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 drinks and making conversation while the kids frolicked around us. The views over the colorful square were splendid, and the medley of fragrances and sounds coming from it concocted an electric atmosphere. Eventually, my husband appeared to be aching for a cigarette, and since I knew that he didn’t like to smoke in front of the kids, I offered to take them shopping with me so that he’d be able to enjoy some alone time.


I took The Alchemist out of my bag, opened it, and started reading. Then I lit up a cigarette. It felt amazing to have one’s wife take care of the kids for a while. Thus, everyone was happy: My wife was shopping to her heart’s content, my kids were being tickled pink by the new surroundings, and I was enjoying a smoke while following Santiago, who had set out on a journey in pursuit of wisdom and the meaning of life.

An hour later, I started to grow bored. I ordered another coffee and lit another cigarette. Suddenly, I started to feel antsy for no apparent reason.

Then a ripped guy with long hair walked past me. He was carrying a backpack and a guitar. He took a seat at a table situated a few meters away from mine and slowly placed his stuff around him. He scoured the café with his eyes and lit up a cigarette. Apparently, he was the sort of gentleman who preferred blond. The waiter approached him and he ordered a cup of black coffee.

Eventually, I stood up, went to the counter, paid the bill, and exited the café. I decided to go for a walk to stretch my legs and headed toward Passage Prince Moulay Rachid. My wife and I hadn’t agreed on any specific meeting time. She’d just said that she would phone me whenever the kids got tired of moseying around the shops.

Another hour went by. I had bought, among other magazines, the latest issue of al-Hikma and the novel Story of a City by Abdul Rahman Munif. I thought about returning to the café and killing the time until I was reunited with my family by thumbing through my newly acquired reads.

I was only about seven hundred meters away from the café when I heard a huge blast. Suddenly, the air was filled with smoke, and I could see a fire blazing fiercely on the café’s terrace. Everybody started screaming and running about. In the blink of an eye, the Argana café had been reduced to ashes.

Fear gripped me. How was I to decide where to start looking for my wife and kids?


The Author:

Mariam Ouartsi, graduate in Arabic Literature by the University Chouaib Doukkali of El Jadida, is a Moroccan citizen who loves to work together with cultural associations, write short stories and literary criticism.

Choose your own adventure

In the time it takes one to slip out of one’s coat,

a) she put herself in the shoes of those who believe that they have the holy duty to make unclad people disappear in clouds of ash.

b) she decided to press the detonator and become visible.