This Wretched Heart

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Marrakesh Part 1

Sam

He had been to Marrakesh countless times and although his parents had often suggested he bring a friend he had hated the thoughts of sharing this part of himself with anyone. He had tried it once and it had been a major fail. It was such a culture shock and he feared that, what he had come to know and love, might ever be snubbed by some of his well to do friends who would rather go to Dubai and shop in an air conditioned centre. Although their family villa had all the modern amenities of home there was no getting away from the fact that you were in a completely strange environment. Morocco was so amazingly duplicitous. On the one hand you had Islam which was present in its every fold and crack. It influenced the food that was eaten, the clothes that people wore. The sound of the muezzin, calling followers to prayer a constant reminder that Allah was watching. This could be intimidating for tourists but it filled Sam with peace. The beautiful song echoing about the city sometimes mingled with those of faraway mosques, a haunting accompaniment to the day.

Then there was modern Morocco, complete with film festivals. Daughters sporting mini skirts walking hand in hand with their veiled mothers. Drinks being served in hotels by Muslim waiters. Old and new lived side by side in Morocco like an old couple used to the others quirks,occasionally fighting but resolving themselves.

He had thought really hard before he walked into the Bistro and offered Peter the invite. He knew that Lara would enjoy the wonders her senses would experience but he had realised that in fact Peter was the one who would appreciate the culture more. His cooking would be inspired by the beautiful tagines and cous-cous that Sam would introduce him to. He would love Marrakesh , Sam was sure of it. He couldn’t bear anyone besmirching what he had come to consider , his home away from home.

He had been watching them both since they landed at the airport, smiled as their skin attuned to the heat that welcomed them as they stepped off the plane. He had wondered what it would be like to see them together each day as a couple. At home he had been able to pretend to himself that they didn’t wake up each day in the same bed. He had compartmentalised their relationship in his mind and hidden it out of his sight. Perhaps he reasoned with himself this was why he had asked them along on this trip. He needed to see them together to cement their coupledom in his mind once and for all. Hanging out with Lara on her own had foolishly lulled him into a sense of ownership of at least a part of her. He knew that Peter never went with her to the park and that he didn’t see the way her auburn hair fluttered in the dusk. He knew that she was different in those moments than when she was around her husband. Of course he knew that Peter had a whole side of Lara that he would never see but he clung onto Lara in the dusk the shadows of the branches a strange but beautiful mask.

What he hadn’t expected was how addictive it was to be around them. He felt, pulled into their world of quirks and habits of familiarity. It was intoxicating too because he was seeing a different side of Lara, one that he hadn’t witnessed before. The imperfections of her personalities emerged. Petulant at times and a little high maintenance. That being said he was also seeing her extreme vulnerability and need for approval. The way she always looked at Peter before she made even the smallest decision such as what to have for breakfast while he didn’t seem to notice how much she looked to him for affirmation. He saw the strange interweaving of traits which formed their base, borne of years of getting to know each other. Sam had never been in a relationship long enough for all the nuances to appear. A part of him had secretly believed that all relationships suffered the ‘Dawson’s Creek’ effect. The excruciating build-up of sexual tension, the long awaited physical bang then poof nothing but expanding space filled with mundane quibbles and rows over toilet seats. Being in their presence however confirmed that life does indeed emerge from Big Bangs

The flipside of the fascination was the sickening thud he felt as they relaxed around him as a couple. Peter casually lifting Lara’s bras strap off her shoulder and back under her T-shirt had sent a gigantic lump to his throat. In hindsight he had never really spent time around a proper couple before. When he had been younger they had all gone on holidays to Thailand or Greece but the coupling there had been hazy and lazy where boundaries blurred with drink and drugs. No one had been seriously in love or together for any considerable time. They had all hung out as one with the occasional twosome or sometimes threesome disappearing into the night only to returning the next day to the fold . The intimacy of coupledom had escaped him somehow. Someone to gently stroke his arm while they drank coffee overlooking Jma Al Fna or the sharing of biscuits and toothbrushes , all these things had eluded him until now.Watching Lara and Peter he was catching a glimpse of what might lie ahead of him if he was willing to settle down.

