Ostensibly I was making my way deep down into the bowels of the marketplace looking for some books which I heard an indifferent merchant was using, piled up as a sort of makeshift coffee table. Part of the reality though was that I prided myself on a personal library of interesting tales, firsthand experiences which I could tell and never have to embellish the smallest detail of, to delight and hold the listener's attention with.
The stairs, all stone, became narrower and narrower which, on account of my caution, slowed down my progress. I soon reached that part of the marketplace where the flagstones had not seen sunlight since the day they were first laid down, before the rest of the market built up around and on top of them. A different marketplace existing concurrently with the one resting on its shoulders, here, the merchants would laugh and, once their shaking shoulders stilled, regard one with suspicion were you to ask about any fruits or vegetables.
The heat was a wet thing now that clung about me as if a drowning man presuming on my concern for his salvation. The scent was unique in the dichotomy of notes, floral, rotting, cloying and an after the act, sexual muskiness. I looked far above me, where I had started, the little kiosk with its honey cakes. I once again calmed myself by imagining all of this has already happened and that what I am feeling now is merely recall as I tell the story over drinks at Pierre's or slowly sipping tea with Sidi, as ever feeling her watching me peripherally from her place upon my couch.
I could not find the shop with the books, the strap of my book bag grew teeth and began to bite into my shoulder despite the leather oval pad between me and it. I picked a shop whose un-shuttered windows were deeply recessed into the wall but still had intricate metal grill work which fascinated me. Inside an old woman wearing Ray Ban pilot sunglasses even though the place was dimly lit softly clucked at me as I entered announced by the tinkling of a brass bell. At first she looked like a small head among a pile of patterned clothes. She stood up clasping her hands together and stretching her arms towards the low ceiling. I said hello and did a half bow which works in any culture.
She started off by showing me all the usual tourist junk, curved daggers made of tin destined to end up on someone's desktop eventually birthing a story which never happened but believed down the line in old age. Blurred erotic postcards of models who were not really from here and of a jaundiced hue that made the bellied women seem as if doing the dance of the seven veils trapped in amber.
I laughed. She then crooked her index finger at me and I followed her bent form to the back of the store. There was an old dresser which leaned diagonally to the right. She opened one of its doors with a long drawn out creak whose sustain bordered on free jazz. She pulled out a bright green silk handkerchief too big for anyone to possibly keep in their pocket. She then turned around and shuffled back to the storefront with myself once again following.
At the counter she took off her sunglasses. Her eyes were kohled and intense. She was humming to herself but it was more a series of vibrations in her throat than any melodic sounds. Her impossibly long fingers managed to un-knot the kerchief. As the kerchief went flat against the opaque of the glass counter I was not initially sure what I was looking at.
She presse,d something against my chest, her other hand taking mine and not letting it go until I held the thing as one would a very small child. She repeated this two more times. Once I was sure that she was done I looked down. A root type thing which had naturally grown in the shape of a fetish.
True language barriers do not exist in the places tourists are, the luxury hotels, airports, restaurants but it is a great way to curtail too long of price negotiations with the Europeans. It is also a way to be a little rude and still make a sale, the attitude being chalked up to cultural differences. Down here though was different there was no need to bother with acts.
The old woman nodded to me and said three times:
She then put her thumb and two fingers together and opened her mouth, the clustered fingers went from the flat of the palm of her other hand up to her mouth, pantomiming eating something. I shook my head yes. I gave her some of the heavy coins and she nodded with a smile. I was given a dirty white cloth bag for the roots. Carefully I rearranged my book bag so nothing would crush them. I noticed way after the fact that the books and notebook which had been in there all permanently took on the perfume whose closest notes of comparison were Ginseng, sweat, earth and ozone.
Back home in my office I placed the roots in one of the glass domes where I had kept a pocket watch who had fallen out of favor with me in on display. Aside from occasionally humming a snatch of song as I walked passed them, they required very little care. I noticed their colors subtly changed depending upon the season.
- Wayne H. W Wolfson 2015