Norman Allan
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Art and Fiction



Chapter Fifteen:

They pulled into Tangier’s harbour at dawn. Mid-morning saw Chris walking up to the Grand Socco Morocco, Tangiers small main square. He watched Tangiers bustle by. II y a beaucoup de monde ici.

"Psst. Hippie. You wan’ a smoke?"

"Sorry man. No bread."

"No bread, man. Just smoke. Talk. Friend friend. Come. We drink tea."

The hustler, a lean harbour rat, hustled Chris to the back of a cafe stall at the bottom of the petite Grand Socco. He wore a green woollen hat pulled down over his ears. He snapped some words to order tea and lit a small joint. With a cloak and dagger flourish he slipped the jay to Chris. Accepting the splif Chris announced, "My name is Chris, Christopher. And you?"

"Name? You call me Mohammed."

"Pleased to meet you, Mohammed."

"Yeah, sure," said Mohammed. "Friend, friend. You like le sheet. It is hard to find sheet now in Maroc. Jnee eats all the kif... toot. Maybe we all starve. I have wahad wife, trois enfants. This stuff I got, good stuff: bazsef. Come off ship cemattan. Turkiman. I make you good price. Friend friend price. No hippie price. Morocco price. Ten dirham."

"I'm sorry, Mohammed, my friend, but I don't have any dirham. You see..." and Chris told Mohammed the story of his encounter with the road and the Travellers, the loss of his worldly possessions. Mohammed listened with professional attention. " you see," Chris concluded, "I sit here without even a whole pair of trousers."

"You have nothing?" asked Mohammed with disappointment and disbelieve.

They both looked at the paper bag which was now sitting on the table where Chris had placed it.

"Excuse me, my friend," Mohammed asked, "but you show me what is in the bag?"

Chris unwrapped the red ball and placed it on the table in front of Mohammed. Mohammed gazed into the crystal and his eyes flared. "I want this thing," he said. " We make business."

"Okay," said Chris. "Let's see what we can do. I need a jelaba and a kaftan and some sandals."

Mohammed seized the crystal and stood up. "I get for you. You wait."

Chris started to follow.

"You wait here. You wanna smoke? Here." He handed Chris a small blim.

"But I must try the clothes for size."

"I bring size. I go to special friend. No can not take non-believer in this place. Is interdite. You wait here."

"Okay, but leave the crystal."

"Why you no trust me?" said Mohammed menacingly. "I give you smoke. We are friends. You must trust."

"Hey, you trust me. You go and get the stuff and I'll wait here with the crystal." This did not please Mohammed. He stared intimidatingly at Chris, then turned away to survey the square. He returned his gaze to Chris, his eyes glowing mean. "You pay the tea?" Mohammed asked.

"I have no money, my friend."

Again Mohammed turned away, and shouted, barked across the square. There was a policeman there. The fuzz looked up and started to walk over towards them. "Here we go again," thought Chris. "I've had enough of turning cheek. Bugger that!"

Taking a swift pace forward, Chris placed the tip of the flute knife beneath Mohammed's chin, snatched back the crystal, and ran. Bypassers might watch his tattered trousers and bare arse unveiled by his flowing cape as in a streak he flashed across the bottom corner of the Grand Socco and into the Kasbah. He bumped and weaved and hustled through a maze of confusion, The fuzz and hustler followed. Hither and thither Chris ran and round a corner, up an alley, where to his dismay he seemed to be trapped in a cul de sac:

A pressure in his back, a hand? and guttural word behind his right ear, pulled and pushed Christopher in through a doorway, into a souk, dim lit and narrow, the walls hung with merchandise: brass bric a brac, clothes, and rugs. His rescuer remained behind him, unseen, guiding him through to the rear of the shop, and thrust him behind a rug, a wall-hanging, into an alcove, hidden.

The policeman and Mohammed burst into the souk. "Allah!" the shopkeeper exclaimed. The voices circle, overlapping, haranguing. It was dusty in the alcove behind the rug. Dark and dusty and Chris fought to suppress a sneeze. It seemed an eternity before the commotion in the shop subsided and the intruders departed.

"You may come out now, my friend. Salome alehkem."

"Atissue!" said Chris.

The shopkeeper, a Berber, was dressed in a black robe and a black turban. The ends of his turban hung down and wrapped around his face, obscuring it. "Gesundheit," said the Berber. "Come. Be at ease."

He led Chris through a courtyard rich with fig tree, vine and flowers. They stopped by a well, drew water, and he offered Chris a cup. Through a doorway Chris could see a squabble of children sitting weaving. Another doorway lead to a carpeted and cushioned chamber. Four hooded figures dressed in jelabas sat like monks in a corner. The Berber gestured with his finger. They melted from the room. The Berber went and sat on a low couch at the head of the room and, indicating the space beside him, beckoned Chris. "Come. Be seated. Will you take some mint tea?"

"Thank you. Yes," said Chris. "And Sholamalekim, ah… thank you for saving me."

"Alhumdulillah," said the Berber (the praise is Allah's). "It is He who moved me, and you who came by."

"But I'm afraid, my friend, I cannot buy. I have no money."

"No problem, my friend. Who knows who gives what to whom? Besiege witch, you were sent. It is no accident that you are here."

The Berber clapped his hands. A boy hastened into the room, received instructions and left. "There are very few Hippies come now to Morocco with the death of grass," the Berber continued. "What brings you here?"

"The nirvanaleaf... I've come to see if I can help."

"What makes you think that you can help."

Chris hesitated. "I was here, up in the Rif, two years ago when the butterflies first appeared. And I'm interested."

The Berber nodded. "I am sorry there is only old rope left now to smoke in Maroc. When you pass this way again, inchallah (God willing)..."

