(Dedication for this work is to SOFREP brother Eliran Feildboy)
“Sam, come on man. What’s the next thing you know? Ol’ Jed’s a millionaire. Right, man?”
But Samuel Booth gawked at me with the emptiness of a brood divine.
“Ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, Sam!” I repeated for my own whimsical benefit.
And Sam extended an envelope to me for my particular benefit. I allowed my fingers to pinch it as he released it and dissolved into the raucous clamor of the souk. I had my head dipped to the letter in my hand, not seeing the point in the crowd where Sam had slipped away.
“No, no more … nevermore,” I denied in my mind, though I may have actually said it out loud; out loud in a tiny whisper. I let my arm drop to my side and swing to and fro, then sat heavily on the round wall that bordered the Muhammad Cinq fountain.
My mind drifted into the absurd realm of the ridiculous as it raced to portend the nature of the envelope — I ripped it apart. In it were typed instructions to proceed to the city of Kenitra. I cursed my recklessness because I had thrown away my map of the country earlier that day thinking I was at the end of my journey. Now, at the end of my line, I was painfully aware that the journey must go on. To aggravate my stupor was the following edict:
“No monetary expenditure authorized.”
All too aware of that meaning that I was to make my way, unaided, by any means provided to me by the Unit; meaning money. I fished my pockets for my dung puffs. The pack was empty. I crushed it and let it fall to Rabat. A local gent made a remark at me; I could tell by the harsh tone that he was chiding me for littering.
“Who the phuq puts an empty cigarette pack back in their pocket?” I bullied myself.
I recovered my trash and, wanting to take a giant crap on the whole country and leave, I jutted my chin this way and that looking for a waste receptacle. Nothing. “Ok, where do these phuqrz throw their trash? “On the ground. That’s where, but I get bitched at for doing it.”
I observed a woman tossing what looked to be refuse in a basket. I added my cigarette pack to it then sat and attempted to remedy my transportation dilemma. I knew I could stow away on a train, as I had seen drifters laying of the roofs of trains and clinging to modest outcrops on the sides. What a truly remarkable adventure that would make!
Air travel seem out of the question — unless I happened to find my way onto another military helicopter flight. That possibility was as remote as Pluto — which, by the way, is not a planet. Did you know that? Not a planet after all. Here, all these years I foolishly believed Pluto was a planet and some goober scientist yanks the Solar System carpet out from under my feet. Everything I have ever know is a lie!
I was clearly engaged in some heavy-duty sulking; really picking at that scab.
I now sat in a cantina getting clinically drunk and giving zero to the negative exponent phux. A local man bellied up next to me. He wore western-style slacks and shirt, both of which were white, loosely fitting, and flowing, entirely apropos the desert climate. As he spoke in a friendly way to me I was en garde immediately for the content of the discussion. It was benign enough.
“From where do you hail, my friend?”
“What in the hail does that even mean, pal?”
“It means where are you from,”
“Oh, ok then why in the hail didn’t you just ask me where I was from?”
The man laughed before he said, “Let me buy you a cocktail, my friend,”
“I don’t let men buy me cocktails, buddy … but I’ll have a drink, sure.”
“And so, to where are you traveling, my friend?”
“What makes you think I am traveling anywhere? How do you know I’m not from right here?”
“Because no Westerners are from Rabat; they are only ever traveling through Rabat,”
He had a point there and I leveled with him that I was trying to get to Taza but was flat-out of money. He mentioned an associate of his that made routine cross-country excursions to Taza, and that he could arrange for my travel with his caravan. Sure, that sounded kosher to me; I envisioned a convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers. I could Rat Patrol it for a couple of days to get to Taza.
“I can’t thank you enough for this, my brother. Let me buy you a drink now!”
“Thank you but no, my friend. I would prefer a cocktail …”
And we both laughed at his ironic touché sort of humor even though I wanted to smash in his face. Face smashing was doable, but this guy was doing me a tremendous service. It was no cost to him, but I was sure to be remorseful at not being able to offer remuneration to my travel hosts.
I advanced to the corrals of my travel host, a man named Jarala, and introduced myself. He was a painfully wisplike man who spoke and did everything quickly. He spoke fast French, never making eye contact. He was always moving. He handed me a lumbar pack and antique flintlock musket that was frivolously decorated in swirling scrolls of pewter and iron.
“I do not wish to buy this,” I said politely, “I’m not here to purchase merchandise, only to travel to Taza,” I insisted.
“No, you carry,” he insisted in fractured French, “You need carry for protect you-self,” he explained.
“From what?” I challenged, “Wild animals, snakes, vultures, … ?”
“No; wild peoples … desert peoples: robbers, thieves, Bedouins — peoples who thieves[sic] from you,” he warned.
I held my musket up and looked at its mechanisms with a great revelation of woe in my gaze.
“You know how to use?” it occurred to him that I might not know how to use the weapon.
My shred of pride swelled in my feeble psyche: “You’re damn right I do!” I feigned as I held up my musket in defiance with my right hand: “Moroccan. Very good quality!” I boasted.
“No, Turkey; Ottomans. No good!” he said shaking his head and his index finger at the same time at my gat. He held up his own musket and: “Moroccan; very good qualitate!”
Oh, I got it: they got the good stuff while they pawned the Turkish shite off on me. I saw how they were. I cradled my shootin’ iron in my left arm. “What could actually happen anyway?” I thought.
We made our way to our convoy, which in fact was a caravan of camels.
Camels? What in the actual phuq were we doing walking toward camels? The camels were kneeling down and giving us sideways glances as we approached. As the men of the caravan mounted their camels I took notice of their technique so I could follow suit. I sprawled up on “my” camel and held on for dear life as the camel stood on its hind legs first, causing the camel to tip forward at a steep incline.
I felt myself lurch forward with enough force that I was quickly convinced that I may hurl headlong to the sandy floor below. I white-knuckled the straps and maintained position atop the camel. The jockey on the lead camel tapped his camel’s rump with a riding crop of sorts and the beast set off at a cantor.
An old song from my childhood popped into my head:
ti galop, ti galop pour Mamou
J’ai vendu mon ‘ti mulet pour quinze sous
J’ai acheté des candis rouges pour les p’tis
Du sucre et du café pour les vieux
[cantor, cantor to Mamou
I sold my little mule for 15 cents
I bought peppermint for my kids
and sugar and coffee for my parents]
I patted myself down so enthusiastically looking for cigarettes that Jarala pulled alongside me and questioned:
“What you lose? You need something? What you lose, something you need?”
“No, Jarala I’m fine. I’m just looking for my cigarettes.” I explained still patting myself down to the extent that I must have looked to be hamboning on the set of “Hee Haw.”
“Here, please,” Jarala said and handed me a mostly full pack of local brand dung puffs. I was solid now; puffing hard, sitting on my camel that was hardly puffing at all. My God, the camel stank so bad, but he was walking and walking fast for hours without rest.
The thought crossed my mind that: “Geez, all of us Delta bros could be replaced by camels.”
Jarala gave an obligatory glance back at me from where he was perched on his gallant dromedary. As I became content, I thrust my musket up over in my head in salute to him. He looked at me without emotion for a few seconds and then resumed his forward posture.
I felt a distinct surge of delight in my spirit as we made our way to Taza. My biggest problem seemed to be solved for this day — at least for this moment. I accepted that because after all, it was good to be King again, if only in Morocco, and if only just for a moment.
Quietly I hummed: “Well, the next thing you know ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, the kinfolks said Jed, move away from there. They said Cal-a-for-nee is the place you oughta be, so they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly! — Hills that is; swimmin’ pools, movie stars!”
By God and with honor,