Every Bit as Bitter as Black Coffee

Argana cafe and Yemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh

I take my coffee black, especially if it’s good coffee, like the kind they serve in the Argana café. After we got engaged, my husband and I made a habit of going to this beautiful café whenever we visited Marrakesh. We used to sit on the terrace and look down at the loud and busy square of Jemaa el Fna. It brought a lot of fond memories back to both of us about how we came to love each other. Arif, my husband, didn’t just like the place; one could tell by the way his face lit up when we planned on going to it that it was actually very close to his heart. He had, in fact, made a documentary on the cafés located in Jemaa el-Fnaa some years ago, and as is to be expected, the Café Argana had played a key role in it. He has also mentioned the café in several of the short stories he’s written in the past.

The day of the cataclysm, we were sitting in our favorite corner of the café. We were enjoying our ...Read more

So What’ll It Be, Master?


Panic broke out. It was as if a star had fallen from the sky and hit the most beautiful place in the city of Marrakesh. Uproar and pandemonium followed. The passersby wanted to know what had happened and started theorizing.

“It sounded as if a gas cylinder warehouse had just blown up. Real scary. May God protect us.”

I was among the puzzled crowd. I had just left the Koutoubia Mosque when I heard the blast. I had been visiting to browse through the annals of the remarkable achievements of the great Almoravid and Almohad dynasties. I crossed Jamaa el Fna square and headed to the Argana café—a café with a terrace overlooking the square—where I had left Murad, my childhood friend, in the company of Jacqueline. They had wanted to discuss affairs of the heart. My friend had attempted suicide several times because of his lack of luck in getting a job in Morocco. However, hope had flared up inside him after meeting Jacqueline, and he had devised a new plan. He intended to marry ...Read more

The Mill


Saleh, the miller, stood in front of the mill and scanned the horizon. A sullen sky forecasted a bright future for him. This coming year he’d rise to the top. Yes, he was quite optimistic about what lay in store for him.

He had prayed to God for rain and a good harvest for the longest time. Finally, he had seen the dark clouds that he had watched gather and scud across the sky unload just above the village. Since then he had spent his days monitoring the soil of the vast plain to make sure the seeds sprouted. Ultimately, the plants started shooting up. The town’s stream started carrying more water as it flowed through the countryside. This made the miller happy. His lips curled into a smile.

The miller relished the prospect of having his mill up and running with the bumper crop the town would reap that year. With corn, people would ask for the miller’s services and sign agreements with him.

The wheels of his mill would spin once more after having been idle for ages due to the fact that the town’s ...Read more

Call It Sheer Bloody-Mindedness


I was sitting in the Red Rose Café when I heard the news. Saint Guevara had fallen into one of the many holes on Green March Boulevard. There are two things I have to clarify before I continue telling this story: one pertains to the name of the café and the other to the name of our hero.

The Red Rose is one of the newer cafés in our town, which until the ’80s ranked as one of the smallest towns in the country, boasting less than ten townsfolk. It’s also closely related to Saint Guevara, the hero of our story, although it’s his son Omar al-Mahdi who runs and funds the place now. Al-Mahdi Omar—the old man had found it amusing to give his two sons the same name but in reverse order—is Saint Guevara’s firstborn and lives overseas, in Belgium to be precise. His name carries special meaning for the Saint. It reminds him of days of yore, when people stood up for their rights heroically and didn’t recoil at the thought of getting their hands dirty.

When Omar al-Mahdi was born, ...Read more

The Lenient Judge of One’s Past that Is One’s Memory

Quaà Asserasse, Morocco

My steps falter as I amble along the riverbank. The house I grew up in lies close to the well belonging to the town of Quaà Asserasse. I feel a bit wobbly on my legs, unable to brave the wind, which I fear may mistake me for a leaf and send me flying away any minute. Getting high on an empty stomach does that to you. I have been mulling over the possibility of returning for a while now. However, I wonder whether by any chance there is a way of returning to something slightly different from what first brought me into being—whether there is something that will embrace the person I have become. Go figure. The only thing I know for certain is that regardless of how grown-up I consider myself to be now, I feel a little bit more like the child I used to be with every step I take toward home.

Minutes later, I arrive at the front door. The curtains on the door are drawn. I can hear jbala music and smell the sweet scent of fish tagine coming from ...Read more

It Is Moot Whether Our Dreams Mean Anything at All

Casa Blanca

The clock struck 10:30 p.m. Desire was surrounded by his bags, standing alone in the dark alley. Some inscrutable force had dragged him to where he was now, in front of a building whose familiar-looking and serenity-radiating façade veneered its incandescent core. He poked his head through the door.

