Norman Allan
  science and philosophy        gallery          blog 
   writings     poetry      alternatve medicine 

a personal biography
written as
a letter to brenda


Chapter Three: Hamach

Mike the Chauffeur, Marrakech,
meeting Teresa, my second wife,
and Hamach,who predicted the day of my death.

   Let me tell you of my meeting with Hamach and his prediction of the hour of my death. It's a rambling tale that winds through Chauffeur Mike.
   The second time I met Mike the Chauffeur was up on Cissbury Tor. And that was moments after my meeting with Crazy Jane. It led me to Marrakech, to Hamach, and away from you. The first meeting with Mike the Chauffeur had been a year before at a "squat" in Brighton. Alan Dare, of the Open Café, asked me to photo-document the squat so the police couldn't say the squatters had trashed the place. But they did. They trashed the place down to the legendary piano for fire wood.

   Why was he "Mike the Chauffeur"? Because, he said, he had driven the getaway car.
   Up at the concert on the Downs, leaving beaming Jane with an understanding that we would be in touch, I turned and walked towards the music, towards the stage. I think the mushrooms were beginning to bite, the fly agaric from Viking Nick.
   To my left, as I walked across a small glade, was a lean-to hut of branches and polythene. Outside it stood a small group of deadbeat "heads", Mike among them. (We hippys, we called ourselves "heads", or "freaks". "Ah, you're nay freaks," said the young Scot in Covent Gardens.) Up on Cissbury Tor, Mike the Chauffeur recognized and greeted me and told me that everything was simply wonderful with him. He'd been raveling. He was in business - very successful. He had an apartment in Rome and an apartment in Marrakech.
   "Marrakech?" I echoed. I was writing my first novel, a hippy fairy tale, Pipedreams, which was set, in part, in Morocco, in the Rif. I never got to the Rif - I let a hipster in Casablanca part me from my money - but Marrakech? Well, I was ready to travel; explore; new life; possibly to Canada, to look up Linda, to inquire after you. But perhaps Marrakech first, for the sake of the novel. "Ahm," said Mike. "I've, er, left this girl looking after the place, English girl, Helen McDuff. Ah, what the hell, just tell her I said you could stay there. Stay as long as you like." And he scribbled the address for me on a little scrap of paper: 1 Rue Mohammed Cinque.
   Now this was a gift horse worth a look in the mouth, but a short while later I bumped into Viking Nick, who had organized this little free festival, the concert up on the Tor. I spoke to Nick of my encounter with the "chauffeur", of his flat in Marrakech and that I might travel. "Helen, yeah. I know her," he said. "Tall blond girl. Ex-mate of my mate Brent. She stayed on out in Marrakech when they split up. Everybody there knows her. The Moroccans call her Aisha, because of her blond hair." So the address seemed legitimate. I had a place to stay in Marrakech and a few weeks later, after my brief butterfly affair with Jane, I set out.

As I mentioned above, I let a Moroccan hipster talk me out of my money in Casa - a long story. I hitchhiked to Marrakech to find that the Rue Mohammed Cinque is the main street in the new French city. One Rue Mohammed Cinque is the address of the main mosque, the Katubia. Oops.
    Homeless and near penniless I wandered into the main square, the Jamal F'na. There were rows and rows of booths filling most of the square: baby "souks". (A souk is a shop and "the souk" is the market.) One of the awninged kiosk shops had a hippy flare. Several longhairs were sitting there with the young proprietor. Standing outside it in the North African sun, I inquired after the blond McDuff. The proprietor shook his head, he didn't know, and then beckoned me, inviting me in to sit and drink mint tea and smoke kif with them, in the Moroccan pipe, the sebi.
   Speaking passing English, the proprietor, Hassan, made me welcome. The cool, the hip, stopped and gossiped in his stall as they passed from the old town, the Medina, to the new city through the square, the Jamal F'na. Of each new arrival I inquired after Aisha, after McDuff. Hours passed. Hassan and God, Allah, were patient with me.
Then a tall, superhip, young Moroccan stopped with us a while, another Hassan. There are incredible numbers of Hassans and Mohammeds in Morocco. (What made this Hassan "superhip"? He was relaxed, completely at home in his skin.)
    "Perhaps I can help you," said superhip young Hassan. "Meet me tomorrow, at four."
   Hassan, the shop keeper, directed me to a cheep, honest, "hotel" where for a small price I got a small, bare room and a rush mat for the night. There was no lock on the door. I stood a litre coca cola bottle, in which I had water for the night, behind the door, to fall and clatter if anyone opened the door (as would Chris Pasha, the hero of my hippy-tale, Pipedreams). No one disturbed us.

