I first came to Tangier in 2019. I love the city and its frivolity that I thought it could be the ideal introduction to Morocco and Africa.
The city lends an enchantment to those who venture into its narrow walls and layered history. For many, Tangier is the new Bohemia. My affection towards this city is echoed in the work of fiction written below. The names and the events are completely made up but not the landscape.
Like he had done countless times in the past, the immigration officer runs his fat fingers across Mia’s passport. He flips each page, squints his sad eyes before placing the document into a scanner. The officer reads her name once again slightly raising his intonation for approval. He looks at Mia and grunts. Pleased by his perspicacity and diligence, he reaches for his stamp and bestows his authority, now shrunk to a tiny blot of ink.
It’s only been an hour and a half since Mia Misalucha left Tarifa in Spain on a rough sea crossing along the Strait of Gibraltar and disembarked in Morocco’s bustling port of Tangier. She had dreamt of Africa when she was twenty and it had taken her eight years to finally set foot on the continent where human life was thought to have first sprung.
“Hello miss!! Taxi? Where you going? Come, I show you Kasbah!” cries the man lurking on the corner and hastily springs into action after seeing Mia stepping out of the terminal. She pretends not to notice. “Bonjour mademoiselle!” he howls once more, pursuing her like a prized prey. “Taxi?! Allonsy, Allonsy!” He marches towards her and effortlessly switches to a different tongue “Senorita, muy guapa! Necesitas un taxi!?” Mia defiantly shakes her head and realizing he’s losing his target, a shrewd businessman that he is, smiles sweetly and says “But I give you good price habibti? Oui?”
Perhaps this was all part of the charm of Africa, Tangier most especially Mia thought. Here’s the fabled land of which Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles fervently wrote about and at some point romanticized it. Here’s the very same expanse where Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote clung to and celebrated a peculiar notion of freedom, a way of life impossible to find in the west.
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Shrouded in mist and smoke, Tangier appears like a hallucination at first. It materializes gradually and takes shape after the sun burns the marine layer that swaddles the city. Only then it reveals its white-washed houses, stacked on top of each other, its fortified walls and its inhabitants that seemed dazed and dazzle in the African heat. On its eastern side, lies the Mediterranean that continuously bathes the landscape with iridescent light. To its west, is the tumultuous Atlantic, gateway to the new world. Sailing straight, you’ll end up in America.
Once an International Zone, thirty years after the first World War, Tangier has since welcomed all visitors that came to its shore – foreign diplomats, spies, mercenaries, libertines, artists, writers, eccentrics, fugitives, dreamers, the lost and the misfits. Mia is no different from them all. She is, after all on the run.
“Where are you from miss, come..come.. I have something special for you!” before Mia could react, the shop owner was already clasping her arm and leading her to his dungeon of worldly possessions. “Look this is nice, feel it..so soft, so good..yes?!” flashing his gold-encrusted front teeth. The shopkeeper takes her to another room and barks at his assistant to hurry and bring out ‘le special’. “Wait, I haven’t even decided to buy!” Mia blurted. “Pas de probleme, for you good discount..le special!” he hisses and then fumbles on his bulky Casio calculator. Mia inches away and starts to flee but was stopped in her tracks when the seller shoved a package in her hands. “Voila, for you 1000 dirhams only! So cheap! Hand-made..c’est une grande qualite!” he hisses again while making exaggerated hand gestures. “But I don’t have dirhams” Mia said. “No problem miss, 100 dollars is ok, Benjamin Frankleeeen!” his expression now less cheerful. “I’m sorry but I don’t have that kind of money” she waves her hand and darts towards the exit. “But I give you good price mademoiselle!”
“Hello miss..aaaah welcome! Where are you from?” “But you already said that to me” Mia hisses back in frustration only to realize that his sweet talk was already intended towards the new customer who just stepped inside his labyrinth. Mia knew that his time with her is over.
She passes a few more shops only to be pulled in and pounced by shop owners brandishing their wares and carpets and pots and lamps like they were the best in the world. No matter how different the goods were, it was the same smile, the same sour expression after the smile had gone, the same tactic, the same invitation, same seduction and devious lure. Yet there are also magical moments when her spirit is lifted. Like when Mia smells the heady fragrance of orange blossom, the sun-dried spices and olive soaps that hang heavily in the narrow alleyways of the medina.
