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?

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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

The Mill

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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 ...Read more

Call It Sheer Bloody-Mindedness

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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 ...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 ...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 ...Read more