Hip Hassan's friend was, indeed, Helen, but she was not actually called Helen McDuff. She McDonaugh. And Helen did not know any Mike the Chauffeur. "He must have crashed in the pad sometime, but I don't recall him." And further, she had lost her apartment a few days before (I don't recall the circumstances). She was staying with friends. But she took pity on me. "Wait here. I will make some inquiries." An hour later she returned with a solution.

Helen's friend, Nicole, put me up. The hippy-go-lucky seventies were sure different days. Can you imagine taking in a stranger today? (Then you are probably some latter-day hippy.)
   Nicole was a colleague of Helen's, a teacher at the English school. She was older, but with a young mien. Her teenage daughter, a student at the school, helped to tie her to the younger set. She lived in a bungalow, by no means small, in the new city. And there I was ensconced for a week or ten days till Helen found and rented a house in the Medina.
Nicole was having an affair with one of her students, Nasari. Why mention this? Narasi's friend, Yves, will figure in our story, in a moment.
   What else to tell of Marrakech? That it was hot? Forty degree, a dry oven. That I was in culture shocked, you bet, beset with beggars every time I ventured abroad till, perhaps ten days after I arrived, I went the campground and sat and smoked with English and Dutch and French heads, some moments in a familiar European enclave, and that settled me. I arrived. After that, having recovered from "culture shock", I no longer attracted beggars, would-be-guides, and kids, like flies. I aquired aquaintances and friends.
   Oh, and the money. I had read that Anthony Quinn was in Marrakech shooting Mohammed. My father had worked with Quinn. "I my not cash this,"he said. But he did.
   I should find another space to tell you of Aram and Azezza. Before I had settled, while still in culture shock, I had visited them in their house deep in the Medina and spoke of feeling lost. Aram said, "Wherever you sit, that is your space."
   I should speak of Etienne, and Etienne's garden…
   And I should speak of the musicians in the Jamal F'na, the Gnua people, dark skinned from the south, with their three stringed bass, the gimbi. The Gnua musician would sing and thump out a powerful music, while a friend would clack the metal clackers and dance. A circle 'd formed round them. How honored I felt when I was invited into the musician's space, to sit in their inner circle in the hot North African timeless night.
   And so the weeks passed.

