The marginal ten, the wretched stragglers for survival on the fringes of farm and city, may already number half a billion. By 1980 they will surpass a billion, by 1990 two billion. Can we imagine any human order surviving with so gross a mass of misery piling up at its base?
Robert S. McNamara in a speech to the World Bank’s board of governors, 1970
The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was young and gay
I saw the laughter in her eyes
In every street café…
(Introductory note: This is the fifth and last case study in this series of articles exploring – in the daily lives of ordinary people – the human impact of overpopulation. The previous four studies dealt with the problem’s historical development, the first true Malthusian breakdown, the transfer of farm technology and urbanization. This study concerns emigration and the confrontation between the poor countries and the rich as revealed in a journey from a green valley in the Maghreb into the Arab slums of Casablanca and Paris. A final, eighteenth, report next month will sum up the entire series.
The Maghreb, the former French region of North Africa comprising Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, is one of the world areas where the pressure of population is acute producing for many the slide into “misery and vice” Thomas Malthus predicted in 1798 could eventually overtake all the world. There is a decline in living standards, a population growth rate of from 3 to 4 percent, 40 percent unemployment, widespread malnutrition and high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction. Often a passport to Europe seems like an admission into paradise. This is an attempt to portray the reality for one emigrant. Although used selectively, all of the dialogue has been drawn verbatim as it was recorded at the time or reconstructed soon after an event. I wish to express gratitude to the governments of Morocco and France; the American missions in Rabat, Casablanca and Paris and especially to two Moroccan secretaries, Madame Bitou and Mademoiselle Amor. Of special assistance was Steve Josephson, a twenty-two-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Stillwater, Minnesota, who appears in the, story. And, as always, one is extremely grateful to the ordinary villagers for their kindness and hospitality.
Above all, I am indebted to M’Barek Ben Abdesalem, who was both the principal character and my interpreter for this study and whose intangible opinions and personal memories provided almost as much material as the dialogue itself. Midway in the preparation of this report, I addressed a UNESCO conference and found the audience – contrary to the many reports about growing isolationism in America – extremely interested in the poor nations. After I spoke, a distinguished Negro physician rose to argue persuasively against American involvement abroad, saying, “It is no time to worry about cousins down the street when there is juvenile delinquency in your own house.” I made no rebuttal but thought to myself, “Barek is not your cousin, doctor. He is your brother. And mine.”
The Principal Characters
Barek, STEVE and HADJ in the green volley
Mohamed’s wife, mother and MUSA
Barek and PIERROT in Paris
The Marginal Men
M’Barek Ben Abdesalem, a familiar figure along the Boulevard Mohamed El Hansali, a street on the Casablancan waterfront, had, with the great good fortune of a lucky lottery ticket, come up with enough money to travel to Europe to seek a job. He had come to Casablanca from his village as an ignorant peasant boy many years ago and now, in his mid-thirties, after a whole succession of livelihoods as servant, errand boy, shoeshine boy, fisherman, merchant mariner, sailor, docker, souvenir vendor and what not, he thought himself to be very much a man of Casablanca. He was a cheerful, easy-going man, kind to drunks and generous to beggars and over the years his fists, scarred on the knuckles with teeth marks, had earned him the respect of the streets. In turn, Barek loved the great sun-drenched port city, with its tall bleached white buildings, its mysterious Arab medina, the docks with their freighters and tourist liners, the fleet of Spanish and Arab fishing boats, the hazy skyline of giant derricks, forklifts and smokestacks.
But in recent months, the city Prefecture had banned vendors from the pier, erecting a high steel fence to keep them out. Barek was obliged to give up his regular employment. He grew doll without work; whatever money he managed to earn, or the few dirhams a day his mother gave him, was spent on wine, beer or cheap cigarettes. His mother, the servant of a, French family for more than twenty years, was getting old and, ashamed of what few extra pennies she could scrape up and with nothing of his own to live on, Barek decided that as things were he ought to try and get to France or Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs from the Maghreb now worked in the great automobile plants and coal mines of northern Europe, earning from $100 to $300 a month, and it was not without reason that most of Barek’s friends dreamed of going there. This meant obtaining a passport, not easy in the best of times, and to get the necessary papers, Barek returned to his childhood village.
Himself. “Hello, Baba! Hello, Baba!”
Barek took the little boy on his shoulders and went outside. In a few minutes, sitting on the edge of the steep riverbank, they watched the sunset and saw how the gold and crimson sky was reflected in the river, in the windows of the French manor house, and in the very air around them, which was soft and still and inexpressibly pure, as it never was in Casablanca. And when the son had set and the herds of cows and sheep went past, bleating and lowing, storks flew across from the other side of the river then all was silent; the soft light faded from the air, and the evening darkness rapidly descended.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family had returned; Hadj, the father, a bent old man in a white turban and coarse wool jalaba; Mohamed, the oldest son, his handsome face already wrinkled and worn with hard labor-at the age of twenty-five; and the youngest three boys, Hassan, almost a man, and Abdullah and Ali. After they exchanged greetings, Hadj sent for some yellow mint tea in honor of the guest.
“Welcome, my son,” the old man said. “Look any time you are coming to our village. I must help you anyway Murhabani bicoum.” He asked Barek about Casablanca and said he himself had only visited the city once before and that was some years ago.
“I asked a man for directions on how to find a doctor. A friend in Romanni had given me the name and address on a piece of paper. After some time, walking through the narrow streets of the Medina, *I saw this man beckon to some friends. I feared the man was a bandit and told him to leave me. A shopkeeper who saw this told me never to trust anybody in the streets of Casablanca. ‘If you need something you mast ask a policeman.'”
“Ah, they are the worst bandits of all,” Barek laughed.
“The shopkeeper told me to get a water carrier to show me. I found the water place, a public faucet where the water carriers filled their goatskins, and an old man helped me find the doctor. But I was always afraid to go back to Casablanca.”
“There are many bandits there,” Barek agreed. “Many men go there from the village to find work and if they find no work they must steal. That is the life of Casablanca anyway.”
“But here also.” said Hadj. “In our village there was a man who with his wife, her sister and a child wanted to go to Rabat. They took 600 kilos of wheat with them for expenses. On the road they met a taxi and the man offered them a ride. After six or seven kilometers, the car stalled and the driver asked everybody to get out and push. They did and as the engine started he put on the gas and drove off with their wheat, leaving them behind.”
Everyone laughed, “Another time,” Hadj went on, a woman with a handbag with gold and a little boy went to some village. She found a taxi and the driver told her to get in. He handed her bag to a helper to pat in the trunk. When they arrived at the village the driver opened the trunk and found it was empty. ‘Oh, that son-of-a-bitch, my helper, I know him,’ he told the lady. “Look, you wait for me here. I’ll go find him. Can you wait for me here? Then the driver also left and didn’t return. How that lady carried on!’
*Medina is the Arab quarter; cashbah a word often misused means area of prostitution.
Hadj called to his wife, “What about the water, is it hot or not?”
“Yes,” she answered, her head in the door, “it’s boiling.”
Seeing his mother, Musa, the crippled child, said something in his excited, garbled tongue, which Barek couldn’t understand.
“He wants his hadoum,” Hadj explained, referring to the white hooded cape Moslem children sometimes wear at festivals. “He wants to dress up.”
“No,” said the mother. “He’ll tear it.”
“Just give it to him please.” said Hadj.
“Ya oulidi, my boy.” the mother signed. “The thing is torn.”
Musa, now angry, began loudly to demand the hadoum.
Hadj’s wife took a chest from under the bed and’ opened it, hunting through the ragged, threadbare garments. Musa, crawling to her side, saw the hadoum and began pulling on it excitedly. His mother released it from under the pile of clothes and the boy laughed as he draped it around his head.
“Mohamed, go into the garden to bring mint.” his father told him, Mohamed, always obedient as the eldest son, hurried to go but told Hadj, “Why you let Musa have that thing? He’ll only tear it.”
“Never mind. Let the child be happy.”
In a few moments, Mohamed returned with a sineya, or perforated tin basin over a large kettle and poured cold water from a big iron teakettle over Barek’s outstretched hands. He then brought a large bronze tray with seven glasses, a China teapot, lamps of white sugar in an ornamented tin box, a package of orange Pekoe tea from Singapore and a sprig of fresh green mint.
Barek, as the honored guest, was to prepare the tea and he gave his whole attention to it as the family watched. It was perhaps the oldest and most carefully preserved tradition in the Maghreb. First, he poured hot water in the teapot, removing half a glass to “clean the tea.” Then he washed the mint and broke it into small pieces and put them into the pot. Next he broke up the large chocks of sugar so they were small enough to push into the pot and then he poured hot water over them so that they melted like pieces of snow. With a certain solemnity, Barek poured a small amount of tea in a glass and tasted it for sweetness, then filled all the glasses, pouring from high in the air so that the hot liquid spattered and foamed as it went into the glasses. Finally he handed each male member of the family a glass with a blessing, “Hadj, bismillah,” “Mohammed, bismillah,” “Hassan, bismillah,” and the tray with the remaining tea was taken to the tent for the women and children.
The men drank the hot tea in silence, blowing on the surfaces and sipping with load, sibilant hisses. Barek repeated the process for a second round and then Hadj called to his wife, “Moujoud ayela? Is the food ready?” “It’s ready.”
The children harried outside for their own meal and Mohammed again brought cold water and a small piece of soap and a towel for Barek and Hadj to wash their hands. Then Mohammed set a round three-legged low brass table before them and a moment later set on it a steaming platter of tajim, a kind of stew with great chunks of beef heaped with potatoes, peas and carrots. Mohammed also brought a hot loaf of unleavened bread, which they used to sop up the gravy, eating greedily in their hunger.
After dinner oranges and more coffee were brought, which Mohammed loudly lapped up from a saucer amidst general silence. Barek was pleasantly drowsy by now and was relieved when Hadj almost at once began taking down the carpets and making up beds for the night. As guest, Barek was given the bed while the younger boys would sleep with him in the hat on the floor. Hadj and Mohamed slept with their wives in the black tent.
When the others had left, Barek lay down under a velvet comforter and in a sleepy, low voice told the boys about his life in Casablanca, his days as a seaman and how he hoped to go to Europe if he could get a passport. Hassan, the second son, a plump, lazy-looking youth, complained to Barek about the dullness of life in the village and told him in a confiding voice about his girlfriend in Romanni. He also said he had seen the gendarmes pass in a jeep along the road that afternoon. An old lady in the village has been murdered, stabbed to death, a few days before while gathering wood in a nearby forest. The most alarming aspect of the case was that her donkey had been stabbed to death too.
“Now why would anybody want to do that?” Barek muttered drowsily. They talked a little more and then fell silent.
It turned chilly, and near the hut a cock, crowing with all his might, kept them from sleeping. When the bluish morning light began to show through the cracks, Barek heard Mohamed get up and go outside, coughing and yawning and splashing cold water on his face. After a few moments, he brought two cows to the tent and his mother came out to milk them. Barek dozed off again and it was not until Hadj came to call the boys that he stirred himself to rise.
Each morning Barek walked the four kilometers into the little community of Romanni, which housed the local administrative offices. There he visited the office of the Caid and the gendarmerie, applying for certificates of birth and residence. As he expected, it was a slow process. The Caid was away for some days, his application had been incorrectly filled out, there was an inevitable, “Come back tomorrow.” Barek found he was in no great hurry. During the late mornings and afternoons he worked in the fields with Mohamed, weeding, cultivating, cutting grass. And he enjoyed going back and forth along a little dirt road on the edge of the green valley. Sometimes, after he had stopped in at the Cafe Gaulois in Romanni for a glass of wine or two, he would stop along the way home and pick armfuls of wild flowers, daisies and poppies and the blue and lavender morning glories and sprigs of tiny violets. Barek did not know why he loved to pick flowers, but it became a passion with him as if one had to respond in some way to so much beauty.
The only small farm along his route belonged to Hadj. The rest of the land, planted in wheat and vast pea fields, belonged to a rich French landowner. Barek never saw the Frenchman but everyday passed a gang of fifty or sixty of his laborers, old men, women, girls and even children, who worked in his fields. Almost all of them lived in the douar, in the huts across the river. The able-bodied men among them did not join the laborers but formed small four-man crews along the riverbank shoveling sand from the river bottom, which they sold every few days by the truckload.
Sometimes Barek took Mohamed with him into Romanni. This day they were both in high spirits as they walked down the valley. Barek liked the wide sweep of the country, the clean air and the green, green color of the wheat and pea fields on the slopes and Mohamed felt that in the Casablancan he had found something close and akin to him. This day the son was rising. Low over the river skimmed a drowsy hawk. The river looked murky; here and there a mist hovered over it, but on the farther side a strip of light already lay across the hill, the tin roofs sparkled and in the olive trees of the French manor house the crows cawed indignantly.
“I heard it’s difficult to find work in Casablanca,” Mohamed told Barek, who agreed and told him he was better off in the village. Mohamed said he had been away only once, when the government called him to go into the army. He had taken the bas to Sidi Slimane and was to have stayed eighteen months, but he gave 10,000 francs to an official and the official said, “Okay, go home.” [In Moroccan currency, 100 francs make one dirham and 5 dirhams=$1] He said he stayed that night with some soldiers from Romanni; they got drunk on wine, told jokes and listened to Algerian records on a jukebox.
“Ya ben sidi ya khoua ya temgale marche
Rehe ou gole drete mara….”
Mohammed sang. He told Barek someone had told him about the singer, an Algerian married to a French woman in Paris. The singer wanted to return to the Maghreb but his wife refused and so in the song he lamented that “A man should have land, cows, money before he marries and he must be a man also.”
Mohamed said it was his favorite song. Near Romanni, nestled in trees at the bottom of the valley, white storks drifted through the air; they nested in the chimneys of the houses in summer.
“Tomorrow is market day. If father lets me I must take one sheep to the suq. [an open country market, held once each week] Anyway, we must go to the suq tomorrow together, Barek.”
“Inchallah.” [God willing]
They came to a broad, flat field of wheat where some fifty laborers were strong out, pulling weeds. Many of the workers were young girls in bright pink, red and yellow sweaters and scarves. The arrival of a visitor had become known in the douar and the workers stared with curiosity at Barek.
“Whose is this farm?” Barek called to an old man working nearest to him.
“It belongs to one Frenchman. Then that Frenchman went home and now he’s sold the land to another Frenchman.”
Barek stared at the workers sullenly. Then he suddenly exploded, “Why don’t they all go from here? So you people have land to live with!”
The workers just looked at him dally and an old, woman cried, “What are we going to do, young man? This is life. We have nothing to do. It has always been like this. We are, laboring people.”
One man, some distance behind the workers and apparently the overseer, now shouted, “Khademou! Arwa Khademou! Zido darea ya laire khademou! Sarbie! Quick! Quick! Get to work you people, quickly!”
The old man nearest Barek turned back and called, “Let the girls see the people. They want to marry.”
The overseer shouted back derisively, “With who are they going to marry? If they want to marry they must go look for somebody. Not in the working time. Now they must work quickly. We are not here for joking. This is working time.”
All the workers now stopped, amused by the diversion and the overseer swung a long stick at them, shouting, “Get back to work!”
Some of the girls giggled and the overseer sounded angrier than ever. “Watch the wheat! Watch and don’t break! Just easy, easy. Each one take his own rows. Take the grass with you. Don’t throw it on the ground.” The workers began to sing a sad song, one or two at first and then all of them together, a strangely sweet music, like a dirge and deeply moving. The overseer, swearing to himself, now came toward Mohamed and Barek.
“Salaam Aleikum,” he greeted them and then spat, muttering a filthy oath in the direction of the laborers, “I see you go by every morning. Why don’t you bring something from Romanni?”
“What I have to bring you?” Barek answered in a loud joking manner. “You need a bottle of wine?”
The workers laughed and the overseer reddened. “No, no wine. Bring something to eat. I don’t drink wine. I need something to eat.” He turned and strode back into the field.
“Why don’t you bring me a bottle?” cackled the old man. “I can get drunk with any kind of alcohol.”
Barek and Mohamed laughed and turned to go. “Salaam Aleikum,” Barek called. “La aonecome ibselama. God help you people.”
They came to the river. On the opposite side, Hassan, Mohamed’s brother, stood at the water’s edge taking off his clothes.
“That’s our Hassan,” Mohamed said. He called to him, “Hassan, did you take out the cows?”
“No,” his brother called back.
“Why don’t you take out the cows? I have to go to the village and you just stay here and swim in the river. Why don’t you do something?”
Hassan did not reply but plunged into the water and splashed about.
“Hassan is no good,” Mohamed told Barek. “Last night he came home at two or three o’clock. Father was very angry but he can do nothing with him. Always I must do the hard work. Any work at home I must do it. Anyway, I am the eldest son. It is my lot.”
Hassan’s dripping head emerged from the water not far from the bank. “I been out with the sheep all morning,” he said. “I’m tired. I was thinking about my girl friend all the time. Last night I went to the village to wait for her but she don’t come.”
“You must find her at the suq tomorrow,” Barek reassured him. “Don’t you worry.”
Mohamed and Barek walked along the riverbank until they reached the road to Romanni. Dew shimmered on the green bushes reflected in the water and the thousands and thousands of spring flowers along the sloping bank. There was a gust of warm air; it was soothing. What a beautiful morning. And how beautiful life could be in the Maghreb if it were not for poverty – terrible, everlasting poverty, from which there was no escape. Only to look around at the village was to realize how poor these people were, and the enchantment of the beauty that seemed to surround them instantly vanished.
When they neared the road they passed a young shepherd boy with a herd of cows who stared at Barek curiously.
“Salaam Aleikum,” Barek greeted him.
“These cows belong to you?”
“No. I’m alone,” the boy said. “No mother and no father. Before when my mother was alive I was in school. Now I work for this man for nothing. Maybe ten dirhams* a month. I’m just waiting to save enough money to take the bus. Go to some; big city. Get some school for free.”
“You’re just wasting your time here,” Barek told him, with some impatience. “Go quickly.”
“I wait to get some money to catch the bas and move from here. Go to school, go someplace where they teach some job.”
As they moved on, Mohamed said the shepherd boy was badly treated by the farmer who hired him. Yet without parents what could he do? And would the city be any better?
“Maybe yes, maybe no.” Barek said. “But at least there is a chance. Well, that is the life anyway.” And he told Mohammed how he had ran away from his village to Casablanca when he had been even younger than the shepherd boy.
“We had left here for El Jadida. It was a hungry time. We had about ten or eleven cows like this boy here. Sometimes I go with my mother after the cows, sometimes with my little sister. Sometimes I was so hungry I stole flour to eat. My mother would catch me and she would slap me. ‘Black boy,’ she used to scream. ‘Black boy, you are no good’ So, I stay two or three years like this. Then I leave my home. I leave my mother also. Like this shepherd boy.”
When they reached the village, Barek and Mohamed stood in the entrance of the Caid’s office and did not dare go farther. Finally, after an hour, a gendarme came and said the Caid was not in that day and to return tomorrow. They remained standing the whole time.
That afternoon, Barek and Mohamed were cultivating the chick peas, one of them following the old wooden cultivator pulled by a male and the other going behind to pull weeds, when, a tall young foreigner with yellow hair drove up on a motor scooter. The two Arabs greeted the youth, who got off his-machine and offered them cigarettes. Almost at once Mohamed asked if he knew if anything could be done for his small brother, who “had no legs.” He invited the foreigner to the hut for tea and to take a look at Musa the crippled child.
As they walked to the hut, the foreigner introduced himself as Steve, and said he was an American with the Peace Corps. Hadj was waiting at the hut; sitting on a carpet spread out ever the grass on the slope above the river. He recognized the American as an agricultural technician working at the government research station at Merchouche, a village some ten kilometers away.
Musa came crawling oat of the cooking tent when he saw Mohammed and Barek coming and he scrambled onto Barek’s lap and proceeded to unbutton and button his jacket a corduroy sailor’s jacket Barek had bought in Amsterdam many years before.
Barek laughed and told Musa, “Hello, Baba,” and the child happily repeated the phrase over and over again. “Hello, Baba! Hello, Baba!” Barek had some chickpeas in his pocket and he put them in one doubled fist and held oat both for Musa to unclamp the fingers and find them. The child, delighted at the, game would shriek, “Hahia! Here it is! Hahia!”
His father, Hadj, delighted to see the child so happy, put two peas in his right hand, transferred them to his left, then very quickly pretended to blow on his fists. He gave the two fists to Musa to unfold, but when the child did so, all the peas were gone. Hadj chuckled and took the peas out of his mouth and everyone laughed at the trick.
*The equivalent of $2 per month
Musa clapped his hands together in delight but was so excited he bumped his arms, scarred with scabie sores, against his father’s legs and he began to cry. His eyes opened wide and large tears began to roll down his cheeks.
Barek took the child in his lap. “Well, Musa, please don’t cry. I’m going to take care of you, don’t you worry,” Barek took a towel and carefully dried away the boy’s tears and then gave him a glass of sweet coffee to drink. The child sniffled for a moment, then drank the coffee and forgot his pain.
“It looks like cerebral palsy,” the young American told Barek in English. “There’s not much that can be done but they should take him to a good doctor. With help, perhaps he could learn to walk.”
“But how?” asked Barek. “These are poor people.”
“How many hectares does he have?”
Barek asked Hadj in Arabic and translated, “Twenty-five.”
“That’s a pretty fair sized farm,” the American said. “Would he like me to have a look at his fields?”
After mint tea and some hot bread spread with melted butter, Hadj, Barek and the young American set out to see the fields. Mohamed had to take the donkey cart and cut grass down by the river.
Steve, the young American, first set out to establish Hadj’s costs of production and his methods and their offered advice on how they could be improved. But the conversation, conducted in a mixture of English, French and Arabic, proceeded in fits and starts.
“Le semence. Combien ce coute le semence? How much does the seed cost?”
Barek translated into Arabic.
“Vous parlez le semence…fifty five dirhams, which would be…deelu zera…super phosphate et la meelha…. See, I don’t know the exact prices for fertilizer. But I think it’s more. Hadj, le urea…le farina deelu…trois kilo…he has reason to….
“One quintal of nitrogen per hectare is enough,” Hadj said in Arabic.
“No,” Steve was emphatic. “With the new dwarf wheat you need two or three times that much. Two quintals. Maybe up to three. Dans une hectare…lektarekt*…une beau record….”
Barek: “Forty-five dirhams.”
“Ca c’est pour les ble dur. That’s for durum wheat. We’re working with bread wheats now. No, pas ca, le prix est trente-huit dirham par qu pour ble tendre parceque il n’y pas les variete de ble dur…Ah, thirty-eight dirhams. C’est officiale. Le prix de government.”
For some moments they all spoke in Arabic until Steve exclaimed, “Voila! Regardez, regardez!”
The Young American was able to outline what he considered the cost would be if Hadj produced the new dwarf wheat with modern methods of cultivation. This included $7.50 per hectare for a disc harrow if the tractor were hired by the day or $15 for two days’ work, $16 for seed per hectare, $14 for phosphate, $30 for urea, $2 for a-4-D herbicide, and $12 for the hire of a combine per hectare.
*hectare in Arabic
Steve estimated Hadj’s production costs if he used modern methods of wheat production would be about $89 or $90 per hectare. He explained that since the average yield per hectare for the new wheat could be expected to be at least 30 quintals and the selling price in the suq was $7.60 per quintal, Hadj would get a gross income of $220 per hectare minus the $90 for production costs or a net income per hectare of $138. How much was he getting now?
After another prolonged discussion in Arabic, Hadj figured he was getting $88 per hectare net profit by growing durum wheat. His yield of about 20 quintals or two tons per hectare was much lower than the 38 quintals possible with bread wheat but the market price was considerably higher, 44 dirhams per quintal as compared with 38 quintals for bread wheat.
