What was the name of that hotel with the roaches? Do you remember? It was the cheapest hostel we could find in El-Jadida — two narrow beds pushed to either side, a broken TV, and a door that didn’t quite close.
You squashed the first roach and I thought I could look past it, but then they all came, dozens of them scuttling horribly across the tiled floor. It was just before midnight and pouring rain, the streets muddy and dark and there was nowhere else to go. We set up the tent on the beds and crawled inside, flicking at the dark forms as they tapped their way along the outside of those flimsy nylon walls.
“This is romantic,” you said and I laughed.
In Essaouira, it rained and rained and rained. I spun circles in the hotel room while you worked. Eventually I decided to go for a walk. The tourist stalls of the medina were open, but I had no money to squander on argan oil or leather bags or ornate jewelry so I walked to the pier instead. Morocco’s Atlantic can smell so much like California’s Pacific; the men gutting fish made me homesick. Scrawny kittens circled my ankles and crawled over fish entrails, meowing with wide pink mouths. The fishermen ignored me.
When I returned, you were still working, but you made room for me on the bed. I didn’t bring a book so I wrote in my journal and tried to recreate scenes from Dreams of Trespass. I closed my eyes and imagined freedom defined as a square of sky above my head.
We arrived in Imlil, a mountain town at the end of a dirt road, to find Red Bull banners waving and neon-attired runners shouting at each other over the techno music blaring on the loudspeakers. You turned to look at me, your eyebrows raised, and I shrugged. Things like this always happen when you’re around, so nothing ever surprises me. A mountain marathon up the highest peak in North Africa? Of course you would arrive just in time for that. We gave the Italian organizers all of our cash to pay for the race fees. There’s no bank in Imlil. No credit card readers either. With no money left for a hotel, we set up our tent and slept for free in someone’s garden. I borrowed running tights and we bought a bottle of water at a small shop just before it closed.
Dawn comes early in the mountains. I can remember the switchbacks leading up to that first ridge, how we passed a man and his son walking slowly with a donkey, how the light burned red against the Atlas Mountains. The only path in and the only path out. The last few miles were excruciating, tripping over boulders, crawling along a dry stream bed. I don’t remember taking a shower or changing into flip flops. I only remember lying in the tent with my legs aching and the warm secure feeling of my face pressed against your back.
In Casablanca, I insisted we go to Rick’s Cafe. “I don’t care that it’s touristy,” I told you. “I have to do it. I just want to have one cocktail and say ‘here’s looking at you, kid.’” It was touristy and overpriced. I still don’t regret it. Except when you insisted that you knew the way back and took us through a neighborhood where the boys muttered things to me in Arabic and I pretended not to understand. It was easier that way. When we resurfaced onto a major intersection, I stood next to you waiting for the light to change and the guy behind me grabbed my ass. I turned to him, raised my hand, and his friends pulled him back. “He’s drunk, he’s drunk,” they said in apology and I wondered why anyone thinks that’s an acceptable excuse. I swore at them in English, shouted and stamped my feet, all of my frustration poured out onto that street corner. You didn’t say anything on the way back.
We saw a girl running in shorts in Rabat. It was my favorite city in Morocco, but all that I really remember is the sun setting and a girl running outside the old city walls. We had coffee at a surfing school with a cafe on the roof and watched a couple of young boys tip their boards into the waves as the sky turned purple and then midnight blue behind them.
I promised myself I would come back to Rabat, that it would be my ace in the hole when this relationship fell through the cracks. You reached out and grabbed my hand, pressing it gently between your own. Your eyes were so full of love that I thought maybe I wouldn’t need an ace in the hole after all.
But I did.
On the train back to Casablanca, I fell asleep on your shoulder. You shook me awake. “It’s time to go.” I stared at you with bleary eyes before realizing you only meant it was time to get off the train. We were never the same after that.
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