‘ Have you ever been in a serious relationship?’ Peter had asked him casually on the plane on the way over as Lara’s lolling head lay on his shoulder, her cupid’s bow lips wide open, drool gently edging its way towards his cream shirt.

‘ Nah not really, not yet.’ He had wanted to justify himself with a thousand reasons , the way he always did when someone asked him this question.

‘ I’m too young still.’ Had carried him through until recently when he observed that he was giving this excuse to people the same age as him who had already been in two or three year relationships. He was different he told himself. He was carefree. He had seen others of course with this Big Lebowski attitude. Playing the cool dude, well into the twilight of their lives. He had admired these guys and somewhat subconsciously embodied their way of life of no ties, no commitments, endless wandering friends.

‘ I mean why do we need to conform anyway, why do we have to settle down ?’ He had slurred over beers with his closest friends ‘ I mean , you know like... whyyy ?’ Slamming his hand on the table for emphasis.

‘ Here, here!’ They had all responded in unison and continued to down pint after pint .

Three years on and two of them were engaged and another’s girlfriend had recently given birth. It was starting to sting a little. Being constantly on the outskirts of other people’s lives as they settled into couple bliss. He could feel the pity of their gazes as he left their houses, wandering on his own into the darkness.Here he was at a new low , bringing a girl he was confused about, on holidays along with her husband. If he really was as carefree as he thought, he would have made a move already and screw the consequences. What the fuck was he playing at ?It was Lara. He watched her as she slept. The first time he had and probably would ever see her like this. She reminded him of the painting by Dali - aptly named ‘slumber’ where a big shapeless head is propped up on sticks, fast asleep. It had evoked feelings of exhaustion when he had seen it but also of dependency. The sticks supporting this poor tired being who was completely held in suspension. Peter was Lara’s prop. She depended on him in ways that he felt he wouldn’t be able to ever be depended on. What was worse was that for once he wanted to be somebody’s prop. He wanted her to lean her head on his shoulder, he wanted her drool ,to stain his shirt.He had never felt like this before. The women he had been with must have sensed it, not because he didn’t bother replying to their texts but because many of them didn’t even try to ask more of him. They could smell it perhaps , his fear of being tied down. That’s how he had thought of relationships. He now understood the cliche of finding ‘the right woman’. All he wanted was to be weighted down by the softness of Lara’s body. He would have gladly stayed in every night with her and talked about all the things they talked about when they ran around the park.

‘It’s only because you know you can’t have her.’ His closest childhood friend and neighbour had pointed out over a family barbecue. He had been the first and only person he would confide in.

‘ I don’t think that’s true.’ Sam knew it wasn’t.

'So what do you expect ? That she’ll leave her husband ? Even if she does, you’ll always think she’ll do the same to you.'

This was true. There was part of him that wanted Lara to jump into bed with him but there was also another him, that would hate her for it. She would be a cheat and he would be a marriage wrecker. He would have to quash his feelings for Lara. He could see she was completely and utterly in love with Peter. The tiny and probably arrogant part of him couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted more from him and was certain that she was flirting with him when Peter wasn’t around. He knew women gave mixed signals but this was preventing him from being able to sleep. He had lain awake their first night in Marrakesh trying to purge from his mind the image of them both making love, masturbating furiously while simultaneously feeling horribly weird and guilty. It was a completely ridiculous idea of course to have invited them in the first place. He would distance himself from them when they got home. In the meantime he would show them a brilliant time. It was the least he could do to assuage the guilt.

