
“If you were not with me now, I’d say that you are one of them.”
He lit a cigarette for her and she laughed and stroked his right thigh after throwing the torn sandwich paper outside the car. The crumpled paper was now lying on the pavement after rolling on the wet ground.
“I always like to smoke after eating; a cigarette has a special flavor then. Tell me where you are going? Don’t tell me to a hotel, I’m afraid of the police. Do you have an apartment?”
“I know an empty place near The “Hazem Alkabeer” area.”
“The Hazem Alkabeer is far away.”
“But it’s a safe place. It’s good to enjoy ‘the fresh air’ there. All people go there for the fresh air.”
“Do you always go there to enjoy the fresh air?”
“Only with people like you of course, when there is no apartment available. I also have a friend who owns an apartment in the area of “Ferdan”, but her boyfriend spends four nights a week there. I don’t want to cause her any problems.”
The car passed through all the deserted streets at this late time of the night. Surprisingly, some light poles were still on, but that was unusual. Usually, these lights were turned off after midnight. The road became darker, but some light came out of a few buildings while most buildings were hidden in the dark.
“In a short while” Suaad said, “you will turn right, to get to the place where we can enjoy the fresh air. Have you come here before?”
“It’s a wonderful place and you should know it. Everyone who likes fresh air comes in here.”
“I suppose the ‘air’ there must be special, not like the other kinds of air.”
“Exactly, and you’ll see for yourself.”
The car passed slowly down the dark road where there was nothing but empty space and nighttime darkness. Said could feel his heart pounding and he put his hand under his seat to get out a small bottle of “Black Label”. Suaad took it from his hand, opened it and took a little sip before giving it back to him. He took a sip to summon some courage and to allay the fears he instinctively felt on this dark, empty road.
“We must stop now, aren’t there police patrols around here?”
“No worries, I know the place very well.”
A little later, the car stopped and Suaad said, “I feel terribly cold here, give me that bottle again. Actually, I’ll go out for the breeze.” She took a big sip this time and opened the car door to get out.
Said lit a cigarette and watched her walk in the dark.
No doubt she is not a regular girl, and the hash she smoked must have affected her. She is such a heavy smoker, he thought.
In a moment, four men appeared out of nowhere and surrounded him. One of them was wearing a wool hat, and a scarf covering his face and neck. He then heard Suaad’s voice from a distance:
“Don’t hit him Abdul Qader, he is a kind and generous man. Take everything you can, but leave him his official papers. Let’s not repeat what happened the other goddamned night with that stupid man. And don’t forget that he has a whisky bottle if you want to get warm.”
Muhammad Zafzaf (1945-2001) was regarded as one of Morocco’s foremost novelists and poets. He lived in Casablanca and his work includes short stories, novels, poems and plays, in addition to translations from French and Spanish. He received the Grand Atlas Prize in 1998.
Mohammed Albakry is an Egyptian-American academic and translator of contemporary Arabic literature. In 2011, he lived and taught in Morocco on a Fulbright fellowship. Some of his translations of Egyptian drama have been performed in major U.S cities including theaters in New York, Boston, and Chicago. He is currently a professor in the English Department at Middle Tennessee State University.