Hadj argued that the higher investment wasn’t worth the risk, especially in a dry land, non-irrigated area where a farmer had to rely on rain. Steve suggested he borrow from the government.
“No, no,” Hadj was vehement. “If you rely on the government to provide everything so you, can use the modern methods, it will end up costing you ten times as much.”
“Hadj, he explain, a farmer, you know, he don’t take nothing from the government. He only work for himself,” Barek said.
“Even if he can make more?”
Steve was studying his calculations. “Je pense tout les figures c’est foog schweeah. Perhaps a little too high.”
Barek went on. “Hadj says he knows many people who have 150 hectare or so who get money from the government. The-man wants credit. He can advance something on his land and he takes paper to the government. The government must explain exactly and he pay the man. Now that man must pay back something every year. But maybe his crop fails. If he don’t pay he has twice as much to pay the next year. He has to pay double then.”
“If you, have ten hectares and you owe the government a million francs, well, so how do you sleep at night? Do you sleep or stay awake?” Hadj told Steve in Arabic.
Barek: “Hadj, he don’t want nothing to do with the government. He pay his taxes each year and that’s that.”
Steve: “Le government il a moyan de t’aider. It has the means to help you. To extend credit. Il peut aider.”
Hadj: “It can find out how much money you have and tax you more also.”
“Why don’t you buy a tractor?”
After a round of Arabic, Barek explained, “Hadj, he says people in the Maghreb don’t know how to work machinery. If you buy a tractor and you drive it ten or fifteen days, maybe it breaks down. And you have to pay someone to fix it.”
Steve: “It’s very important that someone in the, family has some mechanical ability. Perhaps the government could set up training centers for mechanics, the sons of farmers.”
Barek: “The government don’t know about such things. The government only knows how to tax the people.”
Steve: “If he buys a tractor, there are mechanics in Romanni. He can just ask them questions.”
Hadj: “If you have a tractor and it doesn’t work and you take it to a mechanic, maybe it’s just some small thing wrong but he takes it apart and you must pay him much money.”
As they talked they moved across the fields until they reached the end of Hadj’s land. Before them stretched the lash, heavily fertilized wheat fields of the Frenchman. Steve pointed oat the Frenchman was growing the new dwarf Mexican wheat.
“Look,” he told Hadj, “if you have one quintal for ten dollars and I have three quintals at five dollars and you end up with ten dollars and I end up with fifteen, which do you want?”
Hadj laughed. “Yes, it’s true. But you can’t sell this new wheat in the suq. Nobody will take it.”
“I’m exaggerating,” Steve went on. “Actually it would mean more like a 15 per cent cut in price and a 25 per cent increase in yield, with a net or 10 per cent more.” But to Hadj, as he told the young American, for a marginal dry land farmer dependent on rain he couldn’t take the added risks that the big French landowner could, even if it meant more profit.
Steve wandered out into the fields, at the point where Hadj’s land bordered the Frenchman’s. Steve called, “Hey, Barek, tell him this durum is very thin.”
Hadj explained there had been too much rain since January and not enough hot sun.
Steve disagreed. “Non, les population, le numbre des plantes per metre care. Maintenant l’augmentation c’est finie.”
Hadj: “Over there I didn’t use fertilizer; that’s why it’s so short.”
“The grain heads are too small.”
“When the sun comes, the grain head will grow big,” Hadj said.
“It’s either too light a seeding or a lack of rain in the fall so it didn’t come up. I’ll take a closer look.”
“This wheat belongs to the Frenchman.”
“It’s 3597, the Italian variety. La,la,la,la. [la” means no in Arabic] C’est ce Americain, le Mexicain.”
Barek: “Hadj wants to know what number.”
“C’est possible siete cerros.”
Hadj held up a bad plant.
“I don’t know,” said Steve. “Maybe no rain. Not enough fertilizer. There’s always something.”
Hadj: “It could also be that a donkey or cow stepped on it before.”‘
Steve counted the tillers of one row, first in Arabic than switching to English. “One plant has ninety-eight spikelets. It has five tillers or spikes or stalks and those five gave 98 spikelets. This has a genetic possibility to pat lots of grain on one plant while your 2777 duram doesn’t.” Steve tried to explain in Arabic to Hadj what he meant by plant genetics, finally giving up and saying, “If you put on a lot of fertilizer, it has to give you grain.”
Hadj smiled. “If you give the cow grass, he must give back milk.”
“Can yea explain to him, Barek?”
“I’m not a farmer anymore. He’s a farmer and you’re a farmer. If you want to know about village life, okay, I can tell you everything.”
“Well,” Steve said, “wheat in the Maghreb gives you, about 18 spikelets per spike, the same as Mexican. But Mexican gives you five or six tillers per plant while the old wheat only -gives you two or three. In America, in one test, they only used eight kilos of seed per hectare of Mexican variety and still got a good yield. Just eight kilos compared with the 140 kilos of seed Hadj uses. Barek, explain to Hadj. C’est une question de genetique.”
Barek was puzzled “Qu’est que c’est genetique?”
Hadj grinned knowingly. “The land. If you have good land, it will give you good wheat. The land is everything. This time before, in early winter, there was drought. Now too much rain comes. In Benimalal they have irrigation. M’zien bizef. Very good for the new wheat.”
Steve went on about genetics, saying they determined the length of the grain head, the shape of the grain head, the baking qualities of the flour, the ability to take large amounts of fertilizer without lodging. Finally he threw up his hands in frustration. “There aren’t the words in Arabic to explain genetics.” He playfully pulled Barek’s cap. “I’m trying to explain the difference in varieties and you don’t even know what a variety is.”
Barek pointed to a weed. “That’s also a variety. What’s its number?”
“It doesn’t have a number.”
“Sure. L’herbe savage.
They started walking back to the hut. Hadj told about a farmer in Merchouche who got 95 quintals per hectare with his barley, adding, “If I had pat in two hectares this year I could have given it to my cattle.”
“Why didn’t you grow it?” Steve asked.
“That man, he wouldn’t sell his seeds to everybody. He wouldn’t give it out. He was a Frenchman.”
Back at the hut Mohammed was waiting with mint tea. When Hadj went to wash, he joked with Steve, “Do you have a wife?”
“I don’t want a wife. I’m only twenty-two years old.”
“No, you must marry. You have to marry. You like Moroccan girls? Maybe I can find you a nice one.”
“Do you have a wife, Mohamed?”
“When did you marry?”
When Hadj returned, Mohamed was silent, as was the custom of sons before their fathers in the Maghreb.
Hadj explained to Steve why he was reluctant to obtain credit from the government or even get involved, with it in any way. Years before he had had a bad experience. He rented five hectares of his land to the French estate owner. The lease was to have expired in 1952, the year of Morocco’s independence from France.
When the time came, Hadj asked for his land back. The Frenchman refused to give it to him. He told Hadj, “Go and see the Caid, go see the government, go see whoever you want.” Hadj went to the Caid but couldn’t get a hearing; he suspected the Frenchman had bribed him. After two months he went to Rabat, the capital city, to consult the land office. For five months they pat him off, saying, “You wait, don’t worry. We’re investigating your case. Wait another month or two. We’ll call you.” After seven months and four trips to Rabat, Hadj returned to the capital and hired an advocate. He had to pay the lawyer 100,000 francs ($200) to handle his case. He was advised, “It may take as two or three months to get a hearing on your case. When we do, I’ll summon you.”
Two months later a letter arrived asking Hadj to be in Rabat on a certain date. The case came before the court and the judge asked to hear Hadj’s story.
“I’m not so poor,” Hadj told the judge, “but I need money. I have five sons, my wife, my brother’s wife and her children. So I need some money. So I gave five hectares of my land to this Frenchman for five years. The Frenchman told me, ‘I won’t give you land back. I have a contract with you to rent this land for more than five years.’ He told the judge the Frenchman had told him, ‘Go see whoever you want, go see the Caid, go see the government.’
Hadj told the judge, “I don’t want to make trouble. I am only a village man. I have lived there all my life. Many people know me and my father before me. The Caid wouldn’t hear my case and, I have come to Rabat many times. What can I do with this Frenchman? He won’t give me my land back.”
After hearing Hadj, the Frenchman was called to testify. He was asked to show proof that his contractual arrangement extended beyond five years. When the Frenchman could not, the judge ruled he must give the land back and the Caid was sent an order showing that Hadj could repossess. Hadj believed the Frenchman had banked on a simple villager’s inability to pursue the matter in the courts. Steve expressed surprise that the French could still own land in the Maghreb. Of course, they were efficient modern farmers and the government was concerned about feeding its people on a national scale. Still, it seemed to the young American, a vestige of colonialism. Like Barek earlier in the day, he thought to himself, why don’t they all go home and give these people land to live with?
The suq, or country market, was nearly five kilometers away at Romanni, but the peasants went there every Wednesday to sell their wheat, vegetables, sheep, cows, camels or horses and buy clothes and provisions for the week ahead. In good weather, the girls dressed in their best and went in a crowd to the suq, and it was a gay sight to watch them crossing the meadow, some on foot and others riding donkeys, in their red, yellow and green dresses; in bad weather most of them stayed home. Then only the men went in their dark, hooded jalabas and heavy rubber boots against the rain and mud.
This day, Hadj and the younger boys had gone first, with the women and children, carrying 140 kilos of durum wheat on a donkey to sell in the suq. Mohamed and Barek, after putting the cows to pasture and leaving one of the boys, Ali, behind to watch them, followed behind. Walking was pleasant. The sky was a perfect blue and Mohamed and Barek were cheerful; everything seemed to entertain them: some men along the river shoveling sand into a truck; a row of telegraph poles running one after the other and disappearing over the horizon with a mysterious ham of their wires; the French manor house framed in its olive orchard and eucalyptus trees, uninhabited now but unaccountably happy looking, the daisies, poppies and morning glories, gleams of yellow, white, red, orange, blue and lavender in the green fields. And the sparrows chirped unflaggingly, the quails called to one another, and a donkey neighed as though complaining he was not going to the suq too.
Mohamed had risen before dawn to make mud bricks from the bank just across the river. He had completed 86 by midmorning, and now had 243 of the 800 he needed to build an 18-meter hut for his new wife. In his good spirits, he was telling Barek a religious story:
“Before, you know, Barek, there were no Arab people, only Christians and Jews. And Mohammed, he explained to them how we most have only one god. But when Mohammed told this to the people, that ‘There is no god but god and Mohammed is his prophet,” and that the believers must say one word, ‘sebhane lake,’ and he believe in god, the people, they turn against Mohammed and catch stones and throw them at him. ‘Go, go, you are not religion with Christian people.’ they said and they hit Mohammed with stones. Now Mohammed was with his cousin in the village where he lived selling dates. So Mohammed he marry with one woman, her name, Kadisha. So Mohammed went to some village and he bring Sidna Ali, his friend with him. Because Ali believed in Mohammed and the same god. One day they went to the mosque. The khafar people come after Mohammed and Ali. He like to kill him. God protect them with a magic wall and they escape from that village, from another gate. When they went oat, Mohammed and Ali, the Khafar people say, ‘Oh, these people from the Maghreb are sehara**
Just then they rounded a bend in the road and came upon the orphaned shepherd boy. Despite the sonny day, he was dressed in a heavy woolen jalaba. After greeting him, Mohamed asked him why.
“Today I was angry,” said the shepherd boy. “I wore my jalaba. I will work until evening until the farmer comes. Then I’ll tell him, ‘Pay me and I’m going off.’ If he pays me, maybe tonight, tomorrow, I’m going to leave for some big city, maybe Casablanca. Always I work hard hoping he’ll give me more! than ten dirhams a month. But nothing happens. So I’m going. Tonight or tomorrow.”
Barek thought for a moment of giving the boy some money, then thought better of it. He was a stranger in the douar now and it was better not to meddle in its affairs. As they walked on, Mohamed said the shepherd boy’s farmer had a second hired man who got sixty dirhams a month. “But he doesn’t work hard like the boy who must always go with the cows and cut the grass every night. Also he carries water from far away for the horses. But I doubt that he will go. Where can he go? Who will feed him?”
“Life is no good here in the Maghreb,” said Barek, who had almost forgotten he had no job himself.
Just then there was a great fuss across the river as one donkey tried to mount another. A woman rushed from one of the huts and angrily separated the two animals with sticks and stones. An Arabian horse tethered nearby tossed his head and reared up on his hind legs in the excitement. The steep riverbank was ablaze with spring flowers.
“Take the donkey off!” Mohamed shouted to the woman.
“Why don’t you come and do it!”
“It’s up to you; I’m across, the river!” Mohamed laughed as the woman shook a stick at him and began to sing:
River, go quick, my love does not come.
Where is she now? Where is she now?
The river flows by but where is she?
I hope she comes quickly, as quick as the river.
And I will wait till she comes, Habibti, Habiti.
**can tell the past and future; possess magical powers
+ khafar is used in Moroccan villages to mean “infidel” or unbeliever
Barek plucked a daisy, tearing the petals off one by one. “Katebhhiui kanebhika, she loves me, she loves me not…she loves me…” and the last, “…she loves me not!”‘
Mohamed laughed. “Why is it you’re not married, Barek?”‘
“No job. How can I support a wife? If I have a little money, maybe can buy a little house, maybe even a little carp then I will marry. Now maybe have money one day and nothing the next. That is not good if you have a wife and sons.”
When they reached the road a blue Ford tractor belonging to the Frenchman passed them and the Arab driver stopped and offered them a ride.
“Salaam Aleikum. Labas,” Barek greeted the driver as they climbed on behind.
“Labas.* Ca va?”
“Ca va bien. Hamdullah.
“Where you go?”
“To the suq.”
The driver nodded and the tractor pulled ahead. “Ah, God save us,” the driver lamented, glad for an audience. “These days the people in the Maghreb are no good. All are bad people. Some rich man they hire poor men but don’t pay properly. Always argue. Always fight. If you want more money, he take you to Caid, maybe take you to jail.”
“You work for the Frenchman?”
“So I do and I’m always angry with him, the French landlord. But what can I do? Maybe he’ll take me to the Caid, maybe to jail. We wait for Allah to judge them. The rich man has a lot of money but he want to eat the poor people anyway. How can we live? The rich eat the poor.”
Along the road ‘streams of villagers were moving toward the suq, many of them walking but some on horses, mules and donkeys. Barek had not been to a country market for years and he felt the old thrill of excitement he had experienced as a boy as they approached the great tent city that had been erected for the market day.
Thanking the driver, they dismounted from the tractor and hurried toward the suq. Near the entrance gate, a young man was lying on the earth, rolling back and forth in a drunken stupor.
“This boy he hate his life maybe,” Barek told Mohamed. “No work. No job. He buy twenty francs, thirty francs, alcohol to make fire with. Always he like to kill his self. I see many such men in Casablanca.” The two watched as a group of gendarmes, impressive in starched grey uniforms and polished black boots, approach the youth and pull him to his feet. The youth had stuck pins in his cheeks and was bleeding from his forehead. Two of the gendarmes pushed him ahead of them, kicking him with their knees when he started to stumble and fall again.
“The gendarme don’t like he stay in front of the suq,”‘ Barek went on. “See how they kick him and slap him to wake him up. Some people have blood no good. Too much alcohol. I think he hate his life. No good clothes. Maybe no eating every day. He do these things. He think maybe somebody help him. Take him to the hospital.”
Now they were inside the suq and they soon forgot about the drunken youth. All around them was a scene of great bustle and confusion. To one side were the cattle yards where men were trading horses, cows, goats and sheep. Beside it, under a great covered shed was the slaughterhouse with fresh meat. Barek noticed several bloodstained goatskins lying about on the ground and here and there a skull or a half-crushed jawbone with teeth still set in a ghastly grimace. In a score, of gaily-draped barbers’ tents, peasants were being shaved. There were hundreds of tents selling everything imaginable: women’s clothes from black jalabas to diaphanous pink silk sleeping gowns; men’s jalabas, spices, herb medicines, butter and milk, carpets, dishes, pans, lamps, plastic basins, children’s toys, eggs, spices. There were row upon row of cobblers’ shops, stalls of fruit and vegetables heaped high with cabbages, carrots, beets, lettuce, potatoes, oranges, apples, lemons, everything one could desire. Everywhere there were people, the men in their long, flowing jalabas, the women in bright silk gowns worn one atop another so that many had on as many as five or six. Weaving through the crowds were watermen, carrying their heavy wet goatskins and wearing gaily decorated large straw hats. A group of telba fahramasekin, tall holy men in hooded black cloaks, went front stall to stall reciting verses from the Koran and holding out their hands for alms in an oddly menacing way. Big muscular men who resembled gangsters more than priests, they cried in gruff, threatening voices: “Please for your mother, if she’s dead; for your father, if he’s dead. Please help us.”
*Labas is used interchangeably both for “How are you’?” and “Fine”
At the covered wheat market, Mohamed and Barek stopped to search for Hadj and the family, but they had apparently sold their wheat and moved on. As they stood there, they watched a woman with heavy black kohl lines drawn around her eyes, bargaining with one peasant. The woman picked up a handful of his wheat and sniffed it disdainfully three times before asking the price.
“Eight dirhams,” said the peasant.
The woman moved on without a word and threw more came up and they too gathered up some grain in their palms and sniffed it. “This what is no good,” complained one. “Very old. It’s been stored underground.” She moved on to the next peasant and, finding his wheat had no odor, told him to fill her sack. He used a six kilo tin can to scoop it up with painful care lest it be too fall or too empty.
“Full, full, make it full,” cried the woman. “Don’t cheat me or yourself.” Then she complained he was taking too much time. “Hurry. Quick. We have some more things to do.” Just then another woman came running up and shrieked, “I can’t find my donkey. He’s wandered off. Here, keep my wheat for me while I find him.”
All around them the bargaining went on. “How much?” “Seven dirhams.” “That’s too expensive for us. If you give it to me for six dirhams, okay…. If not, well….” “No, you must give me seven.” The customer turned to walk away. “Look, I can’t sell you for six. If you pay six and a half, okay. This is good wheat. Some will not sell you so much for eight or nine dirhams.” Again the man turned away. “All right, take it for six.” “Wakha.” [okay, the word is pronounced very gutturally]
They heard another peasant’s wife complaining, “What are we going to do with this little bit? You sold all but two kilos.” “We’ll just have to take it home again. Here, put it in the saddle bags.”
Mohamed and Barek wandered over to the cattle market, the most exciting place in the suq for sometimes real fortunes exchanged hands and sharp traders acted as go-betweens for the peasants for a commission. The market was in a large yard, jammed with goats, sheep and cows and groups of excited men, gesturing, uttering oaths and filthy insults, gathering arms on each others’ shoulders for whispered conferences and roars of laughter and approval as bargains were sealed.
One prosperous red-faced farmer in a green jalaba wanted to buy a fat brown cow with calf, and was surrounded, almost bedeviled, it appeared, by two lanky sons and three men in dingy white turbans and brown jalabas who were acting as go-betweens. Another buyer, who had apparently lost out in the bargaining, shook his fist at the cow’s owner, shouting, “I’ll come next week and buy better than your cow for 50,000 francs!”
The owner, a sun burnt young peasant, called after him, “How can you find like this cow? It has a calf inside. A strong cow. A good cow. And you think you are going to find another like it in the suq? Well, go, my brother, go and see if you can find next week. I don’t want to sell for only 50,000”
“I’ll give you 55,000,” called one of the traders with the prosperous farmer.
“I don’t sell for 75,000.”
“Well,” said the trader, undeterred and waving a 10,000 note in the owner’s face, “here’s the advance. Leave it to me for sixty.” The stout farmer prodded the cow in its belly, opened its jaw and studied the teeth. Another whispered conference with his sons and the traders followed. “Ah,” groaned the farmer. “This is a bad suq. Bad business. I offer him a fair price but he won’t see me for 60,000 francs. So what can I do?”‘
“Well, pay more,” one of the traders advised him in a wheedling voice. “A calf is on the way. Give him a little more and he’ll sign the contract right away.” The farmer finally agreed and both he and the owner went to a government shed to register the bill of sale. The owner gave a fifteen dirham commission to the three traders but the buyer only gave them ten.
“What are we going to do with ten dirhams?” one of the traders complained loudly. “We are three men.”
Mohamed and Barek moved along, passing a forlorn trader who had bought four black goats and then could find no one to bay them again, “He must wait for the next suq,” Mohamed laughed. He said his father used to be a cattle trader in his youth; there was good money in it, especially selling cows and horses. A man could earn as much as 200 dirhams in a day. Sheep and goats also yielded a profit but a donkey went for only 30 to 35 dirhams, barely worth the trouble.
As they moved back to the tent city, a car moved, slowly through the crowd, almost bumping an old lady on a donkey. The driver, a young man in a suit, was angry, “Why don’t you people stay on the side where you belong?” “Aaagh, that’s a bad one that is,” screeched the old lady after him. “What does he want me to do? Does he want the whole road to himself?”
Heading toward the tea tents, where a bamboo mat and hot water was provided for a dirham, Mohamed and Barek stopped to buy tea, mint, sugar and order some mutton brochettes and bread. As Barek made the tea, Hassan and another youth from the douar, came up to join them. A plump young village girl, her face halt hidden by a black scarf, called after Hassan, “Bring some bread back with you.”
“What I’m going to bring bread for?” he asked, then grinned slyly. “You want Arab bread? Or French bread?”
The girl laughed. “Just so it’s hot.”
As she disappeared in the crowd, Hassan and his friend speculated whether the girl “did business” or not.
“She’s very young for the business,” said the friend. “But maybe. What about your girl friend Hassan? She with you now or not?”
“Always she is with me.”
“Oh, mine,” groaned the friend. “I’m going to change her. I have another one in mind. Let’s go see if she’s here or not. If not, we’ll meet here in Romanni tomorrow. Then I must talk with her. See if she likes me nor not. If she’s all right, we’re going to have a party together. You and I and the girls. Besulama.”
Mohamed greeted two peasants from the douar who had come to the tent to make tea. “Give us you tea and mint and we’ll all drink together,” he joked.
“No. Shove off.” His friends laughed. “Move. You drink your tea. Finish. You must go. You and your friend.”
“Look at the poor man,” Mohamed said in a quavering, theatrical voice. When his friend called for hot water in a simple, peasant manner, Mohamed made fun of him, “Why you talk like that? You think you’re back in the douar?”
Hadj, who had been searching his sons, came in and sat down beside them. He said he had sold his 140 kilos of durum wheat for 80 dirhams. “Only seven customers. It took less than an hour and a half. Here Mohamed, You take 30 dirhams. I owe you. You, Hassan, take this 40 and go buy meat, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, three packages of tea and eight kilos of sugar. When you buy you must count exactly what you spend for everything and report to me.”
Hadj joined some older men from the douar for tea and Mohamed and Barek went to buy some things for Mohamed’s wife: henna to dye her hands as was the fashion in the Maghreb, a pair of red silk pantaloons for seven dirhams, a nightshirt for Mohamed, a meter of white cotton cloth to make headscarves for his wife and mother, a pair or rubber work boots for twelve dirhams, a pair of work pants, two boxes of Tide laundry soap, two bars of washing soap, tobacco for self-rolled cigarettes and a sack of candy and peanuts for Musa. By the time he had finished, Mohamed had only three of the thirty dirhams left. “Look, Barek,” he said, “I work hard, very hard. I save up this money for a month and I come to the suq and spend it all in one day.”
Barek in turn bought twenty dirhams worth of groceries, including chicken and mutton, and a shirt, a pullover and a small pair of pants for Musa. Elle also spent a great deal of money giving small change to each of nearly a dozen beggars who came along.
“Why you always give to those people?” Mohamed asked him.
Barek shrugged. “Well, it’s just this way. Anyway, I must give.”
When they rejoined Hadj at the tea tent, Hassan was also just returning. He told his father he had spent thirty-three dirhams and twenty francs. When he enumerated what each item had cost, Hadj groaned, “Prices have never been so high at the suq. Perhaps it is all the rainy weather.” But, as Mohamed told Barek later, Hadj knew Hassan kept a small commission on what he bought for the family. But he never said anything to the boy.
“Where’s the rest of the money?” Hadj asked.
“I have it in my pocket.”
“Keep it until we reach home.” He sent Mohamed to fetch the family’s mule and gave him 30 francs to pay the watchman. Then Hadj loaded the groceries into saddlebags and he and Hassan took the male home. “Are you coming?” he called over his shoulder to Mohamed.
“I’m going to lauch with Barek. He asked me to join him.”
“All right. But you must come home early. Don’t leave me to wait for you. You have to take the cows out, cut grass, so many things.”
When his father was out of earshot, Mohamed muttered, with a note of real weariness in his voice, “Travaille, travaille, toujours travaille.”
Mohamed’s spirits rose after the first glass of wine, at Romanni’s only restaurant; he had never been inside it before and the Arab waiter seemed to be only half-joking when he placed a white linen napkin before the young peasant and whispered, “Don’t steal it.” Between them Barek and Mohammed finished a bottle of wine over their roasted chicken and pomme frites, and hearing men singing and playing the accordion at the tavern across the road when they came outside, they went over to the Cafe Gaulois for two more rounds of wine.
“Khaife alic la adebouc,” Mohamed sang as they headed home in the afternoon sun. “Achire klaife lamaheuoc a sidi. Ya habibi dini mal dini mal. I love my wife, so I must work hard in my fields so I can go the suq and buy her presents.” Mohamed improvised the words as he went along. Despite the bright sun, a chill wind seemed to be rising from the north, toward the Atlantic.
“When it’s cold like this, it will bring rain tonight,” Mohamed said.
“Yes,” Barek agreed. “The radio forecast heavy rains for tonight. The bartender told me.”
Ahead of them on the road two women were walking and the wind carried back their shrill voices.
“What have I still got to do today?” said one. “Don’t ask. I have to dry wheat, wash clothes, cook dinner for my husband. I’ve got so much to do I don’t know where I should start. I stayed too long at the suq. How about you?”
“I have to cook something for my husband.”
“Look, look,” said Mohamed, pointing to a distant, figure down along the river. “That’s the man who sells kif.” [hashish]
“How green the valley is,” marveled Barek. “It is lovely, this valley of yours.”
“But too much rain. Too much rain this year.”
The meadows, the hills, the bushes near the river seemed a vivid, unnatural green in the afternoon light. The sun, moving in its are, toward the western horizon, flaming pink the magnificent clouds overhead, gave to the valley something extraordinary, novel and improbable, the sort of intense, vivid color that seems unbelievable when one sees it in a picture. Swiftly, swiftly flew the storks, with mournful, mysterious cries. Barek paused at the top of the slope and gazed for a long time at the green valley, at the sunshine, at the family’s humble farmstead, which looked bright and, as it were, rejuvenated; his eyes watered, he gasped for breath, so passionate was his desire to stay, to find a life for himself in this beautiful place; yet he knew he must go. Where? Maybe even to the ends of the earth, Poor he was, as poor as Mohamed beside him. But he was free and go he would. And suddenly he wanted to get away quickly.
“Hamida! Hamida! Come here!” Mohamed was calling to a tall, scraggly, scarecrow of a man who had appeared oat of the Frenchman’s olive grove. “Hamida,” he told Barek, “has a house, a guitar and can fix a man up with girls. He is a pensioned off soldier who served in Indochina with the French forces.” Mohamed tore off a sunflower from its stalk along the road and put it on his head like a hat.
They reached Hamida, whose old, grizzled face grinned at them. “Salaam Aleikum.”
“Do you have some wine?” Mohamed asked.
“No, not yet. But you like coffee? Or tea? Come to my house.”
Hamida’s hat was third from the end of the douar and seemed the meanest and poorest looking. It had a metal roof and grimy curtains at the windows but otherwise had a dirty, unkempt look with its spotted carpets and a grimy, uninviting bed.
“If you need a woman or something, you can come here,” Hamida told Barek.
“If you like to live with him, Barek, just find some woman to cook for you and you can live here with Hamida. He fought in Indochina.”
“Now my life is wine,” the old man lamented. Now I don’t marry. Not now.” He turned to Mohamed. “Get two glasses from your house. I haven’t enough.”
“No, you do your business. You invited as for tea. You must bring.”
“I have only two glasses,” Hamida apologized. Mohamed took the old man’s billfold and began looking through it. He found a few dirham notes “Monsieur Hamida, il est tres riche.” Hamida showed Barek his old army discharge papers. In a faded photograph he appeared young and handsome.
“Put everything back,” Hamida told Mohamed. “Don’t be like a small boy.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll put everything back as it was. Ah, here’s some snuff.”
“That’s another kind,” the old man said, taking a packet from his pocket and whiffing it. “I’m using this one now.”
“Quick. Where’s the tea? Because we have to go all the way back to the bridge. We don’t have time to spare.” I won’t take you with me to cut grass today, Barek. The grass is wet.”
“No, I’ll go.”
“Where’s the tea?”
But instead Hamida produced a large bottle of wine from under his bed and with a practiced movement, pulled out the cork with his teeth. He poured them two glasses, than produced some kif and for a moment they were silent, poking the dried green hashish into their cigarettes. As they smoked, the room filling up with the pungent, sweet odor, Hamida explained how he had once been happily married and with a good job for the Frenchman. But that was long ago and now he earned only a few dirhams from his pension and shoveling sand from the river bottom. “We have teams of four men each,” he said. “A truckload brings in twelve dirhams, that’s three apiece. One day maybe a man can make twenty dirhams, maybe a weeks, nothing. Now the river is too high. The current takes all the sand away. It’s hard work but it’s sometimes good money. In the rain this week, the water rose and carried off all the sand we’d been piling up for a month. Here, have some more wine.”‘ The old man himself drank right from the bottle. When it was quickly emptied, he pulled another from under the bed. “I get credit from the tavern,” he explained.
A mongrel dog poked its head in the door.
“It’s a bad dog,” Mohammed said. “Very vicious.”
“It looks like a wolf,” said Barek.
“How’s my army pictures? Nice or not?” Hamida asked.
“You look handsome,” Barek reassured him.
“I get these bottles from Lucien, the bartender at the, Gaulois.” The old man signed. “Now my life is wine and meat. My wife made the business with other men so I left her.” He emptied the wine bottle in their glasses and rummaged through the blankets on his bed for a third. It was cheap wine, Barek knew, the kind that only cost two and a half dirhams a bottle.
“We never had so much rain as this year. Never.” Mohamed’s words were now beginning to run together. “Barek, you see the life in our douar. What you think, this good life or not?”
“A good life, if a man has a little money.”
“What about your life? Tell as about Casablanca. You said you ran away from the douar when you were just the age of that shepherd boy. What happened then?”
“My life?” said Barek with surprise, as if he had never considered the question before. “There’s not much to tell.”
But he found himself speaking and not stopping but going on and on, as Hamida filled the glasses once more and someone passed around the hashish.
“Maybe I was eight or nine years old when I ran away. ‘Hey, black boy. Hey you black boy.’ I can still remember her saying and slapping me because I was into the flour. I was so hungry.
“The first few days in Casa I don’t know where to go, what to do. I never even had a pair of shoes on in my life. I got a job one week in a cheap restaurant. Slept on the floor. Splashed some water on my face to wash. Never changed my clothes, I never used a toothbrush until I was seventeen years old. This cafe gave only food, no money. It was only a small cafe, for poor people. I ran away because I was pissed off with my mother. Each time she hit me.”
“What about your father?” Mohamed asked gently.
“My father? I remember him when I was six years old. But when he dead, when he die, I don’t see him. He died after I ran away. He was angry with my mother and left her. I was only showed the grave many years after.
“We were four boys. Abdesalem, he works now in a place in Casa crating fruit. He’s three or four years older. Tall, fair, looks like a white man. My other two brothers are farmers. One has a few hectares, the other works in a labor gang for some rich Arab. He sold his land and now he’s only a laborer for some other man. But my brother Mohamed he’s got cows, sheep, land, wife, good house, like you.
“In Casablanca I found a job with a man who worked for the government. He gave out marriage certificates. A rich man. He had a big son in school, maybe 18, 19 years ago. That boy, he don’t like his father. Always they fight because that son, he like to go with boys, not girls. But that man, my boss, always he was good to me; sometimes he take me to movie. Each holiday. He don’t like his son so he treat me good. He send me to school for five years to learn French. I go to market, buy bread, get some legume. I was kitchen boy. I worked for that man for seven years. Always he like me, take care of me. He saw me two or three times in the street before and one day he came and asked me, ‘You like to come and work for me in my house?’
“My oldest brother, Mohamed, after seven years, he finds out that I work for this man in Casablanca. He waited for me one day when I went to the market. Kissed me on both cheeks. The man I worked for, I told him had no family. When I went with my brothers, he see and think they want to kidnap me. He telephones the police station. The police take my brothers to the station, but I identified. My family wanted to take me away so we went back to El Jadida for a month and I stayed at the house of my uncle. At that time I am about 15.
“After one month and one day I ran away again to Casablanca.”
“Why?” Mohamed asked, appalled by the idea of leaving, one’s family and village.
Barek took a long swig on his wine and Hamida harried to fill it up again.
“I love Casablanca,” he said. “I don’t like to sit in a small village like this. Why? Why? I don’t know why. That’s the way it is anyway.”
“But that man sent you to school?” Mohamed asked.
“Yeah. In the morning before I went to the market and bought hot bread. In the afternoon, he sent me to school for four years and six months. I learned Arabic and French but the master in Arabic always hit me. French was easy. But I couldn’t do Arabic. Oh, that son of a bitch hit some of the boys also, but me, always met he beat very much.”
“In the Maghreb if a father has money he can send his sons to school. If he is poor he most send them after the cows, after the sheep.” said Hamida sadly.
“Father sent me to French school for four years and now Ali is going to the Arab school. But Hassan and Abdullah never went because the king said if a man has many sons he doesn’t have to send them all to school. Only some and some should stay and farm and one or two go to the town to learn a trade. So father follows the king,” Mohammed explained.
But Barek was now in a reverie of his own, remembering.
“Back in Casablanca I found a place where there were three French whorehouses. Many seamen, many cars stop there.”
“Why didn’t you go back to your old master?”
“He was angry because my brothers took me away. I never saw him again.”
“And then?” Hamida was interested now.
“I’d wait at the cars in front of the whorehouses and when seamen came out I said I was the watchman. I cleaned the windows on their cars and they gave me ten, twenty francs. Then when I had enough for a movie, I’d go. A few years later my mother came back from El Jadida. My father had two or three shops she rented out and she got two rooms in Casa near the port and a job as a cook with a French family. She’s stayed with them ever since, just goes back to the village for the wheat harvest.
“You ever go inside those private houses?” Hamida asked.
“Sure. Sometimes. The old French madam, she liked to joke. Then she heard independence was coming and she got out. That was when the king closed the casbah. So I got a job at the fish market. I don’t like that other job. If you do like this, always hanging around the private houses like that, sooner or later you must be a pimp. So I got a job on the fishing boats and finally joined the merchant marine. After I got out they gave me a seaman’s book so I took a job on a Greek ship. I was galley boy. We take phosphate to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I was galley boy, serving seaman people. Got paid twenty-eight English pounds a month. One day I was late for work in Dieppe, in Norway. I got drunk. We had a fight so I was angry with the captain of the ship. For seven or eight months I don’t work but before I sent money to my mother, maybe seven pounds a month, sometimes ten.
“Then I got a job on a French cargo ship. It took oranges and tomatoes from Casa. The pay was 32,000 francs a month. I was galley boy, this time for officers. We went to Marseille, then back to Casablanca. Down the coast to Porlioti, Khinitra, back to Marseille again. When they paid me off, I stayed on dock as a watchman for the same company. Sometimes I work three or four days as watchman, the rest of the time I sold souvenirs to the tourist people and sailors. But now the Prefecture won’t let us on the pier. So…that’s the life.”
“How’d you like those foreign countries?” asked Mohamed, who had never even been to a city.
“Many good people, gentle people, everywhere help you, joke, good places, not same us. Good cities, good countries. All of ’em intelligent, all of ’em have a job, they work, so…this way. Not all the time poor people. In Marseille where there’s many Algerian people, they can stab you with a knife. Some French are gangster too but they steal the big things you know, a million.”
“How’s Casablanca? Is it easy to get a job?”
“La. Some people, many people, they don t work. If a tourist or seaman goes into the medina, well, maybe he lose his money. If have no money, well, maybe somebody do something to him, maybe beat him. Well, it’s this way, anyway. That’s the life of Casa.”
“Sometimes, a man’s as good as dead,” sobbed Hamida, a tear rolling down his drunken, grizzled cheek.
“La, la, ” said Barek with some vehemence. “It’s like, how can I explain? My father, he’s in some die place. He stays there until all the world is finish. Then you must wake up again. Allah must see who’s the best, who’s the bad. This way everybody has to pay for his life, if he’s nice or bad.
“If he’s nice, he has to go somewhere, somewhere where he has a good time. If he’s bad they have to put him in the fireplace. The God speaks, not as. The Koran, we hear about the Koran, it speaks this word, not us.” Nervous at so much speech, Barek growled at the dog, but he could not stop himself from going on and he downed another glass of wine at a single gulp.
“Hadj, he has enough to live on with you, Mohammed, his sons and his land. Not like the Casablanca man. The Casablanca man if he don’t make no money in a day, he can’t even have a coffee to drink.”
Mohamed watched him solemnly. He asked, “What you want out of life, Barek?”*
Barek answered right away. “I like to work hard, someplace where I make good money to live with that’s all. I like to live good, eat good, have good clothes. I like to have sons, a car, if possible a home. This way. The best thing I want – I want to go another country. Life is too hard here.”
They drank to that and sobered by Barek’s story, Mohamed began to rise to his feet. But Barek raised his hand and said in a quavering, drunken voice, “Wait! You want to hear the rest of my story?”
Mohamed sat down again. Hamida lit another stick of hashish, inhaled, drawing the air in between his teeth, and passed in to Barek. The air of the dim, cramped hut was now heavy and sweet with the odor of burning hemp.
“I have a brother in Casablanca,” Barek began. “Abdesalem. He’s a workingman to one company. Oranges, tomatoes. So my brother, he makes about forty dirhams in the week and he don’t drink also. He don’t drink and he’s married now, three times. He had no boy, no children, only him and his wife. And always he’s angry with his wife.
“My brother, he play cards, you know, for money, gambling and sometimes he spends his money and comes after his wife; he takes her bracelets, rings, carpets, clothes and sells them. Because he plays cards so much. So he comes late at home, tow or three o’clock in the morning. Ever time he come late.
“One time I was working as a seaman. Three years ago. I am seaman with this French ship. Here in Casablanca, if you drink, you don’t drink in front of your mother. Like in the village. If you want to drink, you can catch a room, $6 a month, you can have it. I leave my good clothes, blankets, all the house things to this room and I go to sea. From Marseilles, I send my brother a letter, ‘You must take care of my room. Go take a look to see if it’s all right. Get the key from the shopkeeper.’ One day I came home to Casa and I go to my room and found the clothes gone, the blankets gone. Somebody else is living in the room. Where I been. ‘Who are you?’ I asked this man in the room. He say, ‘Well, I’m…I find the landlord’s house and he give me this room. Six dollars a month.’
“This is my room. I’ve been at sea.’ Then the boss came come and told me, ‘Well, your brother took all the things you left here. Then he gave me the key and he go.’ Now in that room I leave six or seven pairs of pants, three or four towels, some stuff to cook, pots and things, ten shirts, three blankets, one mattress, one bed, table, chairs to sit on, everything I got in the world was in that room. I went to my brother’s house but he’s not there. I found only his wife. She kissed me on both cheeks and she cry. And she explained to me exactly what he was doing before to her. He hit her, slap her, don’t give food to her. Sometimes he don’t come for two or three days. Take her gold bracelet, sell his radio. She told me also sold the gold tea tray, copper candlesticks, everything. I asked, ‘Where’s he now?’ His wife said, ‘He’s at work now.’
“And I go to his company and I asked one man to call Abdesalem. So my brother’s coming to me. He kissed me also on both cheeks. I think I must be wrong. I mean, when he kissed me like that I think he must no do anything wrong. I think I make a mistake. So I asked, ‘How about my room?'”
“Your room? The landlord took it back.”
“How he take it? Then you gave him the key?”
“He asked for the key. The landlord asked for it. So I gave it to him.”
“How about my clothes and my bed? How about….”
“You know my house is too small. I don’t have no place to keep it. I sell it.”
“You sell all? My clothes to wear too?”
“When the landlord come and asked for the key,” he said. “You gotta pay me or give me the key. This way I don’t have no money to pay the man for six, seven months for you. This way I took the bed, clothes and everything and I don’t have no place to put. That’s why I sell to somebody.”
“How much you sell it? All those things? My bedroom, my clothes.”
“I got 250 bucks.”
“Who give you leave to sell like this? Who told you to give back the key? I ask you to look after the room. You are my brother. And you do this thing to me. Sell my clothes. Everything I got.”
“When this man come to take his key, he said, ‘You have to take this furniture and clothes and keep or sell until he comes.”
Barek paused. “He’s many years older than me, my brother. Always I respect him, look up to him. But that day I punched the son of a bitch in the face, I knocked him down. He was bleeding and I hit him. Then I told him he must bring my clothes back, my bedroom back.
“Well I sell all the things.’ he said. ‘Now if you want me to give you the $250 back, I give you.”
“Well, I don’t have one penny now. You must wait each week. I give you five bucks a week.”
“I wanted to kill him. But I think, he’s my own brother. He does this thing. But he’s my brother. I can’t do anything. I promise you this is true. So I never see him. I don’t take one penny from him. It’s about three years I don’t see him. Even my mother, she don’t like that man. He stealing from her before. His wife was always nice to me but that son of a bitch is no good.”
“It’s cold,” Hamida murmured drunkenly as he stretched out on the carpet that covered the damp floor.
“Well, it’s not warm,” Mohamed, agreed. “It’s a hard life.”
“God gives everyone such a life,” the old soldier groaned in a hoarse voice. “And who is there to look after you, to help you in this life?”
“Nobody,” said Barek with savage vehemence. “Nobody. A man’s got nobody but himself.” His voice broke and Mohamed, looking at him, saw that Barek’s eyes had filled with tears. The Casablancan stood up and staggered to the door, vaguely conscious it was already dark outside. In the hut Hamida and Mohamed could hear a sound like the snuffling of a dog.
“What’s that? Who’s there?” Hamida stirred himself.
“It’s Barek,” Mohamed answered joining his friend outside. Barek was leaning against a fence, his head down. “That son of a bitch, my brother,” he sobbed to Mohamed. “He make me cry like a woman.”
In the hut, old Hamida hear the two men stumble off into the night. “He’ll get used to it,” he grumbled and rolled over, falling asleep.
When he received his papers from the Gail and made ready for the bas journey back to Casablanca, Barek was sorry to part from the village and the peasant family. It rained heavily his last few days bathe remembered the sunshine and walking through the meadows of spring flowers and working side by side with Mohamed in the fields or drinking tea in the hut with Musa on his lap. He felt sorry for these people and the last morning, weeding the onion patch with Mohamed and Hassan, he tried to think of some way to help them.
Hadj had left on a male early in the morning to see how much damage the rain had done to his wheat and pea fields. Before leaving, he had told Barek, “You are like a son to me now and will be welcome in my house anytime, Barek. You have been good for my sons. Mohamed is a good worker but I’m worried about Hassan. He’s not steady. But if I try to talk with him he gets angry and goes off somewhere. He can’t work like you, Barek. He doesn’t think about his future. Now he gets plenty to eat and clothes from me but he doesn’t think how hard we’ve got to work to get these things. I worry about what will happen to him. He’s not like Mohamed.”
Barek offered to take Musa into Casablanca; he told Hadj perhaps the doctors there might be able to help the child to walk. For some days Hadj agreed and said he would bring Musa with Barek when he returned to the city. But when the time came, Hadj decided against it. He reasoned that the doctors might pat the boy in the hospital for a long time and if it were very expensive the government might take some of his land to pay for it. Hadj was kind to his son; when he used the male to cultivate the fields nearest the farmstead, Musa would sometimes painfully crawl out to join his father and Hadj would put the boy on the mule; Musa would ride happily up and down the field, his father walking behind, for hours on end. But Hadj was afraid of the pettiest government official or clerk and who was Barek to say such fears were not justified.
The village itself was headed by a strange man indeed. The chief or mukkadam, as he was called, was a tall, wild looking creature who roamed about the valley in a wide-brimmed straw hat, a long caps, and loose Arab trousers. His intelligent face was fringed with a black beard and he had unusually large hands and feet. Once he had been the wealthiest peasant in the douar but now was among the poorest.
As Mohamed related the story to Barek, the mukkadam was thought to be under a spell, the victim of witchcraft. He had been married to a girl who, the villages said, grew to hate him. In spite, she had given him a potion of herbs that, as Mohamed said, “made him crazy about her,” and then she left him and returned to the home of her parents. Since then the mukkadam was driven by an overwhelming passion for his absent wife; it was said he could neither sleep nor eat, so overcome was he with sexual desire for the girl. In desperation he went from one Moslem shrine after another across the countryside, neglecting his fields and spending all his money, trying to rid himself of the spell. Now he had grown as gaunt and ragged as a scarecrow and no one in the village knew where it would end.
Now, as Barek worked, Musa came crawling across the onion patch, laughing can calling, “Hello, Baba! Hello, Baba!”
Barek felt badly there was nothing he could do for the child and he told Musa gruffly, “Go home and see your mother and leave me alone.” When he saw the hurt in the child’s face, he relented ant said, “All right, sit there. Don’t do something wrong. You must be a good boy.”
“The shepherd boy left in the night Mohamed called from several rows away. “No one knows where he went. Perhaps he caught the bus to Casablanca. What will become of him?”
“Maybe catch work, some job. If lucky, maybe he can go to school. If not maybe go hungry. Maybe steal. That is the life anyway.”
Mohamed stopped for a cigarette, handing Barek one and the two of them squatted down for a rest. Barek pretended to box with Musa who laughed with delight. “When Mohammed Ali, he fight with Frazier, Mohammed Ali, he tell the newspaper if he fight again he must kill the Frazier. Mohammed Ali he was in ail for maybe five years because he don’t want to go into the army,” Barek said.
“Why he don’t want to go into the army?”
“Maybe he go to Vietnam or somewhere and maybe he die. Maybe he kill people. So he don’t want to go into the army.”
Mohamed envied Barek’s sophistication. “If my father had kept me in school before, today I could read. I can write a little.”
To demonstrate, he took an old scrap of paper from his pocket and painfully wrote out a letter to Barek in Arabic. It read:
“Hello, Mr. Barek. How’s everything. Today is a good, good day. You feel good or not? Your friend, Mohamed.” Musa snatched, at the paper and tore it into small pieces, casting them into the wind and laughing happily as they flattered in all directions.
“What time is it?”
Barek looked at his watch. “Eleven.”
“There is nothing left of the morning already. How quickly time passes now that you are leaving.”
At midday Hadj returned home.
“How’s the wheat?” Mohamed called to him. “Are the: birds eating much? Much damage from the rain? How are the chick peas?”
Hadj’s voice was weary and thin. “Dew this time of year should be enough. Now day after day it rains. Never in my life have I seen so much rain as this spring. If it doesn’t stop now…”
“If the rain should stop today, perhaps…”
“And the peas?”
“Rotting. The peas are finished, Mohamed.”
Without another word, Hadj turned away and headed for the hut.
Barek and Mohamed in the Green Valley
In Casablanca, Barek now found it unpleasant to spend much time, in government offices. Day after day, he waited hours outside the dingy office of some petty official or clerk, only to be told to come back tomorrow or that some post office stamp or new paper was required. He would wait hours in a queue at some window in the dim, cavernous halls of the Prefecture, only to be told to return on Friday or perhaps next week, for the legalization of a signature. Sometimes he would have to discreetly pass a few dirhams across the counter so that a clerk would discover he had made a mistake, the paper had not been incorrectly filled out after all. Then there was the Mukkadam of Barek’s neighborhood on the waterfront, a fat, fair Arab in a brown jalaba and red fez who had to sign Barek’s certificates of residence and employment. First, the, Mukkadam was absent on holiday, then he returned but decided the papers were not in order. Finally, Barek reached the inner sanctum of his arrondisement, the office of the Khalifa, a thin, clean-shaven official in a neatly pressed panama suit who told him, “All these papers are not enough. You must go to Rabat and get the permission of the Ministry of Labor. We can do nothing with these papers until you have that.” The Khalifa rang a bell on his desk to summon a clerk, telling him, “Don’t give this man any more applications until he brings permission from Rabat. But take care of the stamps and seals on his papers. They belong to him.”
In the capital city it was mach the same story; signatures to be legalized at the Prefecture, stamps to purchase, days to wait while papers were presumably scrutinized and returned, long waits until Barek reached the senior officials who knew the regulations. More photo-copies required, additional stamps, more certificates, more queues, more petty clerks asking him for cigarettes, Barek went round and round until sometimes it seemed he would be forever tangled in this skein of bureaucratic red tape.
Ten days passed, then twenty, and thirty, and still Barek had to go back to the offices, had to wait in line in dim corridors hour after hour, and afterwards, the whole day and night, exhausting himself thinking of nothing but getting a passport and getting to Europe. He seldom was able to earn money now, but occupied himself solely with his attempt to get the necessary papers. Sometimes he thought of giving up the idea entirely and in the evenings he began to drink more heavily.
It was an April evening; still twilight, but here and there lights had already been lit along the Boulevard Mohamed El Hansali, and from behind the jumble of tall houses, hidden courtyards and narrow, twisting lanes in the Medina a pale moon was rising.
Barek sat at an outside table in front of the Cafe Brasserie du Maghreb sipping a glass of cheap red wine. He was counting on Zora, his girl of the past five years, going by toward the Cannabiere Bar across the street where she worked. Zora was only nineteen and she still went home to Rabat to visit her mother, whom she supported, every two weeks. In Casablanca, she lived in the Neptune Hotel, a rambling, no-questions-asked building near the waterfront and often, when she had no customers; Barek spent the night there with her.
The Cannabiere Bar had a jukebox, dancing in a dim back room smoky with hashish, and never closed. No matter what time of day or night it was always crowded with foreign sailors, Arab pimps and some of the nearly fifty girls who worked there. The girls got a 100 franc commission on every drink they could get out of the sailors. Drinks were expensive at the Cannabiere, eight dirhams, or about five times what they cost in bars without girls or music. Some of the girls lived only from their earnings in the bar. Many were prostitutes.
Barek had been sleeping with Zora off and on ever since she had first arrived at the Cannabiere at the age of thirteen. He knew she sometimes took other men to her room, white men, sailors from the freighters, but he pretended ignorance. “I’m not your watchman,” he once told her. “If you make the business, I don’t care.”
He also tried to close his eyes to the other hazards of her life in Casablanca. The woman who managed the Cannabiere, a tall Jewess-with dyed blond hair who looked like a male wrestler in a yellow wig, was a Lesbian who sometimes forced the girls to go home and spend the night with her. The woman had been married and had eleven children, seven of whom had survived, but now professed a hatred of men and she hustled drinks and tried to squeeze the last penny out of the sailors without mercy. It was not uncommon for a sailor to spend thirty or forty dollars on drinks for one of the girls, only to be thrown out, into the street when his money ran out. Another danger faced by the girls was the police. Under the Moslem law, unless they had been married and had the papers to prove it, the police could arrest them on their way home at night. Sometimes the police took the girls to jail but more often, under threat of arresting them; they would take to some dark and lonely place and rape them. Bands of soldiers, some, armed with revolvers, also roamed the streets of Casablanca late at night and if they caught a girl from the Cannabiere, three or four of them might use her by force.
Zora was plainer than most of the girls at the bar and with her freshly washed face, no lipstick or rouge and plump peasant figure seemed oddly out of place, like a village girl who had somehow wandered in from the streets by mistake. She wore her black hair pulled by in a little ponytail; simple, washable cotton dresses, and had the longest, smoothest legs Barek had ever seen in Casablanca. In her fashion, Zora loved Barek, giving him money sometimes and occasionally, when the need of him became too strong, taking a taxi and searching him out in the bars along the waterfront. Simply being known as Barek’s girl afforded Zora an unusual amount of protection in the arrondisement since no one had a tougher reputation as a street fighter.
Barek waited almost an hour, calling for glass after glass, of the sour, vinegarish “rouge.” Finally, he decided to take a round of the waterfront and signaled to Rodani, his favorite waiter. It was dark now and all the night people were beginning to appear. With strained attention, Barek scrutinized the dark figures. A group of Spanish sailors passed, hurrying toward the Cannabiere Bar, and a few tourists from the big luxury hotels down the boulevard were still moving among the souvenir stalls, buying carpets and Moroccan leather. But mixing among them now were the pickpockets, robbers, beggars and pimps searching for their nightly prey. Still more and more continued to appear on the street, sauntering, talking together and loitering beneath the date palm trees. At last Barek heard a familiar voice but it was not Zora, only Bareka Baksheesh, one of the three prostitutes, who, like Barek, made the Maghreb Bar their base of operation. Like him, they lived in poor tenements in the Medina, and Rodani always kept mail and telephone messages for them.
Of the three prostitutes, only Bareka Baksheesh affected Western dress; she wore tight knitted sweaters and mini-skirts and her harsh but pleasant laughter usually carried above the other voices in the bar. One of the other two always wore a jalaba and a black veil; with sad, heavily mascared eyes and a glass of lemonade before her, she gave the impression of a respectable Moslem lady who had suddenly fallen upon bad times and been forced to sell herself. As Barek knew it was a calculated effect; despite her veil and air of desperation, she could be just as raucous as Bareka Baksheesh after a few drinks. The third prostitute was older, a plump, kindly Jewish lady who had lost her husband and had a leg amputated in an accident many years before. She sat at the bar until late in the night, telling jokes, laughing and gossiping with the old Spanish fishing boat captains until one of them, no longer cared whether she had just one leg or not.
“Hey, Barek,” Bareka Baksheesh greeted him, taking a chair at the next sidewalk table.
“Oh, Baksheesh, honey,” he joked with her. “Let’s go. Let’s go sleep together.”
“Yes, if you have money, Barek. We go now.”
“No, I don’t have no money. I like to go free with you.”
Bareka Baksheesh shrugged. The conversation was almost a nightly ritual. “I don’t go for no money. I come look for money. Buy me a beer, Barek. I need one.”
“Well, have one drink. Rodani!”
“Give me one cigarette too.” Barek offered her a Casa Sport but let her light it herself.
Bareka Baksheesh stared moodily down the Boulevard Mohamed El Hansali. “You know, Barek, I dreamt last night I had one hundred million dirhams. I think I was going to buy a house, maybe some little restaurant or cafe. I think about my boyfriend. I buy him a motorbike, some shoes. I think I’m going to have enough money to live. I don’t need to worry about how I’m going to eat tomorrow. I think I don’t have to make this business any more. Then I wake up.”
Behind them, inside the bar, three young white men, with long hair, beards and beads, were passing around a hashish pipe. When the pipe went out it was relit by a small Arab in a white raincoat who was sitting with them. Bareka Baksheesh glanced at them and shrugged. “Americans.”
“Maybe just off the boat from Marseille, Barek said in an undertone. “You better get to them before that Arab in the white coat takes all their money.” Barek laughed and just then there was a scraping of chairs inside and the white raincoat flashed by with the three young Americans following him at a fast walk. As they disappeared down the sidewalk, one of them could be heard complaining to the others, “But why did you give him all the fucking dollars?”
Barek paid his check, deciding to wander down to the docks. About a hundred yards down the boulevard, was a large, cement-walled enclosure. Although it was dark inside, Barek could see the shadowy figures of several hundred men along the sides, many, seated along the wall and talking, others bent over or curled up on newspapers, sleeping. The queue was beginning for the six o’clock work call tomorrow morning. Some ten thousand men, mostly villagers from the overcrowded countryside, had come to Casablanca to seek work on the docks. Each morning only several hundred were taken and thousands turned away. The men and boys would then fan back into the Medina, some trying to earn a few cents at the fish market, others giving up and spending the day seeking oblivion over a pipe in one of the hashish shops.
Barek recognized a friend near the end of the queue.
“Salaam Aleik. Labas?”
“Long time no see,” Barek said. “How you been? How’s the boys?” The man had three small sons.
“Well, Barek, this is a bad life,” his friend complained.
“We have nothing to do any more in this city. Because no work.”
“What are you gonna do?” Barek replied. “Just take it easy. You must find something anyway.”
“Well, what we gonna do? We spend’ oar time for nothing. I gotta enter the traffic just to keep my boys fed. * It’s a bad life. So long.”
Barek crossed the boulevard to a large enclosed garden with a shed and bar at one end; it was the most popular place with dockers since the pier was just down the street and the wine was very cheap, only two dirhams a bottle. In the shadows of an alley on the side, Barek could see two men standing up and wrestling against the wall. He recognized one as a veteran docker; the other was no more than a youth, probably fresh from a village and seeking work on the docks. Some of the older stevedores, unable to afford wives or even prostitutes, would take such boys and try to get them drunk on cheap wine and then drag them into some dark place to use their bodies. Barek saw the youth was struggling to get out of the other man’s embrace and he turned away quickly. It was too dangerous to intervene; you’d have ten more dockers on top of you. He shrugged, telling himself, that is the life.
On the sidewalk he passed another docker he knew, Abdullah.
“Salaam Aleikum. La bas.”
“La bas.” Abdullah, a tall, hawk-nosed Arab in a black overcoat, passed quickly, his arm around a young blond sailor, who looked Scandinavian. Barek didn’t like Abdullah and tried to avoid him when he could. Like the docker in the alley, Abdullah also would try to get the sailor drank but besides sexually using him, he always would take the money and clothes of his victims and beat them up, leaving them in some alleyway bloody and naked to be found in the morning. There were some things Barek hated in Casablanca.
He saw none of his close friends in the bar and walked back away from the pier, passing an expensive restaurant where high officials and the French went. From inside he could hear the lush, international sound of a dance band playing, “A Time for Us.”
Further down the boulevard, past the Dauphin Bar, Barek entered the Rue du Marche aux Grains, a small, short lane that was the real heart of his world in Casablanca. It began just after the gendarmerie post, where one or two constables also stood on guard with a rifle. Beyond was a small lane leading to the two hamams, or Arab bathhouses, one for men and one for women. A little further down was the poor but clean and respectable Continental Hotel and its little restaurant that sold soup and bread for a few pennies, a laundry run by “Mama,” a Jewish woman who always looked after Barek’s clothes, and two shops where young boys made Moroccan leather hassocks and luggage for the tourist shops on the boulevard. Across the lane were three tailor shops side by side, one advertising oddly, “Fournitare Pour” but not saying what. Next door was the Cafe Bouchaib where unemployed dockers came in the morning if they failed to get hired on a labor gang. There they spent the entire day playing cards, smoking hashish or just sitting on the erode benches in the front staring into space. Down the street was a second hashish parlor, Arab fashion, with only carpets on the floor; virtually its entire clientele was made up of elderly retired sailors. Two barber shops; four small grocery stalls, a bicycle repair shop and an Arab bakery completed the street, which opened onto the medina proper at the farthest end.
To some the Rue du Marche aux Grains was the end of the road, the ultimate dead-end. Such men, beyond hope or despair, could be seen seated bent over in some cranny along the sidewalk, heads down, muttering to themselves, usually a smoking hashish pipe in hand.
*”the traffic” is a euphemism for peddling drugs
Almost all of them had arrived at the Rue do Marche aux Grains along the same road. It had begun, as Barek’s had, as young men coming from the villages to seek work in the city. Eventually, finding no employment elsewhere in a city with only three or four major industries, they found their way to the docks and queued up every night in hopes of getting chosen for stevedore gangs. When this failed they tried to pick up a few dirhams helping the Spanish and Arab fisherman unload their nightly catches. As their numbers grew, even this menial work was not enough and many turned to selling souvenirs to tourists and sailors. From this it was only a step to selling hashish or girls or themselves. And finally the need for escape became overpowering for most of them and what few pennies they did earn went for hashish or cheap wine. By then it was only a matter of years until they could be found on the sidewalks or in the gutters of the Rae du Marche, babbling delirious dreams or mattering incoherently. Sometimes the desperation, if the man did not go too far, turned to anger and then perhaps the hashish pipe was exchanged for a knife or a club. Bat mostly this did not happen and the street remained quiet, a cemetery of hopes and dreams and decency.
This night Barek strolled up and down the Rue du Marche aux Grains without entering any of the haunts instead returning to the Cafe Dirmuke next to the gendarmerie post. Here one passed through a dingy corridor into a large, dimly-lit, blue-painted hall bare of all furnishings except a few wooden tables where the veteran dockers, the tough, reliable stevedores who could almost always count on three or four days of work each week, played cards in their free time.
In one corner of the Cafe Dirmuke sat three Negroes, one of them an old silver-haired man who had started peddling hashish since the Prefecture had banned souvenir vendors from the pier. The second was a youth who carried a bottle of wine in a straw basket and from time to time surreptitiously refilled the dusty glasses on the table. The third was a giant Negro with very black skin who might have been handsome except that he had no teeth. He wav a regularly employed wiper on a French ship whose grin had once been a glittering flash of gold teeth. A year before the African had been down on his luck and had sold all the gold.
“Hey, Barek,” he grinned, after they had greeted one another and shook hands, touching their hearts each time in the Moslem fashion, “I’m going to Germany next month. I got a job with the shipping company in Hamburg. The company says I gotta get my teeth fixed first and I’m going just as soon as I can get a false set made.”
“I hear Germany’s good.”
“Yeah. A lot of fucking in Hamburg. Plenty.”
The old man lit up a hashish pipe and passed it around. Although he had began only peddling the staff, which the Casablancans called, “kif” he had like most pushers become an addict and passed it around as was the custom among the Arabs. Barek took a couple of long drags, socking in the air along with the sweet smoke.
“Who wants to play?” he asked.
“What? Tooti? Runda? Ou Biaoochara?”
“Where’s the other two? We need four boys to play.”
“Not me either, Barek.”
“We need four boys to play. If it’s only me and you, we have, to play runda.” The tall African dealt a hand and Barek bet him for a cup of coffee.
The old man passed the pipe around a second time.
“How you gonna make any money?” the African asked him. “You must move with the tourist people.”
“Well, this is life,” said Barek. “If it’s his friend, he know he smokes, he must give him also.”
“Abdullah came in here earlier. With some white boy. They bought some kif.”
“That son of a bitch,” Barek told his friends. “If he sees, a foreigner, he most give him hashish, make them sleep with him. If the foreigner don’t have enough money, he must take something, maybe his clothes, beat him up and throw him in the street.”
“He’s no good, that Abdullah. Why he make like that?”
“I heard six Arabs jumped one sailor on Mohammed Hansali tonight. Took his watch, money, passport,” the old man said.
“In my life, I never steal,” Barek said. “I don’t want.”
The big African grinned. He took a gold watch out of his pocket. “Hey, Barek, how’d you like to buy? Six bucks.”
Barek said he didn’t have the money but he observed the watch was worn and old and looked expensive.
Just then Mustafa, Barek’s best friend, entered the Dirmuke. Both of them had come to Casablanca at about the same time and both were about the same age. But Mustafa, a muscular, hardworking docker, who neither smoked nor drank outside his room, seemed rather as if he had just come from the village.
“Salaam Aleikum,” Mustafa greeted them, embracing Barek and kissing him on both cheeks. “How was the village?” Good or not?”
“Not so bad.”
“One of these days I must go see my mother,” Mustafa said. “You know I have land, five hectares. Only beans and wheat now bat the harvest is coming up. I’ll stay home a week, two weeks, look at the land, see if its good or not. I gotta see how much I’ll get for my crop.”
“Mustafa, you are still a farmer,” Barek joked with him “Why don’t you go back and stay in your village?”
“For a farm man, he must have money, enough capital to work his farm. I know how to work all right but where do I get the capital? We got only rain, no irrigation. Sure, I’d like to go back and stay in the village.”
“It’s different from the big city in the village. There, maybe sometimes you gotta buy cigarettes, you have to go to the suq once a week, but you eat milk, butter, good food, you become strong. Here maybe sometimes you make good money and can go cafes and movies, but you have to work for it. I like life in the village better.”
“La,la!” Barek disagreed. “If you’re a working man in the city, you most work all day but you’re free at night. You can walk around; go to a movie, drink. If you’re in the village you go to bed. You must always look after the cows, whether sick or not, whether grass or not.”
“Okay, you got cows, sheep, camels, yoa0re happy to look after them. I’ve got a white horse in the village.”
“Mustafa,” the big African said. “How come I never see you in the bars anymore? You sick or something?”
“Hell, all Casablanca says, Mustafa come, Mustafa come, have a drink. But I don’t like to drink any more. You get drunk and some bastard on the way home, maybe he wants to fight and make trouble. I don’t like anybody to see me if I drink. I take a bottle to my room, then nobody sees. I never drink in a bar. Just with you boys. I’ll tell you what happened to me just two weeks ago. I had this sore foot, I cut my leg on a crate unloading fruit out of this ship’s hold and instead of going to a doctor I went and drank some wine with some boys. This next morning, I went to this Danish woman doctor and she gives me a paper, an assurance, that I can’t work for 15 days. I’m supposed to get paid but only get five dirhams a day instead of twelve from the company.”
“You tried to collect yet?” Barek asked.
“I went to the crew chief yesterday but he said they won’t pay until the fifteen days are up this week. The boss of our gang saw me this morning down at the hiring yard and he was mad. ‘Why’d you go to the company?” he asks. ‘To get money.’ I told him. ‘You don’t get until your fifteen days are up.’ ‘I’m broke. I don’t have no money.’ I told him. ‘What am I going to do?'”
“The boss, he asks me, ‘Can you come from 2:30 to eight o’clock today for eight dirhams?’ I says, ‘Yes, I’d like to.’ So I got a job unloading this ship.”
“What about your sore foot?” Barek asked.
“La, baba, he’s all right.” Mustafa took a puff on the hashish pipe. “This half day I work is not company. I worked in a hold unloading cargo. Oranges, tomatoes, cases of fruit. They take from here. From France it goes to Russia. We only had three men in the hold. Abdullah; he’s one of them.”
“He was in here tonight. With some white guy.”
“Abdullah he says, ‘Why we gotta work like this? The boss, he’s taking four dirhams out of the twelve the company’s paying and only giving as eight.”
“Okay,’ says the third man. “Maybe we only get work one day a week. What kind of life is this?’ ‘Mustafa,’ Abdullah asks me, “What you do last night? You drink or not? You fuck some girls or not? You go to movie?” I don’t tell him nothing, I just say, “If we don’t work for eight dirhams, they’re gonna find somebody else and then what are we going to do?’ Abdullah, he was always complaining, ‘Bad, job. Bad country. Maybe work one day in a week. Maybe not.’ This other man, he had two sons. He asks me, ‘How am I going to feed my boys? What am I gonna do with them?”
“I got the same problem,” said the old Negro. “Who’s gonna help me feed my wife and children if I don’t go into the traffic?”
“Look,” Mustafa went on. “I’m by myself’. If I don’t work what am I gonna do?’ We’re all in the same boat, but a man has to really try and look to find some work. There’s ten thousand men on the docks every morning looking for work. Every week there’s a couple of hundred more.”
“I go there every morning and stay until nighttime and I don’t find a damn thing,” said the boy with the wine bottle. “What more can I do?”
“Well, look,” said Mustafa. “I’m only myself. Some of these men they have a wife and two, three kids. They cook for four or five. But I must cook for myself, just like they cook for four. It almost cost as much for me alone to live as it does for a family.”
“Well, this is the life anyway,” Barek said.
“Like this morning,” Mustafa said “I went to this place on Boulevard Hansali and had a glass of coffee. It cost 40 francs. I watched the people in the street, walking, talking, pleasant, rich people going by. Then I think of my clothes. They’re no good. I had this Moroccan vest for fifteen years now and it’s a god dam rag. I think I spend my life for nothing. How am I going to find work? I think it’s better to try and get a passport and go to Europe like you, Barek. I was so ashamed of my clothes for two days now I don’t eat good. I like to be propre in front of the people anyway. So I don’t eat. Only soup and bread. Tomorrow I’m gonna buy a new sweater for seven dirhams.”
“You ought to be a seaman,” the African told him.
“How am I gonna get a seaman’s book? You gotta slip the government a hundred bucks at least.” [a hundred dirhams]
The talk seemed to depress them and for some minutes they were silent as the hashish pipe was passed around again. Barek felt his spirits gradually rising and then the African jumped to his feet end started to sing:
“My heart…come in…well…my heart….now come in please….my heart….please come in, make love to me….you make me weary…come back to me…you make me weary and you make me run away…come back darling, please tell me if you love me or not.…tell me the truth from now on…I must know if you are my great love or note….”
Most of the words were improvised’ but the song was a familiar one from Radio Cairo and the other men joined in.
“Don’t you leave me to waste time for nothing…tell me the truth…Are you my great love?”
The men started to clap in time to the beat and when the song ended the African launched into another one:
“Marakesh likes the Sultan to be happy; please, oh come to Marakesh, your people want you to be happy…. Do you like Marakesh, yes or not? Please tell me. You have come to see the people who love you. Just come. We’ll help you, we the people of Marakesh….”
Barek was high when he and the African stumbled out of the Cafe Dirmuke. Mustafa wanted to go home and said goodnight.
Barek remembered Mustafa’s girl, a pretty eighteen-year-old who lived in the same tenement and sometimes cooked for him. Although Mustafa did not like to talk about her, Barek suspected they slept together.
“How’s Sadija?” he asked.
“Who’s that? Your mistress?” the African asked.
“No,” Mustafa scowled. “She is only one of a family in my house. Sometimes she cooks for me. Maybe I give her one or two dirhams to go to the movies.”
“Is she good or not?”
Mustafa made a face. “You know that job she had? Cooking for these Americans? She’s been there six months. The man is American but his wife is Jewish, born in Egypt. Anyway, one day while you were gone she told Sadija, she was too intelligent, she wore too good clothes. She asked Sadija, what did she think she was, a European? So after six months there she says, ‘You don’t have to work in my house any more.”
“The bitch,” Barek cursed. He always liked Sadija and she was nice to him. But Mustafa didn’t want to talk about her and he hurried down the street. Barek guessed he wanted to marry her and he was ashamed because he didn’t have the money. Or maybe he was afraid to take on the responsibility. Still, he’d never find another girl like Sadija and if he waited too long her parents could probably arrange a profitable match for her. Sadija, under local custom, might leave the man if she didn’t like him but out of deference to her parents she would have to consummate the marriage first.