So he led them like a pied piper, into the heart of the Marrakesh souks enjoying their gasps of awe and wonder at the myriad of treasures from small hut like shops lined with every type of patterned cloth to the rows and rows of silver teapots and copper bowls. The smells of spices and incense which he had gotten used to over the years were reintroduced to him through their recurring exclamations. He and Peter laughed as Lara had stopped right in the middle of the street and closed her eyes. They had looked at each other puzzled as she took deep long breaths then chuckled as she exclaimed

‘Oh my God I have never smelt anything so wonderful wow it’s like a party in my nostrils ’

‘That’s an attractive image’ Peter had winked at him ‘ Now start walking caus people are staring at you and I’m sure they’re not aware of the amazing party in your nose’

‘ Oh sorry.’ Her face had turned a new shade of red he hadn’t seen before ‘ I’m just so so excited to be here I didn’t realise I was embarrassing you.’

‘ Ah come on I was only joking!’

‘ You always say I’m so reserved but when I show a little excitement you...’

‘ Please Lara can we talk about this later I’m sure Sam has better things to do than to stand in the middle of the souk and listen to us argue.’

They both turned to him peevishly.

' No no go ahead, nothing like watching a couple fight. I was beginning to think you never did.'He grinned.

Their guffaw startled a Japanese couple nearby.Lara touched Peter’s face ‘ Sorry the heat is making me narky.’

‘ Well I suggest a nice lunch and I know a place that I think you’ll both love.’

He led them further into the winding streets of the souks and was surprised at how well they both seemed to manage to ward off the sellers. Unlike some tourists they didn’t exude a harassed air as shop-sellers tried to entice them with their wares. In fact they both seemed to enjoy it and had already mastered the art of the head-shake and smile which he had learnt worked much better than the ignore and glare style which many of the tourists favoured. Deeper and deeper they walked , Sam aware that they must have been bemused by the location of this lunch spot.

‘Eh are you bringing us down this dark alleyway to kill us or something?’ Peter took hold of Lara’s hand protectively ‘ Are you sure it’s safe this end of town’

‘ I would never bring you anywhere dangerous !’ He grinned at their nervous faces ‘Trust me I’ve come here loads of times’

‘ Of course we trust you.’ Lara’s face was earnest but he could tell that her other half wasn’t so convinced. I suppose it wasn’t as if they knew each other that well. Up to a few weeks ago he was just this guy who went jogging frequently with his girlfriend. A few chats and outings doesn’t a true friendship make and he saw now that Peter’s trust was not as easily acquired as Lara’s. He was the Yang to her Yin. Where she was soft and yielding, Peter was more prone to suspicion ..at least sometimes.Lara did need protection but not from robbers. He realised how cheesy a thought that was. He could just picture himself flying through the air with a rose in his mouth tossing Peter aside.

‘ Sam , hey Sam are you with us?’

‘ Yes.. yes sorry I think the heat is getting to me too.’

They stopped outside a small unassuming arched door where an old man was dozing on a chair just just at the entrance.

‘ Salam Si Habib.’

The man opened his eyes slowly, showing no sign of surprise at being woken up.

‘ Salam Salam Si Sam.’ He jumped up out of his chair and shook his hand a few times then tapped his heart as was customary.Sam explained to him in a mixture of fluent French and broken Arabic that they would like to have lunch if possible.

‘ Bien sur, Bien sur soyez les bienvenus’ He grinned a wide surprisingly white smile and winked at Sam conspiratorially.

He led them down a narrow and dark zelige covered staircase and sniggered at Lara and Peter’s nervous smiles. Just as he thought they were about to protest again the dark gave way to light and they found themselves in the most beautiful courtyard he had ever seen and hoped they would ever see.

‘ Oh… my … GOD’ Lara couldn’t contain herself , she practically jigged. The beautiful fountain in the centre was filled with rose petals and chirping budgies flew about in the air like colorful balls of sound. A table was set up in the corner of the yard covered in copper plates and colored tea glasses. He had arranged that they would have the place to themselves.

‘ We are staying here tonight folks, I’ve booked us rooms here for our last night and I hope you don’t mind but I asked Fatima to pack your things and had them brought over’.

‘ Mind ?’ Peter grinned ‘ We’re fucking furious’.

‘ After lunch I’ve organised for a woman to come and give us Henna tattoos’. He paused ‘ Manly ones for us Peter don’t worry’.

They stood grinning at each other and for just a moment everything was perfect.

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