He gained access to the interior and then hauled himself up the staircase to where Life dwelt. He was all in a stew, a boiling one, showering sparks that were eager to weld together into lightning. Immediately after opening the door, they fell into each other’s arms. She swayed on her feet, and he allowed her to rock him to sleep so that he could fish for his dreams in her bosom and emblazon them on reality.

She had known he would return to her one day, for she had fed the meek side of his personality for years. She was positive that he was unable to resist her charms and thus was as happy as a clam. He pressed an ardent kiss on her lips, and after all the time she had spent ...Read more

The Cow

habitants of imilchil

One day, the elder, the town’s sheikh, announced:

“The day after tomorrow a high-ranking government delegation will be visiting our town in order to send word of our trials and tribulations to the decision-making centers. We will host a large reception in their honor, larger than any event this town has ever staged. For the occasion we will slaughter a cow ‘bright in color and pleasing to the eye’.”

In response to the sheikh’s notification, the town’s fool asked, “And where do we find such a cow, venerable sheikh?”

“What an excellent question! I see you are smarter than most wretched scoundrels from around this neck of the woods,” the sheikh remarked.

After a moment’s thought, he spotted the hoary old widow. She was toiling up the cliff path with the donkey her sterile late husband had bequeathed to her.

As if he were Archimedes and had just puzzled out a conundrum in the bathtub, the sheikh suddenly squawked, “Eureka! Eureka! Eureka!”

He then turned to the town’s fool and said, “Listen, this is what we’re going to do. The hoary old lady is ...Read more

Taforalt: The Collective and Individual Memory

Taforalt, mountainous landscape in the North of Morocco

The cultural club’s party ended after the speech held in honor of the retired teachers of the city of Berkane. He had been awarded a certificate in recognition of all the work he had carried out during a lifelong career dedicated to education. To his dismay, they had misspelled his name and mistaken his faith. He got into the car and drove off to Taforalt, a place that he hadn’t been able to get out of his mind for quite some time, despite having had his life buzzing with activity lately. With every curve and slope of the road, he felt grateful for being able to snatch a few moments of rest while enjoying the glorious scenery provided by the Beni-Snassen Mountains. He parked the car just a few meters away from his grandfather’s grave and approached it with great respect and solemnity. He began delivering his sermon right away:

“Peace be upon you who now walk the earth of the great beyond. You have shown us the way and we, as your descendants, are honored to follow ...Read more

The Archaeological Site of Volubilis

Volubilis Marruecos

We humans have always been into stories of journeys and adventures. After all, who doesn’t love to travel to the various cities our mighty world comprises and discover different civilizations and cultures?

The story I want to tell you is based on a half-mythical, half-historical city lying in Morocco, west of the city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. The city is called Volubilis. I went there a couple of years ago during a trip I made to explore several cities in the beautiful country that is Morocco. On the one hand, the city is famous for the region’s fertile lands and, on the other, for the magnificence of its old structures—old as in dating back to days of yore. The ruins prove that the city has been governed by different people throughout various periods of history: the Romans, the Berbers, the Byzantines . . . all of whom have left a touch of their distinctive cultures engraved on the rocks. In 1997, UNESCO declared Volubilis a World Heritage Site.

I have described the city as being mythical because it is where Hercules, the lionized hero, ...Read more

I Have No Intention of Returning, So Take Care

Street in Tanger, in the North of Morocco

Today, the cold is kicking in on Tangier’s streets, numbing my extremities. I sleep on a mattress on the street. I may even freeze to death in the next couple of hours. I suffer from insomnia, but it’s not the sort rich people experience after losing a lucrative contract or some cash, when they get dumped by their chicks and decide to hang themselves. Be that as it may, I don’t really give a damn for the wealthy right now. They can either follow the right path or end up in hell—it is up to them.

Yesterday, the cold murdered my friend and brother on Al-Arabi Street. We had been sharing the same cot made of newspapers and cardboard boxes, and were covering ourselves with a blanket gone to rack and ruin. By no means was it fit to protect anyone from the terrible cold that sweeps Tanger’s streets. At night both society and state leave us to pave the streets with our bodies. What a grand display of generosity!

However, as soon as the sun comes out ...Read more