Together Barek and the African went to Bolero, a nightclub with Berber women dancers; the noise and music and pall of hashish there always seemed to blot out thinking. The shrill voices of the Berber women, their castanets and jingling bangles, getting faster and faster until they reached a frenzied climax, always seemed to Barek like the end of the world. He always went there if he got too drunk or smoked too much kif.
Somehow, without knowing how he got there, Barek was back at the Cannabiere Bar. He was looking for Zora. He needed her very badly. The bar was jammed and when he found her, Barek pulled Zora out of the smoke and noise and roar of the jukebox to a table, outside, on the boulevard. “Anyway, I got to go home with you tonight,” he told her.
“All right; let’s just have a coffee first.” Zora vanished inside and returned with two espressos. She came around the table and pulled her chair close to his. “Where were you tonight, Barek? I was going to take a taxi and try and find you.”
“You were? No, you was probably having a good time here.”
“No, Barek. Oh, don’t be like that,” although Zora knew he often became belligerent just before making love. She had learned it was also a dangerous time; he was apt to turn aggressive and get into a fistfight with someone. “We’d better go.”
They might have risen but just then a policeman passed by on the sidewalk and stopped at their table. At first he seemed friendly and wanted to shake hands with Barek but then Barek saw he was drunk. The policeman was big but with a flabby unhealthy face and he drew a chair over to their table and before they knew it had his arm around Zora. Zora giggled and gently tried to remove it but the policeman was persistent and his hand slid down the small of her back, tugged on her leather belt and then began moving below her belt. “You come with me tonight, Zora,” he said. “Don’t you go with this black boy.”
Barek was on his feet in an instant, tipping the table and sending the coffee cups and saucers crashing to the floor.
“Why, you son of a bitch? You don’t think I’m a man in front of you!”
“No, Barek, no! Not a policeman!” Zora cried but the next moment Barek was on the policeman, his arms flailing into him. The policeman swung with his left fist, momentarily sending Barek back. Then Barek was on top of him again and the two of them went down, rolling over and over on the sidewalk. Zora was screaming now and people began pouring out of the bar. “Stop them! Stop them!” But Barek was like a madman and it took five of them to pull him away. The scream of a police jeep came down the boulevard. It drew up in front of the bar and four gendarmes jumped out. In a moment they were punching Barek and pushing him into the jeep, one of them jabbing him, repeatedly in the back with his knee. Zora’s cries were the last thing Barek heard as the sirens rose.
Then the jeep passed between the gates of a big station and he was in a small room under a very bright electric light bulb. Three policeman were slapping him in the face with their hands and once he felt someone kick him with the toe of a heavy boot. As he felt to his knees, he managed to sputter, “Go ahead. Because you’re policemen. I’m not.”
The beating stopped then and another policeman, a sergeant, took Barek’s identification card. Then he asked Barek his mother’s name, his father’s name and his grandfather’s name. He brought a box and put inside it Barek’s billfold, his money, a package of cigarettes, his house keys and his watch. Then he was led into a cell where seven or eight other men were sleeping on the floor.
“When you come back?” Barek called after the guards.
“Maybe tomorrow. Maybe after tomorrow,” one told him.
The cell was about eight feet by ten feet and lit by an extremely bright ceiling light. Several of the men appeared to be drunk and snored heavily. It was very hot and there were only two blankets in the cell, which were each shared by four or five men. To one side was a water faucet and an open floor toilet. Barek crept over to the edge of one blanket and slept.
When he awoke in the morning, his head, hurting from the wine and the beating, he found most of the other prisoners were awake and seated against the walls. The boy nearest him appeared very scared and was well dressed, like a student. The boy said his name was Ali and he had been arrested the night before for not having a light on his bicycle. Next to him was another prosperous-looking youth who introduced himself as Ahmed. He said he had stolen a car. Not for money but just to drive. He had done it twice before and both times been caught and sent to jail for a few days. He didn’t know why he kept stealing cars like that, he said, he just loved to drive.
“What they going to do with me?” Barek asked the one, called Ahmed. “I fight with a policeman. How long I’m going to spend in jail?”
Ali guessed one month. Ahmed two or three.
Barek was scared. He had never been in jail before. In the cell door there was a small window and when a guard passed Barek called out and asked for a cigarette.
“If you got money and if there’s a good guard he might get you a pack of Casa Sports for ten dirhams,” Ahmed told him. [Casa Sports are the most popular brand of cheap cigarettes]
“How you get money in here? They took mine,” Barek said.
Ahmed grinned. “Hide it.”
The next day Barek was called into an office. A clerk at a typewriter asked him to tell his story. “You must tell the exact truth,” the clerk told him. “Otherwise you’ll be in real trouble.”
“Well, I was in this bar with my girl friend. This policeman came. He was drunk also. He want to take my girl. I say, ‘Why? You don It think I’m a man in front of you?’ See, I was drinking in a bar with one girl friend of mine when this policeman came after me, to shake hands with me, to talk with me like a drunk man. Afterward he tried to take my girl friend.”
“He said it was you who were drunk, not he, and that he asked for your ID card.”
“He’s lying.” But Barek had a sinking feeling and he watched the clerk type his story, thinking, “He’s going to write that I’m a bad man, a dangerous man.”
“He want to take my girl anyway,” he repeated to the clerk. Barek was taken back to the cell. In the next four days he grew to hate it; the worst was the open toilet, you had to go in front of’ the other prisoners and it stank all the day in the hot cell.
Four days later Barek was called into the court for a hearing. The judge asked him, “Why you fight with this policeman? He came and asked to see your ID card and you fight him like this? Tear his shirt? Knock him down?”
Barek repeated his story, ending as before, “He want to take my woman.”
The judge sentenced him to 45 days in the city jail. He spent his last night in the same cell and in the morning was taken down several corridors to a clothing room where he received a pair of brown pants and a blue, short-sleeved shirt with no collar. He was allowed to keep his own shoes and underwear.
His new cell was known as Number Three. It was a long, very large but narrow hall with several windows on the courtyard. There were about ninety other prisoners and each was given a few blankets and a handbag for their personal possessions.
Barek was assigned to work in the jail kitchen, stoking the fires to heat boiling water for the prisoners’ tea and coffee, four hundred liters in the morning and six hundred liters in the afternoon. It was hot work, from six in the morning to six at night; the stoves burned up three hundred and sixty kilos of wood each day. Another prisoner, Mohammed, who had three months to serve, worked alongside Barek and he often spoke of his fear of being transferred to the prison farm, where convicts with life terms and death sentences were sent. Tales of the farm – about the heavy physical field labor, the filthy clothing and what happened at night – circulated in the jail and Barek also came to fear going there. “Don’t worry,” Mohammed would reassure him. “You have only forty-five days. They can’t take you, down there. Only if you got more than three or four months.”
Six days after receiving his sentence, Barek wrote a letter to his mother. He asked her to bring him some cigarettes, his black boots, an undershirt and some undershorts, a towel, his toothbrush and toothpaste. She came on the next Friday, visiting day, and stood in front of the jail gate in her jalaba and veil, giving a guard Barek’s name and his father’s name. Barek was called to the polwar, the visiting room, and sat across bars from his mother, who started to cry as the guards led him in.
“Well…” Barek began but she interrupted him, pulling aside the black veil as tears poured down her wrinkled cheeks. “No, no, Barek. You every time, every time, don’t you drink so much in the street. Don’t fight. Then always you stay out of trouble like this.”
The mother handed the guard bag, which, after going through the contents, he passed on to Barek. She had brought two kilos of sugar, one packet of coffee, one packet of tea, some mint, ten packages of Casa Sport cigarettes and the clothes he had asked for.
“Barek,” she said, dabbling her eyes with a cloth. “How long you have to do here?”
“Another forty days.”
“What day do you get out?”
He told her the date.
“What do you want? You need something more I can bring bring to you?”
“No. Next Friday maybe you must make a good tajim* to bring to me.”
At that his mother began to cry again and the guard came forward to lead Barek away. That afternoon, stoking the fires, Barek told Mohammed about his mother’s visit.
“She’s getting old,” he told the fellow prisoner. “I want to go to Europe to catch a job but sometimes I think it’s better to stay in Casa. But what is my life here? Now I sell souvenirs, sometimes get a job as watchman on the ships for a few days. Okay, with one dirham, I can eat for a day, that’s enough. Maybe sometimes I take souvenirs from the shop and go to the docks and try to sell to Swedish, Norwegian ships, like that.”
“Why don’t you get a better job?”
“Where? Where? I want to work. I want to have a job to make my life. I must have a nice home, some little money to buy a motor scooter, a nice car, enough for a family, some sons, something. But where? Where?”
Gradually, as the weeks passed, Barek began to lose his fear of the prison life. Each cell had a chief among the prisoners and he found that by handing over some of the food and cigarettes his mother brought each week he could stay on the chief’s good side. If the chief and tougher, older prisoners around him favored a man, he might get three or four blankets instead of one. Or perhaps, if someone got money from his family and one of the guards would sell him hashish, the chief might pass a little of his share along. In Cell Three, the chief was a wiry little Senegalese with a face like a worn black walnut, whose shaven head bore a number of ugly gashes from a smashed beer bottle. The Senegalese had drifted up from the Sahara Desert some years before and had been in and out of jail for assault and armed robbery. Somehow he and the gang around him had managed to avoid being sent to the prison farm and within the cell a series of brutal beatings had established their word as law. But as long as a prisoner passed on to them a little of the coffee or sugar or Casa Sport cigarettes his family brought each week, he could stay out of trouble. This made life in the jail easier for those from Casablanca itself. It was different for the prisoners from distant villages, whose families lived too far away to visit and bring food and money.
Late one night, during his second week in the cell, Barek awoke to see five shadowy figures moving down the rows of sleeping men. One of them stopped by the cell door and stood by the barred opening, as if watching for the guards. The other four passed close by and Barek recognized the little Senegalese among them. They stopped and crouched over one of the sleeping men. It was a newly sentenced shepherd boy, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, who, like the young cowherd in Romanni, had’ been orphaned and ran away from a harsh rural servitude hoping to find free schooling in the city. Watching in horrified fascination, Barek saw two of the men were grinning. He heard one say to the Senegalese, “Let him go. He’s nothing but a boy.” Then he heard the chief reply in a low tone, “He’s the one we want. C’mon, boy. We won’t hurt you. Just take it easy.” The boy began to struggle then and he uttered a sharp cry before something was rammed into his mouth to shut him up. Barek could see his head twisting from side to side and once he thought the boy looked right at him, his eyes wide with terror and pain, much as little Musa’s had been the day Barek dried his tears. The men started to undress the boy and then the Senegalese said, “Not here,” and they carried him to the other end of the cell, two of them carrying his legs and the other two carrying him by the arms. Barek slid deeper under his blanket, pulling it against his ears with clenched fists, trying not to hear, just as he was to do when the same scene occurred over and over again in the weeks to come. “When he spoke to Mohammed about it the next day at work, he was told, “They used ’em like a donkey.”
“I’d kill them if they ever came after me,” Barek vowed.
“Just keep quiet and you won’t get into no trouble. Here if you’re a Casablanca boy and you got a little money, nobody’s going to trouble with you. But I heard a lot of things about the prison farm and I’m afraid to go there. Better you get a good job on the outside, Barek. You don’t want nothing to do with this jail place.”
NE PAS SE PENCHER AU DEHORS
DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE WINDOW
E PERICOLOSO SPORGERSI
Barek studied the words on the window, understanding only the French. Across the compartment, below two steel-framed black and white photographs of Corsican landscapes, a longhaired, black-bearded American student in blue denims breathed heavily in a deep sleep.
Next to him, a young French woman with artificially yellow hair and a long red nose sat reading Le Monde. Beside her, an adolescent girl with stringy brown hair and a faded blue school smock had her face buried in a comic book. She held a white plastic shopping bag in her lap; a record album was sticking out the top and Barek lips silently framed the words, “Paramount Pictures Presents Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal….” In the corner sat the demure girl who had smiled at Barek when he had entered the compartment; she sat straight back, her eyes closed and Barek admired the golden hair that framed her face like a halo, the delicate features, the fine pink and white complexion. It was she who had helped him find a place to put his suitcases, the new bright yellow imitation yellow one he had bought and the old black leather case his weeping mother had given him two weeks ago before she had returned to the village for the harvest.
In France it was still late spring and as the train sped across the countryside Barek could not get his fill of the lush green landscape: the forests of birch, oak and maple, the wide fields of young green wheat, the silver of the ripening oat fields. How joyful, sweet and gracious this land seemed! The air was clear and transparent, the sun shone brightly, its smiling rays playing in the; rivers and lakes, the pale green foliage, the flowers, the little red-roofed towns, though with mostly empty streets, gave signs of living, breathing. Barek thought how well, how splendidly people most live here. He saw a hunter emerging from a woods, holding his rifle and searching through a long line of shapely trees. A group of schoolgirls passed on bicycles, laughing, their hair flying in the wind. In one village a small boy stood in the midst of a newly plowed field, and waved at the train. Barek waved back; he was certain the, boy saw him and he suddenly felt all was well with him. He was immeasurably, unreasonably happy…. The incredible had happened. He had reached Europe….
For a time, after his release from the city jail, Barek had almost given up hope of ever getting a passport. Almost all his papers were in order, but at the last moment the local Mukkadam would not sign his certificate of residence. Barek’s mother had returned to the village for a month during the wheat harvest and upon his release he had spent most nights with Zora, sleeping in her room at the Hotel Neptune. When he had asked for a certificate of residence, the Mukkadam had sent two gendarmes to Barek’s house. The neighbors told them Barek’s mother had returned to El Jadida and that he himself almost never slept in their old rooms. The Mukkadam had reported this to the Khalifa of the waterfront district and when Barek was finally ushered into his office, after some days waiting in a queue, he was told, “C’est pas address fixe.” Barek had to return to his mother’s rooms and get the, neighbors to testify they were indeed his residence and had been for, some fifteen years. Finally, the Khalifa passed on his papers to the Prefecture once more and the afternoon came when he was called into a clerk’s office and asked to affix his signature to a new passport. Then, for what seemed an eternity, the clerk held the passport in his hand, stopping to joke with some office workers about his telephone being out of order, then, with pen in hand, making the last necessary notations. Barek snatched the passport and said with deep gratitude, “Shukram.” He was on his way.
On the day of his departure he possessed an air ticket to Madrid, which had cost 435 dirhams or $87, another 130 dirhams for a rail ticket to Paris ($26) and 945 dirhams or $185 more, 70 of which he tucked away as his train fare to Marseille, should he not find work in Paris. He also pat in a separate hiding place in the lining of his yellow suitcase 250 dirhams more, or the $50 he would need as boat passage to return to Casablanca should he find no work in France at all. This left him with 605 dirhams or $121 on which to travel and live on in his search for employment. In Casablanca it represented a considerable sum; but he feared in Europe it would not go far.
The evening before he left Barek went to Mama’s for his clothes. With him he carried an old tweed suit jacket, a blue button-down shirt given him once by an American sailor, a tan corduroy Dutch sailor’s jacket, a black corduroy visored sailor’s cap, a pair of blue denims, a -pair of black and white checked -pants and a pair of khaki pants, both with bell bottoms, a yellow and a chartreuse terry-cloth pullover, several yellow and red shirts, a new multi-colored psychedelic tie, one undershirt, two underpants, a blue sweat suit in case he played soccer, two pairs of black leather boots, a bright blue wool pullover, a worn tweed winter overcoat, a pair of yellow Arab slippers, a dark blue sailor’s shirt and two new pink sport shirts given him by Mama as a going away present. A single white dress shirt he had packed still damp and rolled into a towel; Zora had had to wash the blood out of it from an episode the night before.
Barek had vowed to himself that his last night in Casablanca would be a quiet one; that he and Zora would return to her room by eleven. He began the evening drinking only coffee at the Maghreb and then at the Cannabiere Bar waiting for Zora to get off work. But when they reached the Neptune by taxi, they found a young bearded Englishman, his face streaming with blood, pounding and kicking on the hotel door. At first the Englishman, who was drunk and had a badly skinned nose and a black eye, told Barek he had been hit by a car. Then he explained that he had been in a bar and had met a black-skinned Arab woman who was deaf and dumb, she had not been able to speak. Together they had drunk several beers; he had spent about ten dollars. Then she had brought him by taxi to the Neptune. At the desk, the Arab boy who acted as a clerk told him the charge to stay would be fifteen dirhams or three dollars. The Englishman only had ten dirhams left. “Shove off,” the clerk told him. “You have no money.” The girl disappeared upstairs and when the Englishman attempted to go up and try to find her he began scuffling with the clerk. When he pushed the clerk down the boy grabbed a stick and called for help. Two more Arabs appeared and they knocked the Englishman to the floor, kicked him in the ribs a couple of times and threw him into the street. When Barek arrived he was trying to break open the front door and get back inside.
Barek called the clerk and asked him what was wrong. When he heard his story he told the boy, “It’s finished now. Forget it.” With Barek negotiating, the Englishman paid his last ten dirhams and got a room. Zora had a girl friend who wanted to sleep with him for free. Barek ordered six beers and they joined the Englishman and the new Arab girl in his room. The Englishman had a pipe and some hashish and they sat around smoking drinking and talking for about two hours.
When they returned to her room, both Barek and Zora were high. Barek had blood on his shirt from washing and bandaging the Englishman’s face and Zora washed it. Then she began to cry, asking, Barek again and again, “How long you’re going to stay?”
Barek, feeling the beer and hashish, lay back on the bed, wrapped in a wonderful haze of contentment. Zora’s voice came to him as though from a faraway distance.
“I’m rotten, Zora. I’m no good for you. Why don’t you stop that? Maybe I go two, three months. Maybe for all my life.”
Zora was sitting on the bed now and she drew Barek’s head to her bosom, still crying, “Barek, I love you! Why are you going to leave me now?”
“I’m no good,” he said. “Why don’t you just leave me go? Why can’t you just leave me alone?” Sitting up, he propped his back against the wall. He couldn’t go on, because she was looking at him with such love shining in her eyes he had to look away. “Zora…you understand why I’m going? I gotta take this chance? What else am I gonna do? Stay here and end up peddling kif?”
“I do understand, Barek. But none of that matters, what you’re saying. I love you, Barek. And now you’re going to leave me. That’s all that matters.”
“Tegranke maia ana safi, maque,” he snorted, in his most guttural Arabic. “Why don’t you leave me alone? We finish tonight.” He felt like slapping her. Mesghote elevvoiledine. How could anybody be so blind? He didn’t want her to love him; he wanted to be free to go to Europe in the morning but the more he tried to tell her that the more she talked about love. He was filled with anger and resentment.
“Let’s go to sleep, Barek. I know you love me. You’ve been telling me so for five years.”
She twined her fingers in his but he pulled his hand away, shaking his head. “I was lying, that’s all. I’m no good for you, Zora. Better I go.”
Tears were streaming down her face now; her hair was all disheveled. She kept running her hand threw it. Her lips were drawn back in a tight grin, her eyes burned like somebody with a sick fever. Then she sat back and looked serene, although her eyes were still watering. “I know what I want. I know all I’ve ever wanted, and that’s you Barek.”
Barek spat and swore in a filthy flood of Arabic abuse. He leapt up from the bed like he was going to hit Zora. Weeping she slipped to the floor, clinging to his ankles and trying to kiss his feet. Furious, Barek shoved her to one side. Zora fell like a rag doll and cracked her forehead against a chair. For a moment she was dazed and then she turned and looked up at him. “I love you, Barek. I’ll love you all my life.”
It was then Barek saw blood on her forehead, just a trickle but it moved quickly down to her cheek. She must had hit her head. Zora, seeing his face, put her hand up to her forehead and withdrew it, looking at the blood. She was crying hard now, a great flood of tears and Barek gently lifted her up on the bed. He dipped a towel into the washbasin and tenderly wiped the blood from her face and the tears from her eyes. Then he gathered her up in his arms and it was Barek who was crying now.
“Zora, Zora,” he whispered, holding her as tight as he could, “I just go for one month. Then I’ll come back to you. I promise. Just one month and then I’ll come home again.”
They made love all that night and half the next morning so that Barek almost missed the plane to Madrid. At the Maghreb Bar, when he stopped to pick up his bags, everyone wanted to shake his hand. “Look, Barek,” Rodani, the waiter, told him, “How you are going to Europe, you must be straight. Don’t drink. Otherwise you’re a good boy.” “Take care, Barek,” the others called. “Write us. How’s everything in Madrid and Paris!” “Don’t forget us, Barek!”
Fortunately the airport bus was late, and Barek jumped on just as it was pulling out of the downtown station. The airport was a scene of wild confusion but somehow Barek got his ticket checked, his bags checked and with surprisingly little trouble, went through immigration, the officer only glancing at his passport and stamping it. Inside the passenger lounge was a bar and Barek headed straight for it and ordered, a double whiskey. His head was pounding with a hangover and sleeplessness and he was afraid of flying; he had never been in an airplane, much less a jet.
After a second drink he felt better. As he turned to look around an elderly Frenchwoman with frizzy white hair came running toward him. Sputtering with indignation she accused him of taking her boarding card by mistake when he passed through immigration. Confused, Barek pulled his ticket out and sure enough, he had two boarding cards. He gave her one.
Embarrassed, he turned back to the bar when he recognized the Englishman of the night before at the Neptune Hotel. They shook hands and Barek reassured him his black eye and skinned nose hardly showed. The Englishman said he had missed his plane that morning to the south of Spain and now had to go through Madrid to get to the Costa Brava in time for a big party that night. As they were talking the old Frenchwoman passed him again. “Alors!” she said, rather threatening, and then seeing the Englishman she snorted, “Merci, eh.”
When the flight was called, Barek and the Englishman joined the other passengers at the gate. But as Barek moved to pass through, handing an airlines official his boarding pass, he was stopped. “I’m sorry, you, must clear immigration before boarding,” the official said. “Your boarding pass is not stamped.”
“But I went through immigration,” Barek stuttered, watching with growing panic as the other passengers moved out across the tarmac to a waiting jet.
“Your card is not marked. You must go through immigration.”
“You must excuse me….” Barek tried to explain. “Because one French woman…we have two paper…one belong to me and one belong to her. She tell me I have hers…she thinks I take her paper….” He was almost babbling incoherently now.
Someone, a youth in a blue uniform, took him by the arm. “Don’t worry. The plane’s going to wait for you. Till everyone gets in. Just go back through immigration.” Frantically, Barek ran back to the immigration booth and was given a new form to fill out. He was unable to read all of the French and none of the Arabic so he had to find the officer again to help him. Together they scribbled in the, answers. Barek’s eyes were watering in bewilderment and anger. It seemed to take an eternity. As the immigration officer took Barek’s card and passport, another airlines official came running up, “Where’s your boarding card? You should have cleared immigration before. Not wait until now! If it’s not ready the plane will have to leave you. It won’t wait.”
Just then the officer handed back Barek’s passport and the stamped boarding pass. He ran for the door and across the empty tarmac. “Where is the flight to Madrid?” he asked frantically. “The flight to Madrid.” Two stewards were waiting at the gangway. The plane had waited. Barek scrambled up the aluminum steps. Inside the stewardess was telling the passengers to keep their cigarettes extinguished and the seat belts on until the warning lights were turned out. Barek spied the Englishman and flopped down beside him. “I didn’t think I’d make it,” he said. “I saw what happened. It’s some kind of racket. That woman probably doesn’t have her papers in order. But don’t worry. You’re all right now.” Barek breathed more easily. “It’s my first time to fly,” he grinned.
Barek enjoyed the flight; even when the sky clouded over and the plane began to buffet a little as they neared Madrid. As they touched down, it was raining and the Englishman helped Barek through customs and told him which railway station to go for the Paris train before going off to his own flight.
