I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the beauty that is Morocco, or rather that is the cities, not having been out to the country that much yet. Is she an ancient woman, worn and knowing, showing her wisdom and allure? Is she only a shoddy remembrance of the glorious past that is never to rise again? Is she a Phoenix rising out of the ages of colonialism and years of harsh rule by an unforgiving dictator? There is so much natural beauty here, but it is hard won – not the easy beauty of the lush English countryside, or the stark majesty of the Italian coastline. You have to adjust your sights, narrow your perspective, bring in the frame – to catch that cascade of begonia, to look up and see the huge black birds spread their wingspan on the thermals and ride with what seems boundless joy, to catch the bright colors of an intricate rug design, to see the lushness of the fancy kaftans, and the bright flash of silver. Then you can look anywhere, everywhere for the faces – the people are handsome, their features and coloring pleasing to the eye, but the children – the children are luscious. They are everywhere, and they are not the haunted, starving faces you see in some parts of India and other parts of Africa. Most of these children are treasured, cared for, and it shows in their laughter that rings out with abandon and the smiles in their eyes.
And then there was this almost mysterious encounter, which was quintessentially British, with our Aussie friend Sally who is one of those people who are always looking out for everyone else. She was of the in-between age while at the Villa, older than the twenty-something’s, yet younger than I; she was a favorite of everyone. She works for the Australian State Department and is using her sabbatical after ten years to study Arabic in Africa. Her romantic liaison is with a handsome Chinese chap who lives in Taiwan. She stands tall, pale, with a lovely soft face and gorgeous long wavy hair the soft brown color of the best Chinese silks.
I was already bored writing the two papers that are due, and want to finish so I can stop hearing myself complain about it, When…
At the door comes a knock from Sally the Australian who pulls me out the door and into the salon with the look in her eye of someone living a Mickey Spillane novel.
“Oh you have to help me. You must tell me what to do,” she says.
I admit it, I am looking for the blood on her men’s djellaba that she wears preferring its warmth to the fancy but not as warm women’s version that makes her look like a “Lord of the Rings” character, and/ or the dead body on the floor.
“What‘s going on Sally?”
She breathlessly begins the tale. “I was in my room. I heard knocking across the hall to room one. Soft knocking, three times. So I poked my head out to see someone going in the room, not Madelyn. I saw a black-headed person poke their head out and then quickly in again when they spotted me watching. So I made a big noise of leaving my room. I wanted to get you, to have another witness, but I didn’t have time. So I waited, hidden in the lobby, and I saw him come out the room.” She finished and looked at me expectedly as though now I should know who the murderer was.
“Saw who come out Sally?”
“Simo. I think he was in Madelyn’s room stealing.”
“All right let’s go see if Madelyn is there, perhaps it was ‘you know’ a social visit,” I said raising my brows.
“Oh I rather think not, have you heard some of her opinions. A true snob,” said Sally, in the know.
Together we knocked loudly on the door. No answer. “Shit,” I am thinking to myself.
“I am concerned,” Sally says, “you know Rebecca has lost 500 dirhams from her room. She is very careful to always lock up, and keeps a journal of all her expenses.”
Oh great, I am thinking, a wave of thefts!
We went then out onto the front balcony to discuss what to do and of course guess who saunters over..
“Salam Simo,” I say smiling like Henry before he told Anne Boleyn the need for shopping for a new bonnet was off. We retreat to the salon.
Sally wants ME to call David who runs the school, to tell him of the problem. What is this? I am the oldest so I should be in charge, and interrupt my day…oh bloody hell! So yes, I call David and give him all the details in a completely detached manner as in “here are the facts you decide what they mean”. Thinking, ah good I can pass this off to someone in charge. But noooo, the bloody coward wants me to tell the tale to Bagdadee, his Moroccan counter part who is second in charge.
“Oh yes would you? He knows the people and the situation so much better.” In other words, he wants to stay out of it so he can stay the “good guy”. Yeah, I know the feeling.
We go over to the school (Arabic Language Institute in Fez), and get the number for Bagdadee from Nageeah; covering the old two bases with one stone I tell her I need to find someone to clean because Lela is always “too busy”.
“Ah, that girl she has nothing to do. She will clean your room. I will tell her.” Nageeah dictates.
Oh this is great this is, the entire staff will have my number. I need to negate some of this.
“Alright Sally when we get back I am going to ask Simo if you can have the heater from room one. That way when this hits the fan, we are out of it.”
I go down to the staff cottage and Simo informs me “No, Madelyn is gone.”
Holy crap, he must have been in there just cleaning the room or something. So I now make a really big deal that Sally and I called David to get her the heater from room one cause now I know Bagdadee is going to make a stink and we will be in the middle of the shit pile.
I went inside to disconnect the wire from the telephone in the lobby to restrict the number of phones he could use. This way he would have to call in on Lela’s mobile and we would know.
“Yes, the heater. WE called about the heater,” I am shouting to Lela as Simo is on the mobile to Bagdadee. Now Lela is moaning and taking the mobile and not running, but a very fast trot into the Villa with us following and still pantomiming to Simo about the heating. You have to really sell it.
As we follow Lela into the Villa she gets off the phone and informs us, “No Madelyn is not gone. She leaves tomorrow.” At this point Sally’s eyes went a bit boggledy as now we both return to the original thought that Simo is thieving. I keep smiling and making the heater pantomime. Got to sell it. Got to sell it.
Bagdadee calls again, and Lela is now handing me the mobile. “I want to talk to you. I want to hear your side, “he says.
“Oh lovely to hear from you. Yes, Lela is standing right here,” I say. Very slowly. “I have called you three times, but there is no answer.” He continues like I am not telling him the people we are trying not to let know we are nicking on them are standing right there. We have to live here for the next three months! “Lovely to talk to you. Yes, you can call me on my mobile. It is in my room. I’ll get it right now,” I am talking as fast as I can think, and smiling at Lela, and motioning to Sally.
“I am calling you right now then. You are answering your phone?” he continues.
I hand the phone to Lela and lunge into my apartment to grab the phone (where Q has barely turned over and batted an eye during all this) get the keys with my other hand, flip the phone up to answer Bagdadee, as Sally and I sprinted out the front door trying to escape the grounds of the Villa for some privacy.
We just make the gate as Bagdadee continues, “Yes I would like you to tell me all the details.”
As we wait for Simo, the chap in question to open the gate…
“Shukran. Shukran” we chime and we shoot out the door.
“Yes Bagdadee, here is Sally to tell you what she saw, “ and I hand the phone to the beauty who began this Nancy Drew adventure.
Sally gives the details, again just as I had told David. I know this because I am holding my little black moleskin book where I recorded her first dictation, as I told it to David. I motion for the mobile to return to me.
“Yes and we have gone to some trouble to make it known the only reason we are talking to you is to find out about a heater for Sally. I would like it to remain that way no matter how it falls out, “ I stated.
“Yes they think you want the heater. I am concerned as Simo has said he never went into the room number one,” he said. Sally and I met eyes, here we go again; but joy and rapture over the news the heater story sold.
“You have my number. We shall be at the Villa. You can call if you need any more information,” I said.
As I closed my mobile phone we both threw up our arms, and shouted “Coffee now!” Inside!” I had herded us in our flee from the Villa to the corner café with the great chairs. Where Sally was then ripped off by the waiter to the tune of a 100 percent tip. We were still so flummoxed we didn’t get it until we were headed out the door and it was too late to dispute it.
“I’m going to need a nap now,” said Sally.
“YOU need a nap!” I yelped thinking of my nice quiet morning that had fled into a remake of some obscure Poirot mystery. Just another day in the Maghreb.
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