"Etienne is having a party," said Helen. 'He told me to invite you."
   The party in Etienne's garden was a farewell-bash for Teresa. Teresa was blond and young. She had a beautiful, noble face. She walked with a crutches."Polio" she said. She had spent her teens in Marrakech - she was the princess of Marrakech - and now she was returning home, next week, towards Poland.
   "When can I meet you again," I asked.
   "Here in Etienne's garden. Come tomorrow at noon."
   We spent the afternoon and evening together and meet the next day and the next. Teresa invited me to travel with her to Avingon where she would spend a month, at the Avingon Festival, on her way home to Poland. We arranged to meet in Paris a week hence.
   On my way home to Helen's house in the Medina that night, I stopped for a moment in a souk. A real souk, not the kiosk in the square. As you left the square and entered the Medina, the old city, the first shop you'd come across belonged to another Mohammed and Hassan. I've written of them in a short story, The Lady with the Boots. I'll not speak of them further here, just to say that they suggested I go back deep into the shop and met there country cousin. Perhaps he was rolling up.
   Deep, deep in back of the souk was a simple young man entertaining two local teenage girls dressed in jeans, tees, running shoes, each with can of coke in hand. The young man was slim, mid-twenties, nothing remarkable about him. He sported relatively short, curly, dark hair, and again, jeans, tee-shirt.
   "I'm Norman," I said, or was I Pasha then? I was Pasha quite a while in the seventies. Whoever I was, the poor country cousin, in answer, started to mirror me, each twitch of the eyebrow, each quiver of the jaw. That's a very challenging thing, to be mirrored anywhere, but particularly by a stranger and in a foreign country. And it went on and on, well, not an eternity, but a thorough test, before he broke off from mirroring and, in stilted English, said, "We are brothers. You call me Hamach. Don't use this word with stranger. Is bad word. Hamach mean crazy. But we are brothers, friends. You call me Hamach." He paused, then said, "Give me your hand," and before I could offer, he took it.
   Hamach studied my palm for a moment and, pointing to the small calluses, he said, "There is much money."
   Now, it's no great thing to be told by a poor Moroccan that you are, or will be, rich, for indeed, relative to the third world poor, we are fabulously wealthy, so I was not impressed with much money. "How much life is there," I asked.
   Without hesitation he answered, "Thirty years, one month, one day, two hours."
   I thought a moment, calculated: Wow! If he was one year out, mistaking thirty for thirty one, then that would make this very moment exactly the half way point in my life!
   Then Hamach took a piece of string from his pocket. He measured the collective length of my left fingers and compared it to my forearm. "Love will not go well," he said.
   I told him that my marriage had come apart. "That is good," he said, and took my other hand. Again he compared the finger length against the forearm, and beamed. "There is a woman who loves you bazzef." (Bazzef is one of those first words that one first learns in a foreign tongue - beaucoup, mucho, bazzef.) Then his face clouded. "There is someone who watches you. He is not big, not little. He watches and he is very jealous." And it was this jealous, envious watcher that most impressed itself on Hamach. He returned to it three or four times emphatically. He also returned with enthusiasm, to the woman who loved me bazzef - and this right after Teresa had invited me to travel to Avingon - but he returned again and again to stress the one who watched with envy.

I left the shop around ten o'clock and stepped out right into Helen McDonaugh's path as she walked past from the Medina towards the square. "I was looking for you," she said. "We need to talk."
   We went to a café on the Jamal F'na. "Yves going to rent a room from me. He's paid me the rent and he's moving in tomorrow. And he wants you to leave."

I spent my last few nights in Marrakech back at Nicole's. As you might guess, I was greatly impressed with Hamach's reading. He saw my failed marriage. He saw Teresa's love. (Teresa was a classmate and a close friend of Nicole's daughter and, in that, part of Nasari and Yves' circle.) But he saw loudest the event I would walk into from his reading: Yves envy. How could I doubt that he could also see my death: that I would dies this coming August, August sixth, 2005.

A while ago I was round at Teresa's for her fiftieth birthday. We've been separated - divorced - for years and years, but we're closest of friends. In some context, that evening, I started talking about Charles Darwin and I put Darwin on the Bounty! "The Beagle." Lynn, a mutual fiend, corrected.
   Then, a little later, I spoke to Teresa H. about my perception of Teresa A. and my cat, Sativa's, behaviour when we broke up. "No, it wasn't like that," said Teresa A. (I've written about this in a short sketch, Cat's Home.) And that got me thinking how I have now and again, and again, mispercieved the world. And all of a sudden, after thirty years, I was back in that souk in Marrakech asking, "How much life is there?"
   "Thirty(one) years, a month, a day, and two hours," Hamach said, and that was precisely, to the minute, the amount of time I had lived up until then. "How much life...?," I had asked, and he answered telling me how long I had lived.

Chapter four: