The police officer came bounding out of his dusty hatchback and across the street. “My friend! Can I see your passport?”
“Sure thing. One second.”
I veered my cart off the asphalt shoulder and onto the dirt path beside it.
The Spanish port-city of Melilla was thirty kilometers ahead. Because of this proximity to the border the police presence had been ratcheted up. For most of my time in Morocco I merely saw police cars driving by, but now I was encountering a checkpoint every few hours.
I hooked Savannah’s leash to my cart then withdrew my passport and handed it over to the officer.
The officer grinned, revealing braces. He tapped the eagle on my passport.
The officer flipped through the passport pages looking for my entry stamp. For some reason the border officer at Tanger Med had stamped the third to last page of my expanded passport. I reached over and helped the officer to the correct page. The entry stamp was faint and barely legible.
“You enter the thirteenth?”
“Very good. I need to call officer.”
“Of course. No problem.”
The young officer waited for a truck to pass then jogged back to his car.
I was a little annoyed at how often I was being stopped. This was the third time since morning and it was only two in the afternoon. But every police officer had been so welcoming that I couldn’t bristle too strongly. They never kept me unnecessarily long and it was clear by how they treated me that I was a high priority for them.
While I looked vacantly down the road, Savannah buried herself beneath the cart. Her backside stuck out but her head was in the shade. It had been cloudy all morning but the sun was appearing now and with the humidity in the nineties the air had a feeling of microwaved molasses.
After a few minutes the officer returned. He handed me my passport and I tucked it away in two ziplocks and a waterproof camp bag. The front of the passport was distorted with watermarks from the days when I only kept it in one ziplock bag.
“You like my country?” The officer had a hand on my cart.
“Love it. Beautiful place. The coast. Good people. Good food.” I used no sentence structure and only basic words because the officer’s English was limited and my Arabic and French were non-existent.
The officer gestured down the road. “Do you want follow?”
“No, thank you. I feel safe. No problems here. I trust the people.”
“In my car?” He pointed to my cart. “We can put in my car.”
“Thanks. I want to walk though.”
“Okay.” The officer was nodding rapidly. “Have a safe trip. Welcome to Morocco!”
We shook hands. “Thank you.”
I unhooked the cart’s brake. Savannah popped out from the shade, and we continued across a roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout a white Jetta slowed and pulled along side me. A woman was in the passenger seat and a man wearing sunglasses leaned over her to ask me something in Arabic.
Before I could reply I heard the young police officer shout from the other side of the road. He jumped out of his car and charged over to them with an admonishing look.
“Go ahead, Thomas.” He waved me off.
“It’s all right,” I said, referring to the couple who probably just wanted directions.
But he was already speaking to them far harsher than he ever talked to me.
I pressed on.
Up the hill to my left were colored concrete houses which reminded me of Central and South America. The buildings were blockish and rebar was left exposed on the top floors in hopes that one day the homes might be expanded. The colors were nice, but the rebar subtracted from that.
I followed highway sixteen along the houses for a while and the young officer in his hatchback leapfrogged me as a I went.
He drove a few hundred meters ahead of me then stopped on the side of the road. Then when I passed him he waited a minute, drove ahead, parked, and waited.
He didn’t look at me as I walked by but I could imagine no other rational for stopping in such perfectly placed intervals.
After thirty minutes of this leapfrogging I turned off highway sixteen for the first time since entering Morocco. All the way from Tanger Med, where I first stepped foot on my fifth continent, to where I was now, twenty-seven kilometers from the Spanish border, highway sixteen followed the length of the north coast.
Before entering Morocco my research suggested highway sixteen was relatively new and in good condition. In reality, highway sixteen didn’t prove to be the platonic ideal of a new road; there were steep grades that wouldn’t have been permissible in The U.S. and long stretches where the shoulder had crumbled and I was left pushing over dirt and stones. But all in all it was as painless an experience as I could of hoped for.
The secondary road would take me over a few hills to Melilla.
The road was the width of one lane but meant for cars passing in both directions so I followed the dirt path along side the road.
Almost immediately I was in a town. Two boys in white and maroon uniforms had their arms around each other and stopped talking to point and smile at Savannah. A man in a black and white tracksuit on a black and white moped sputtered between the parked and moving cars. Flashes of a welder burst from inside a garage.
I wove the cart out of town, then uphill, further and further uphill. A series of red dump trucks growled by, kicking up dirt which latched to my sweaty arms. Savannah, as though a pilot fish, always kept herself close enough to the cart that her hair brushed the tire.
My calves and thighs were tight and swollen with use, but in such a way that it felt good, that they signaled I was doing something, that I was alive, and that when I laid down in the evening I would be full of satisfaction and not the regret of listlessness.
After getting through a few small towns I entered the main street of a larger one. Parked cars, car parts, boxes, crates, and fruit vendors; everything overflowed from storefronts and onto the already narrow street. People cut from one shop to the other. As I navigated the obstacles a hundred eyes tracked me from the many tea shops and their street-facing chairs. My brain seemed to crackle with electricity as I attempted to keep track of everything. If I stopped I might have been able to slow things down, but stopping meant leaving myself open to being approached by someone, and being approached by someone meant having my attention turned to them and away from Savannah and my cart. But if I kept moving Savannah and my cart were in focus and there was no getting to them without me noticing.
So instead of stopping to slow things down I drew a long breath and began counting how many men there were for every woman.
The scarcity of women outside was something I noticed my first day in Morocco and when I passed through a populated area I liked to figure out the lopsided ratio of men to women.
At first I spotted two older woman in flowered dresses following a dirt path, but then it was twenty, thirty, fifty, eighty men. It was men in the mechanic shops, men at the barber, men as fruit vendors and men selling fish. The mopeds were driven by men and so were the cars. It was café after café of men sipping sugary-sweet mint tea served by men. The whole downtown was men. I saw the man in the black and white tracksuit again as he zipped cars on his moped.
It wasn’t until I reached the edge of town that I spotted three teenage girls in a school-van. Two were seated inside and the third had her feet hanging just over the ground as though she were on a cliff overlooking a profoundly deep gorge.
How boring it must be for them, I thought.
Beyond the girls in the school van things calmed down. A half an hour later the houses gave way to a short-tree pine forest and as the road reached its highest point I unhooked Savannah’s leash and we veered into the pines.
My walk neared a run so I could bury myself in the forest before someone in a passing car would see me. But the ground was a mess of broken sandstone and they jostled my cart and slowed my ascent.
At the top of the pine forest hill there were some clearings of dried needles. The forest could have been magnificent; red needles laid on the ground and green needles alive on the trees, an orange sun hanging barely above the mountains, the faint whisper of a blue sea crashing against a golden shore.
But there was trash everywhere.
I kicked away a few plastic bottles at the flattest clearing I could find then laid my tarp and set my tent.
I sat on the edge of the tarp and put a pot of water to boil over my camp stove. In a bowl I mixed cans of tuna and beef paté for Savannah – I’d run out of dog food a few days before and had been unable to find any since.
Minus the trash, the forest was as good a place as any to camp. It would be my last campsite in Morocco and I was grateful to have found it. It was shaded and peaceful and there were no sight-lines to me. I’d sleep well, then tomorrow morning walk a mere four hours to the border.
Savannah finished eating then prowled around, sniffing at the different deposits of trash. When my pot of water came to a boil I dumped my remaining pasta into it.
For a few minutes I sat there stirring the pasta and watching Savannah. I listened to the cars groan as they struggled to climb the road behind me. I heard the tinnier motor of a motorcycle climb the hill with greater ease than the cars, then I heard the change in the sound as the motorcycle turned off the road and onto the rocks and pines.
The motor wasn’t loud, but it was growing louder and louder behind the hill. Then the noise was exposed and through a bush I could see a bulky man in a blue shirt sitting on top of the hill on top of his motorcycle.
It would have been impossible for him not to have noticed my tent so I waved at him.
He waved back and dismounted.
I reached to my cooking knife and thought of keeping it in my hand, hidden so the blade rested against my forearm. Instead, I sat the knife on the edge of my tarp so it would be the first thing available to me if I needed it. I put my sandals on and walked over to the middle-age man who’d just appeared.
I was shirtless and Savannah followed behind me with her tail curled high. When I stopped a few feet from the man Savannah approached him and the man took a few steps back. It gave me a great pleasure to see he was afraid of Savannah. I wanted her to be kind and loving, but I adopted her to protect me. She’d never bitten anything in her life but that she could cause fear in someone gave me satisfaction in knowing she still served her original purpose.