Barek managed to catch a taxi without difficulty at the exit. “Estanon de Chamartin,” he told the driver. “How much?” He had learned a little Spanish from the fishermen in Casablanca. The taxi moved into traffic on a freeway and the driver kept talking but Barek could understand little. Something about a “fiesta manana,” that there was no train for Paris until morning and no hotel rooms available in Madrid.
“How much to Estanon de Chamartin?” Barek repeated.
“One hundred fifty pesetas.”
“You don’t know cheap hotel?”
Again came the flood of Spanish and again all Barek could catch was “manana fiesto toro.” The driver made some gestures of bull fighting and Barek caught on. “No hotel now, only some rooms in a private house,” the driver said, abruptly switching to English. “You must drive around an hour or two with me, maybe you find.”
At that Barek grew impatient. “I am a poor man. I am not rich people. C’mon. Take me to the station.”
The taxi cost Barek twelve-and-a-half dirhams or $2.50. Luckily, he was able to purchase a ticket for the Paris train the next morning, although charges had risen and it was, $32 instead of $26. At a tourist bureau in the station, a pretty red-haired Spanish girl heard Barek’s tale of little money and booked him a room by telephone in a nearby private apartment. It was only $2 for the night. With relief, Barek caught another taxi for a fee of $1 to the apartment house. He was a little frightened entering the house, taking the elevator and then ringing the bell at 7B, but a plump, smiling Spanish woman answered and welcomed him inside. It was a nice room, full of green flowering plants and old cinema magazines. Barek paid the woman in advance and arranged for her to wake him in the morning.
Exhausted, he wandered out in the street in search of a cheap restaurant. The drive from the airport had depressed him. Madrid was nothing like Casablanca. As the taxi had moved through the rain swept suburb, the traffic had grown heavy all along the sides of the freeway were green, uniform lawns and hedges and drab, big, red brick apartment houses. There seemed to be no people walking on the streets, only the endless cars, honking impatiently and spewing grey fumes into the yellowish pall that seemed to hang over the city. Even the restaurant he found that night seemed lonely and empty of people. It was long and narrow, lined with tables on each side with a single occupant at each, facing a television set at one end. All the customers seemed to have come alone and all were watching the news on television. Barek counted the tables and the number of occupants. There were twenty of each. The food was good and cheap though. Spaghetti, salad, soup, wine and coffee for 42 cents. Afterwards even the streets seemed lonely, with single figures walking alone, rarely in two’s or three’s. Luckily, Barek found a little stand-up bar on a side street, where rose wine was served from pitchers and live monkeys scampered about the rafters. Several pairs of women were in the bar; rather drab, down-at-the-heel-looking women of thirty and forty. Barek speculated whether they were prostitutes and decided not. “Well, they seem happy anyway,” he told himself. After two more glasses of wine he began to enjoy listening to the excited Spanish conversation, although he could understand almost nothing. His good mood lasted all the way until he reached the apartment house where he was staying and then he found the outdoor entrance locked. Barek stood at the glass, trying to peer in, when someone caught him roughly by the arm. It was a Spanish policeman. “Where do you think you’re going?” the policeman asked in a harsh voice. Barek was stunned for a moment then he remembered the woman had given him a card, which he fumbled for in his pockets. Mollified, the policeman showed him the night bell and a concierge came to let him in.
In this way Spain passed in blurred confusion and the, next morning on the train Barek slept most of the time-as the bleak Spanish countryside passed by. “I don’t see no camels, no donkey, no horse.” Barek told himself. “I see only cow and sheep. The land is no good. It’s all stone and rocks. It don’t give no good wheat. Not like the Maghreb. How these people are living?” Then he thought of Madrid. “The streets looked dirty, too many cars, too much traffic, the air no good, no people on the streets, no place to go. I didn’t see even one movie house in Madrid. It looked strange. Still, that wine place was nice. Monkeys. Thirty-two pecetas for six glasses of wine. Well, the people seemed happy anyway.”
When the train passed through Bourges, Barek thought, “This is big city. Maybe as big as Madrid.” Then came San Sebastian, which seemed even bigger. In Barek’s coach, a load speaker played recorded music the entire journey, mostly Spanish bullfight music, but also some nocturnes of Chopin and the score of “Porgy and Bess.” They kept playing the same records over and over; perhaps there was only a narrow selection. Toward evening the train pulled into the French border and a voice on the loudspeaker announced that passengers mast detrain with all their luggage to pass through immigration formalities and board the French train, which would carry them on to Paris. The voice reassured passengers that the French train would not depart until “each passenger is on board.” The announcement was repeated in English, French and German translations. Barek, carrying a suitcase in each hand followed the long line of passengers into the border station. Most of them passed a group of French frontier guards by merely flashing their passports but when Barek moved to pass, a hand shot out and grabbed him by the arm. “Where do you think you’re going?” one of them said in Arabic. “You have carte sejour?” Barek didn’t know what that was and he was ordered to stand to the side until the rest of the passengers went by. Two other Arabs tall swarthy youths from the Riff, were also held back until they produced contracts to prove they were on their way to industrial jobs in Germany. There was also a tall redhead in a for coat who appeared to be French. “What’s this?” Barek asked her. “Nothing,” she said angrily. “He is just a son of a bitch.” Almost at once she and the two Riffis were let through but Barek had to wait until he was told a carte sejour meant his Casablancan identity card. Where was it, he thought in panic and began rummaging through his suitcase pulling clothes onto the station floor. Then he remembered he had stuffed it into his yellow slippers and produced it. The officials took it and his passport into another room. Now all the passengers had disappeared from the station and a conductor arrived, looking red and impatient, and gesturing with the red flag in his hand.
“The train can no longer wait,” he called to the immigration officers.
“Please. Three minutes.”
The conductor cursed, looked at Barek with controlled hostility and stamped his foot.
The officials came back and waived Barek through but forgot to give him his passport and he had to ran back for it.
“Vite! Vite!” the conductor called and now both he and Barek were beginning to run. The train was already moving and several other railway men were shouting at Barek to run. He leapt toward the moving train, flung his two begs aboard and dove in himself, landing aboard, sprawling on his knees. His face was beaded with sweat now, his shirt soaked underneath his tweed jacket and he picked up the bags and started moving down the corridor. Although most of the compartments were half empty their occupants glared at him stonily as Barek searched inside for a place and he was about to give up when a blonde French girl smiled and told him there was plenty of space in hers. After this gracious gesture, however, although she smiled politely in his direction from time to time, the girl seemed to take no further interest in conversation and there was little opportunity since she got off at the next stop. “She’s lovely,” Barek thought and afterwards he remembered her little act of kindness a long time. Amidst so much indifference, impatience and barely concealed hostility, any show of kindness from the French at all seemed to assume an exaggerated importance in his mind, transforming the barest civility into what seemed like a gracious act of charity.
The American opposite him was different and almost at once he engaged Barek in conversation. He had just taken part in the Mayday demonstrations against the government in Washington, he said proudly, and was now going to spend the summer with his family in Germany. His father, it turned out, was an army colonel stationed in, Heidelberg.
Once Barek asked him, “Why are you against the war like that?” He was curious, thinking about Mohammed Ali.
“Because the Vietnamese people want the Viet Cong to win,” the student said sharply, almost defensively as if anticipating an argument. “Ho Chi Minh’s a great hero to them. Why the vice president, I forget his name, why he was a bomber pilot for the French.”
It pleased Barek to be addressed like this, but since he knew nothing about the Viet Cong and had never heard of Ho Chi Minh the conversation soon dwindled into silence. Hoping to revive it Barek said, “France is better than Spain. The French are good farmers. That’s why they came to my country.” But the student showed no interest and soon shut his eyes and dozed off. After a time Barek slept too and when he awoke it was already dark; he looked at his watch and saw Paris was less than an hour away. So he went to wash his face with cold water and stopped in the corridor to smoke a cigarette and watch the night rushing past.
Trains, always, when they near their destination after a long trip, especially in the evening or at night, take on a sense of unreality. One senses one is rushing into the uncertain future, an almost tangible sensation not realized on boats or planes. It only happens at night and on a train – especially if the train is to be in Paris within the hour. Barek peered out of the window and it was as if he saw his whole life before him. He would find a job. Or if he found no job in Paris, he would try Marseille. And if that too failed, he would wait until a Greek or Panamanian ship came along and then held ship out, now that he had a passport. He felt he would never return to the Rue du Marche aux Grains. Or even to Zora And then he remembered Zora, not as when they made love that last night, but on the warm summer Casablancan days, when they would rent a tent on the beach and Zora would cook chicken and made a salad and they would buy a bottle of cheap wine and he would play soccer with the boys on the beach returning in the late afternoon and together they would watch the sunset and the foaming breakers along the sea and hear the mournful, beautiful cries of the seagulls. And then lights began flashing by and he knew the train must be entering the suburbs of Paris.
The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was young and gay
I saw the laughter in her eyes
In every street café….
ASSEZ DE CRIMES! HALTE AUX AGGRESSEURS! ASSEZ DE CRIMES! HALTE AUX AGGRESSEURS! ASSEZ DE CRIMES! HALTE AUX AGGRESSEURS! ASSEZ DE CRIMES! Tropicana Orange Juice Tropicana Orange Juice Tropicana Orange Juice PRENEZ VOS VACANCES EN ITALIE OU L’ADRIATIQUE PREND SA SOURCE…Paris Foire de Paris Foire de Paris Foire de Paris Foire de Paris, L’IMPERIALISME AMERICAIN ETEND SA GUERRE CRIMINELLE MEDTACE LA PAIX! Tropicana Orange Juice Tropicana Orange Juice Tropicana Orange Juice
Barek gazed in perplexity at the brilliant, flashing lights, the scrawled red slogans on the Metro station walls, the crowds of people moving past the cafe, back and forth like a large herd of cattle, accompanied by the traffic in the street with its dreadful clouds of exhaust fames and the blowing of horns. It was past midnight but the crowds showed no sign of thinning out; Barek felt dazed and very tired from the journey but he felt too restless to sleep his first night in Paris and he sat at a sidewalk table sipping beer at a cafe on the corner of Barbes and Boulevard de Rochechuart, the heart of the Arab quarter in Paris. Lost and bewildered, he was counting on someone from the Maghreb, perhaps even Casablanca, passing by and he would speak to them, perhaps even get them to help him. And while there were many more black, brown and tan faces passing than white, they all seemed to be Algerians, Riffis or black Africans; he could make out no one from Morocco.
Across the boulevard the marque of a cheap cinema house, advertised a James Bond film. It advertised “unique” prices – only three francs and Barek had felt tempted to go. Down the sidewalk a small Salvation Army band blared its trumpets and clarinets; a crowd was gathering around them. Elsewhere up and down the boulevard, neon bar signs flashed on and off and a cacophony of jukeboxes playing different jazz tones added to the general din.
He had been sitting there an hour and a half, and all that time he was picturing how he could flee Paris and reach Marseille. It seemed strange to him that he should even be here, not moving down the Boulevard du Mohammed El Hansali and crossing under the date palms to his nightly drink at the Maghreb, but in this feverish place of noise and confusion and complete indifference. As in Casablanca, the crowds began to change as the night wore on and Barek scrutinized the strolling figures. Most of them appeared to be Algerians; in his exhausted state, almost all of them looked mean, like the kind of Arab who uses a knife or razor on a man for no reason.
He had caught a taxi from Gare Austerlitz, almost begging the Parisian driver to take him to a cheap place where he could find some fellow Moroccans. “Diare te peu nous trevi un netile que nai pas chire,” he had asked, in his Maghrebian French. “Can you find some hotel for me cheap? Take me to the place where the Moroccan people live.”
The driver shrugged. He drove a sleek Peuguot and obviously thought he had made a very bad choice of fares at the station. “You most have money in Paris,” he told Barek. “Because each hotel is a different price and tonight is Saturday night and you can’t find no hotel.” He had dropped off Barek at a hotel on the Rue du Rivoli and overcharged him. It looked cheap enough but at the desk the clerk, a fat man with a chalky, white pallor and spit curls framing a wide forehead, at first took no notice of him, seemingly buried in a ledger. After some minutes he turned to Barek. “A single’s $10 for the night. Pay in advance. Where you from?”
“Ah-h-h-h….” The man lifted his fat, flabby arms and began snapping his fingers like castanets. “But where’s your home? Where are you really coming from?”
“Ah-h-h-h-h!” The man gave Barek a lewd wink. Barek picked up his bags again and fled toward the door. “Hey, where are you going?”
“I don’t have the money.”
“Come back. Maybe we could work something out.”
Outside the air felt clean and fresh and this time Barek succeeded in finding a taxi whose driver knew the Arab section. He drove him to a hotel in Barbes, where thousands of Algerians, Riffis and Africans lived. It was with relief that Barek saw the taxi was stopping in a street which closely resembled the Rue du Marche aux Grains. Many of the signs were in Arabic; he heard Arab music coming from the bars and from the appearance of the people and the buildings he might have been back in the Medina in Casablanca. He checked into a small but clean Arab hotel, 10 dirhams or 32 for the night, pay in advance. Together the two taxis had cost twenty-four francs, or 20 dirhams or four dollars. He was now down to 510 dirhams or $102 dollars besides the 320 dirhams or $64 he had stashed away as train fare to Marseilles and boat fare to Casablanca.
As he sat in the cafe making these calculations, a voice startled him out of his thoughts. Turning, Barek saw the man at the next table was grinning at him; he was a tall, bony-looking black youth with some gold teeth in front and long brilliantly shining hair. He was wearing extremely tight-fitting white bell-bottoms and an electric pink shirt flecked with some shiny gold material. Barek guessed he must be about thirty. He offered Barek an expensive American cigarette. “My name’s Ezekiel, Zeke,” he said, putting out his hand. “I been watching you. You new in Paris, eh? I know how it feels.”
“Yeah, tonight from Madrid.”
“Just arrived?” Zeke held out a flashy gold lighter. “Paris is a good city for the rich people. Not for the poor man.” He told Barek he was from the Ivory Coast. “I been here for thirteen years.” He turned for a moment to greet two passing Africans in a language Barek couldn’t understand. Then he grinned back at Barek.
“Thirteen years. So I know about Paris and everything. You looking for a job?”
“I been at work before. Simca. Now I’m out, they paid me off. I been working there for six years. But it was very hard work at Simca.”
Barek noticed the African wore expensive clothes; his trousers were pressed with a sharp crease that looked like a knife blade. He speculated whether the man had saved money from his old job or was in some new business.
“How can I find a cheap restaurant around here where Moroccan people go?” he asked him.
“Want me to show you?”
“Not for tonight,” Barek said hastily, not wanting to get too familiar with this stranger.
“I already ate in another place,” he lied. “I just want to know.”
“If you have time, later on, I can show you. I can show you, places like you never seen before.”
Barek felt a little uneasy. “What I want to know is, how can one man from Morocco, when he want to work, can he find a job in Paris?”
Zeke frowned, looking serious. “It’s difficult. Maybe it’s dangerous to look for a job in Paris right now.”
“I can’t tell exactly. But many French boys, they don’t work. Maybe seven hundred thousand French people, they don’t get jobs. Then there’s trouble between France and Algeria, about the oil. If they think you’re Algerian, nobody will give you a job now.”
“But I’m Moroccan.” The words sounded strange to Barek. He had always thought of himself as from the Maghreb before; he had almost no sense of nationalism.
“To them it’s all the same. You’re an Arab. That’s why they don’t give Moroccans work either. Before it was free. Everybody could get jobs. Not now. What do you know? What’s your job?”
“Well….eh….I can do a little electricity.”
Zeke looked at him skeptically.
“Well, anyway, I can do any job if I find and they tell me how.”
“Maybe you ought to try to find something in Marseille. Many Moroccans there. Paris is only for the tourist people. If you really know something about electricity you must go to the Simca place. Maybe they take you. Maybe not. If you, have somebody there who is a friend he might help you.”
“No. I got one friend in Paris but he works private. I got many friends in Marseille. If I don’t have no money and can’t find a job, Paris is not for me.”
Zeke’s eyes narrowed. “You speak some English?”
“Yeah, I used to sell souvenirs on the dock in Casa.”
Zeke grinned. “You can make traffic with the tourist people. Many tourists come to Place Pigalle. It’s about a ten minute walk down Boulevard de Rochechuart.
“What kind of traffic?”
Zeke shrugged. “You see all these boys walking down the street here?”
“Yeah. They got good clothes, they must have money. They sit in cafes. What’s their job?”
“They don’t have no job. Maybe they don’t have work, no room. So they go into some kind of traffic. It’s very difficult for a stranger here in Paris. Beaucoup racism. Sometimes you have to have French nationality to get a job. Many of these boys turn to stealing, voleur.”
“What do you mean?”
“C’mon, I’ll show you. What’s your name?”
“Well, c’mon, Barek. Lemme show you the life in Paris. You speak some English. Maybe I can find you something.”
Zeke paid the check. “C’mon. I’ll show you the street.”
Together they began to stroll slowly down the Boulevard de Rochechuart in the direction of Pigalle. Barek felt warm and pleasant after the beer, which affected him more since he was so tired. There, were bars and restaurants all along the boulevard, most of the crowded with people who sat around little red metal tables on the sidewalks.
Despite the late hoar, great crowds of people were still moving about, sauntering, talking and laughing together or loitering under the green leafy plane trees on the central boulevard. Across the street Barek observed a circular pissoir, where a dozen or so black figures stood in the shadows. One would dart inside and a moment or two come out again. Something was going on there.
On the sidewalk, in the bright lights from the bars, there were tourists of all nationalities; Barek heard the familiar accents of Scandinavians, Germans, Americans, English. Some were in large groups, others in couples, a few of them, moving more hurriedly than the rest, alone. Mixed among them the North Africans moved mostly Algerians and Negroes but here and there Barek spotted a Riffi and even what he thought might be a Moroccan from the coast. The tourists seemed carefree, out to enjoy their holiday in the most beautiful city in the world. Their days were spent touring the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Saint-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, all the matchless monuments that made the city a beacon to civilized man. Now Barek saw a steady flow of them moving up and down a steep tree-lined lane toward a floodlit Christian church, whose white spires-rose high above them on what mast have been the crest of a hill.
“Sacre-Coeur,” Zeke told him. “Thousands come here every night to see it; It’s the center of Montmarte.” Barek wanted to follow them and see something too, but Zeke told him the street below would interest him more. At Place Pigalle, they stopped at another sidewalk cafe and Zeke ordered them another round of beers. Now on both sides of the street were strip shows and little shops, with neon signs advertising “Sex Books,” in English. Barek wanted to go inside a striptease performance. The signs outside said the admission was only two-and-a-half-francs. “That’s outside,” Zeke told him. “Inside there’s a minimum drink of twenty-two francs. And, you gotta buy at least one drink. You gotta have a lot of money to go in there.” Still, Barek was intensely curious. Outside there had been many life-size photographs of nearly naked girls; he had never seen anything like it before. Down the street, a red light flashed on and off, “Moulin Rouge.” A theater marquie advertised “Oh, Calcutta!”
“This is Place Pigalle,” Zeke said, almost with the pride of ownership. “There’s a lot of whorehouses down the side streets, all along here. You also got plenty at La Bastille, La Chapelle and Stalingrad. When we go back to Barbes, I’ll show you the ones Of the Rue de la Charbonniere.”
“That’s where I’m staying.”
“Yeah. Well, you got them all around you. Oh, they’ve got plenty also on the Champs Elysees and Madeleine, beautiful white girls for maybe four hundred francs for the night.”
“How about over there?” Barek asked, pointing to a nightclub down the sidewalk with an enormous billboard with dancing girls over the entrance; the lights flashed “Madame Mathurs”
“That’s all queers. Men dressed like women. You got lot of cabarets like that in Paris. If you want to play like that you must go to a sauna on the Ru Poucelet just off Avenue Wagram by the Eiffel Tower. It costs twenty francs but there are a lot of rich queers there. You got many such places like that too.”
Barek’s attention was on the street. “Why, that’s a woman! A woman taxi driver. Never in my life do I see a woman driving a taxi.” He seemed more excited about this spectacle than anything he had seen in Paris so far. Barek laughed. “I’ve got to write the boys back in Casa about that.”
As they walked back toward Barbes, Zeke told him, “Well, this is the life in Paris, Barek.”
There were fewer tourists on the boulevard now, and some of the cafes and restaurants were closed and dark. But it seemed to Barek just as many Algerians and Africans were moving about as ever, sitting in the cafes, strolling along the sidewalk or standing in the shadows of the entryways of closed shops and restaurants. Some of these had a predatory air about them and one, a tall Negro in a felt hat, lunged toward Barek as they passed.
The tall Negro grabbed Barek by the arm and spoke with a slurred, thick tongue. “What you doing here, black man? You doing, business here or just fucking around?” Before Zeke could intervene, Barek shoved the stranger with a straight arm, sending him sprawling back on the pavement. “This your business?” he snarled, “Fuck off.” The man, startled by Barek’s violent reaction, crawled to his feet and hurried off in the other direction without looking back.
“I see you don’t take no shit,” Zeke said, with respect.
Barek grinned and showed Zeke his knuckles. “Those are teeth marks. Don’t nobody ever make trouble with me twice.”
Near the corner, just as they reached Barbes, they stopped. From a dark alleyway, a white man, his face streaming with blood as if he had been struck with a bottle, came running out, crying and sobbing. He ignored the pedestrians on the sidewalk and went into the street, his arms flailing the air as he tried to hail a taxi. Within seconds one pulled up, he climbed inside and it sped away. Barek noticed he was still wearing a wristwatch.
“Damn!” Barek said. “What happened?”
Zeke shrugged. “You’ll understand about the life here, Barek. These boys, they come to France, maybe nobody will give them a job. So maybe they go out and steal. Get money, clothes, jewels, watches. Then they come back here to Barbes and try and sell whatever they got. Many of these boys, they go out every night and look for an opportunity.”
“What do you mean ‘opportunity.”‘
“Traffic with the tourist people. Maybe somebody wants a girl, kif. Maybe a boy can pick up one of these tourist girls, get her high, fuck her silly so she’ll give him all the money he asks for. Maybe he’ll go to one of the movie theaters, the Luxuor, the Trianon, La Citale. It only costs three francs and down in the basement it’s a place to go. Many of these North African boys, they don’t work. They come to the movies for some money. Go with old man. Or with a man who has some money. They try to rob them if they can. C’mon, I’ll show you something.”
They crossed Barbes; traffic was still heavy and a gendarme stood in the street directing it. Barek asked, “That man we saw with the blood on his face, why didn’t he ask somebody to help him or run to the police?”
“What is anybody gonna do to help him? What the police going to do? This is the life in Paris.”
They walked past several bars, entering the Arab quarter now. At the corner, the street widened and Barek saw several hundred men, seemingly just milling around.
“This is the thieves’ market,” Zeke told him. “These boys have been all over Paris. Pickpockets, grabbing watches in the Metro, maybe stealing somebody’s clothes. Now they’re selling it. You can get good stuff here cheap.”
They turned into the Rue de la Charbonniere, a narrow, twisting lane that might have been in Casablanca, so completely had all the outward signs of Paris vanished. Then Barek looked up the street at the glittering, floodlit spires and domes of Sacre Couer. Barek told Zeke he wanted to get a postcard of it to send his friends at the Maghreb Bar in Casablanca. He said held write something like, “Here I am in Paris two days and I’m a khafar already.” [unbeliever]
The Rue de la Charbonniere was only dimly lit and the row of shattered hotels cast broad shadows in the moonlight, engulfing some of the groups of men gathered at each door in complete darkness, out of which rose a whisper of women’s voices, smothered laughter and the sound of someone softly playing a guitar. Barek felt a sudden, passionate desire to join the waiting men, to find a girl like Zora inside and to cover her face, her hands, her shoulders, with kisses, to sob, to fall at her feet, to tell her how sorry he was he had left Casablanca and how he would return as soon as possible. And it seemed to him, in his drunken, exhausted but exhilarated state that because he had left her, Zora would find somebody else to love and all possibility of the happiness he had dreamt of was now lost to him forever.
