The Things They Never Knew
By Bobby Rich
Photos by Sarrah Danziger
It was late for the hotel and everyone was asleep except the American couple who sat sharing shots of whiskey and anisee on their bed. The paint on their walls was chipping off and the florescent light-bulb overhead had no shade and was suspended from the ceiling only by the electric wires that powered it. The room had a small window at the far side of it that looked onto the terrace, which had no street view because rooms were built around it. To have any type of natural light in their room, one would have to open the door, and even then it was not direct. The American couple kept taking shot after shot from their small glass cups that were normally used by Moroccans for tea and coffee. Sam kept on the bottle of anisee, holding up her cup to the electric light as she poured in the water. And Richard held the bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cup in the other since he didn’t take much time between shots, unless he was ready for a cigarette. They were quiet for the most part, looking at the floor or the ugly wall ahead, and then Richard said:
“Do you want to go out tonight? It is your last night in Morocco and Casablanca is supposed to be a party town.”
“Is it supposed to be?” she said mockingly.
“Well, that’s what I hear. Plus you saw the gay couple romantically kissing and walking hand in hand at the Hassan Two Mosque today. That was a first in Morocco! The people must be less repressed here.”
“I mean, where exactly would you want to go?”
“You know as much as I do about this town. I don’t know, we’ll take out the motorcycle and see what we find.”
“The patron is going to hate us. She already told us the curfew is midnight.”
“That’s nothing ten dirham can’t fix.”
The motorcycle was silver and reflected the night sky wonderfully. Richard had bought it from a friend of his in Marrakech, and he planned to sell it before he left the country. It had fifteen hundred original miles on it which Sam and him had put on together, but after tomorrow how ever many more miles the bike would accumulate would be put on only by Richard. He pushed the bike to the middle of the plaza away from the entrance of the Hotel des Amis, kick-started it, and then said: “I love these women here! I told you that curfew was nothing a small bribe couldn’t change. To think, we’re only paying an equivalent of three-fifty each to stay here. The Western world has it all wrong, Sam. Whoever started charging eighty bucks for a hotel room a night in America was a fucking crook!”
Sam didn’t say anything.
As they drove through the winding alleys of the medina, Sam held on tight to Richard. It is possible that she did this because she was cold, but it was the look on her face which made one think she was doing this to savor her last feelings of love for this man. Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly parted with the faint hint of a smile, and she pressed her cheek warmly against his back. Sometimes Richard could have sworn that he heard her sigh, and at other times it seemed that she was rubbing herself against him. If she was he didn’t want to know, not because he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening but because he knew if he talked about it he would ruin the moment for her. So he continued to drive looking straight ahead, driving faster and faster as he felt her wriggling behind him. They were now outside of the medina going down the Atlantic Coast, and he tried not to pay attention to anything but the road. And when he finally heard her let out a subtle moan and loosen her grip, he slowed down the bike for the first time, turned around, and started toward Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and Boulevard Mohammed V, which was outside the medina. He didn’t know of any clubs there, but he had seen many flashing lights when they drove past ten minutes previous and thought it would be a good place to look.
They drove down Mohammed V and decided they would go to the first club they saw. Richard seemed to not only be physically drunk but mentally drunk as well. Any time he stopped at a red light, which only was when certain death seemed inevitable, he would rev his engine until the light turned green. And when it did he would kick his bike into first and speed away even faster than the crazy Moroccan drivers. Sam told him to slow down, but he couldn’t get a hold of himself. And when he saw the first club with flashing lights he swerved into oncoming traffic, squeezed between the moving cars and the parked ones, rode up onto the sidewalk, somehow managed to stop the bike smoothly, and then jumped off it with his keys in hand before Sam could even scream from fright. Sam did not seem impressed.
The club had a cover charge of fifty dirham, which is an equivalent to five Euros, and this seemed a bit pricey to the couple. “Do you mind if I go take a look?” asked Richard. The door man let him in and Sam stood outside looking at the sign above the doorman which read: CABARET EMBASSY. She thought this club was located in a strange place. It was right next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was also surprised by the fact that she hadn’t noticed it before, because it was right behind the Cafe de France, which is the most noticeable cafe outside the medina. But, of course, this club was always closed during the day and looked like a little hole-in-the-wall joint even now when it was open. The couple had walked by it many times and had never taken a second glance at it.
Richard came back and said, “This place is wild. We should go in.”
“I don’t really have fifty dirham to spend. I only have thirty now, and I’ll need it for food before I go to the airport tomorrow. I’ll walk home and see you when you get back.”
“No, you can’t do that. You’ll disturb the patron! Since it’s your last night I’ll pay for it. And really, the cover isn’t bad and plus it comes with a drink.”
They walked to the doorman and Richard handed him the hundred, and then the couple walked down the stairs into the basement, split apart a black, velvet curtain and heard a blast of electric sound. “Isn’t this great!” Sam looked over the crowd. Everybody had their arms up in the air dancing in a way she hadn’t seen before. There were women everywhere wearing short little dresses and smoking hookah with the men at their tables, and they were drinking beer too. This was the first time Sam had seen this kind of female behavior in Morocco, and she figured Richard must have been correct when he said people were less repressed in Casa. “What do you want to drink?”
Sam said, “A whiskey.”
“You go get a table and I’ll be right back.”
