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 Jacqueline and move with her to the States. No one could have predicted that his dreams would never actually come true.
Despite all the trials and tribulations he had faced in his life and the many hurdles he had overcome since graduating from college, Murad had never stopped wearing a smile on his face.
I had never brought it up, but I knew he was cheating on Jacqueline. Murad had a Moroccan girlfriend called Hanan with whom he was madly in love. That day, however, it had seemed as though he was ready to come clean.
He had said, “Just so you know, if I am with Jacqueline it’s because I don’t think I have a future here. If anyone is to blame, then it is most definitely the country, which has forsaken its citizens.”
Murad had asked me to go with him to the Red City, because I was his only friend. I had agreed to his request on the condition that he cover the traveling expenses. Our travel arrangements had boiled down to a careful selection of the clothes we needed to pack. After all, Marrakesh was not just any city. It had a strict dress code, namely, blue jeans and light-colored French couture boots. One had to look like a Westerner, especially if one was to go on a date with a beautiful blonde chick willing to serve the noble cause of rescuing a thirtyish-year-old guy trapped in a country with alarming unemployment rates by marrying him and hence deterring him from committing suicide.
He had taken his time standing in front of the mirror, grooming his hair, and checking his overall appearance. He hadn’t wanted his looks to give him away as a poor country boy. The big cities were packed with them. Driven by their need to appease their rumbling stomachs, such men moved to the urban areas to survive as beggars or small-time hustlers.
Murad and I had grabbed our bags, hopped on a train, and upon arrival at Marrakesh’s railway station, hailed a small cab.
“Argana café, if you please.”
At 9 a.m. sharp, we had gone inside the café. It was a very nice, quiet place. I could see why it was always so full of tourists. We found Jacqueline tucked away in a corner, waiting for Murad. I said hello and left the two of them to each other.
Murad and Jacqueline had spent two hours together when the terrorist attack occurred and the café turned into smoke and ashes. Tourists and locals alike lost their lives.
The next morning, the front pages of both local and foreign newspapers of all political stripes and ideological persuasions were devoted to the story. It had two main characters: Murad, whose last goal in life had turned out to be to marry a blonde North American chick in order to immigrate to the States, and Adel al-Othmani, who had traveled to Marrakesh all the way from Safi carrying a bag full of explosives and a guitar, and whose last wish had been to blow the Argana café to bits and clomp off to Paradise.
Othmani had had no intention whatsoever of plucking his guitar’s strings. He had been much more interested in hearing the vocal chords of the people chilling close by twanging and screeching in horror. Othmani had left his bag next to where he had been sitting when he exited the café. Then he had triggered the bomb with his phone from a safe distance. The uncouth language of violence was not conceived to advance human understanding of the world’s intricacies. It seemed to me that he would have been more successful in that regard if he had chosen to use the other tool he had on hand. Reality should have tallied with Heaven, and its obduracy to be molded by expectations earned it its obliteration.
Four years later, people are still in mourning for what the future might have held if they hadn’t been forcibly divorced from reality. A crater had been blown in the fabric of reality, so that its appearance would echo what everyone was expecting it to look like. Now nobody dares to peek over its lip, for the ensuing dark abyss may altogether be petrifying.
Written by Abdel Rajaa Ilhidili.