Inside one doorway, past the barred opening and the heads of the waiting men, Barek caught a glimpse of blonde hair, white powdered breasts and heavy-lashed half-closed eyes. In the gloom of a stairway recess he could see an enormous Negress, her arms crossed. From the whispers he guessed there must be several women just inside the door.
Then he heard a man’s voice, low and breathless: “You know what I’m fixing to do? I’m fixing to fuck you all night, you white bitch!” A woman’s voice answered in a snarl, “Shove off. I don’t like black men.” With surprise, Barek heard the man chuckle and move down the street to another door.
“I got to get some money tonight,” Zeke said at his elbow, his voice husky with lust. “I’ll get me some money and come back here. C’mon.”
“There most not be any women in Paris,” Barek said, following after him. They turned into a brightly lit bar at the corner. “Is there no women in Paris or what? All those men lined up like that. Black men and white men. This is no good like this. People get sick. I never do like this in my life.”
Zeke only grinned enigmatically. They stood at the bar and Zeke ordered two beers. Barek pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and something dropped to the floor. He stooped down seeing a silver franc piece but an Algerian standing next to him reached it first. “Hey, that’s mine,” Barek said. For a minute the Algerian stared him in the eyes, then reluctantly handed the franc back to him. Zeke had turned to talk to two young Greeks with long brown curly hair; Barek saw their shirts were unbuttoned and their bare chests exposed.
The bar was fall of people, both North Africans and Europeans. Several older men, dressed in the same tight-fitting clothes as the Greek youths, were speaking Spanish, moving their hands in excited, mincing, feminine gestures. Barek moved to a jukebox and read the names of the records. “Good Arab music,” he told a passing waiter.
He found the coin slot but when he dropped the franc in, it fell through and clanked into the metal coin return box. Ht tried again but with no success.
“You have to put it in here,” a voice behind him spoke in French. Barek turned. It was a young Frenchman, very pale but handsome with finely chiseled features and long straight blond hair, which fell to his shoulders. He wore large steel-rimmed glasses, a red turtleneck sweater and had draped a brown leather jacket around his shoulders. A copy of Le Monde was tucked under one arm.
“Excuse me,” Barek said. “I’m not from here. I’m a Casablanca man. We have another kind.”
The young Frenchman smiled; it seemed the warmest and most friendly smile Barek had seen in Paris. He said his name was Claude and that he wanted Barek to meet his friend, an Algerian who had been in Casablanca.
They returned to the bar. The Algerian was handsome, and dressed in an expensive suit. He shook hands with Barek and said he had a sister in Casablanca and had visited her several times.
“I work in a barber shop around the corner. One of the men there is also from Casablanca. Maybe you know him.” Barek didn’t recognize the name but promised to drop by the shop in the daytime.
“I see you’re reading a newspaper,” Barek told Claude.
“Le Monde. I never read anything but Le Monde.”
Claude ordered a round of drinks. Zeke had now moved away and was talking and laughing with the two Greeks at the other end of the bar. Claude smiled again, warm and friendly. “One must always welcome strangers,” he told Barek.
His Algerian friend agreed. “One German boy, he was in Paris one night,” he told Barek. “Two girls took him to their room. They took his watch, his clothes, his money. I found him in the street. He asked me for a cigarette. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I asked. The German told how held been robbed. I knew these two girls so I went to their room and said, ‘Please give this man back his watch, clothes and the seventeen thousand francs you took. If you want to give it back, okay. If not, he’ll go to the police. He knows where your room is. So they gave the things back. I took this German boy in my car and we went for a few drinks. The German asked, “Take me to my hotel.’ Also he asked my address. I said, ‘Why you want my address?’ He said, ‘I just want to know about it.’ After three months this German boy came back to my barbershop with one Arab he met in Hamburg. He brought me five shirts, two pairs of pants and some other presents. His Arab friend told me, ‘Always this German boy he talk about you.’ So we went somewhere for drinks and went out for a week, to bars, dancing. Then when he got ready to go, he gave me a work contract for a factory in Germany. But I didn’t’ want to go. In Paris I got a good job. But ever since we’re friends. Sometimes the German comes to visit. Some strangers, if you’re nice to them, they must become good friends.”
Barek ordered another round of beers. He was beginning to think Paris was not so bad after all.
“What about these hotels in Barbes?” he asked.
“The girls charge twenty or thirty francs and you have to pay for the room extra. But you can only stay about thirty minutes. All those men stand outside because there’s no more place inside. You have to wait in turn.” The Algerian said he never went; there were a lot better girls in Paris than in Barbes.
Near them the Spaniards roared with laughter drawing Barek’s attention. He noticed that close up, despite their bright clothes, sideburns and youthful air, they were really old men, perhaps in their fifties.
“What do you think of these Spanish people?” Claude asked him.
“These old Spaniards have to find some Algerian boy who doesn’t have a job to go with them,” the barber said.
Seeing Barek staring in their direction, one of them broke away from the others and came over to Barek. He was much younger than the others but with the same long early hair, tight pants and a shirt open at the neck. He must have been handsome once but Barek, even in the haze of beer and smoke, could see how his face had been ravaged with deep lines turning down the corners of his mouth and wrinkling into crows feet around his eyes when he laughed. To Barek’s surprise, the newcomer spoke to him in Arabic.
“Excuse me,” he said, throwing one arm around Barek’s shoulders. “I heard you saw you were from Casablanca. Excuse me. You’re a Moroccan and I’m Moroccan. I’m from El Jadida. Don’t you think I like these Spaniards? I just go with them. For profit. Fifty, sixty, maybe a hundred francs. I don’t sleep with them. Only joke, drink. You understand?”
The bartender also spoke in a Moroccan coastal dialect now. “This is no good, the things you do. You must drink but you are supposed to be gentle to the people. I hear how you rob and beat them.”
The Moroccan turned savagely on the bartender. “You shut your fucking mouth. This is not your business. You just sell your wine.” He turned to go, looking back at Barek with almost an expression of appeal. “Excuse me, my friend. One man, he’s important in the government in Casablanca, he is in my family.” He named a prominent aid of the governor; Barek recognized it.
The bartender, a short muscular man, served some customers then came back to Barek. “Excuse me, so you are Moroccan people?” he grinned, extending his hand. “So am I and the boss here. Khasutek.”
He turned to an older, bald, man who was also behind the bar. “Hey, boss, this is Moroccan boy!”
The owner of the bar came and shook hands with Barek. “How are you? How’s everything? So you’re from Morocco. Where you from?”
“Hey,” the bartender laughed. “I used to live in Casa. You know the street Sidi Fateh? Gateriam Zoowife? Bou Smara Port de Casa?”
“Sure I know. I am thirty-one years in Casa. Why I not know these places?” He and the bartender laughed and shook hands again.
“Well, have one drink with me,” the bartender said. He brought Barek a beer but didn’t open it at once; instead he kept naming different streets and bars in Casablanca and was delighted that Barek knew most of them.
“What’s your job here in Paris?” Barek asked. “Working here?”
“No. I work in a company. Renault. It’s on strike right now and I just come to help the boss here tonight. He’s from Agadir. My company’s not working now, out on strike. I been eight years in Paris. Well, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for a job. I got enough money to stay in Paris a week or two. Then I have to go to Marseilles if I don’t find anything. I got friends there.”
“Come with me at two. I’ll show you around the city.”
“No, I gotta go sleep. I don’t have no money. I spent too much on the plane and train from Casa. First night I got a bad taxi driver. Wait, that’s tonight! Seems like I been here a week already. This taxi man, I asked him to take me to cheap hotel, a place where Moroccan people live. Instead he took me to a no good hotel and wanted fifteen francs. I had to get another taxi to bring me here for ten francs.
“So I’m out twenty-five francs just getting here.”
“Twenty-five!” the bartender groaned.
“Paris is very expensive for me.”
“Well, if you want to eat, come here. Cost you cheap and good food. You come here every time to see me.”
Barek came up with a thought. “Can you change Moroccan money?” He still had twenty dirhams he forgot to change at the airport. The boss came down to see the money and said he was delighted to get it. With twenty-five francs he hadn’t counted on, Barek bought a turkey sandwich and drinks for the Algerian, Claude, Zeke and the two Greeks and himself. He felt like a big shot. As the bartender brought him his beer he leaned forward and whispered, “Watch out for these guys that you’re with. A couple of them are gangsters.”
When he straightened up, Barek asked him, “I see many men from the Maghreb in the streets here. They got pretty good clothes, they sit in the bars and drink. What do they do?”
“Most of the Moroccans work. Out at Simca. You won’t see many around here. They got more sense than the Algerians. Some of them though, they just fuck around in the street. Steal from people. You know why? If you’re an Arab or a black man, a lot of these French people, they won’t have nothing to do with you.”
The bartender drifted down the bar, taking orders. Barek looked around for Zeke. He was still talking to the Greeks and Barek passed him on the way to the washroom. When he came out, Zeke pressed his mouth to Barek’s ear and whispered, “Stick around. I’m going to get some money off these Greeks so we can go back to that hotel around the corner. There’s one Arab girl there who is only fifteen.”
Barek returned to his place at the bar. The bartender returned and told Barek the French workers and Arabs at the Renault plant sometimes got in fights. “Some Frenchmen he don’t know about the job but they make him the boss anyway. He just puts his hands in his pockets and tells people, ‘Work.’ The Algerians don’t like it. They come easy to France. They don’t need passports like we do.”
Barek ordered another drink for himself and Claude. The tall Algerian barber had wandered away somewhere. Then Barek saw he had joined Zeke and the two Greeks.
Barek started to say something to Claude, but the Frenchman was watching something at the other end of the bar. “Look, Barek,” he said.
Barek turned and saw Zeke and one of the Greek youths. Zeke’s arms were wrapped around the Greek; they were kissing.
“Look, Barek,” he heard Claude’s voice behind him. The Frenchman sounded nonchalant and indifferent. “This is the life of Paris. You must do like this.”
“No, this is not the custom of my country. Excuse me, to do something like this in front of the people. It’s no good. If there is something, it is between you and him. Not in front of the people.”
The other Greek youth came up to Barek, putting an arm around his shoulder. “You are nice,” he said.
“La!” Barek threw the arm off with disgust. “Bad, I’m no good. Shove off!”
Rebuffed, the Greek turned away, once turning back to Barek and giving him an angry stare. Just then, angry shouts arose in the street. Everyone left the bar and stumbling and pushing, poured out into the street. On the curb Zeke and Claude’s Algerian friend were squared off. “Dieu moc boue! Fuck your mother!” Zeke hissed. “Your father is a pig!” the Algerian shouted back. “Azumle a karasa! You old queer!”
Zeke got in the first blow, jabbing the Algerian in the face with a hard left hook. The barber went down, dragging Zeke with him and they rolled over in the gutter, arms flailing one another. The, crowd from the bar tried to separate them, shouting, “Why you gotta fight for?” “You fight only for a queer!” “Stop it! The boss don’t like this in his cafe!”
Zeke landed another left hook on the Algerian’s jaw and the Algerian rolled to the side, clutching his face. Before he could rise again, Zeke scrambled to his feet, grabbed the two Greeks by the arms and the three of them disappeared down the street. The barber, blood streaming down his face and onto his suit and tie, staggered to his feet and tried to follow the others back into the bar but the bar owner stopped him at the door, pushing him back into the street by jabbing him in the side with a knee. The boss was angry and shouted, “Finish! You no more come to my place!”
Barek was surprised to find Claude, seemingly unconcerned, about his friend, sipping an absinthe at the bar and staring vacantly into space. When Barek spoke to him the Frenchman didn’t seem to hear. Instead, he ordered another absinthe.
“Well, I got to go home anyway,” Barek said, suddenly feeling very tired. He felt he had had enough of Paris. “Why he kiss the man in front of the people like that?” he asked Claude. “There’s no police here or nothing?”
Claude’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. “This is Paris,” he said. “It is like this.” He turned to Barek and looked at him with dull eyes, not seeming to recognize him.
“I live far away from here and it’s very late now.” Claude began to speak, forming each word slowly as if it were something he had carefully memorized. “I’ll have to find a hotel for the night. Where do you, go from here? Perhaps we could go together. I have been in Casablanca three times. Will you give me your address?”
“Look, maybe I’ll see you here tomorrow or the next day. I gotta go home now.”
The Frenchman nodded and moved toward the door like a sleepwalker.
“Hey,” Barek called after him. “You forgot your newspaper.”
“Oh, yes.” Claude took the newspaper from him and moved toward the door. “Le Monde.” Barek could hear him saying, “I read nothing but Le Monde.”
“Oh, ma petite, je connait l’habitude de Embassade. I know all the numbers of the Embassy. I was employed by TWA; It is so difficult to operate the telephone. You must know how to make a call. It is so difficult to know. Yes, I used to work for TWA. I spent many years with the American people.” It took Barek some minutes to realize his rescuer had mistaken him for an American. She was an old French lady with a great blaze of orange hair, bright little black eyes peering out from under heavy blue makeup and a dithery, scatterbrained manner. As Barek watched she kept putting tokens into the telephone, getting them back, muttering something under her breath and trying again.
He had come to the post office to try and call Pierrot, a friend who had immigrated to Europe a year before. When he had asked an attendant to help him, she had said impatiently, “Vous pas savez?” and told him to wait. After some time she made one attempt to get his number failed, and appeared to have lost interest in giving him further assistance. Barek had waited fifteen minutes and was about to give up when the old red-haired lady had spoken to him in English and he had replied in the same language. She, thinking him to be an American, had swept him over to one of the “automatique” booths and now, for some minutes, had been feeding slogs into the machine with no success. At first Barek had thought the woman was crazy and then he realized she was only being kind. “You’re no good,” he told himself, “this is nice lady; she’s trying to help you.”
“Ah! Voila!” exclaimed the old woman with satisfaction as she got a dial tone. She snatched the number from Barek, dialed it, listened for an answer and then in triumph handed the telephone to him.
It was Pierrot’s voice.
“Pierrot! It’s Barek!”
“Barek! What are you doing in Paris? Where are you?”
“Yes. Here! In Paris!”
“My God, so you are. Labass?”
“Labass. Praise be to Allah.”
“Labass Aleik. Good for you.”
“What are you doing now? When can I see you?”
There was a pause. Then Pierrot replied, “I’m just waiting for the boss to go get the car. I’m going with him. I’m working this morning.”
“What can I see you?”
“How long you gonna stay here?”
“About a week…. Maybe.”
“Well, let me think. Look, I can see you this afternoon. At three o’clock. I’m off. But I have to be back at seven to let the workers go home. I can lock them in.”
“Can I see you at three then? Your address is still the same?”
“Yeah. Same as I gave you. You still have it?”
“Yes. Okay I see you at three.”
Barek went back to the Arab quarter for lunch filled with expectation. Pierrot would help him. Everything would be all right now. As youths they had played together on the same soccer team in Casablanca. Barek was one of the best players in the city but Pierrot was even better. Sometimes they drank or went to movies together after the matches. Barek recalled one time at the Cannabiere when they had wanted to take a shoeshine boy in for a lemonade and the doorman wouldn’t let them. The boy had said, “I’m going,” and tried to squeeze past the doorman who slapped him. Pierrot had lifted the watchman right off the ground, gripping his collar. Pierrot had worked for a rich Jew who owned a furniture store near the harbor. He remembered the party they had held to celebrate Pierrot’s departure for Paris a year ago. He, Pierrot, Farid and Hamid, who had been the four top players on the team. They had stayed at the Cannabiere and Bolero until late, taken four bottles of wine back to Pierrot’s shop and talked until dawn about how they were all going to meet in Europe. Farid and Hamid had got passports long before Barek but neither had the money yet for their passage. Barek laughed to himself remembering the goodbye party. Pierrot had kept saying he wanted a woman but he had been too drunk.
In his excitement, Barek had forgotten to ask Pierrot how to reach his house by Metro and he no longer had enough money for taxis. He was afraid to take the Metro but he steeled himself and, descended the steps at the Barbes-Rochechuart station, stopping by the window to ask an attendant directions. The attendant, an old woman who had surrounded herself with potted plants and embroidered curtains to make the underground cell look less like a prison, squinted at the address in the dim light. “This name is wrong.” she told Barek. “Is that ‘B’ or ‘H?’ As she searched through the book, Barek’s heart sank. Suppose the address was wrong? How would he ever telephone Pierrot, again without the old French lady to help him?
“Voila! It is Beugeaud, not Peageaud.” She glared at Barek as if he had been trying to trick her. “Go to Dauphine.” Barek started through the gate then saw Dauphine was both a direction and a stop, the end of the line. “Excuse me, madam, please,” he said returning. “Is it the direction or the stop?” “Both,” she snapped impatiently, returning to her reading.
It was a twenty-minute ride. Dauphine was the twenty-second stop. Barek was afraid to take a seat for fear he might miss it and he stood all the way although it turned out to be the end of the line. As the metro sped through the tunnels the stations and passengers seemed to get poorer and poorer and he expected to arrive in a poor tenement section of the city. Instead, as he climbed the stairs to the surface he was surprised to find himself in an elegant street, lined with leafy green chestnut trees with row after row of imposing greystone town houses.
Pierrot’s house turned out to be several minutes walk down the street and the most imposing of all, a four-story stone mansion with heavy white damask curtains on the main floor. Otherwise the windows were all shattered. Barek knew the house belonged to the same Jew who had owned Pierrot’s shop in Casablanca. Pierrot had written he now had some businesses in New York as well. Barek wondered what the businesses were. Whatever they were, Pierrot’s employer seemed immensely rich.
He was about to ring the bell when a voice called to him. Barek turned around and saw a small cafe there. Then Pierrot emerged from the doorway. Barek’s first thought was, “He has become a Frenchman.”
Pierrot was tall and fair with light brown hair. Although he had been born and raised in Casablanca and in his jalaba had seemed an Arab there, his father had been Italian and his mother Jewish, enabling him to qualify for an Italian passport. Now in his well-cut Parisian clothes he looked like any other Frenchman; there was no doubt about it. Pierrot could pass for French any day.
Surprised by his discovery, Barek paused self-consciously for a moment, feeling very much a black Arab emigrant from North Africa, when Pierrot embraced him and kissed him on both cheeks.
Pierrot was laughing. “Salaam Aleik!”
“Salaam.” Pierrot was speaking Arabic. It was just as if they were back in Casablanca. Everything would be all right and Pierrot would look after him.
“How’s everything?” Again Pierrot laughed. “How’s Hamid? How’s Farid? Why don’t they come? They have their passports. I’m just waiting for Hamid for six months now. He said he’s go to Germany and catch work there. How did you come to Paris, Barek? I think I never will see you in Europe.”
Barek told him how much trouble it had been. About the long delay in getting a passport, the forty-five days in jail for hitting the policeman who tried to take Zora, about the flight to Madrid and the train trip to Paris. He did not tell Pierrot about Barbes and the night before. Somehow his friend seemed out of that world now.
After hearing him, Pierrot agreed, “It’s difficult to get a passport there in the Maghreb.”
He himself, he had, had taken out papers for French citizenship. He was doing well, earning more than three hundred dollars a month. Now he owned a motor scooter and was saving up money for a car. After that held think about a home and marriage.
As Pierrot talked they walked up the boulevard. He told Barek he wanted to show him some of the sights of Paris.
“How long are you going to stay?” Pierrot asked casually.
Barek knew then he would not ask Pierrot to help him, either with a place to stay or getting a job. Better he go to Marseille than ask for help. It was just that way, he felt.
“I’m going to stay a week or two. See Paris. Maybe if I find a job I might stay longer. But I think I’ll go on to Marseille.”
“Marseilles? Hm-m-m-m. There’s a strike there in Marseille on the docks. Maybe if you go there you’ll find something.”
“Should we stop for a drink?” Barek felt suddenly he needed one.
“No. I just take coffee. Unless you want something.”
“No. No. Let’s take a round and see something of Paris.”
Barek was embarrassed and decided not to discuss his own situation again. Today he would just be a tourist.
As they walked they talked about Casablanca. Pierrot asked about a Portuguese friend of his known on the waterfront as “Moastache.” Twenty years before he had been a bum, owning nothing but a bicycle and going to the fish market to earn a few dirhams so he could stay drunk on cheap wine the rest of the day. And then an old French woman who ran the Dauphin restaurant on Mohammed El Hansali boulevard lost her husband he was thought to have been killed in Indochina. Some months later Moustache suddenly appeared at the restaurant, sober, wearing a white apron and very much the owner. Every morning he would arrive to eat two fish and drink a bottle of wine followed by a chaser, of Black and White. That was all he had. Gradually everyone learned he was living with the restaurant lady in her house on the beach twelve kilometers away. Barek had been invited to the house once; it was a large villa with an orchard, garden and an open beach. The French woman and “Moastache” shared the villa with about ten dogs and twenty cats. Now the Frenchwoman was getting old, her dyed-red hair failed to conceal she was balding and Moustache had taken over the management of the Dauphin. He had been a friend of Pierrot playing cards, joking, sometimes drinking together. “Now if some men got drunk in the restaurant, Moustache gives ’em hell in Arabic,” Barek told Pierrot.
Pierrot also wanted to know more about Hamid and Farid. Barek said they were fine. He didn’t tell Pierrot that Hamid was drinking a lot and had been in several fights. Or that Farid, who was only twenty-two, had had to sleep with a German man for three months in order to get him to send a work contract and an air ticket, for emigration to Germany. Barek himself had guessed it and joked with Farid about it. Farid had laughed but been ashamed and Barek reassured him, “Better go with this man if he can help you go to Germany. Better than stay here and end peddling kif on the docks.” But was it better? Remembering now Claude’s face in the bar the night before, Barek was not so confident he had given Farid the right advice. In Casablanca, emigration to France or Germany had seemed like the answer, the solution to all problems. Now Barek wasn’t so positive it was not just a circuitous route back once more to the Rue du Marche aux Grains. What was the difference, except that the one was in Casablanca and streets like the Rue de la Charbonniere were in Paris? Then they rounded a corner and Barek looked up, stunned
Above them, directly ahead across the Trocadero, arose the Eiffel Tower, the late afternoon sun sending great shafts of rosy light through its giant steel girders. The air seemed so clear and transparent that it seemed that if they climbed to the first etage or the second, they could see the entire universe, from one end to the other. Climb it they did. The elevator was too expensive and there was a long queue of tourists so they joined the young Danes, Americans, Italians, Lebanese, Syrians, Indians and every country Barek could imagine who were mounting the endless steel steps. On the way they saw two European girls who left their knapsacks in a corner of one, platform to peer over the side. Pierrot laughed. “In the Maghreb somebody would take. But here in Paris you can go and come back and find your luggage.”
Barek was shocked by two giant nude male statues in front of the immense Palais de Chaillot. “Those men have no clothes,” he told, Pierrot. “Look at their dicks. In front of people like this.”
“It’s not bad like this?” Barek asked. “What if somebody cames with his family and his children see this?”
“No,” laughed Pierrot. “In Paris no families. Go to the Place Pigalle and see what the families of Paris look like.” He told Barek about the theaters which showed only pornographic films and the striptease houses along Boulevard de Rochchuart. Barek didn’t mention he had been there.
On the second etage, Barek spotted a men’s room and excused himself. He entered but almost at once came streaking out. “There’s a woman in there.” he told Pierrot, who laughed and said that was also Paris, that sometimes such places had woman attendants. “Not for me,” Barek said, shocked, and he did not return.
“Well, you can look all Paris,” Barek sighed as they leaned on the rails.
