Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Man with the Gravelly Voice

Fes is full of unusual characters. There is the woman who sits on my street every morning, eating her oranges, artichokes or pumpkin seeds and asking everyone to pray for her as they pass by and offer her a greeting. There's a squat, benevolent black woman who sits outside Cafe Clock every day with any number of stray cats on her lap who never fails to greet me and ask how I am faring. And of course there is the once beautiful femme fatale who paints her cheeks bright red and occasionally bursts into colorful tirades which never fail to draw an audience.

There are an equal number of men who add their own special hue to the scene. Among them was a man who had an unusual, gravelly voice that everyone loved to imitate. He would always surprise me when he spoke to me in English whenever our paths crossed.

"You have beautiful eyes" he used to growl at me.

During the time I've been in Fes, I have often seen him with his girlfriend. She is blind and seemed to be steadfast supporter of his. Often, I would see them walking arm in arm up Talaa Kbir. More often than not, he seemed contrite when they were together. But recently, I saw her shaking him by the shoulders, her gaze directed towards some distant place, as he succumbed to her public admonishments while the ever curious crowd watched on.

The other day I learned that this man died. I wasn't at all surprised as his face had become increasingly gaunt and had begun to look like it was carved from charred wood. I imagine that whatever it was that he took or drank or ate to help him get through the day had finally done him in. And then I recalled a scene I had witnessed about a week ago that now seemed particularly poignant. This man was outside my house at the public fountain. A friend was helping to shave him at the fountain. Together, they sat there for quite some time while his bristly face was scraped clean. Here and there, his face was slightly bloody from the closeness of the shave. But once again I was taken by the way he submitted to the ministrations of someone who cared about him. Little did I realize it would be the last time I laid eyes on him.

I wonder what is to become of his blind girlfriend and his companion who shaved him with such conscientious care. I wonder who will miss him and mourn his passing and my heart aches as I remember the vulnerable look on his clean shaven face.