“What happens if he comes up here with a knife?” mused Sarah, her soft voice turning frantic, her eyebrows arching higher.
“I'll take this bottle, bash him over the head, and throw him off the roof,” came my decorated and non-comforting response.
We weren't legitimately frightened, not yet at least, but found ourselves airing out the dangerous possibilities of being above the bustling city of Marrakech in the company of an unknown man, who claimed to work in partnership with the Riad where we were residing. He had given the necessary assurances that we were in safe hands. He knew our information, knew we were one-less than usual, and the creases around his eyes boasted trustworthiness. Upon arrival at this sister riad he pulled up a photo of Jean, our host, on the computer at the front-desk. We were only going to wait awhile before the night-shift from Riad Edward came to retrieve us. In the meantime, “What do you girls like to drink? Wine, maybe?”
Earlier that evening our other traveling companion, Megan, had sleekly opted out of dining in the new town, Gueliz. She informed us of her carefully considered decision as we ducked under the squatty heavy-wooden entrance, spilling out into the antiquated Muslim neighborhood where our place was neatly tucked away. Megan didn't follow our enthusiastic bounce. “I just need a quiet night in,” our resident introvert sighed. After five minutes of offering other alternatives, Sarah and I were convinced by Megan that she wasn't bothered not to be going. It was assumed Megan's stomach was acting up again. Coupled with her 72 hour limit of constant togetherness and returning from our resplendent time in the Atlas Mountains, she would probably benefit from an evening of solitude. All of us would. Sarah had refrained from joining a visit to the local hammam two days earlier, which would have terrified our sweetly reserved Californian. At some point, it would be my turn to decline of an outing or cultural encounter.
What had brought us to this destination was a shared longing to be immersed in the wafting fragrances of the souqs, exploring areas that would be tourist free, breaking bread with those whose generously henna-tattooed arms brandished stories of their own. That being said, we had fallen prey to a hustler in the square, who hijacked Megan’s arm then before Megan could object, placed a very large, ornate henna tattoo; a much more visible and definitely more overpriced souvenir than we had all bargained for that first morning in the main square of the city.
Where Riad Edward lay-- we hadn't the slightest clue. Our hazy understanding of the dusty streets had been called into question many times over the course of our stay. During the day, we operated with confidence as we recognized landmarks which were our best means of a GPS. The third day, we discovered we were an entire hour behind on time. Yes, sophisticated world travelers—that’s what we were!
Varying scents of exotic spices and unsightly cuts of butcher's meat hanging lazily, unpreserved in blanketing heat, steered us around the blocks enclosed by its orange and red clay chalk ramparts. The most memorable landmark, curiously enough, was a mural of brightly-painted dancing fruits and vegetables with facial expressions plus human appendages holding onto some other fruit or vegetable. This particular mural had prompted an onset of giggles but offered an equal sense of relief as it was our signal that after turning one more corner we'd reach our sanctuary of an inn.
After navigating an uncomfortable neighborhood too late one night, where light after light ceased to shine amidst shadows of feral cats and suspect doors, we had unanimously agreed to only travel by taxi after sundown.
The trajectory of this “early night”, however, was thrown off course by an Algerian taxi driver who had dumped us off at an unfamiliar intersection. We assumed it was a close walk “home” to our Riad as we tried to interpret his swift enunciation in non-Françoise French. As the taxi rolled to a stop a crooked smile peered through then leaned into the driver's window speaking in Arabic with a cool, self-assured tone. Suddenly, the athletic-looking young man with tanned skin, passable Afro, boyish smile, and nonchalant manner turned his attention to the wide-eyed girls in the backseat. “Alright ladies, come with me!” I shot Sarah the Oh, hell no look, complete with dismayed pursed lips, which she promptly returned.
Suddenly, our taxi driver was opening our doors, the stranger with was bobbling off an explanation of how the taxi driver had reached his riad via telephone since it is our riad's sister riad and it was their night for phone duty, he would certainly get us back safely. We found ourselves not questioning any of it. Our discretion was likely aided by the wine we had indulged in over dinner, relinquishing an in-control-feeling-enough of our fate. This was an adventure after all. We were only slightly tipsy, extremely self-aware and managing mischief was a specialty of the educated and worldly women we faithfully believed ourselves to be. Of course.
He was an equal mix of Western Sahan and Moroccan, explaining the lightness of his skin and darkness in his eyes. Sarah and I showed no visible signs of being uncomfortable as we were both entertained by the events unfolding into the night, stretching across the horizon dotted by T.V. satellites. We had already become acquainted with the charming inn-man en route to the ornately garnished riad where vibrant shrubbery crowded the winding stairs and tiered rooftop. A fountain rested in the foyer, home to striped koi fish swimming amidst large lily pads. We had been given a brisk tour before climbing the circular steps to the open night air of Marrakech. Zachary had emphasized the hammam room. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of having a massage.
Again, Sarah and I were still totally in control of this situation so we proceeded to go up to the rooftop. Zachary- that was his name- ascended with not two but three wine glasses, dangling ambitiously from his slender fingers. No knife in view, our shoulders began to relax as Zachary meddled with the corkscrew.
Now, while Zachary had been below fetching the wine, Sarah and I had come up with alternative lives… better known as lies… to use as our “cover” story. Sarah, we had decided, would be engaged to a well-known Norwegian actor. I cannot remember my cover as Sarah’s was far more interesting but just believe me, it was probably as outlandish as hers.
Zachary cracked open the wine and generously poured us all a glass. While the scenery was lovely, the night dark and arid, the company turned out to be anything but. As we began talking more and more to Zachary we discovered a raging narcissist who- you guessed it- turned out to be somewhat of a creep. At some point during the conversation, reminiscing over our made-up memories, Zachary impatiently interrupted us by way of suggesting that Sarah and I share a kiss. “I really wouldn’t mind,” he shrugged his shoulders while slurping the rest of his wine then poured himself another glass.
As if that wasn’t unsettling enough, about two minutes later he tried to make some poetic reference to the stars and then… he touched Sarah’s head. He actually succeeded in tilting it too! Something about looking up to the stars in a magical moment or something-or-other. In those two instants, the reality of the situation we were in dawned on both of us. We needed to get off the rooftop and back to Megan. Immediately.