(image by The Boy)
It was late when we arrived in Meknes, stepping tentatively from the bus into the black night. We had left Casablanca under a dark cloud, the smell of poverty and pollution filling our lungs, the air of aggression and fear a shock to us. In the dark night of Meknes we were filled with relief at having left the city with such an evocative name, a name that conjured an exoticism and romance that we failed to find.
Gripping each others' hands tightly we made our way through quiet streets, looking for the nearest hotel mentioned in that bastion of reassurance, the guide book. The streets were empty, the area around the bus station dead to the night, garages and repair shops shuttered and blank. We were quiet too, each aware of the other's relief and sadness. There was no need to talk for we had passed the same damaged and desperate men and women and children lining the docks, breathed the same putrid air as shallowly as we could and reeled at the same mosque, built with countless millions of public money while the city's public rotted around it.
After 10 minutes walking the empty streets we found the hotel. It too was empty, an air of desolation hanging in the atmosphere - a huge crumbling building as dark as a gothic mansion, the reception area watched over by a silent stuffed hog's head. We stood quietly at the desk, waiting for someone to come. An elderly woman in cleaning overalls stopped half way down the stairs, looked at us and turned back the way she came. Minutes later a young man appeared, her son perhaps. The sight of a young white couple, both tired but smiling and she little more than a teenager seemed to surprise him. More surprised still when we asked for a room. But without questions he led us down the long dark hallway, past a door tied with rope to the furthest room. Opening the door he looked doubtful, as if the sight of its stained walls and broken furniture would lead us to the decision that this was not the hotel for us, but he had not reckoned with our exhaustion and our sheer relief to have found somewhere to sleep. 'Fine' we nodded, we'll take it.
It took us a few hours to realise that we hadn't been given a key for our room, when we went to ask for one gestures were made to indicate that none of the rooms had keys, none of the doors were locked. We were too tired to care and with our cameras and what little was left of our money tucked under our pillows and our heavy rucksacks and a chair pushed tight against the door, we climbed under the itchy blankets and tried to sleep. I lay awake for an hour or so, the sights of the day playing in my troubled mind. He held me tight, my body curled into his as I listened to him breath slowly and steadily. I knew he was awake too but both too tired to talk we just lay there with the full moon casting strange shadows through the curtains that would not close and the bars on the windows which although decorative with their swirls, did not convey the the notion that they were there to serve a purpose of mere aesthetics.
Eventually I slept and for the first night in many weeks, I was not tormented with nightmares. Under the charging horsemen I slept so deeply I slept that the strange noises in the night barely registered, the barking barely disturbed, for since 10pm a loud and savage beast had yowled and howled and growled from behind the door tied with a piece of old rope.
I woke early as the sun was coming up. I lay still and quiet, still curled tightly in a ball, still nestled under the warm arm of the man I was falling more and more deeply in love with. I opened my eyes, my gaze falling to the windows, the gap between the curtains a foot wide and through the blinking early morning light saw the back of a man hurry by, shoulders stooped and tense and behind him a young woman, her large brown eyes looking in and catching my tired blue ones for a moment before turning quickly away. Twice more this scene played out, although neither of the other women looked in and neither of the other women play in my memory three years later.
I turned over and held the boy, whispering in his ear that we should try to find another hotel for this was one filled with sadness and desperation.