Every now and then, she sees kids playing football under ancient ruins, their squeals and laughter drowning the traffic. She walks past Berber men in their djellabas, old men emerging from the mosque, as well as adolescent boys coming out of the local barber smelling of fresh aftershave in their neatly groomed coifs. There were endless offers of mint tea, shishas, soft drugs and spontaneous conversations. Mia, in the fleeting moment, was their robed Saharan dancer.
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A short walk from the historic center, Mia finds a restaurant adorned with cactus and an overgrown bougainvillea of pulsating purple. The waiter swiftly ushers her to a corner that overlooks the Mediterranean, intoxicatingly dizzying deep shade of azure. “Bonjour and welcome miss..today we have special ” the waiter starts his pitch, shuffling the restaurant’s menu and pointing, with precise execution all that the restaurant could offer, before presenting to Mia the plat de jour. “We have fish..very fresh, chicken and good lamb..very good!” he grins “For you..I give you good price!” and winks.
Tangier seems to possess quite an itchy palm. The city is eager to please. There is almost nothing the city will not undertake. Tangier can run errands for you, type your dissertation, translate your documents, paint your walls, lend you money, convert your cheques into dollars or Japanese yen, play good music, take you to see the head of Hercules, turn a boy into a man, a lady into a heroine or a star of one’s harem, cook you good tagine, all these, as long as you pay handsomely.
Shrouded in mist and smoke, Tangier appears like a hallucination at first. It materializes gradually and takes shape after the sun burns the marine layer that swaddles the city.
Dusk arrives sweetly. The once cobalt sky now a golden glow, as if touched by the clumsy hands of Midas. A few seconds past, it turns crimson, then changes to a sugary pink before dissolving into a bruised purple. The last ferry sails back to continental Europe leaving Africa on its wake.
“Nice view! That I say to myself too!” Samir remarks.
“Yes.” Mia turns her head and stares at Samir who’s leaning on the rails of the boat’s deck.
“You going to Spain miss?”
“Yes.” She says almost sighing and adds, “Not going but coming back to Spain.”
“Oh. So you are from Spain. You like Morocco? Tangier is nice?”
“Well…quite but not quite. Hard to explain. Let’s say I’m a nomad..like a Berber.” Mia rhapsodizes and avoided answering the other questions.
“I’m a Berber too!” Samir answers back and beams. His skin wrinkles and grooves merrily at the corners of his eyes. Mia feels the earnestness of his smile. “Well my family is. My parent’s dead. I am alone. So I stay with my relatives now. They live in Spain.” Samir’s voice quivers with melancholy.
“Is that why you are going to Spain?” Mia asks catching a waft of his breath that smells of mint wilting in the Moroccan sun.
“Yes. They have Moroccan restaurant. I go and work with my Uncle Hassan. Easy work. More money. Taking care of camels very hard.” He chuckles and says something in Arabic. To Mia, somehow it sounded tender and almost poetic.
Samir goes on to narrate vignettes of his childhood and tales of the desert. He tells Mia that he was an IT graduate and recently received a certificate from an online course he once took for a month after Uncle Hassan urged him, as well as learning English and Spanish since it’s good for business. He asks Mia why she has gone to Tangier and what she does. Thinking he might be sympathetic to her cause. She tells Samir that she was on a visa run and that she posts silly things online.
“What silly things?” Samir flashes a naughty grin and inches a little closer towards Mia. She recoils, retorts with lightning speed before poor Samir could afford to think of weird ideas. “I do travel photography” Mia tells him, cracking a Mona Lisa smile while gazing at the sinuous silhouette of Africa slowly disappearing from view. “Oh that thing!” he lets out a big sigh, murmuring words of shattered uninhibited wanton. Samir turns his head and stares at the opposite direction that faces Europe.
“I guess it’s time to set our clocks an hour forward” Mia suggests. “You know miss, I would like to travel too” Samir says “perhaps see the world..Inshallah.” Drifting in his thoughts, he tells Mia that he dreams of starting his own business one day. “For now, I’m not sure what it is” he tells. Samir reaches deep in his pocket and hands Mia a card with his email and number written on it. “Miss, if you ever need any help…anything..anytime..call me” Samir waves, his hazel eyes glint, “For you, I give you good price.”
When was the last time you’ve been to Tangier? What do you like about the city? Let me know in the comment section below. This is just one of the series of fiction stories that Flying Baguette is publishing. Excited for more, kindly click the links that follows: