By Imane Chergui
By Imane Chergui
Casablanca – Morocco is full of different means of transport, and most of them are disappointing.
After trying all of them, I became content with the train. I’ve always liked travelling by train. Though you spend hours shaking from left to right and meeting different people, there are some useful things one can do in it, such as reading and observing. The latter is my favorite.
One day, I was heading to Tangier from Casablanca. I spent the whole night planning which train to take in order to arrive early. I had two options: the 9:45 and the 12:45. I chose the first one, for I had a lot of homework to do. My roommate was in Casablanca too, and she called me the night asking to join me. She’s punctual I thought, but only when it comes to strangers. Just to give them a good first impression. So I informed her of my plan. She confirmed and even requested I arrive on time.
I was watching the train that had just arrived, waiting, and taking a look at my ticket from time to time. The train was telling me to hop on. No I’m a loyal friend! I will wait for her! Besides, I’ve got ten minutes left. My mother kissed me goodbye and told me, “You better get in, it’s cold out here and you’re going to miss the train.”
I called her. The answer was firm: “Don’t worry! I’m coming.”
Yes I know you’re coming, but the train is leaving!
She was running to buy a ticket, and I was watching the train slowly move towards Tangier. If only I had gotten in and left her alone!!
I was boiling with anger; I refused to look at her. Instead, I was following the train like those idiots in old movies following their lovers who went away. She couldn’t stop apologizing during the two hours we spent waiting for the next train.
It was cold and I could barely feel my fingers, but the anger was somehow keeping me warm. I discovered something new about myself. I was able to control my anger; however, the images of me screaming and shouting in my head were difficult to get rid of. I always hated screaming–not that I don’t do it, but I usually try to avoid such scenes. Besides, I’m not very good at quarreling, and I hate hurting people.
I thought this was the worst thing that was going to happen to me that day.
I was wrong.
When the train finally arrived, we got in hiding from the cold. We chose a compartment—or rather, my roommate chose it. I finally enjoyed some five minutes of silence when a vagabond joined us.
A vagabond indeed, and because of the drugs he consumed during the day he was shaking all over, his body was full of scars, and he was staring at us and claiming that he was the son of some rich king but was abandoned for being too smart. He even invited us to come to his palace, and that HIBA was the password. He kept spelling the word numerous times. Of course, he asked for money.
It is funny when I remember it, but at that time I wasn’t really smiling. I was looking at my friend, who was the reason we missed the first train and who was about to cry trying to avoid the vagabond’s looks, and we were all shaking together, he out of drugs and we out of fear, thinking that we may end up with nothing in our pockets or even worse, an unwanted child.
Then he started singing a well known song, Aicha by Cheb Khaled, though I heard him call for Naima, Leila, Meriam, Hiba and other names. But Aisha was never mentioned.
When he sensed that someone was coming, he opted to leave. Like a friend we’ve known for years, he asked us to take care of ourselves, to study hard, and most importantly to pay him a visit in his palace.
The image of the first train leaving me could not be erased from my memory. Never!
After a few minutes, three other men came in, and they looked normal. One of them put sunglasses on so that he could practice what I personally call the art of observing. I remembered that I had sunglasses too, so I did the same. We spent two hours observing each other.
Indeed it is in such public places (trains, cafés, etc.) that we Moroccans without exception develop this technique, a very enjoyable one in fact. We enjoy wasting our time.
The men left. In their place, a family joined us. The father waited outside while the mother and the kids, including a 10-year-old boy who came in was holding what seemed to be peacock feathers. His shape made him look older, and his sister seemed to be more like a teenager, which in Moroccan jargon implies a woman , fit for marriage. The third was a little girl with thick glasses held tight against her hair. The glasses made her eyes look bigger than her head. The aunt and the mother were each wearing yellow and orange djellabas, all of them invading the compartment. She even asked her children to stay quiet because she saw us reading, or at least pretending to read. But she could not stay quiet. They were not talking to each other; they were screaming at each other, like a typical Moroccan family.
The boy with the peacock feathers on his head was staring at my computer, amazed with his mouth open. Until his mother gave him a kick. Since she disturbed him, he asked for food. The woman was in a deep discussion with the aunt about some women, food, and hospitality. With a tired look on her face, she pulled out a red bag and gave him a sandwich that smelled like chicken, eggs and fries.
All of a sudden everybody wanted to eat. The smell even reached the father who rushed to the compartment and asked for his sandwich.
In trains, Moroccans don’t eat because the trip is long or because they are hungry. They eat because they get bored or because it’s compulsory. Fortunately, they always bring extra food for idiots like me who keep staring. In such situations, we had no choice but to smile and eat the sandwich that was offered to us. We ate it in spite of my mother’s constant remarks and advices not to eat a stranger’s food. Here again we could have ended up in another city with probably an unwanted child and peacock feathers.
Her mouth full, the mother was threatening to send a teacher to prison. Apparently, the teacher had beaten the children with a wooden stick, and her boy was one of the victims. The aunt, on the teacher’s side, claimed that the kids were throwing stones at her. The mother pretended she didn’t hear that part, claiming that she shouldn’t be violent with the children.
I found myself staring at them, mouth open, listening to the woman explain her logic. Well, they were better company than that vagabond.
Train stop: we reached Assilah, 32 miles south of Tangier.
The “Adams” family left with the peacock feathers, though I felt like standing up and asking them to stay. They were such good entertainment. Instead I was left alone with my roommate. At least I had the beach as a consolation. The waves were huge, grey and rough, and it reflected me inside. I finally enjoyed some 45 minutes of silence, thinking that it was the best I would expect from this day. My day was not that bad, it was just different. After all, monotony is the human’s worst enemy.
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