A Moroccan Proposal

We sit, just a friend and I at the edge of a deserted road, edging closer to the bushes lining the road, desperately trying to stay in the shade. Itís been an hour now, and cars keep passing us by, but no one has any room for us. We get to our feet to give up and go home, when another full taxi came around the corner and stops suddenly in front of us.
Without warning, bodies start pouring out of the taxi from every door, and we're instantly in a full-blown game of musical chairs, expected to get in this already full car. Our bags are slung unceremoniously in the trunk, and I find myself facing the driver, and he's pointing at his door. I understand that in Morocco they will fit as many people in the car as possible, but I don't understand his gestures. We stare each other down for a prolonged second. He wants me to get in the drivers seat?
That's precisely want he wants, and I've reached a point in this country where I no longer question seemingly wild situations - I shrug and get on with it, while bemusedly trying to work out how I got here in the first place. The driver climbs in after me, and I find myself wedged between him and the gear stick, trying to keep my feet as far from the pedals as possible in case I accidentally step on the gas, stop my knees from jamming themselves underneath the steering wheel, hindering the driving process, and trying to stay away from the gear stick, which gets shoved in to my thigh every time it needs changing, by the driver reaching across me.
While concentrating on not moving a muscle, I glance about me, noting that there are ten people crammed in a car designed for five, and Iím the only woman, wedged in possibly the most compromising seat, in a country where contact between men and women is almost taboo.
The eight other men start up a conversation with my friend, who recognizes the driver. I follow their conversation, saying nothing, as the minority in the vehicle. I'm not about to get in the middle of this locker room talk. Thankfully, the ride is short, just five kilometers to our destination. The men are laughing and joking with my friend, talking about their families, America, and circumcision, of all topics. I'm growing more uncomfortable by the second as they start talking about this pretty girl that is traveling with him. Am I his girlfriend? Is he going to marry me? Is she married? How old is she? Where is she from? Iím rolling my eyes at their boldness, somewhat used to the way they casual chat about my personal life and me as if Iím not here.
"Maybe you should ask her yourself; she speaks Arabic," my friend suddenly tells them, tired of trying to answer for me, although I know he understands why I have been reluctant to enter this conversation. I can't blame him; he's been trying his best to distract these men for the last fifteen minutes, but they finally get the better of him.
The car goes completely silent, eight pairs of eyes bore through me, and I look down at my hands in my lap. They can't believe that I've been following everything they've been saying; I, a woman, have caught them in their uninhibited chatter. My discomfort is suddenly gone as I peek to my right and see the shocked faces of a couple of the men, and I now must concentrate on fighting the urge to laugh out loud as they are still realizing how the tables have been instantly and dramatically turned on them.
As quickly as it came, the silence disappears, and the men burst into chatter again, pretending that nothing happened. Luckily, weíre just coming to our destination, and I sigh in relief that the awkward situation is now behind us.
As we untangle ourselves from the car, and retrieve our bags from the trunk, the driver sidles up to my friend. He gives it one last shot. I'm not married, right? And I'm how old? Don't I want to marry a Moroccan, stay and live in Morocco and have children? Wouldn't I like to marry him, the driver? I look at him, and politely decline as he proudly grins his toothless grin, as if he somehow expects that to sway me in my decision.

R Townsend

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