the true stories
I had been on the road for a long time. England , France, Spain and Morocco lay behind me. The town of Algeciras spread out in a crescent to the north as the ferry tossed over the Straight of Gibraltar. I had spent most of the voyage across watching and old Arab man entertain. He could mimic a person of any nationality, particularly in how they held their cigarettes. From time to time he would say, “Americans GIVE a shit, but they TAKE a pee.” He did requests from the audience and was never at a loss.
I went on deck to watch Africa fade away. Once out of sight of land, I saw a massive red glow. It was the dust of North Africa and one didn't notice it when on the continent. It foretold the endless deserts to be crossed in order to reach the lush interior. A child threw a shoe into the chop and I watched it fill and sink into the Mediterranean. I had the feeling that I wouldn't be back this way again.
I saw a beautiful girl on board chatting with a young black US marine. She had a backpack and he hefted a massive duffel bag. Hours later, in Algeciras I saw this couple again. I was in front of the train station in town and was heading for the beach. The fellow asked about the train for Madrid. I told him that the train wouldn't leave until nine PM the following night.
We began to chat and I learned that he was a fellow Texan. He was on R&R from his base in Germany and had been to the beaches of Morocco to sample the hash. He had met the lady in Morocco and was going to spend his remaining holiday with her. The lady was an Italian and spoke very little as the marine and I got acquainted. I told them I was going to the beach to pitch my sleeping bag til next morning. They decided to come along for the time being.
Just across the main street that ran along the waterfront was an enormous traffic island. It was only yards away from the surf and was covered with thousands of people. Small groups sat around tiny fires chatting, drinking and smoking various mixtures. Black clothed police cruised up and down as if bored of it all, but even so, they exuded a menacing, rather than a protective feeling to the traveler. Many languages drifted across on the chilled foggy sea air. Night was coming. I selected a palm and spread my bag, took off my boots and stretched out.
The couple came along and the girl sat on her pack on one side of me and the guy sat on his duffel bag on the other side. He rummaged in his bag and produced a bar of soap. He asked to borrow my knife and cut the bar in two. Inside was a few grams of hashish and I prepared a few smokes for us. A Moroccan guy who had been watching approached us from his small fire nearby. He tried to sell more to the marine and went away angry when he was soundly rebuffed.
The group of Moroccans all took turns staring our way and muttering in Arabic. Their guttural utterances and flinty gazes began to unsettle my new friends and soon, the marine took his lady's arm and bid me goodnight. He said they would sleep across the street in the hotel and probably see me next evening if I was on the train. I watched them in the foggy light of the streetlamps and settled back, bootlaces in my fist. The Moroccans quieted a bit and I realized that they were quite melodious when not trying to terrify an infidel.
I felt like a mammal among reptiles and decided to be a mongoose until the sun came up. The local police had a custom of allowing the throng to sleep out where I was, but at sunrise, anyone remaining was treated to a combination of water cannons, beatings or just being physically carried in their bag to the surf and tossed into the waves. I had just hit the zone where I was resting deeply and on full alert simultaneously. Opening my eyes to the fog-shrouded firelight, I saw the Italian girl striding across the main street. Some distance behind her was the Texan, hampered by his bag.
Like Anna Magnani she threw down her backpack, unrolled her sleeping bag tight alongside mine and like Sofia Loren, she lay down. Not a word was said, nor was one necessary. The soldier sat on his duffel bag for a few moments. The girl turned her face to mine and her nose was less than an inch away. Her eyes were closed and her expression, serene and determined. I turned to look at the man and he shrugged his shoulders in an Italian sort of way. He reached inside the duffel and produced a bottle of Spanish red. He handed it to me, shook my hand and vanished.
The girl animated herself to open the wine and we drank. I spoke no Italian and she spoke very little English, so we hobbled along in Spanish. She spoke of her home and tossed her head like a pony trying to shoo a fly if I mentioned the marine. Soon we both gave in to fatigue. I had felt a pang running through my every mile of this trip, due to being in love and not having the object of that love at hand to share all the wonder with.
Sometime that night I had traded dusty bootlaces for a handful of soft obsidian coloured hair. That was what woke me. The girl murmured something in her language. I watched her face inches away and stroked her hair. She had a gypsy air about her and my feeling was akin to a man who is visited by a wild creature against all logic. The total serenity on her dusky face and the trust underpinning it, extended to me in that place, at that time; was beyond my ken. It was to me more precious than anything I had encountered up to that point in my life. It has remained as a nameless comfort since.
I woke a bit late, as the police were already hauling some to the waves and kicking others. I saw the water cannon taking up its position on the main street. The Italian was gone! My boots were placed neatly by my head. Two cops approached rapidly from the beach. I shouldered my rucksack, grabbed my bag and boots and barefooted it across to town. I have seen the girl many times since those days. She is the feminine nature and is not to be possessed. She appears whenever she ought to and departs with bewildering perfection.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.