The girls on the top deck brush the hair from their faces. The hazy blue mountain ranges, rising on both sides of the Strait. The places you will never go, the life there. Ilham’s eyes wander over the mountains of the Rif, the country they are leaving behind. Why did they stay so long in Rabat? They had the car — they could have gone south, to the desert, but instead they spent the whole time hanging around the city. The terrace at Café Maure; the view of the Bou Regreg estuary and the Atlantic Ocean behind. The boys. The contraband at the boats.
It feels like a loss, that they didn’t go to the desert, like a missed opportunity. They could have asked Saleh to go along; women in Morocco rarely travel alone. The looks, the comments — if it remains at that.
They’ve been on the road for six weeks now, two weeks longer than planned. There had been problems. Situations. Those are behind them now; most of them have been solved.
Saleh comes towards them, holding onto the benches to keep from being knocked over by the pounding of the ship and the hard wind.
The other passengers are downstairs in the salons. Men are sleeping with their legs up on the worn benches; children are fussing, watched over by the women, their fatigue bottomless. The vague smell of piss everywhere.
The freedom on the top deck is better, in the lee of the pilothouse as much as possible.
‘Hola, chicas,’ Saleh says.
‘Have you taken a look at him?’ Ilham asks.
He nods. ‘No worries.’
She is on unfamiliar ground; she has to trust him. His almond eyes, the domineering curl of his lips; you want to believe him.
Fahd shows up too. He stumbles towards them across the deck, in his wake a boy they’ve never seen before. Fahd slides up beside Saleh, and the new boy sits down beside Thouraya. A long, nasty face, yellow teeth his lips can’t quite cover. He produces a hipflask, pours whiskey into the opening of a cola can.
‘Who are you?’ Ilham asks. She leans over. The wind tugs at the words in her mouth.
‘Mo,’ Saleh says. ‘He’s a gas.’
‘Can’t he talk for himself?’ She sees Mo’s Adam’s apple bob up and down as he drinks.
The cola can goes round; the girls pass.
‘He’s riding with me,’ Fahd says.
‘Oh really?’ Ilham says.
‘Cheaper than going alone.’
Fahd can’t get his cigarette lit, not in the hollow of his hand, not in the shelter of his coat either.
Ilham turns her head and looks at the crests, the sandy-coloured Spanish land beyond. Her mood has swung. Something has been disturbed. The order of things. They started off the day with the three of them, Thouraya, Saleh, and her, united in a conspiracy to get Murat to the far side. First they picked him up in Témara, in Tangier harbour number five; Fahd showed up — he was going to take the spare tyre back to Holland. Murat had nestled down into the deep hollow made for it, where he would spend the crossing, in the dark, covered with baggage. And now, suddenly, there are six of them. That’s not good. She was born on the fifth of January. There are five people in her family. The star on the Moroccan flag has five points. Five is better than six. The Israeli flag has six points, and her father hates the Jews.
They light cigarettes from the one Fahd finally got lit. Thouraya snaps her fingers.
‘Woof,’ Fahd says, and hands her a cigarette. Ilham asks him for one too.
She sucks smoke into her lungs. She thinks about cancer. Her uncle died of cancer. From the steel mills, her father says, but as a matter of fact there isn’t a single photo in which he’s not smoking a cigarette.