Forever in the Seagull’s Debt

Port El Jebeha, El Jebha, Morocco

Time stopped. My heartbeat started racing and I gasped for air. I felt like I was buried under debris.

It was as if I had just come across another layer of the human soul, which revealed itself wider than the sky and deeper than the sea standing in front of me. I never thought I would deliberately seek to face my worst nightmare!

The Seagull Shore is a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean coast which has yet to be discovered by outsiders. Only a few boats chug out to sea from the docks that can be found nearby. The women of the courageous sailors stay ashore, waiting anxiously for their safe return home. The shore is also frequented by youngsters, who go there to get high and stare at the horizon.

That beach is, in my eyes, the country’s crowning glory. It brings me hope for the future. From there, one can discern Europe’s coastline on a clear day. Europe, that promised land ...Read more

A Heartbreaker of a River

Khenifra, Morocco

For the life of me, I can’t remember when I first fell in love with the Oum Er-Rbia River, which winds its way through Khenifra, my city. Was it on one of those afternoons I spent by it with my family? Was it when I first tried out one of the delicious-tasting fish it carries? I can’t say. All I know is that I can rely on it to wash away my sorrows.

I have made a habit of standing on one of the five bridges in the city that stretch over it to just spend time reveling in the sight of it, and that’s how I met her, for she seemed to share my passion for contemplating the river. One day, I decided to approach her and struck up conversation with her. Her name was Nisreen, she was a high school student and she lived close to the river.

One tempestuous winter night, the river bursted its banks, the water level soared until reaching the houses’ ground ...Read more

Excused

Classroom in Tazakht, Morocco

I saw him enter the school through a side door and head toward the classroom. I heard one of my students whisper from behind, “It’s Ziad’s dad!”

He was rather short, but strongly-built, and must have been about 50. In the solemn tone of voice his son adopted to answer questions in class, he greeted me and asked where he could find the principal’s office. I asked him why he needed to speak to the principal and he told me he had to take his son out of school. I immediately thought that he would need some kind of divine intervention to get the principal to agree to that, but I wasn’t going to be the one to dash his hopes—it wasn’t my place—so I chose instead to remain silent, smile at him and point him toward the principal’s office. People have the right to entertain hope. He, however, must have read the skepticism in my face, because he proceeded to offer me ...Read more

The Hole

Pothole in Lotissement Zerktouni, Marrakesh

Sulma’s face crumples the moment she sees the pothole we call Al-Wazany, after the mayor. I can’t bear to see her upset. Enough is enough, I say to myself: One day, I am going to do something about it.

I have known Sulma my whole life. We were classmates and then dated for eight years. After graduation, I went to look for a job that would allow me to marry her. Unfortunately, I was not very successful at finding one, even though I had attained excellent grades in school. It was probably around that time when Al-Wazany was appointed mayor. The first thing he did was order the construction of a mosque that would carry his name. During the time he was in charge, some public baths and a soccer field were built. The roads, however, remained in poor conditions.

All his friends and family members secured positions of authority. Corruption and nepotism ran wild. Most of the people that ended up ...Read more

Life on Earth Should Come First

Entrance to the walled city, Oujda, Morocco

Leila was just over forty and her husband was still madly in love with her. He had never stopped feeling attracted to her, even though her body (having gone through three childbirths) didn’t look exactly the same as it had when they first got married. He made sure she knew how much he appreciated her by showering her with compliments on a regular basis. All things considered, one could say Leila had no reason whatsoever to complain about life, considering she had a doting prince-charming-like husband by her side. That is why, when she began to flinch from his touch every time he tried to show her affection, became squeamish about enjoying life for the sake of it, began to pray often and intensely, and eventually to shun human contact, he suspected something had gone terribly wrong.

Leila’s strange behavior began after she decided it was about time she learned to read and write. She started attending classes at an institute with adult ...Read more

A Reminder in the Barren Wilderness

Merzouga, Morocco

Tears trickle down his cheeks and fall on the ground, where they build a small puddle, around which birds gather to dip bread crumbs. No single water-resembling drop goes to waste here.

She says: “Men don’t cry.”

He says: “Like the sky. Perhaps we are all too proud for our own good.”

She says: “I will be gone forever, don’t expect me to return.”

They have grown up together. Something happened between them on his thirtieth birthday. He doesn’t know whether she still remembers. Now it feels like a distant dream, of the same nature as the blurred lines things have over here, with the same silky texture of the sand dunes engulfing Merzouga and the aftertaste of a sun that makes one squint.

He lights up a cigarette and sits down on one of the wooden chairs spread around the garden. Two days ago his old pal passed away, he has just learnt. It had been a long time since he had seen him last. He only came by when ...Read more

The Luck Seller

Tafoughalt, Morocco

The news of her arrival spread like wildfire in the quiet town of Tafoughalt. Apparently, she sold luck for an affordable price. Some believed her magic worked, others didn’t and cast aspersions on her, but she didn’t let it get to her.

She liked to go for a stroll in the afternoon sun along the beautiful farmlands abutting our village. She could only be seen wearing a dark torn robe and an amulet around her wrist. Sometimes, she stopped to enjoy the spring breeze and listen to the birds warble. She then turned her head left to right, as if looking for something. She had chiseled features, partly thanks to the deep grooves time had carved into her face. She used a cane to walk and a sly grin to feed the town’s sneaky tattlers and get them to speculate about what she had to hide, as well as a small drum to advertise her services.

People came to her to ask for luck for a variety of reasons. Some ...Read more

Chaouen, 1936

Second prize holder of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

He ran, barefoot, chased by two. His rather poor strategy to shake them off involved turning arbitrarily at every fork in the road. The walls and doors of the houses around him were painted sapphire blue. He feared he was running in circles. After all, he knew that although the city might seem blue from a street-level perspective, it looked white if contemplated from above.

The founders of the city were probably fugitives as well. That would explain why they built the city pressed between two mountains, instead of down by the river, in the valley bellow. If he were to venture a wild guess, he’d say they were in all likelihood hot on security measures. Alter all, they didn’t know whether those who made them pick up the habit of running in the first place would chase them all the way to their new homes. The horrors they must have been trying to escape from in order ...Read more

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 ...Read more

So What’ll It Be, Master?

rsz_argana-cafe-marrakesh-1024x682

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 ...Read more