The driver screamed at the crowd instead of using his horn like the other taxis. Perhaps it was the lack of windows and doors, but whatever the Arabic pejoratives were he shouted, they worked. The people and dogs scurried between carts and past the donkeys and over the live poultry to avoid being run over by our speeding jeep. I laughed to myself that I would never again make fun of a New York City cabbie; Times Square was no comparison to Marrakesh.
The suq was crowded and the narrow alleys had me disoriented in a matter of minutes. Brahim continued to yell and gesture with profane hand signals until we passed the last hookah tent where he slammed the brakes hard enough that I hit the dash.
“Here.” He pointed at what appeared to be a wooden crate stood on end. “Here. You go here, Anouar, here. Go here!”
The rear seat passenger jumped to the ground, but as my right foot hit the road, Brahim accelerated the Russian UAZ into the crowd and disappeared with a cloud of dust. My left ankle had not cleared the taxi and it caught the pillar where the door should have been. I was spun face first into the Moroccan litter of the Share’a.
The side of the crate swung open and two sweaty men dragged me from the ground while a third led my partner through the tiny wooden opening and into a darkness that smelled like camel shit.
Six months ago, I didn’t even own a passport. The extent of my exotic travels had been to cross the Canadian border to see the zoo in Montreal. My life was boring; I was content to write in my comfortable office using the Internet for my experiential database. I was making good progress on the new novel until my friend and wannabe collaborator stopped by for a visit. If it were not for Fiona, I would still not understand the power of Itzala or how the curse is spread.
Six weeks had passed since she made her unexpected appearance, and she was still insisting that she would only be there for a couple of days. I kept my writing schedule intact, arising in the wee hours of the morning and typing away until late afternoon. I would hear Fiona stir in the hour or so before noon to make her pressed coffee and to warm a croissant. I had hoped this book might earn a reasonable advance, and get me back out on the signing tour. My agent was thrilled with the finished chapters, right up until my houseguest arrived. Now the evenings spent drinking copious amounts of wine with the woman who is both my best and the worst possibility, clouded my head and made my goal of 2,000 words per day impossible. Her visit was beginning to have an impact on my reputation.
I have to admit that I was and I still am, addicted to her laugh, her smile, and to her well-meaning intellectual kibitzing. I would descend each day from my third floor office and discuss that day’s progress while I cooked what she claimed to be the bane of her “fluffy” midsection. I would talk of adventures with my newly created vampirish monster wreaking havoc on my childhood town of Mount Holly. How the Basque gypsies perpetrated the great fraud of Shadow People and the curse of Itzala. But before I could plate the evening’s culinary art, Fiona would uncork the Barolo and start “fixing” my mistakes.
Fiona was a gypsy of sorts, not like the gypsies of my book, but a woman with no roots; born in the North, raised in the South, enamored with Europe, yet habitually settled, albeit always temporarily, wherever her latest seductive “companion” lived. She was between romances at the moment, swearing she was through with the male gender except, of course, for her essential “visceral” needs, so she had no one to torture but me. She fancied herself my onsite editor and would ask continuously about the plot line, character development or have me read pages of the manuscript. Sitting quietly and nodding as if in agreement, she would wait for a conversational pause and then start in with her critique leading with some incongruous interjection of memory from Copenhagen, Barcelona or Prague that inevitably distracted both her and I from the point at hand. More wine and more discussion left us mutually hysterical with laughter. I would again try to read and she would again interrupt if only to tease me about my dialogue. Her attempts to illustrate a better cadence would inevitably end in her confusing two discreet conversations with either her South American Patrón, the son of the Viscount of Aquitaine, that rowdy Texas oil baron, or the recently incarcerated wizard of Wall Street. All, she claims to be her ex-husbands, but with Fiona, one can never be sure.
Rarely did these editorial sessions end with anything viable that I could take back to my laptop and improve the manuscript. If any good ideas did ever manifest, they were lost in the fog of our mornings after. With full deference to the requisite concept of time efficacy, I would not trade one of those raucous evenings for a year of mundane History Channel documentaries and my once empty bed. So it should come as no surprise to anyone, let alone my agent or publisher, that when Fiona suggested that she and I spend the summer in Basque Country researching the Itzala, I said yes.