A travel moment in Morocco

I revel in being anonymous. Well, as anonymous as a lone female can be in Morocco. I feel eyes on me questioning what I'm doing on my own. Am I lost? Where is my husband?

The night train, Marrakesh to Tangier. I'm waiting on the platform. Ramadan is long finished, the tourist season over and winter is creeping in. After a year of leading tours in Morocco surrounded by people all day, every day, the solitude is exhilarating. Right here, right now I am free.

In the cabin. It's 9pm and the train departs on the rhythmic chug to Tangier. Only ten more hours to go. The old man on the bunk opposite gets undressed leaving on a vest that just about covers his rotund belly. He folds his clothes with extreme care. I wonder if at home this is also part of his nightly ritual. He removes trouser braces. His wife reveals a garish floral nightgown beneath her kaftan. She takes out some blankets from her carry case and hands one up to her husband. They settle in for the night. Witnessing this domestic scene I am inexplicably fond of them, even though he looks like a snorer.

The rain taps on the window and every now and then a rat-a-tat-tat indicates the drinks trolley passing along the corridor. The old man turns off the light. It's 9.36pm.

In the dark his wife recites the Koran, accompanied moments later by inevitable snoring from the upper bunk. During the night her phone rings. Greetings and a million enquiries about family and health are exchanged in shrill Arabic. The snoring continues uninterrupted, at times loud and disturbed and at other times low and satisfied. The wife keeps her headscarf on all night. I don't sleep much. But I am peaceful. The rain in Tangier has been heavy and there has been some serious flooding, the old man tells me in the morning. Soon it will stop, “Inshallah” – if God wills. This, the only conversation we have.

Blankets are folded up and packed away; braces and kaftan reinstated.

I don't say goodbye to them. I don't know where they live, where they are going or anything of their lives. But we shared a night together in that confined space and I remember them. It seems improper. As if I have illicitly stolen a snippet of their lives.

It occurs to me that after a year of travelling in constant company this is the first time I am at peace to enjoy the beauty in the banal, unquestioned.

Marrakesh to Tangier, sleeper train, November 2008. It was raining
outside and an old man snored.

That's really it.

J Williams

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