Here I am, sitting at breakfast in the friendly Moroccan home of two lovely brothers and their families. This riad is big and old, lovingly converted into a ramshackle boutique bed and breakfast. When I have been here in summer it is crawling with French tourists and people from all walks of life, who wilt in the midday heat like flowers from kinder climates. But now, at the end, when the summer heat abates and the winding halls and high roofs of the riad are quieter of sound, I’ve found a place of peace and rest like none other on earth, a place where my mind can run wild and create.
If you didn’t already see it coming, you have probably guessed that Charis has for now turned her back on me and wandered off into the graveyard mists with August, unsure of her future and how her story will end.
I know her story continues. I know where Charis ends up, and I know what becomes of her and her “care-if-I-die” attitude, because I know her so well. But for you, I have realised she is part of a bigger story, one that was far too big to tackle on such a small forum as this blog, and without the proper discipline that she needed, which is all my error.
For now all I can do is promise you that Charis will be back. She is cradled safely in my mind whilst August runs havoc in there also, misbehaving and fighting with Peter in the way that only brothers turning to mortal enemies can. We’ll let them gestate a little longer. For a story dragged over six months now I realise that I gave birth to Charis far too early. When I left her behind in the cemetery with August, I journey far away into long forgotten lands (and tiresome deadlines, and demanding schedules) and a sequence of events that finally brought me here to Morocco.
Morocco is a fabled land where I can allow my mind to run away with me. It is a fine land of fairytales and legends, eaten by the sand and spat out into oases and medinas like that where I find myself now, Marrakech. A city where the call to prayer wakes me with the static hiss of a loud speaker, and the donkey baying right now in the narrow alley below makes me laugh inside and wonder what he is trying to say.
There were kittens here last time, but they have grown up and moved on, and the little chimney pot where their mother gave birth stands empty. But there are cats in medina a-plenty, yesterday evening in the setting sun I saw one up on her haunches like an Egyptian Bast goddess, preening her smoke-and-snow fur and glaring at me out of Egyptian eyes, rimmed in darkest kohl. I wonder if she will be there again when I pass today and if she’ll let me scratch her behind the ears? Her eyes are etched in my mind.
I wrote letters in English for a shop boy to his friend in London. His friend ran away with a girl two years ago and the shop boy wanted to know if he has been blessed with children yet. At the next store I haggle a dress down to one hundred dirhams, much to the disgust of the shop keeper who had gleaned four hundred and fifty off two lovely Bengali girls from London but five minutes earlier. The souk is a place of to-and-fro like no other, for around another corner I pick up a long pink dress in a sale bin for only fifty dirhams. My mother wants me to go back and choose one for her – they make great night gowns for someone who forgot to pack her pyjamas.
Of course, I tried my luck at convincing the men in the centre of Jeema el Fna to allow me to hold one of the beautiful black bodied cobras, who rear their heads on command and fan their beautiful hoods wide whenever a tourist walks by. He tries handing me a tiny pine snake instead. “No, no, I want the cobra, that one over there,” Here, hold this tiny pine snake. “I have a python at home, she’s five times the size of your puny little pine snake,” You have a snake? “Yes, a python. A big python! She is my baby.” I exaggerate Kowhai’s size just a little, and then repeat, “I want to hold the cobra.”
He thinks I’m mad and shakes his head, more with wonder than in saying no. Maybe I am mad. But I see the way they wander around the cobra without caring and I know the poor creature is likely de-fanged and mistreated into submission. It’s probably better I don’t hold it, I might not give it back. Once when I came a couple of years ago, they put a snake around my neck without asking me, and tried to make me pay them to take it off, anticipating my fear.
If you know me, that’s sure to make you laugh. At the time I sure did, and shrugged, before walked away with it. I made it a full twenty paces across the square before he finally relinquished and took it back.
Enough about snakes and my adventures in the medina for now. I’m off to the hammam in a little while. My favourite hammam is hidden behind the Saadian tombs, and around the corner from the ancient Bab Agnaou gate, down streets of children playing in the dust and sugar coated sweet stalls covered in hungry bees. The world behind the walls of the hammam is a secret one from a lost text of Arabian nights, with flowing curtains, high ceilings, ochre walls, and floors of thick carpet and marble, where every girl feels like a princess for a moment in time – as she no doubt should every day of her life.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to it!