Photo: SoWhat –

I make Michael dinner the night I tell him I’ve decided I would like him to kiss me.

We eat on a rooftop overlooking Marrakech, the sandstone buildings of the old medina to one side and the sleek lights of the new city on the other. Satellite dishes dot the top of homes until the edge of the city, where palm trees are visible in the shadow of mountains.

He has lived in Morocco for nine months. I ask him if he’s happy here.

“No. I’m not miserable but I’m not happy. Haven’t I already told you that?”

He’s alluded to it but hasn’t said it so directly. I ask what would make him happier.

“More evenings like this. This is an aberration.” He has found few people he can really engage with, and I can only imagine how stifling that is for him.

He also says a relationship would make him happier. I think of the dog he took in from the street last week, the attention he gives her and the way he worries about her when he has to leave her alone.

I say I would like him to kiss me, and he does. I tell him he has nice lips, not that I have much to which to compare them. He points out I have seen a lot of lips, but I don’t think that counts.

He fingers the fabric of my sleeve. “This is a really nice dress.”

When he asks if I wore the dress for him, I blush and say I wear it often. I don’t tell him I fussed over what to wear and how to do my hair, nor do I say that I wore makeup, that I traced the contour of my eyes and followed the path of my cheekbones, and that I did all this to make myself more beautiful for him.

He tells me something personal, something hard to say. I lace my fingers through his to make it easier. He pauses, looks at me. “That’s really nice.”

“What is?”

“You taking my hand.”

I look down at our clasped hands, resting on his knee, warm and secure.

* * *

The bed is large enough for us and the puppy to fit comfortably. She lies beside me as I sit reading a novel on my tablet. Michael rests his head on my leg as he lies to my other side, working on a lesson plan on his tablet. Tonight he’s going to discuss city planning with his advanced English class.

Michael sits up, surveys the scene. “With our iPads and the dog, we’re the perfect yuppie couple.”

“Put on your hipster glasses, then we’ll really be yuppies.”

Family and friends were worried about me visiting Morocco alone. If only I could explain how safe I feel right now.

He laughs. We laugh often and easily, in this yuppie world we’ve conjured in Morocco. If not for the exhausting heat and the red sandstone buildings outside, we could be in Toronto or Vancouver or New York rather than Marrakech.

The speed with which we’ve managed to create this world is remarkable. Time is contorted here, bending and moving with flexibility. It grants us intimacy that time in Canada would not allow.

It has been just over a week since we met at a crowded café, me a solo traveler breaking up a trip to Europe with an impulsive two-week visit to Morocco, and he one of the thousands of expats away from their homes, teaching their language in a foreign place.

Michael has to run an errand before his class that evening. I’m going to stay in the apartment and hang out with the dog until he returns. I like dogs, but I’ve made a special effort with this one because Michael cares about her deeply.

As he leaves the bedroom, I call to him, “Wait, come back.” He does and I kiss him twice. He is smiling as he goes.

* * *

“Say it again,” I ask.

“Es-sa-wee-ra.”

“Es-saw-rea.”

“Close. Es-sa-wee-ra.”

“Es-sa-wee-ra.”

“There you go.”

I visited Essaouira that day. It’s a beautiful town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast with white buildings, white seagulls, white sunlight.

Michael couldn’t come because he had to work. I don’t tell him how much more I would have enjoyed myself had he been there.

There are many things I don’t tell him. I return his openness and honesty with tentativeness and reluctance, slipping through a side entrance when he throws open the front door. It’s likely my reserve doesn’t matter. Michael probably knows how much I missed having him there. He is good at following my thoughts even when they try to shake him off.

He meets me at my hotel when I’m back from the coast and he’s finished work. When he leans in, he receives an awkward kiss on the cheek. “It’s okay to kiss in spaces like these,” he says. I’m embarrassed that I don’t understand the social conventions, although I can only partially blame that on the conventions being different here.

At dinner I talk about Essaouira. He talks about his day at work. We discuss political theory, television, our families, American politics. We split dessert.

As we leave the restaurant Michael says how nice a date that was. It was the nicest date I’ve been on in years, though I don’t tell him that.

He notices I’m wearing heels and asks if I wore them for him. I did, but I make a joke to evade the question. Perhaps I do not want to admit to him that I think of him, whether it’s in Essaouira or when choosing shoes, because I know I will soon be trying not to think of him at all.

Our timing isn’t good. It won’t be long until I leave Marrakech, and then I have plans that will take me away from Canada by the time he returns to Toronto. Michael and I will know each other only in Morocco.

* * *

The night of our first kiss, it is only a moment that I look down at our clasped hands, resting on his knee. But it is the kind of moment that lingers.

Family and friends were worried about me visiting Morocco alone. If only I could explain how safe I feel right now, and how far from alone I am.

In the time we have spent on the rooftop, darkness has crept in to hide the palm trees in the distance. We lie down and look up at the stars, which seem brighter than the ones in Toronto or Vancouver or New York. Everything seems more vivid here.

I am leaving in five days, but right now Michael’s arm is around me and I am happy. I don’t tell him this, but he knows.

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