There is a fine-boned, delicate woman who lives and works in the Medina. She was born here and seems to float through the streets with a calm that I rarely see in the chaos of old Fes. She always addresses me as ‘madame’ and formally greets me each time we meet.
I was sitting atop the Cascade hotel the other night, enjoying the temperate air and the sounds of people coming and going below, when she materialized. She slowly made her way to the far corner where I was sitting with two others and sat down beside us. Her voice was high and clear as she greeted everyone. Her ‘r’s’ rolled endlessly off her tongue, making me smile inside at the sheer musicality of her words. After some time had passed, the two men sitting with us left on an errand and we found ourselves alone. With no one to interpret for us, we resorted to the little bit of French we both knew to continue our conversation.
I found out she is 45 years old and lost her parents at a young age. As beautiful as she is, I was shocked to learn she was much younger than I had thought she was -- for her bearing is that of someone in her 60’s. She moves slowly and has a weariness about her that belies her age. I think to myself that she must be ill.
Ever so deliberately, this elegant woman opened her handbag and sorted through several layers to extract a cigarette. This surprised me, too, as few Moroccan women her age smoke. She asked me why I had come to Fes. Through gestures, some French and a little bit of Arabic I explained that Fes offered me work, a home and a husband … things I wasn’t able to have back home. I told her Fes kept offering me things and I just kept saying ‘yes’ until I found myself settled in. “Marhabah, Saida,” she said. “Welcome”. She seemed to like my explanation.
Another cigarette was taken in hand and she offered one to me. More of her story came out and I learned she lived with her sister and her nephews in a house that was far from calm. She has no husband or children. She counted all the places she had travelled in Morocco on her fingers and ended by saying Fes was where she preferred to be. “Fes?” I asked. “Fes is far from tranquil … why Fes?” Her answer was lost on me but I gathered it’s because this is the place that is most familiar to her.
Taking my leave I later learned a little bit more about her story. She was quite a beauty in her youth and many a young Moroccan man sought her favor. She lived the high life and it seems now she is paying the price for her youthful follies. In any event, that’s how the story was relayed to me. To me, she is unearthly and I now have this fixed image of her in my mind, floating through the dark recesses of the medina, wistfully carrying her past around with her.