“It’s cloudy today. Too much mist. Too many cars in Paris. The air is no good. Sometimes you can see all Paris and beyond. Look at those girls; they’re lovely.” For some minutes they stood and admired the young European tourists climbing and descending the stairs. Then Barek spotted a soccer match below, not far from the base of the tower. It was a private club, Pierrot said, the only one in Paris, but his employer had gotten him a membership so they could go down and watch a match. “It Is a long way to go,” Barek sighed on the way down. “I been tired already.” He looked straight down the shaft. “Look, look, it’s a long way down. Somebody go, he’s dead.”
They watched the football match for about an hour, both Barek and Pierrot commenting unfavorably on the French players’ skill. “These Frenchmen don’t know how to play,” Pierrot said. “Nobody here, none of these people really know how to play football.” Barek agreed. “Not like as Moroccans,” he said.
After lunch they wandered through the Louvre, which was free on Sunday. Barek was enthralled and silent most of the time and Pierrot had to hasten him on from hall to hall. After gazing for an hour at the huge canvases of David, the satyrs of Rubens and the Venus de Milo, Barek asked Pierrot, “Don’t the people here in Paris wear clothes before?” But somehow Barek felt deeply impressed, “I don’t know,” he explained to Pierrot. “It’s like…my father’s dead and all, but some I kept thinking of him in here, the Louvre. Like this was all that came before as and that’s finished now. Like my father.”
It was twilight when they emerged and strolled through the Tuillerie Gardens, stopping to watch little boys sailing boats on the pond. It was still twilight when they reached the Champs Elysees, but here and there lights were already blinking on under the red and white awnings of the cafes.
“Paris is lovely,” Barek said. “I think before maybe it is like Casablanca, only bigger. I never think it will be like this.”
They stopped in one of the big cafes, sitting at a white table under a red umbrella, but when no waiter stopped at their table for ten minutes, Barek became restless and suggested they walk on. He stared and stared at the people on the boulevard; he had never seen so many elegant people….happy….rich. He felt uncomfortable with his beard, his black boots, his shabby tweed jacket, his brown skin. Did he just imagine it or did the eyes of the passersby seem to look through him, around him, as if he were not there, as if he were invisible or as if he were an imperfection that did not belong in an otherwise harmonious scene. Barek, later he thought deliberately, bumped against an elderly French gentleman with brushed white hair and a green tweed coat who was walking a white poodle. “Pardon.” the gentleman murmured, moving past and not looking, perhaps not even having seen, Barek. Suddenly Barek was filled with panic.
“That’s enough,” he said. “I’m going back.”
“I must go home, Pierrot. To Barbes, where I’m staying.”
“Barbes? I heard some of the people from the Maghreb live in that place only by selling hashish, robbing tourists, gambling on the races; people who try to run with the tourists, you know, steal from them.”
“So? When can I see you again, Pierrot?”
“Well…I’m going to be busy the next few days. How about next Saturday?”
Barek had a sinking feeling. That was five days away. By then, even if he were lucky, he would have just enough money left to get to Marseilles. Maybe enough to have a few drinks with Pierrot, to say goodbye. It would be too late then for Pierrot to help him even if he offered to. Barek gazed around, as if the red awnings, the chestnut trees, the great signs advertising Pan American, the National City Bank of New York, Dior and Citroen, the faces of the strollers or even the Arc de Triomphe hazy in the grey distance, could tell him what to do, what to say.
He gave Pierrot his hand. “Saturday then. The same place? Five o’clock?”
“Can you make it back to Barbes by yourself? There’s a Metro station. I left some people working in the shop. I locked them in and have to unlock the door at seven so they can go home. Anyway, I’ll see you Saturday.”
Barek watched as Pierrot, blond and fair in his French clothes, disappeared in the crowd. Left alone on the Champs Elysees he hurried toward the Metro station, almost running down the steps. He felt furtive, hunted, almost as if at any moment he expected a voice to call, “Where do you think you’re going, black boy?”
****pages 71 – 72 missing****
how he had got drunk with M’Hamed and the two of them had spent more than a hundred francs that night. “Paris is no good for me,” he told Claude. “I hate Paris. Better I move on to Marseille.”
Claude seemed to listen attentively but he appeared too drunk to understand much of Barek’s story. Barek saw his newspaper on the bar. “I see you’ve got your Le Monde tonight.”‘
“I read nothing but Le Monde,” Claude repeated.
The Tunisian spoke for the first time. “Look, Claude, I don’t bring money with me tonight. Can you pay for all these drinks? The manager might make trouble for us.”
The Frenchman paid no attention to him. He turned to Barek and spoke quickly and urgently, “Barek, you don’t have to go to Marseille. Just stay over here with me. I’ll look after you. If you can do some job, I’ll keep you until you find something. I’ll find you a job.”
“Well, I’ll see. I’m gonna think what I’m going to do. Whether I stay in Paris or not. But I don’t like to go with a man.”
“Many do not like to go with a man.” Claude said in a low voice, leaning closer. “But sometimes you know….”
From the other end of the bar a roar of laughter arose from a group of Algerians. “What do they all do, these Algerian boys here?” Barek asked.
“Nothing.” Claude spat out contemptuously. “They don’t like to work. Some are bookies. They take bets on the races. Others are pimps, going with tourists, robbing.” He was bored with the subject. He turned and faced Barek squarely, as if he had an important declaration to make.
“Barek,” the Frenchman said. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”
“No,” Barek answered simply. “I don’t do like that. I’m not going to sleep now.” He stumbled out of the bar and into the dark street. It must have been very late for he walked through several black streets only to find the bars were closed and shuttered. Suddenly, having drank so much beer, he had to urinate and he crossed, over to a pissoir near the Metro station. Inside he hurried to finish as he saw a man in the next compartment moving his feet; something told Barek he was waiting for someone. As he turned to go, the man leaned forward, his head peering around the partition. Barek fled into the street, but not before catching a glimpse of Claude’s haunted lost face.
After that Barek did not spend any more nights in the bars of Barbes. Instead, he spent his remaining days in Paris taking the Metro to the big industrial plants and applying at personnel offices for jobs. Always, it was the same. He waited in queues with a few Arabs and many more hostile looking French youths and older men and then filled in an application and was told to check back in a week or a month. Barek was down to 200 dirhams or $40 besides the money he needed to get to Marseille and Casablanca and he knew he would never return to any of the offices. But still he kept applying. That was why he had come to Paris. To seek a job.
The huge Renault automobile plant was still on strike but one day Barek took the subway to Billancourt, where it was located, in hopes there might be some openings later on. He had been told the industry employed 93,000 persons and was the world’s eighth largest auto producer.
Barek was on his own now; M’Hamed failed to show up and Pierrot didn’t call.
It was a grey, dismal day and Barek wandered through street after street of grey warehouses and factories unable to find the personnel office. Nowhere did he see any Moroccans or Algerian’s, only elderly guards sitting at the entrance gates or small groups of Frenchmen sitting on park benches or huddling in the street. All the bars and restaurants in the area seemed to be boarded up although it was a weekday. After an hour or so Barek lost his way. He was moving down a long narrow street with high grey warehouses on either side when he met five French boys. They stood right on the sidewalk in his way, glancing his direction from time to time and talking in undertones. All of them seemed very fair, even almost sickly with dead white faces, and sullen, mean expressions. As Barek approached them, wondering whether he should cross the street or hope they would part to make way for him, they seemed like quiet horses, shuffling and snorting impatiently, waiting to trample something. All five of them wore the same blue shirts open to the waist and hobnailed boots and tight-fitting dungarees riding low on their hips. All had stringy brown hair that fell to their necks.
When Barek was only a few feet away he cleared his throat twice quickly and said “Excuse me. I just want to pass.” Instead of making way they slowly circled around him, snickering and flexing their muscles. Barek had never seen such cruel faces. He felt as cold as ice. “What you want here, nigger?” the words were close to his ear. Barek stood perfectly still. He could hear the sound of traffic coming from a street some distance away. Then he felt the first hand on him and he went berserk. His arms shot out and one of the French boys went back on the pavement, his body sprawling as the air was knocked out of him. The others tried to jump Barek then but he was running, he never ran so fast in his life, straight down the long street between the warehouses. He could hear laughter behind him, and shouts of filthy abuse but he didn’t turn around. He just kept running until he reached Billancourt and the subway station. Once he passed through the turnstile and got down the steps to the waiting platform he seemed safe and he lit a cigarette.
Dazed, Barek thought of nothing as he boarded the metro. He sat down next to a chic woman with golden hair who carried a small white poodle and a bouquet of red roses in her lap. She was talking with a woman in the opposite seat. Something about being tired. Barek stared dully at the metro map and then read the names of the brightly lit stations they passed through. He was traveling in the direction of Mairie de Montreuil. He had to change at Strasbourg St. Denis. Place Republique. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Voltaire-Leon Blum. Robespierre. Nation. Trocadero. Jasmin. Saint Augustin. Richelieu-Drouot, Bonne Nouvelle, Oberkampf, none of the names meant anything to him…..
Still he didn’t give up. He went to Gare St. Lazare and took the train to the giant Simca factory in the countryside. Six thousand Moroccans were at work there but they didn’t need any more. He went to Ponte de Clichy, Gennevilliers, all the places he heard Moroccans might be, where there might be industrial jobs.
It was evening. Barek rode the bus through Gennevilliers to the Metro station in Clichy. It had been a dismal day. He had walked for hours through the Foyers du Batiment et des Metaux, a bidonville for Algerians, Spaniards and Portuguese. There had been row after row of wooden barracks, four or five men in a room. There was a canteen where men waited in line to buy cheap bottles of wine. The washrooms were filthy, the streets a desolate wasteland. Barek stopped to read the notices outside the manager’s office. Portuguese workers were warned that anyone crossing the frontier illegally to smuggle a father or a brother or a son into the work camp would be evicted immediately. To Barek, the camp seemed just like the jail in Casablanca. Beyond it rose tall glass and red brick apartments; French children played on the green lawns beneath protected from the bidonville by high wire fences. For a long time Barek wandered through an endless junkyard by the banks of the Seine, idly kicking his foot at the bricks and refuse of the great city, somehow feeling this was where he belonged. At a glance around him, the soaring apartments, the grim shantytown of barrack after barrack, the piles of ashes, tires ruined, rusted cars and garbage, he realized what his life in Paris would be like, even if he succeeded in getting a job. In the distance, beyond the river, the city ended and the open countryside began. The green hills, the wheat and oat fields, the little cottages all in rows had a pleasant look, quiet and dreamy, with chestnut trees and willows peeping over stone walls and little black figures moving back and forth, cycling and walking, digging and hoeing or sailing down the river in small open barges. It reminded Barek of the green valley in Romanni and he quickly returned to the center of Gennevilliers to purchase some postcards and stamps to write his friends at home. To Hadj, he merely sent greetings to the family, his wife, Mohamed, Hassan, Abdullah, Ali and, of course, little Musa. “Hello, Baba,” he could almost hear Musa’s voice. “Hello, Baba, hello, Baba.”
To his friends at the Maghreb Bar he wrote:
“Mon Cher Ami
Haj Amar jou vous pas un grande bonjour a toi est a tis ami Haj Aidi et Filali efa Mouloud est toute les ami chagaum sonot et a moulai et a redaree et a couscouse et a comouna et a rais et a toute les grande et petite
T ede siut
M’Barek Ben Abdesalem” [A copy of the letter; the spelling is Barek’s.]
After mailing the letters, Barek felt his spirits rise and he walked toward the bus stop for more than half an hour thinking about home. It was when he felt hungry and looked about for a restaurant that Barek realized he had again lost his way. Somehow he had wandered out of Gennevilliers, a suburb of immigrants and industrial workers, into Colombes, a community of large villas, parks and leafy, quiet boulevards. There seemed to be few shops and restaurants and Barek walked almost another mile before reaching a corner with two of them. Outside the first he studied the menu. It was expensive but he could order only soup and bread and coffee. As he started to open the door, however, a fat Frenchman in an apron barred his way. “Ferme!” the man said, declaring the restaurant was closing and shutting the door firmly in Barek’s face, but not before he saw it was filled with people. Across the street, the second restaurant advertised a “Plat de Jour” for only ten francs. While this seemed also expensive Barek was so hungry now he decided to pay it. Here too people were sitting around the tables eating but an old woman behind a counter waved him outside. “Ferme! Ferme!” He explained he had lost his way returning to Gennevilliers and was very hungry. The woman shrugged indifferently.
In desperation Barek caught a taxi. The driver was a very old man who seemed unable to control the car. Several times he missed the right turning and when they finally reached a street in Gennevilliers that Barek recognized the fare had risen to ten francs.
For some reason Barek had lost his appetite; he was no longer hungry nor had any desire to eat.
He caught a bus for Clichy, where he could take the metro back to Barbes. On the bus the same emptiness that had seized him earlier took hold once more and he hardly saw the streets they passed and he got off the bus and drifted into the metro station like a sleepwalker.
He was waiting in line to pass through the turnstile when he realized there was trouble just ahead. He moved forward to see what it was.
The ticket puncher, a small, wizened up old man in a blue uniform, was shouting, “Le ticket! Le ticket!” Two men were arguing with him. Barek first saw they were drunk and then when he heard their voices that they were Moroccans.
“Je te donnez le ticket.” one of them claimed, weaving back and forth as he spoke.
“Je te donnez. Vous avez le ticket.”
“Attentione. Je vous apele le chef.” The ticker puncher was angry. All three began shouting now and Barek could not hear what the old man said for the Moroccans drowned him out in a torrent of Arabic abuse.
People were beginning to crowd up at the gate, some of them voicing anger at the delay. Inside the ticket puncher began pounding on the tin wall of his booth, apparently to signal a supervisor. “Laissez moi tranquil,” Barek heard the old man shout. “Il y a du monde que attendre! The people are waiting. Move aside!”
“You are not French!” one of the drunken Moroccans shouted. “Not true French. You are Jewish. Call your chief and we’ll see what he’s gonna do to me. What’s he gonna do to me? He gonna kill me? Sale Rasse. What your chief gonna do to me?”
The crowd pressed to be let through the turnstile. Several other Arabs were in line and Barek heard them call to the Moroccans in Arabic, “You are drunk, you know.” “Keep quiet!” “Don’t do these things!”
“Just move on! Let me alone.” the ticket vendor was practically shrieking now and pounding on the wall of his booth.
A Frenchman near Barek was telling someone, “The Moroccans are always like this. Always they fight and make trouble.” Other French in the crowd took up the theme. Barek caught only the word, over and over again, “Marocains….marocains….” pronounced with such naked hostility it might have been “murderer” or “rapist.” Somehow the crowd of pushing, complaining people burst through the turnstile. Barek looked to see where the two drunken Moroccans had gone but the train came in and he was swept aboard.
At Place de Clichy he had to change for the line to Barbes. As he moved through a long tiled tunnel for the Barbes-Rochechuart train, he saw the two Moroccans stumbling forward just ahead of him, both blindly drunk and holding onto one another from support. Near the opening to the subway platform, they both stopped and gazed around them, at the French who hurried past, trying not to take notice of the spectacled. One of them wanted to move on and he tugged at the other’s arm. But the second man, barely able to stand kept peering into the faces of the passersby, almost as if he were trying to recognize someone. Barek was still some distance behind; it looked like the man might fall to the ground in a drunken slump any moment. Instead the Moroccan pulled himself up very straight, shook off his friend’s arm, unbuttoned his pants, pulled out his penis, and, moving to the center of the white-tiled corridor and looking to left and right with defiance, he proceeded to urinate on the floor.
Just ahead of Barek was a tall Frenchman with a rolled umbrella in one arm and his wife’s arm around the other. She in turn held the hand of a small boy. Barek could not see the man’s face but he heard him say to the Moroccan, “Vous n’avez pas entre de pissi devant les famille vous connez pas que oui sa femme!” Furiously, the man whacked the Moroccan over the head with the umbrella and then shoved him backwards against the corridor wall, where he slid sprawling to the floor. The Frenchman’s wife screamed, “Non! Non! Laissez tranquille! Let him alone, he’s drunk!” She pulled her husband toward the platform, but he kept turning back, staring at the two Moroccans with a face white with rage and hostility. The Moroccan’s friend helped him to his feet and they too moved out on the platform. One broke away from the other and lunged at the Frenchman, shrieking hysterically, “Is it your business if I piss in the street? Is it your business?” The woman was crying again. “No, no! Let him alone. He’s drunk!” but her husband again shoved one of the Moroccans to the pavement, this time almost knocking the man off the platform and onto the tracks below. The second Moroccan attacked the Frenchman and the two of them went down together, wrestling on the ground. Barek saw many men in the waiting crowd, French and Arab alike, begin to move in on the fighters.
“What happened next Barek was to remember only vaguely afterward. Somehow both Moroccans were on their feat, beating the Frenchman with their fists, then one was down and a second Frenchman was kicking him in the ribs. Everyone was shouting and screaming; women and men were tumbling over each other trying to get away as more men joined in the fight. The heat of the pushing, shoving, fighting bodies was suffocating and then Barek saw three French boys come running onto the platform, their long hair flying like the tails of galloping stallions, their cruel pasty white faces lasting to hurt and destroy and he saw they were punching the Arabs, any Arab now, and a French boy jumped one of the drunken Moroccans from behind, yanking his head back as if to strangle him and Barek himself moved in, a fist smashing into his face spattering blood in all directions as his mind exploded….
“Guerre au racisme! Francais, immigres tous unis!”
“Racistes, Fascistes, guerre a la justice populaire!”
“Guerre au racisme! Vive les pauvres et les noires!”
The students wove through the stalled cars, shouting at the top of their longs, pounding on hoods and hastily rolled up windows, their young faces wet and maniacal in the flickering red light of their torches. “Justice pour les pauvres, les immigres, les noires, les Arabes, les Africains! The villages of the world shall conquer the cities! Long live the victory of people’s war!”
“What is it?” Barek asked the taxi driver.
“A manifestation. St. Germain. Saturday night. It has been going on a long time now.”
Barek was desperate. He was fleeing now. After the metro riot he had stayed drunk all night. Now, with his hotel paid, he had less than twenty francs besides his fare to Marseille and Casablanca. He had taken the metro to save money, missed the transfer point at St. Chapelle and had gotten off with his suitcases at Odeon, hoping to find a taxi. The students swirled all around them, laughing girls and long haired, bearded young men in dirty clothing. “Solidaritie!” a girl shrieked, pounding on the window next to Barek. “Le racisme ne passera pas!”
“But I most get to Gare Lyon.” Barek cried to the driver. “We can’t delay! I’ll miss my train and I have only enough money to reach Marseille. I don’t have the money for another ticket if I miss the train. ‘It
The driver raised his hands in a hopeless gesture. “C’est la revolution.” Ahead there was shouting and the sound of small explosions. “Keep your window rolled up,” the driver warned Barek. “It’s tear gas. It can knock you, out. Trouble ahead with the police.” They could see black silhouettes darting in and out of the cars framed against the red glare of the torches. Sparks flew. A torrent of filthy abuse and taunts of the police rose behind them. Barek twisted around. He was astonished to see people sitting in cafes or strolling along the boulevard with seeming unconcern just a hundred yards behind. From the open windows of an apartment above them came the blare of rock music; Barek craned his neck upward. The gyrating figures of couples were making shadows on the windows in kind of a jerky frenzy. He searched the tense white faces of students passing near the taxi. The torchlight and their screams transformed their faces into grotesque, horrible, masks. “Le racism arme des patrons pour diviner les travailleurs!”
“Are they for the poor?” Barek asked the driver. “Will they help me?”‘
The driver laughed derisively. “Them? They say they are. I think they want to tear the whole thing down, destroy everything and everybody. They’re Maoists.”
“Why? Why? Why?” he asked, his voice thick with scorn for both the rioters and Barek.
Barek was frightened. “How much is the price? How much I owe you now?” He hadn’t liked the tone of the driver’s laughter.
“Twenty?” Barek was amazed. “We’ve only come a little way.”
“Twenty and my tip. That’s twenty-five. Because you brought me to this goddam manifestation. I might get stuck here for hours. All the traffic’s stalled. How can I leave? And it’s Saturday, my best night. You’ll have to pay me anyway. Twenty-five.”
“No, no,” Barek opened the door in panic and climbed out. “I’m a poor man. I only got enough money to reach Marseille. Twenty-five! I’ll call a gendarme.”
“Call one. You’ll never get one now. If you want your suitcases back it’s twenty-five. I’ve got them locked in the trunk.”
Barek looked around. The driver was clearly taking him and he searched for someone to help him. Now all the cars on the boulevard began blowing their horns in a high, piercing cacophony. The students, still swirling through the cars, took this as a challenge and, began screaming their slogans at the top of their lungs! The car horns got louder, it was like a contest of lunatics. “Le racisme ne passera pas! Le racisme ne passera, pas!” The people strolling on the boulevard and cafes were all watching now, but placidly as if it were all some kind of performance for their benefit. It was like a world gone mad. The driver jumped out of the taxi and stood guard by the trunk, as if he expected Barek to try and tear it open. “Pay me and I’ll give you your bags.” The crescendo of screaming students and car horns seemed to get louder and louder, blotting out sight and thought. Barek thrust three ten franc notes in the driver’s hand. “Give me five francs back,” he said. He no longer had enough money to reach Casablanca. It seemed like the final, inevitable collapse of everything.
If anyone noticed the dark bearded little Arab with a heavy suitcase in each hand, headed back down the boulevard, away from the manifestation, sweat pouring from his forehead, his eyes watering, half-running and half-tumbling down the sidewalk, they gave no sign.
All faces were turned toward the manifestation, a more diverting, exciting spectacle for a Saturday night in St. Germain, the Maoist gladiators versus the flics.
Half-crazed with frustration and rage, Barek just wanted to get away. He thought of nothing, the screams and shouts and car horns blotting out everything from his mind. In the hours to come, in the lifetime to come there would be time to think about where to go next. Appeal to Pierrot? Return to Barbes, to steal and rape and rob and sell himself to stay alive? Move on to Marseille and try to earn his passage home? Ship out on a freighter somewhere? Go back to Casablanca to struggle for pennies on the docks and live off Zora and rot over a hashish pipe? Or find, oh God, perhaps to find, a green valley somewhere where they could make a life?
Barek paused, his arms numb from the heavy suitcases. He put them down on the pavement for a moment until the shouting sounded closer again. “Justice a les arme et les noires! JUSTICE A LES ARME BT LES NOIRES! JUSTICE FOR THE POOR AND THE BLACK!” He picked up the bags and hurried on. Just to get away….
Late that night, oh very late that night in Paris, in a hamam or Arab bathhouse near the largest mosque in France, an Oriental refuge, from all the Western culture that has made Paris the beacon of the entire civilized world, a lone naked figure slept. In the misty green gloom of the dim, domed chambers, as vapors of steam rose from black recesses and beads of water dripped from the ceilings, as rivulets of foamy suds washed down worn marble staircases and blacks with shiny shoulders massaged the ravaged muscles of Maghreb laborers, as drowsy figures moved through the broad shadows between the archways and the scent of hashish wafted from the complete darkness of the alcoves, as more than a hundred men breathed heavily in deep narcotic slumber, flung about the heated tiles around the steaming shadowy pool like dead white fish washed up on the shore by some catastrophe…side by side with his Arab brothers, Barek slept. His sleep was troubled and sometimes his lips trembled and almost formed words as if to speak. Perhaps he was dreaming. Dreaming of a better life in this world. Or the next.
©1971 Richard Critchfield
Mr. Richard Critchfield is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner on leave from the Washington Evening Star, Washington, D.C. This article may be published with credit to Mrs. Critchfield, the Washington Star and the Alicia Patterson Fund.