By Mourad Anouar
By Mourad Anouar
Morocco World News
Oklahoma City, March 19, 2012
“Home in indifferent eyes of some men and women waiting for the bus around 7.00 a.m. that morning to go to work or school, home was between the little room left between the two backs of two homeless men sleeping on a tick-infested patched up rug near a dumpster, home was felt and carried on the steps of an old lady pushing her cart down the same street where she usually sold her mouth-watering bread whose smell was too intoxicating to pass up. In the same street, few schoolgirls seemed to banter about something interesting, something like schoolwork, but for me it was something like home; home was engraved in the hands of an old hard-working man looking like coming back home from an overnight job, home just wafted through the thronged streets that the taxi cab had to cruise through to get me in time to the airport,”
I don’t remember I was offered an opportunity to prioritize “home or no-home”. But I still remember that the above unedited lines were written with a sickening longing that suddenly engulfed me when I looked out of the plane window as we took off heading toward Florence, Alabama in 2003. For me home was neither a choice handed to me on a silver platter nor was I stripped of it, while I enjoyed ogling at a passing beauty. The ad lib words revealed a sincere moment in my life where I was on the brink of falling into an emotional breakdown. The cloying repetition of the word home may suggest rather nostalgic moments for expats, or a tendency on my part to convey my romanticizing with skipped parts of my life.
Tuesday morning, October, 10, 2003, was not like the other days of the year. I remember I had trouble sleeping. I was nervous, fidgety, tossing and turning, kicking constantly my bed edge in my new China-made Nike socks. Around 5.30pm, I heard some heavy steps crossing the hallway toward the living-room. The steps were of nobody but mom. She usually woke up around that time to do the dawn prayer. Not sure though, I stumbled out of my bed to investigate the commotion. It was just my mom. I peeked through my room’s door, ajar, to enjoy how she beautifully perform her acts of worship. Half an hour or so afterwards, everybody was awake in the house even our lazy furry cat, Mimi. There was too much noise, but it was enjoyable for me. I sat on a second-hand sofa in the living-room with my two bags nearby. We had a quick but big breakfast: Scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil, pure honey as always my mom stressed, black olives and homemade bread with sprinkled sesame on top.
The delicious breakfast was interrupted by the taxi’s honking outside our house. Perhaps, he surmised we were still asleep, craning with his neck through the slightly open door of our house, the taxi driver yelled at us to hurry up in a demanding way. That is when I leaped to my feet out of the sunken sofa, and I spontaneously started exchanging hugs with my five brothers and one sister, and I left my mom to be the last one to say goodbye. My brothers’ and sisters’ eyes told me that they had cried somewhere away from each other’s and me. At the doorstep now, while my big brother was haggling with the taxi cab driver over the trip cost from El Jadida to Casablanca, Annoyed by their abuzz skirmish nearby, I thought about interfering with bringing them together, but I was too afraid to risk a slew of personal invectives from my perpetually moody brother. I was rather preoccupied with a slow-paced moment of streaming tears that I had delayed all the months I knew I was going to America. Unlike my brothers, I cried in front of them all, for I could not resist the moment’s gravity or their sympathetic eyes. Everybody stood transfixed as I paraded out my two bags and a carry-on suitcase.
The ensuing events were nothing but soaked, to the brim, in tears and sadness. But we, my family and I, were able to get out of it with a less emotionally harmful exodus. I still don’t know how I mustered up a new-found courage to exit safely from this sad moment, which I carried with me into the waiting taxi outside. After that, I only recall how the taxi driver hit the gas, rounded a bend and drove off without caring if wanted to wave at my family from the car’s backseat window.
Curving to the left, the taxi driver drove past the Post Office, the Medina Theater, and then swerved to the right toward the road that ran in parallel row with the El Jadida’s beautiful seaside known as the palm tree street. That is where my eye caught spy of the medieval-looking cathedral of Saint Eugene.
Saint Eugene’s cathedral must have been an impressive sight in its day as it is still now. The building reflected its builder’s large-than-life personality. With its domed roof and overlooking the blue Atlantic Ocean, the place stood defiant at the heart of El Jadida. The common grandiosity between the two entities, between nature and human achievement, only few could pay attention to. Despite the overabundance of moss and alfalfa that covered most of its big-sized lot, there remained some beauty amidst its overall dilapidated condition.
Over years, “word was’ that Saint Eugene’s cathedral was haunted by some restless spirits. People claimed to hear noises, midnight singing and more emanating from there. There was something menacing about the place that kept everybody’s imaginations elaborating on some frightening and sometimes ridiculous ghost stories that allegedly happened around there. One of these stories claimed that two boys who happened to play soccer in the vicinity of the cathedral when one of them booted the ball away to wobble through the air, sail past the other’s boy head over the cathedral’s gate to finally crash into one of its windows. One of the boys, brazen, was goaded into retrieving the errant ball. Abetted by his friend to scale the cathedral’s red brick wall, as the story goes, the courageous boy pried open a weather-beaten French door and stepped into what was going to be his last known whereabouts. Some cynics, though, argued that the made up ghost stories were channeled by some unknown religious extremists years ago through El Jadida in an attempt to get the place razed and replaced with a new magnificent mosque.