"We needn't wait," said Chris, opening his fist to reveal the blim of Turkish delight that fate and Mohammed had placed in his hand. "The world is provident," he said.

"All is provident," the Berber corrected. The Berber's black silk turban extended to veil his head and face, leaving only his eyes. He stared at Chris. "Perhaps you will cut the hash with tobacco for the pipe," said the Berber. "Kif-kif kif."

In Arabic doubling up a sound gives one a new word. So "mish" means "cat", and "mish mish", apricot. "Kif" is a preparation of Nirvanaleaf, and actually means "good time", while "kif kif" means "same same". Kif kif kif: same as kif.

"Kif": a preparation of Nirvanaleaf. First the leaves are stripped, even to the smallest. Then the seeds are pinched out of the flowers. Now the flowers are taken from the twig. Only the flowers are used. The flowers are cut on a thin circular section of cedar. What seed is left is winnowed. The flowers are cut again with a fourth part of uncured tobacco. The tobacco is the salt of the kif, say the Magreb.

The Berber offered Chris a cedar board and a leaf of tobacco. "You carve?" he asked. Chris took out his knife. "Hmmm..." said the Berber. "Is the blade made from the bill of a bird?"

"Indeed, it is a beak," Chris replied.

"Then," said the Berber, "it is the beak of the Phoenix for it is recorded that the beak of the Phoenix is long. thin and hard, pierced like a flute with ninety nine apertures. Each of these holes sounds a particular note, and in each sound is a secret. Some say each notesounds one of the ninety nine named of the Beloved, and that all of the call is Allah. There is but one Phoenix," continued the Berber. "It lives high in the mountains at the edge of the world. But now you have its beak so it can be no more. Will you play for me this wonderful instrument?"

"No," said Chris.

"If one is too cautious," said the Berber, "the world may never touch one and one may never touch the world."

"Yes," said Chris, "but no."

"No matter," said the Berber disgruntled. "Cut the Turk," and Chris began to cut the Turkish hash and bacci together.

In a while, as he prepared the smoke, Chris looked up and enquired after the Berber’s name.

"I have many names. Here I am Syhed (footnote) and that you may call me. And I will call you Chris Pasha."

Chris Pasha finished preparing the smoke. "Did I tell him my name?" At the same time the tea arrived in an elegant squat silver pot on a bronze tray intaglioed with an intricate star motive. They smoked from a Moroccan pipe, or sebsi, with its long wooden stem and thimble-sized ceramic bowl. They sipped mint tea from nondescript tumblers: and relaxed.

"How do you find Moroccan tea?" Syhed the Berber asked.

"I like it very much. A lot of sugar in it though." Chris wagged a finger.

"Sugar is life energy of the Sun, yes no, processed through the green leaves," said Syhd.

"Aye," said Chris, "but refined and processed mechanically. It peaks the blood sugar level."

"Hmmm," Syid hummed ponderously. "Sweet sugar, the crystal sunshine… If one knows the secret one can free one's self from all these middle things, and live directly off the sun and other raw powers."

"Why cut corners?" crossed Chris.

"Eternity is for angels, young friend, not for men. If you wish, you need not sup sugar. But as for the empirical, and the judgement of the fruits, I have eaten sugar now a long, long time, and I feel quite fit."

Christopher pondered Syhed. His body seemed young, perhaps forty-five, but athletically lean. His eyes seemed old. "We cut corners," said Saad, "to make smooth the way. Power has its uses. There are those who can walk on water. Truly. There are those who can live on air. All things are possible with God."

"We know nothing of the ways..." said Chris

"You know nothing, maybe," said "I know some things. AUullah."

It was five or fifteen minutes, such spans being hard to judge, before the Berber spoke again. "Reality," he said." the existent, is deep and thin and fluid." Mischief twinkled in his black eyes. He reached out his hand, index finger touching the base of his empty glass. He drew his finger slowly up the outside of the glass, and as he did the glass filled of itself with yellow-green fluid. He lifted the glass and sipped half its contents. Then he offered the rest of it to Chris. Chris, dumbfounded, took the tumbler and tasted.

"But this isn't mint tea," Chris spluttered.

"No," laughed the Berber. "It is the tincture of Nirvana I have conjured. Drink."

Chris quaffed the glass and set it down. "Is that stuff real?" he asked. The Berber smiled. "Where did it come from?" Chris demanded.

"If we align ourselves with the will of the One then we can smooth the corners. All things are possible. It is as simple as riding a bicycle." He paused a moment. "My friend," he continued still staring at Christopher. "You have something for me." It was a statement.

For a moment Chris was stumped. "Oh," he said. "Of course, you mean the gypsy's crystal." Christopher reached into the bag and handed the red crystal ball to Syhed.

The Berber gazed into the crystal casually for a moment, as though reading the time. He nodded as at a simple confirmation, and placed it to one side. "Thank you my friend. Chokrane. Chokrane bazsef. And now I have a small present for you. Come."

They returned to the front of the premises, to the souk. The Berber hunted through the cornucopia of his shop, seizing upon a blue kaftan and some yellow babush. "Here. Put these on. We go now to the barber," said Sy.ed. "The bearded hippie who was chased in here must disappear. Then we will go to the hamam to bathe. And then, if God is willing to honour his humble servant, you will return here to my house to eat and sleep. Now put on this jelaba. Your cloak may be recognised in the souk." ("souk" means both the market (the Kasbah) itself and individual shops and stall within it.)

With the hood of his jelaba about his head Chris walked beside the Berber to the Kasbah barber in the Tangier's night.

illustration by Sue Gibson

Chapter Sixteen