The Djebel

“A cave, a hole to hide in,” he keeps muttering, he carries a gun a gun belt and grenades, all the paraphernalia of a warrior,  reaching the outcrop he pulls himself up to a ledge of sorts where he collapses, just falls forward onto his face like a new born baby would. The camouflage colouring of his combat uniform makes his inert body less obvious than it would otherwise  even though  evening and dusk are soon to set in,  nearly winter and  the higher altitudes of the Ouarsenis range are beginning to receive gentle falls of early snow so that the morning may  find him completely interred . But he has already been spotted. The goats have driven the berber dwellers of these altitudes to develop an ethnic bent for dominating the heights, many an injured animal or a ewe dropping her foal at the top of a ridge or on some lonely outcrop that only she and her kind were able to access, would drag the herder to the most remote and volatile of mountain spots. They have seen him and within minutes there are three armed men covering him with their rifles while a third shakes him out of his intense deathlike slumber. They force him to abandon the outcrop on which he has been lying and take him to a safer place where they bind his wrists and ankles.


As she cooked in her minuscular kitchen with just one burner on a historic gas stove, and the baby swinging from her head, she spoke incessantly in her own brand of pidgin Spanish. The man ignored her,  it was probably the baby she was speaking to. He didn´t understand anything she said sometimes, she would communicate with him when necessary with gestures and pushing or pulling him. She had been his friend for years, ever since he scared off the man who was hassling her in Tangiers and took her to his flat. She had been carrying a small battered case so he knew instinctively that she had nowhere to go. Her name was Latifa and she became his willing slave, in his flat, for the several months that he had lived there. From sunrise to dusk she´d cook, clean, prepare and follow him around the house. He would leave dirhams on the kitchen table, and after lunch the change and receipts would be there waiting for him to check. He never did, he didn´t care. Then one day he left, leaving her with some money and amongst friends. She was broken, he had never had her, never wanted her, and she had never been anything to him but a girl needing a friend.


“What is her name?” He pointed to the child.

“Malak” she replied,” her mother works, so she and her sister are on the streets all day.

“So what´s the problem with school?”

“No money, “She said something about him to the child who turned and looked at Pete. Her teeth were white and perfect and her smile totally unexpected in a face who´s total lack of expression must have been the child´s only weapon against the evil and negligence which was happening around her, and which she instinctively knew was so, so wrong.

“Give her Couscous.”

“No, she will have what we leave.”

So he went to the other room and found a plate and a fork. He stacked the big plate high with semolina and placed it before her, she fell on it like a wolf cub, and using her hands devoured it ravenously, He gave her bread and coca cola.

“Malak! “ He said loudly and she looked up but continued eating. ” Tell her to stop eating,” Latifa his friend, spoke sharply to her and the girl stopped and looked at him. “She says she is sorry. “


“She has nothing to be sorry for, just tell her she will make me happy if she uses the fork.” Latifa spoke to her and she listened attentively, humbly. Then, she laughed, a peal of heartfelt mirth, looking at him, and Pete, caught unawares grinned back in spite of himself,  as she ate the rest of the food with the implement, experiencing some difficulty. As she ate she kept looking into his face and gently laughing. The man was smitten with the child her beauty wisdom charm and pride were amazing for a little girl living in abject poverty.  And of course he realised that the child somehow knew of her own power, as a woman to be, of her beauty and charm and knew how to use it given the right opportunity.  She knew instinctively, intuitively, he thought, that he was the type of man who would love children and hold sacred their right to be children. Of course there was also the possibility that she just believed that foreigners were the greener side of her own particular river.