All these uncaused streams of memories and more took place in the backseat of taxi cab. Reminiscing about the old days of the cathedral was entertaining for me, and a technique I used numerous times to kill time, but for today it served to only lighten me up a bit.
Usually it would take an hour and half to get to the Mohamed V Airport in Casablanca, but Mr. Brahim, the taxi driver, I still remember his name till now, was just like other Moroccan taxi drivers who thought their cars are made to fly too. He did the trip in an hour as I counted it in his stereo clock. With maximum velocity, columns of burned oil trailing behind, a blaring noise of a music band I never heard of and a daredevil-style driving, his face features suggested he set out to break a personal record. Thank God, we all made it safe to the airport.
The moment I stepped into the plane, I knew it was too late for me to back off. The flight ticket was purchased two weeks before, and the clothes my family afforded to buy me were already neatly folded and arranged nicely by my mom in my new travel bags. The plane ascent was felt as I was falling into a bottomless pit, a sensation I translated later as disbelief. I could not believe I was sneaking the love I had nurtured for my country for years out to another land. Had the customs let me carry everything I could, I would carry my home, my family, friends and all my memories. How many freighters would I need to carry the incalculable number of amount memories and an eventful life in Morocco? I wondered.
Next to me in the plane sat an old lady with a wrinkled face and a genuinely blond hair. I wondered how on earth you could have such contrast. I tried to figure out how age could intrude on her face but was lenient with her hair. After minutes of thinking it over, I had to accept that age, as humans, could err also especially taking in account the number of world population. I had to believe a made up joke of mine, I thought age could have mistaken her for another women.
Apathetic, Ms. Blackburn, as she told me her name was with a southern accent when we reached Huntsville airport in Alabama, was reading an old National Geographic magazine as the quality of the papers indicated: it was a story about the aborigines of Australia.
She seemed to like what she was reading as her eyeballs bulged out now and then. And whenever she came across an exotic photo, she would lift the magazine up close to her eyes to see it better. Poor old woman. Her weak fingers flipped through the magazine pages with difficulty. I wished I could help her with something. I would not hesitate, I thought, to grab the magazine and read it out for her, while she could lounge on her seat.
I arrived in America exactly in October, 11, 2003, three few years after September 11 when being or looking Middle Eastern would cause you some uneasiness, verbal abuse or in the worst cases assault by some prejudiced Americans. And guess what: I went to the State of Alabama, which is very infamous for being one of the most prejudiced States in America. I was worried; a little scared to be honest. The American Airline 550 aircraft landed at Huntsville International Airport right on schedule at 3.30 p.m to a slightly cold day. After dealing with all the customs hassle, I found myself waiting for my bags at baggage carousel. There, I met again Ms. Blackburn holding tightly to a pushing cart to keep a standing posture. When she noticed I was around, she approached me, while she still clung to the cart. I had a quick and jovial conversation with her, and I was surprised to learn that she was going to the same city I was headed to. What a coincidence? I whispered to myself and at the same time I tried to practice my one year English at the University of Shouaib Doukkali.
“You looked nervous and worried when we were in the plane”, she told me.
“Yes”, I replied.
“Hold on”, I told myself, what? I wondered how she knew I was nervous or worried, knowing she never looked at me all the long hours we flew across the Atlantic Ocean. So strange. But I realized that it might be the unmistakably divine gift that enables mothers to sense all our feelings without having to look us in the eye.Her true words set my worn out memory in motion and left me pondering, remembering every moment, since I hugged my mom, sister and brothers at the doorstep, the moment when we drove one hour from El Jadida to Casablanca and when I finally stepped into the plane. I remembered when I desperately tried to store into my saturated memory some pictures of Morocco as the fuselage gradually dipped into the sky wide clouds. I remembered as I scanned Morocco’s boundless terrain, the exquisite shorelines, a seemingly stray stork and other beautiful things, I could see almost everything there but me.
Now after 9 years here, happy sometimes and sad at times, I admit I tried numerous times to tame my sense of longing to the point where I could live a peaceful life, devoid of any humanly added drama. In other words, I managed to compromise between an invincible nostalgia and an admitted enjoyment I experienced in my new stay. Every time fear or worry reigned over me, I would responsively rally my exhausted memory to remember my mom’s sincere prayers that she told me the moment I hopped into the taxi cab. Her powerful words served as a protective aura that accompanied me through the years I have been away from home. Her prayers were the magical wand I utilized whenever I ran into closed doors, into moments of despair. Whenever I was down, or sometimes moved to tears, I would feel reanimated as soon as my soul and mom’s went through some sort of telepathy.
Ms. Blackburn was driven home by her son who was waiting for her at the airport. She was gone, but her remark about me being worried and nervous, while we were in the plane always remained cryptic, open to all interpretations but to one that could soothe my, then, ailing soul. Unable to come up with any answer, I decided instead to put it out of my mind and look for a taxi cab that would take me from Huntsville to my new, unknown yet, home in Florence.
Mourad Anouar is a Moroccan writer, novelist and poet. He received his bachelor’s in Journalism and a minor in German from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is the author of several poems and short stories both in Arabic and English.
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