Richard found Sam over in the corner and laid a whiskey in front of her. She took a sip and said thank you. She looked over the scene again with a crooked kind of smile. Richard had taken note of what the other men were doing and started to dance the way they were. It seemed to be natural with the kind of music he was hearing. Sam started watching him and then snapped out of the trance she was in. “Those guys over there…” She pointed to the next table, “are New Yorkers. They introduced themselves to me when I sat down.”
Richard looked at the stage. Everybody seemed incredibly drunk to him. The men were getting on stage and dancing with the fat women singers with their arms in the air and shaking their bodies like worms. Richard thought they looked possessed. He didn’t know what was going on or what he was hearing, so he leaned over on the banquet toward the next table and started conversation.
“Alaikum salam,” Said one man from the group of five who sat closest to Richard.
“Hey, my girlfriend over here says you are from New York.”
“Yeah, we’ve all been living in New York for twenty years. Where’re you two from?”
“We’re from New York too. Bushwick area. Where you from?”
“Nice. Yeah, me and my friends like to go there. Play some backgammon, smoke some hookah. We actually almost lived in Astoria once.”
Sam chimed in: “We didn’t almost live there. Honestly this place was uninhabitable,” Sam said to the other man. “It was a basement in someone’s laundry room. It was a railroad apartment in a dungeon. We could see this beautiful backyard but the door was sealed with cement; and only the people upstairs could use it. It wasn’t fit for human beings! You’d have to pay me to live there.”
“Well, it was nine hundred a month for a two bedroom,” Richard said to the man. “I would have lived there.”
“Two bedroom?” said Sam scornfully. “One room was a hallway, and the other was a closet you couldn’t even stand up in.”
“Anyway, I would have lived there,” Richard reiterated. “How long are you in town for?”
“We’re going to stay for a couple months, visit the family, you know?”
“Cool, live it up for a bit, eh? Is this a club you come to often?”
“Naw, it’s our friend’s birthday.” He pointed to one in his group. He blew out some smoke from a hookah and then said, “you want some?”.
“Yeah,” said Richard.
“We like to come here for a couple months every year. Come back to the homeland. How long are you two staying for?”
“We’ve been in Morocco for a month. Sam is leaving tomorrow, but I’m here for a while longer. Say, what’s the name of this music?”
“It’s called Chaabi. It means popular, but It’s country and mountain music.”
Sam hadn’t been listening to them. She was surveying the crowd again, and then some kind of greater understanding occurred and she pulled at Richard’s sleeve.
“What is it?”
“Ask him if these women are prostitutes. I keep seeing them go from table to table.”
“You think all of these women are prostitutes?” Richard looked around the room with a new pair of eyes. Why were they all wearing these trashy looking, sequin sparkling mini-dresses? Why had they all applied such heavy make-up? And yes, why were they jumping from table to table, talking to almost every man in the bar?
Richard leaned over toward the man. “Wait, are all these women prostitutes?”
The man didn’t even look around. “Yes, every woman who is in this club is a prostitute.”
Sam pulled Richard’s sleeve again. “Ask him how much they are.”
“Hey, man.” Richard handed him back the hookah. “How much are one of these girls?”
“Why, you want one?” He laughed.
“She wants to know.” And Richard looked over at Sam.
“Damn, you get down like that?”
“Naw, she’s just curious.”
“Well, for me they are about three hundred. For you, probably about six hundred, all night. They have different prices for foreigners.”
“All night, eh?” said Richard curiously. “Wait.” He leaned over to Sam. “He says they cost three hundred for him; six hundred for us.” Richard leaned back over to the man. “Wait, so this is a normal practice?”
“Yeah, all over the place.”
“Would you say all women who go to bars are prostitutes?”
“I wouldn’t say one hundred percent, but probably about eighty percent are.”
“Crazy! I never knew that.” He went back over to Sam. “He says all of these women are definitely prostitutes, and about eighty percent of all women in bars are prostitutes.”
The couple polished off their whiskeys. “Wow,” said Sam. She looked all around. “This is amazing.” On stage nothing had changed. The blue Christmas lights were still flashing , drunken men were still dancing, but the women singers seemed to have forgotten they were singing and were now just drinking beers on the side. Sam pulled out her camera and started filming.
The man saw what Sam was doing and leaned toward Richard. “What is she doing?”
“We’re journalists. We write for a website that covers cultural music. We want to get some footage for an article.”
“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “These people have families and, you know, different identities in the day.”
“Don’t worry,” said Richard. “Our audience is predominantly American. Everybody’s identity will be protected.”
The man seemed not to like this response, but he sat back in his seat and continued to smoke his hookah. Some prostitute had the demon running through her and went on a rampage, hopping from man to man, swinging her head in circles like a rocker. Sam quickly started to film her when she attacked one drunken soul who sat near them. The man from Queens looked over at the couple with little respect as Sam filmed the woman.
Sam said, “I’m having such a great time, and now I have to leave Morocco. I’m sad. I wish I could stay.”
Richard looked at the scene around him, the prostitute hopping onto another man, the crowd drunk and falling on the floor, the man next to them giving the evil eye, and then Richard said, “Trust me, I think it’s better this way.”
Locations In Casablanca
Hôtel des Amis
12 Rue Markazia
2 Boulevard Mohammed V
Cafe de France
Boulevard Mohammed V