Chapter 21: Someone Like You
I left Marrakesh with its square, its rituals, and the swaying bodies of its residents.
Since I had returned, I had lost track of what I was looking for. I had lived in Rome for fourteen years, but had never seen it the way I did now. I no longer saw love buried in its courts or beside its fountains. I no longer noticed Nero’s tyranny and his flames, forgetting that he had enjoyed burning the city and its people as he looked down from his ivory tower, cursed with megalomania.
The twisting bodies in El-Fnaa Square bore little resemblance to the twisting bodies that had once graced the ancient theaters of Rome. In both cases, these bodies had swung out of either pain or poverty, while my soul was swinging to the melody of my reawakened love for Malika, declaring that she wasn’t just a memory; she was an undeniable love.
Rome was a grand tourist destination; an open museum that impersonated an era when power, greatness and architecture had made it like no other place on Earth. In every corner of the city you could see history at its best, resisting time and fighting to sustain itself: the Colosseum, the Pantheon and, at the end of a narrow street, the Trevi Fountain; the fulfiller of wishes. Since the beginning of time, humans had sought anything and anyone to fulfill their wishes, even in the form of a statue. All that mattered was that someone was willing to help them achieve their desires.
The place was swarming with tourists, but a wish could not be expressed from a distance so I suspended my disbelief in superstition for a moment and approached the fountain.
“Shall I throw a coin in?” rang the question in my mind.
I soon made up my mind. I had stayed in Rome for the last fourteen years without making a single wish. It was perfectly permissible to make one now. I turned my back to the fountain and threw my coin in backwards, murmuring, “I wish I could see Malika!”
Since returning to Italy I had tried to find a ticket for the Adele concert but they were all sold out, even on the black market. I was desperate to find a ticket because I believed deep inside that I might meet Malika there. I didn’t know how certain I was, but I hoped we would meet where we had promised to, even if my promise hadn’t been genuine back then. I couldn’t fail Malika, especially after she had forsaken everything, including Moulay Brahim’s blessings. I felt that I had to attend the concert to see Malika’s faith in me come to life.
“Hi Veronica, yes I’m back in Rome.”
“When did you arrive? And why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just wanted to spend some time by myself.”
“Are you okay, Elias?”
“Are you coming to work tomorrow?” she asked.
“No, I’m going to Verona.”
“I have some issues to deal with there.”
“Won’t you tell me what they are?”
“When I’m done I’ll tell you, don’t worry.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes I am... I’ve got to go now. I’ll talk to you later.”
I wanted to end the call as soon as possible, otherwise I would have burst into a long, detailed explanation, telling Veronica about everything that had happened. I did need someone to listen to me, but this wasn’t the right moment. I had to look for Malika. I couldn’t afford to waste another minute.
I had hung up, knowing that Veronica wasn’t convinced by what I had told her. She knew perfectly well that I wasn’t okay. She knew that something had incited me to a silence and preoccupation to which there was no resolution.
That was Veronica’s nature. She never imposed herself upon others; she always waited until it was the right time. That’s what had strengthened our friendship over the years.
I rushed towards the tunnel that led to the station. A train was already on the platform ready to leave for Verona, where the concert was being held. Yes, I would go there. Even if I didn’t find Malika I had to go.
The high speed of the train made the scenery distorted, like a stream of rushing flashbacks. I could see trees, but in the blink of an eye they disappeared. A few seconds later another train would pass by, shading us from the light of the sun.
The Adele concert was due to start at nine pm, so it was only a few hours away. There, in the Arena Di Verona, music would occupy a stage that had, for a long time, served as an arena of death. Adele had decided to share her graceful voice in the greatest theaters of the world for the first time in years. Love, pain and time would float through her melodies to awaken the compassion of lovers and strays.
That arena, where people had been slaughtered against a backdrop of applause from countless spectators, would be revived amid the applause of thousands of new spectators; but these spectators wouldn’t be cheering for death or quenching their thirst for blood. Instead, they would be cheering for art and for music.
Adele carried time in all its significance along with memories that every single member of the audience could identify with. Her 25 album had awakened the long-dwindling sense of time for many. Hearts had been moved at last. Through her tunes, unfortunate lovers were finally moved to tears. Those who suffered could probe their unfathomable misery, while lovers of true hearts could enjoy the everlasting ecstasy of an eternal embrace.
The train conductor announced that we had arrived in Verona. I rushed out to find a taxi to take me to the amphitheater.
When I arrived, I just stood there, startled by the greatness of the site, and watched the huge crowd of people who had gathered hours before the show. They were feverishly waiting for Adele. We could hear her voice through the speakers as she warmed up for the show.
People were standing around outside the theater, which was surrounded by a fence and several security guards, waiting for the gates to open. Meanwhile, the fans who hadn’t been lucky enough to get tickets had taken up their spots on the ground outside to enjoy her voice as it echoed around the ancient walls. No one was concerned by the time or the heat of the sun; they were simply chatting and joking to kill time until they were allowed to go in. Others were eating as they waited to watch Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid compete for the European Cup in the street cafes that surrounded the amphitheater.
The Verona square contained all facets of love: human love, sports love and even food love. Italy was truly the land of adoration, with all of its types and intensities. I was one of these lovers, but I was still waiting for my sweetheart to show up in some corner of this affectionate, ancient city. I was busy looking in every direction, scanning people’s faces and searching for her; hoping to distinguish her crazy hair and embroidered scarf, even though it was almost impossible. I looked closely at everybody around me but there was no sign of Malika.
“Sir, would you like to attend the concert? I have a ticket for sale.”
I stared at the man, not truly believing that he had a ticket. I tried not to show my desperation so he wouldn’t take advantage of my eagerness.
“How much are you selling it for?” I asked, trying to sound indifferent.
“That’s too much.”
“If I asked for €1,000 it would be sold instantly. So many people here are looking for tickets.”
“Then why are you offering it to me for €700?”
“Because I have to go. I’m running late.”
“I’ll take it for €350,” I negotiated.
“Half the price? No, no. I can’t do that!”
“That’s all I have to offer.”
“Make it €400.”
“All right, €400. Then we’re both happy.”
I reached into my pocket and gave him the €400. The moment he walked away my face brightened. I had finally obtained a ticket! It seemed as though destiny was paving my way to meet Malika. This had to happen now.
I heard someone calling my name. “Elias!”
I was suddenly frozen to the spot. I felt as though time had stopped moving. Nothing was moving at all; everyone looked like frozen statues in front of me. I remembered the long journey I had taken, hunting Malika’s shadow from El-Fnaa Square all the way to Verona. I remembered the time we had spent together and the eight years of pain and separation we had endured.
I couldn’t wait to turn my head and look at Malika; the only girl who had ever brought me to my knees. I appeared calm, but deep inside I was falling to pieces.
I turned my head and looked at her: the girl with the slim figure and straight black hair, which fell to her shoulders. Her skin was tanned in a way that only the sun of El-Fnaa Square could achieve. Nothing about her face looked the same except for her big black eyes, and even they had lost the sparkle that had first brought us together.
Yes, Malika was standing there before my eyes, with a completely new look. But even though she had become the English Malika she still carried the exotic appeal of Marrakesh.
The waiting fans were singing ‘Someone Like You’ loudly as the sound of Adele crooning her most famous song drifted through the speakers during the sound check.