DUDE! IT’S BEEN AN HOUR! WHERE ARE YOU!!?
We’re at a wedding, can’t talk right now.
The constant shaking of the car was impeding his creation. Johann asked the chauffeur to slow down so he could steady his hands. Manu and Eugene stared in silent fascination. "Done!", he said, and raised it for all to see. Rick looked back from the front seat. "Look at this beauty", he said. The four friends nodded. "Our last one", Johann said, and lit up the joint.
As the group entered Ouarzazate, Morocco, they saw the majestic Kasbah in its best lights. The scenery looked ancient but somehow familiar. This is where Daenerys Targaryen freed the slaves of Yunkai, and where Maximus Decimus Meridius became a gladiator. Besides its recent movie sets, Ouarzazate was the main hub for travelers and nomads. The oasis was a neutral territory, where all came to rest, fill up on supplies, and prepare the next journey. It was the last bastion against the whims of Nature, the gates to the desert.
The boys had booked a hotel on the edge of town. They arrived at the entrance where a man in a suit greeted them. The hotel lobby was a large open square with a fountain in the middle, and small rooms all around. Besides the hotel staff, they were the only guests. They checked in and climbed straight to the rooftop to catch the last glimpse of sunset. On one side was the city, awfully quiet. On the other was the infinite, ochre horizon. The night claimed its right as the first stars faded in. The boys went down for diner.
The dining hall was immense. Johann walked around the room. The other three filled up their plate at the buffet and sat down to eat. Johann joined them later.
Johann: It’s crazy! We're the only guests.
Eugene: So much the better! How is your food?
Rick: Great, as always. What did you have?
Eugene: A tagine, this one is sweet. You?
Rick: I don't know, but it tastes good.
Manu: We ate so many meals, and I can't remember shit!
Rick: It's because you're always high.
Manu: I’m high because of Johann!
Eugene: Haha c’est pas faux!
Johann: Hey hey, nobody is forcing you. Anyway, we need a plan.
Manu: I want to ride a camel.
Eugene: Yes! On the dunes, with the sun and the blue veil!
Johann: We will all ride camels, but that's tomorrow. First, we need a plan for tonight. This is the last city where we can get hash, and there is nobody!
Rick: They ran out of hash and left.
Rick: Ok, what are the options?
Johann: I saw a young waiter. He must know somebody. I’ll talk to him.
Johann went for a second round. From the buffet, he waved to the young waiter.
Johann: Salaam my friend, how are you?
Waiter: Really well sir, thank you. How did you find the food?
Johann: Great. Moroccan food is delicious. I always eat too much haha. Tell me, why is the hotel so empty?
Waiter: It’s low season. Usually, there is a line for the buffet.
Johann: Wow, lucky me! Are you from Ouarzazate?
Waiter: No, I’m from Tarmigt. It’s a small village south of Ouarzazate.
Johann: I see, you're a true local! Well, my name is Johann, from Erlangen, a small village south of Germany. What’s your name?
Waiter: My name is Mohamed. Nice to meet you.
Johann: Charfine sidi.
Mohamed was taken by surprise. He smiled.
Mohamed: Mcharfine! You know Arabic?
Johann: Chouiya haha. I am learning, but some sounds are impossible to pronounce! It's harder than German haha. Mohamed, tomorrow morning we leave for the desert, and I need something before we go. Maybe you can help.
Johann leaned in and whispered, then pointed to the boys' table. He filled a new plate with fresh melon and returned to his seat.
Johann: Now we go to the lobby and wait.
Manu: I'll get some tea.
Back in Canada, the four friends were neighbors. Johann was an exchange student who moved in with Rick, a Canadian actor, downtown Montreal. Next door lived Manu, a Mexican graduate, and Eugene, a French cook on a working-holiday. At the end of the year, they split up. Rick went to film school in England. Johann returned to Germany for his Ph.D. Manu found a job in Montreal, and Eugene went back to France for his girlfriend. After so many adventures, they decided to reunite somewhere. Their criteria were simple: nice landscapes, good food, and good drugs. They settled on Morocco.
By the end of the first round of tea, Mohamed showed up. He whispered to Johann, gave him a piece of paper, and left.
Johann: That's his cousin's number. He’s a taxi driver. He knows the dealer.
Rick: Nice! Let’s call him.
Johann: Mohamed already did. He’ll be here in five minutes to take us to Tarmigt.
Manu: Where the fuck is Tamig?
Eugene: It's where we need to go.
Rick: Okay. Johann, take someone with you. Eugene, can you receive phone calls?
Eugene: On my French number, yes.
Rick: Good. I'll call you on it then. Okay, you two go. Try to stay out of trouble, and share your location. If you're not back in thirty minutes, I'll find the waiter. What was his name again?
Johann: Mohamed. Let's go!
The night was much colder than they expected. A beige Mercedes 240 from the seventies was waiting for them at the door. They jumped in the back and disappeared in the night. Rick and Manu waited in the lobby.
