From The Myth of Exile and Return
By the time they reached Algeciras,
to take a ferry to Tangier, she was tired, emotional
and irritable. Not just from travelling all day, but
for the past two and a half weeks. Or the past few years.
They may have lain in the sun, but they had also moved
around too much, more than was good for her. But lying
around wasn’t always good either. He was gung-ho
for going on, not showing much sympathy with her exhaustion.
She grew more distant, moody and morose. How easy it
is for me to advance lists of adjectives for what she
was doing and how she was feeling, which are utterly
inadequate, less than useless in their more than meaninglessness,
when it comes to capturing in any way accurately what
she really did and how she really felt. But what else
can I do, or feel?
The town was thronged with Moroccans in transit, lugging
unbelievable amounts of possessions. Our voyagers checked
into a hotel close to the harbour, and promptly conked
out, even though it was only three in the afternoon.
When he came to, it was still light outside, but he
didn’t know exactly what time it was. The heavy
smell of spicy meat cooking wafted up to their window,
mixing with the stifling heat to make the atmosphere
in their room pungently oppressive. That’s what
happens when you’re still in the budget accommodation
category: you get stuck above kitchens. His watch lay
on a rickety table at the far end of the bed, but she
was still in a deep sleep beside him, his arm trapped
under her neck. He would feel bad if he woke her while
trying to look at it.
A memory came back to him from their first days together.
Cosseted in her apartment one weekend, they’d
begun making love some time in the afternoon, and long
after darkness had crept through the shutters, they’d
decided to dress and go get something to eat. As they
pulled back the covers, she suggested they bet on what
time it was. He’d guessed eight, she’d wagered
half-past. They were floored with surprise when they’d
found it was twenty-past nine. Time would not stand
so still for them for very much longer.
As he detached himself from her now, she shuddered awake,
with a startled look on her face.
“Why could you not leave me as I was?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“You never mean to do anything,”
He leaned his hand across to caress her hair, but she
pulled away from him, curling up into a foetal position,
cuddling herself. They could not go on without having
a showdown. Would it be a fight to the death? He summoned
all his energy, indifferent to how hers was depleted.
“I suppose the reason I’m not keen on getting
married,” he began haltingly, aware that hesitancy
can, and often does, signify honesty, “is because
I don’t think of you as my possession. Why should
I bring you to an altar or a registry office, and make
you promise your life away to me?”
While charming at twenty, Edward’s attitude might
seem just a tad immature at thirty. He would be making
promises too, after all, ones that he might not always
feel like keeping. That’s how she saw it, anyway,
as far as I can see.
“People belong to each other,” she told
him. “We do. Or did.”
“Then why bother getting married?”
“Because I want to have a baby. You don’t,
that’s why you won’t marry me.”
He didn’t point out that they didn’t need
to get married to have a baby. Or that they could even
get married without having to have one. But she always
had been a good little lapsed Catholic girl, with the
residue of a predilection for doing things the proper
way that that inherited burden brings. Besides, what
she said was true. The prospect of paternity, let alone
parenthood, gave him the willies. Him as a father? He
knew he was too selfish for looking after a child, the
kind of responsibility, if he ever took it on, he’d
want to take seriously, and not embark upon lightly.
For now, he regarded kids, or ones he’d be burdened
with bringing up, i.e. his own, as a needless vexation.
“You’re right,” he acknowledged.
“Then I wish you’d leave me alone. You don’t
care about me.”
“Oh yes I do.”
“Then leave me,” she shouted emphatically,
knowing that intensity can, and often does, betoken
She started weeping to herself as he closed the door.
The sounds of her sobs reverberated while he disappeared
down the stairs, haunting him for days afterwards. He
was crying inside.
He went out and got maudlin drunk on red wine and brandy
in a small bar down the road. A young Moroccan approached
him for a light, and introduced himself as Mustafa.
Though wary initially, Edward was too drunkenly lachrymose
to keep his defences up for long. They fell into conversation,
talking in a mixture of broken English and broken French.
Mustafa was in his early twenties, and dressed in a
cheap leather jacket, blue jeans faded to white, and
worn loafers. He sported a moustache that looked too
old for his smooth, olive face, and lent him a slightly
shifty air. Well-bevied himself, he began telling Edward
that he was a migrant worker, going home to visit his
family for the summer holidays. Apparently he was only
one of about half a million Moroccans who drive across
Spain every July and August, from the factories, farms
and mines of France, Germany and the Low Countries.
But he warned Edward off taking too romantic a view
of all the colourful hustle and bustle that was going
on in the port. His countrymen were often victims of
discrimination during their journeys, ranging from the
standard verbal abuse to outright violent attack and
Was there no getting away from blasted people and their
bloody bigotry, anywhere you go in the world? But I
shouldn’t prejudice you against people. I must
be tolerant at all times, unlike them. Have I done people
a great disservice, by constantly dissing and dismissing
them? I think not. Hell is other people. Or rather,
hell is the need for other people. Is this Edward talking
here, or me?
Mustafa felt like getting all this off his chest. He
was encouraged when he heard that Edward was Irish,
believing he’d chanced on a fellow-sufferer. And
why indeed was my brother (to say nothing of myself)
not at all galled by injustice in his own native land?
Well, he was younger then, and far-away oppressions
always look greener. Not that that is any excuse. And
maybe it did move him, and I have not noticed. Could
it be that it may even have contributed to his leaving?
Long before they fell out of the bar at four in the
morning, Eddie and Musty had become bosom buddies, and
shared their troubles and woes, political and personal.
They arranged to meet up again, later that day.
“You come stay with my family in Tangier. You
bring your girl. I show you city.”
When he got back to the hotel she was gone. Vanished
into the night, no note or nothing. He was too far gone
to go looking for her at the bus or train stations.
He flopped into bed, and slumped over into sleep.
He checked with the desk clerk next morning, but she
had left no message, and no one had seen her leave.
There was no point in phoning Paris, because she couldn’t
have got back there yet. Rather than pursue her, he
decided to keep his appointment with Mustafa. It might
be a long time before he again had the chance to set
foot on African soil.