The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Writers' Showcase

In Tangier
by R L Tilley

It is a dream here. An Islamic dream. It is the spectacle of the parade of hooded and veiled Muslims on the streets. Out there there are hustlers trying to turn a dirham or two and there is the ever present silent parade of the religious also. There is decay, faded elegance, disease, disability, and charm and poverty and sadness. And there is much dignity and quite a lot of laughter.

12.30. From the minaret the faithful are called to prayer.

This morning, walking in the Rue de Belgique, a clutch of Moroccan schoolgirls precede me. My hat blows off. A gust of wind. The traffic is hectic and a policeman is directing it. My hat blows under a taxi. The girls giggle. The driver thinks I want to hire him. No? He pulls away. I walk to the middle of the road. The policeman sees my hat and halts the traffic. I recover my hat. 

Mint tea at the Cafe de Paris again.

‘Ca va,’ the waiter greets.

‘Ca va, bien,’

Olivier is there. He neither notices nor sees me. Still he scribbles on pieces of paper excitedly. I am glad he does not see me. Too hectic for the time of day.

I did not elude Olivier. I am drinking a small beer - Flag Speciale - Moroccan - Tangerine. The patronne and two young women work the bar. In walks Olivier - he has a plastic bag and he spreads its contents, a cashmere djellaba, several pairs of shoes, along the bar.

‘Purchased today,’ he says. ‘I sell you the djellaba, genuine cashmere, for one thousand dirhams,’ he tells the patronne.

‘I give you one hundred,’ says the patronne.

‘I show you my arse,’ Olivier replies.

He does, undressing there and then. Taking his trousers down.

‘The ladies!’ the patronne protests.

Today Olivier thinks I know, knew, Samuel Beckett.

I tell him I am going to Asilah today. He recommends a restaurant there, a fish restaurant.

‘I come to Asilah with you,’ he says. ‘We will eat fish.’

‘No you won’t. I go with a friend,’ I tell him.

I finish my beer and leave the bar.

Later the patronne tells me he has told Olivier he must behave or he will put him out.

‘You agree?’


What offended the patronne, he tells me, is not the impromptu showing of the arse but the spreading of the shoes along the bar.

Mohammed arrives and we drive to Asilah.

We drive out of Tangier and up La Montaigne where the rich live. Mohammed says he knew Paul Bowles. He says he drove John Malkovich and Debra Winger when Bertolucci was shooting ‘The Sheltering Sky.’

We drive past the grand palaces of the King, Mohammed the VI, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait - the gardens reach down to the sea, the entrances are policed by armed guards.

The road to Asilah. Dromedaries are herded along otherwise deserted sandy beaches. The rains have flooded the fields. We drive through a herd of goats, carefully. A chicken is loose on the road. Mohammed signals its owner, a peasant by the roadside. The landscape is biblical.

‘These people have no running water,’ Mohammed tells me. ‘They draw their water from wells.’

Women in the large wicker hats of the country sell rough ceramic pottery, bunches of mint and coriander and buttermilk at the roadside.

I notice that there are tents by the roadside. I ask Mohammed about them.

‘Workers on the road,’ he says. ‘A highway is being built from Casablanca to Tangier. Asilah to Tangier will be the last leg to be completed. The workers on the road sleep in tents. No matter how poor Morocco is, none shall starve, none shall sleep outside.’  

I notice he frequently gives alms, as prescribed by his religion.

It comes on to rain and we stop at a roadside restaurant. A fish restaurant. We are its only customers this afternoon. We drink mint tea and talk about our lives and loves.

‘We are in Briech,’ Mohammed tells me.

I go to the lavatory which is a crouch hole.

We drive on.

Asilah in the rain.

The mosquito bite is troubling me. Mohammed sees me scratching. He pulls over.

‘A moment,’ he says, getting out of the car.

He returns with a tube of antiseptic cream he has purchased from a pharmacy. Applies it to the bite. He is my friend.

Asilah. A sixteenth century rampart built by the Portuguese, the  winding streets of the Medina. The English enclave. The town is elegant, charming. Whitewashed walls, pastel shades. Flowers bloom in pots outside the houses. The smell of kif drifts in the wind. We walk out on a jetty. Boys and girls sit there, together, in love. A vista of the town in rain and wind.

Sitting outside of a cafe drinking coffee the smell of kif is intense. I remark on it to Mohammed. He points. A young Moroccan at an adjacent table smokes.

Mohammed takes me to a bakery. It is mediaeval. The people of the town bring their bread mix. A young man stands in a pit with a large wooden spatula. He feeds the mixtures into a kiln and bakes the loaves. Mohammed gives him a dirham or two.

‘To keep him happy,’ he says.

Mohammed wants to show me the sunset. He cannot. Rain pours from a leaden sky.

We drive back to Tangier.

‘Shokran, Mohammed,’ I say, shaking hands with him. ‘Salaam alaykoom.’

I go to the Moroccan restaurant for dinner. Harira, lamb brochettes, rice, mint tea. No belly dancer this evening.

I tell the patronne  that I have been to Asilah. 

‘You should go in the morning,’ he says. ‘Eat fish for lunch. Fresh from the Atlantic.’

He purses his lips. Kisses a forefinger.

Copyright R L Tilley 2007