Read Tangier Online

Authors: William Bayer

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Tangier (Morocco), #General

Tangier

TANGIER
 

By William Bayer

 

 

First Digital Edition Published by Crossroad Press

Copyright 2011 by William Bayer

Cover Design by David Dodd

Cover Images courtesy of:

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To Paula Wolfert
 
Prologue
 

T
angier in the rain: it's as if our whole gleaming city is bathed in tears. As the rains lash the streets, the Moroccans pull up the hoods of their djellabas and hurry for shelter beneath the arcades. Men push vegetable carts through deep puddles on Rue de Fez, and in the café s of the Socco Chico one sees abandoned lovers hunched over their coffees and the haunted, glazed eyes of the smokers of hashish. Suddenly Tangier seems filled with stricken people. Arrayed at the tables in the Café
 
de France are the faces of our dispossessed.

Passing Madame Porte's pastry shop last February, one might have seen the agony of the old architect Leo Fischer through the broad window that looks out on the intersection of Rue Goya and Rue Musa Ben Nusair. He was sitting at the corner table sipping from a cup of tea. Were those tears streaming down his cheeks or an illusion, caused by the raindrops that washed the windows of the shop?

Madame Porte's, in the center of the busy European quarter, was built in the 1940s with a refinement that has well withstood the many vicissitudes that have buffeted our town. Its marble floors and Art Deco moldings make a pleasant contrast with the seediness of the central area. But its elegant architectural details did not interest Fischer that miserable, rainy February day. This man, whose fine leonine presence had come to grace our streets a year or so before, was feeble with illness on the verge of his discharge. One prefers to remember him at his best. Those of us who lived on the Mountain saw him often on our trips back and forth to town. He'd be strolling among the awful shanties of Dradeb, deep in conversation with his assistant, Driss Bennani, talking always of their plan to rehabilitate the Moroccan slum.

Fischer had a magnificent dream. Under contract to the Moroccan government as an advisor on urban renewal, he had lobbied bravely for his vision in the ministries and had even given a series of public lectures in Tangier. "A Visionary Architecture for the Third World" he called them, moving us with his passion to design decent housing for the poor.

"We must give these people sanctuaries," he'd say, shaking his great white mane, rapping on the lectern with his fist, "sanctuaries for living built of the forms they understand. They need the dome and the minaret. Their bricks cry out to make the arch and the fine, sharp edge that reveals the splendor of their sun. . . ."

Arches and domes, plazas and minarets—this was the stuff of Fischer's dream. But his plan to transform Dradeb into a "new Moroccan village" was lost in the papers that clogged the desks in city hall. The Moroccans wanted a skyline; they wanted to replace the slum with a high-rise development, and nothing Fischer could say would change their minds.
 
Finally he was devastated.
 
As the Moroccans plotted ways to send him home, he walked the muddy alleyways, turned this way and that among the awful shanties, speaking to the still bedazzled Bennani of the plan they both knew was doomed.
 
A routine examination by his friend and a doctor, Mohammed Achar, revealed that his heart had suddenly grown weak.
 
He left Tangier in the rain to join his son in California.
 
A few months later we heard that he was dead.

Poor Fischer.
 
His dream for Tangier is forgotten now.
 
He's remembered for his San Francisco synagogue, the masterpiece of his "brutal period," a monumental hunk of twisted steel and slashing triangles of glass.

Perhaps he could have saved us, but we did not listen to him well enough.
 
That failure – our failure
 
would lead in time to the convulsion that shook apart the sweet limbo in which we lived, shattering our illusion that to live as a European in Tangier was a cheat against all the miseries of the world and a revenge against the inevitability of our deaths.

I.
 

H
amid Ouazzani—he was the keystone in the arch, the pivot upon which the story was to turn. He didn't look like what he was—an inspector of police. High Berber cheeks, a lean, ascetic face, no mustache. He used to wear a beaten-up black leather jacket and black moccasins he bought by the dozen in Marrakech. He moved softly, without effort. His eyes glowed with curiosity and warmth.

Hamid knew everything about us, for we were all his wards. In a town full of men and women who nourished themselves on gossip, he knew more than any of us, and relished every story that grazed his ear. To him Europeans were the most fascinating creatures on earth. He kept track of us with a professional concern tempered by a sympathy for our strange and complicated ways.

The whole police force was in awe of him, for he could explain our actions with a clarity that cut through their bafflement the way yellow light cuts through fog. He had more informants than any of his colleagues, but spent practically nothing for his information. He held the sword of permanent expulsion over all our foreign heads. . .

Hamid
 

I
n the basement of the Tangier Sûreté there were a number of large holding cells and several small ones reserved for madmen or politically contaminated detainees. On the second day of May Hamid Ouazzani had one Spaniard down there, denounced by a thirteen-year-old boy for rape on the Malabata beach, and a long-haired American youth who'd been caught that morning at the airport trying to board a plane for Paris with a suitcase full of hashish. Neither prisoner interested him very much, and toward the end of the afternoon he was poised at the third-floor window of his office staring down at a mob of veiled women waiting patiently for a glimpse of their incarcerated sons.

He'd been brooding the whole day. A vague malaise, accentuated by the harsh insistence of the wind, which had been blowing for a week and which had turned the May Day parade into a feast of dust, gnawed at his even temper, made him nervous and aloof. His assistant, Aziz Jaouhari, sensing this unease, worked quietly at the smaller desk, adding notations to dossiers. But occasionally he glanced up at the Inspector's back, framed in frozen tension against the unwashed glass.

After a while Hamid turned back to the office. Its only decoration was a cheaply framed photograph of the King. "I'm going out, Aziz," he announced, starting toward the door. "If you need me, you'll find me at La Colombe."

Turning down Boulevard Pasteur, he plugged a cassette of Egyptian love songs into his dashboard recorder, then slowed his car. At Bazaar Machala he saw his brother standing aimlessly in the doorway of his shop. Tourists were prowling the Boulevard, blond Scandinavian girls with huge, awkward packs on their backs, accompanied by unburdened youths on the lookout for sellers of kif. The usual hustlers were eying them, while a pack of children, offering badly made caftans and fake Berber jewelry, surrounded a tour group trudging wearily toward the Chellah Hotel. At Claridge he caught sight of the American Consul General, Daniel Lake, deep in conversation with his assistant, Foster Knowles.

At the Café
 
de Paris the four Anglo-American novelists Kranker, Klein, Townes, and Doyle—gesticulated wildly like an out-of-tune string quartet. On Rue Belgique men were already dismantling the plywood arches erected for the May Day parade. He passed a mad Spanish lady he'd been observing for several years: she promenaded each evening at six o'clock, marching like a robot, her face white as chalk.

He stopped at Bourbana to buy flowers from a Riffian woman who'd set up shop beneath a eucalyptus beside the road. Tessa and David Hawkins rode by on their magnificent matching Arabian geldings, cantering lightly up the Mountain, their blond hair gleaming in the failing sun.

He turned and followed the Jew's River to the base of the Mountain Road. Then he parked, a few doors above La Colombe, snapped off the Egyptian music, and scanned the front of the shop. It was past six then, but still he could make out the silhouette of Peter Zvegintzov bustling inside. From time to time Zvegintzov's head was obscured by a poster affixed to the glass. It announced the Tangier Players' latest production, due to open in two weeks at the auditorium of the Spanish Polytechnical School.

It was impossible to see who else was in the shop, but Hamid could recognize most of the cars parked in front: the white Buick of the Manchesters; the black Fiat of Françoise de Lauzon; and the silver Mercedes that belonged to the retired French general Gilbert Bresson.

Patiently he waited for them to leave. It had been five months since he'd been inside the store. He was not at all sure why he'd chosen this day for a confrontation that he knew would be difficult, and that he'd been dreading the entire afternoon. It had simply seemed to him that his relationship with Zvegintzov should be resumed, that five months was long enough to dull the sharpness of their break.

And, too, he was curious to see how the Russian would react. Zvegintzov was unpredictable, a man of many moods. The scapegoat of foreigners to whom he offered his elaborate service—handling their mail, taking care of their villas, providing them with luxuries few Moroccans could afford—he knew more about what happened on the Mountain than any man except Hamid. He talked to everyone, steamed open letters, offered himself as a confidant. Though most of his customers abused him terribly, they told him things they would not dream of telling anybody else.

Hamid had discovered him years before, then carefully developed him as a source. In the old days he had stopped by the shop every day, but then there came a time when he could enter it no more. Aziz took over, while Hamid waited in the car outside. For five months it had been like that.

When he finally walked in, triggering the little bell that clasped the door, Zvegintzov was at the counter with Countess de Lauzon demonstrating some expensive preparations for cleaning rugs.

"This one's quite good," he said, looking up. For a moment he stared, searched Hamid's face. "Makes a good foamy lather, then dries out in the sun. Afterward you vacuum the foam away."

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