Rick watched the blue dot on his phone move away from the main road. Half-an hour after they left, the blue dot stopped moving. He called Eugene but went straight to voicemail. Manu tried to ease him off. Tarmigt was a different town. They were certainly in a no-reception zone and thirty minutes wasn't enough to get worried. Rick was tense, but he agreed to wait a little longer. Manu fetched Cubilete, a Mexican dice game, and tequila from his backpack.
Meanwhile, Johann and Eugene were on a pitch-black road with no reception. Johann engaged the taxi driver, who had an epic moustache, as fashionable as his car. As they progressed in the night, they heard distant chants. They followed the music to a white bivouac. The taxi driver made a phone call and a teenager came out to greet them. He led Johann and Eugene inside.
They followed a red carped leading to an even bigger tent. Johann and Eugene were struck: it was the real Ali Baba’s cave. They were dozens of round tables, shiny chandeliers, fruits, drinks, nuts, and live musicians. A troupe of dancers was performing to over a hundred people. Men wore shiny white jellabas or suits. Women wore splendid, colorful caftans. Johann and Eugene were amazed. They had stumbled into a Moroccan wedding.
The teenager sat them at a table next to a man in a grey oversized suit. He poured them tea. They drank it in crystal glasses, ate some fruits, and talked business. The dealer told them he could not leave the wedding, but his cousin, the teenager would get them what they needed. Johann and Eugene stayed with the man for a bit. They clapped along, danced with the guests, and walked out with the teenager at the end of the song. The taxi was still waiting.
The company of four left on the dark dirtroad and entered the tiny streets of Tarmigt Medina. They stopped in front of a small door carved in the wall. The teenager stepped out of the car and into the house. Immediately after, blue and red lights colored the walls. A police van appeared from around the corner.
Johann: It’s the police!
Taxi driver: QUICK! Hide. They must not see you!
The boys lay down and the taxi casually drove away. After the first turn, he pressed hard on the gas. Johann and Eugene grabbed on anything they could to avoid bumping their heads. The taxi driver did a rally in the Medina labyrinth, then came to a stop and turned off the car. Eugene was giggling nervously.
Taxi driver: Now we wait. Stay down.
Johann: They were waiting for him. Is he going to be okay?
Taxi driver: Inshallah
Eugene: C'est n’importe quoi!
They waited in the dark, breathing out their anxiety in the cold air. Eugene could not stop laughing. Johann elbowed him a few times, but the more he tried to repress it, the more he laughed. Ten minutes later, Johann spoke up.
Johann: I gave him 50 euros. Should we go back to the wedding?
Taxi driver: I don't know. First let's get away from the cops.
The taxi driver took another secluded road until they were out in complete darkness. The stars twinkled in the black sky. The taxi driver stopped in front of a small building and made a phone call. Eugene was still giggling. Five minutes later, a hooded man came out from behind the building, opened the door, and sat next to the taxi driver.
Hooded man: Assalaam alaykum
Johann: Alaykum assalaam
Hooded man: My cousin told me you gave him 50 euros.
Johann: Yes, I did.
Hooded man: Here.
He handed him a cellophane wrapped slab the size of a Kit-Kat. Eugene stopped laughing at once. Johann unfolded the plastic and a strong smell of Cannabis filled the car.
Johann: It smells really good. Can you cut me a piece?
Hooded man: No...Take it all.
Johann: Are you sure? It's a lot.
Hooded man: Yes, for your hassle.
Johann: Chokran sahbi
The hooded man bursted into laughter, and they all laughed with him. He saluted them and stepped out of the car. Eugene held the wrapped slab with two hands like a kid holding a candy bar, giggling and repeating "c'est n'importe quoi!" all the way back to the hotel. The taxi driver got a good tip, and Johann and Eugene walked in the hotel lobby. They found their friends where they left them, playing Cubilete, wasted.
Rick: Oh! We forgot about you haha! What happened?
Johann: Long story. Let’s go to our room.
Manu: Mission accomplished?
Johann: I thought you did not want to smoke anymore?
Manu: Now I'm drunk, and I do want to get high. Also, how the fuck did you end up in a wedding!?
Johann: Hahahaha. I'll tell you upstairs, let's go!
They entered the room and closed the door behind them. Eugene took out the slab of hash from his pocket and threw it to Manu.
Manu: WTF! How much did you pay???
Eugene: 50 euros.
Rick: You gotta be kidding me. That's at least 30 grams!
Eugene: I know haha. C'est n'importe quoi!
Johann: Time to try it. Shit! We forgot to buy cigarettes.
Manu: We did. Mohamed got me cigarettes, papers, AND chocolate!
Johann: Haha great teamwork. Let's honor Morocco, and Tarmigt!
Johann and Eugene rolled two joints each, and relived their folkloric desert night. The hash was the best they had ever had. They smoked and laughed to a peaceful, dreamless sleep. The next evening, the four friends reached the desert, and rode camels on the dunes.
Manu did not remember.