With the man’s attention on Savannah I had time to look him over. He was plain-dressed; wearing jeans, a tucked-in blue polo, and white off-brand sneakers. He held his motorcycle keys in his left hand – the hand nearest me – and his right hand was empty. His right jean pocket had the square outline of a wallet and his left jean pocket had the outline of a cheap cellphone. His skin and clothes were clean. His eyes were clear but not glassy. And most importantly I saw no want in him; he seemed to have appeared more out of chance than determination.
I figured I could reassure him Savannah was friendly.
“She’s fine. She’s fine,” I said in English then Spanish.
The man looked at me then back to Savannah then tapped the air above her head as people do when they’re afraid a dog might bite.
I held out my palm to Savannah and she licked at it, then I gestured for the man to do the same.
He only smiled uncomfortably.
Due to Islam the Moroccans were strange with dogs. Cleanliness is an absolute priority and dogs are viewed as dirty. For Islamic Moroccans – which is to say ninety-three percent of Moroccans – petting a dog means the needing to wash their hands immediately after. So because of this inconvenience few dogs are kept as pets, and because few dogs are kept as pets they’re misunderstood and generally feared.
The burly man, not learned in reading the mannerisms of dogs, changed the focus of meeting Savannah to my tent. He pointed at it.
He made a slashing motion across his bicep. “Dangerous,” he said in Spanish.
“Yeah?” I couldn’t tell what the slashing motion meant, but my best guess was he was signaling a machete.
“Dangerous,” he repeated.
“Is this private land?”
The man wagged a finger in front of him, then made the slashing motion across his bicep again.
“But can I sleep here?”
The man looked at me blankly.
“Do you speak Spanish? English?”
“No.” He was wagging his index finger again. “Arabic.”
“Ah…I only know Spanish and English. No Arabic. No French.”
He pointed behind him, down the hill. Then he made the slashing motion again. It looked like he was demonstrating an arm being cut off.
For a moment I worried that he was bringing more people to rob me, but that thought departed almost immediately; it didn’t fit his demeanor.
He made the slashing motion once again then pinched at the top of his shoulder and I finally understood what he was signaling.
The slash on the arm was a brassard and the shoulder pinch was an epaulette.
“Ah!” I exclaimed. “Do they speak Spanish?”
He held up a finger telling me to wait.
For a bit we stood in silence. Then a pot-bellied man in a tan military uniform with white accents came tramping up the hill with another man behind him. When the overweight military man made it to the top of the hill he was huffing in an almost overtly comical manner.
The man behind him was long-faced, deeply tanned, wearing glasses and a black and white Reebok tracksuit.
“I saw you earlier!” I said, jutting my hand out to the man in the tracksuit. The entire situation suddenly came into focus. “You’re police. You’ve been following me all day!”
The thin man’s mouth curled into a wide smile. “We’re content you’re safe,” he said in Spanish. “We thought we lost you.”
“You can’t sleep here.” The military officer said in thickly-accented English between heaving breaths.
“It’s private land?”
“No.” The military officer coughed loudly, shook his head, then appeared to have gathered himself after that exceedingly brief uphill climb. “There are immigrants. It’s too dangerous. They hide here at night. We’re too near the border.”
“We aren’t that close to the border,” I said.
“We are close enough.”
“It’s almost dark. It’s safer to stay here than walk through the night.”
“You must move on.”
“Is it really that dangerous? I’ve walked from Tanger Med and I haven’t had any problems.”
“It’s that we cannot know for sure what happens at night here. It’s dark and there’s no protection.”
“No…” I looked back at my tent on the soft bed of pines. What a shame it would be to leave such a beautiful place.
“Either someone stays with you through the night or you go to a hotel.”
“You mean one of you stays here?”
“That’s fine with me.”
“No,” said the military man, making it clear he was never serious about having someone stay the night with me. “You cannot stay here. If you want to walk there is a hotel ten kilometers from here. Or we can drive you.”
“But you must pack,” added the tracksuit policeman in Spanish.
“Yes, you must pack.”
“You can drive?” I had no qualms surrendering ten kilometers of walking to get to a hotel safely.
I left the men and began packing my things as quickly as possible. My stomach rumbled as I threw my pasta across the forest floor.
The sun was already below the horizon so the forest was lit with a weak blue light. The military officer approached my camp and Savannah darted in front of him growling with her hair on end.
Good girl, I thought.
The military officer looked over my camp then went back to the two other men.
Once everything was in my cart the four of us set off down the hill.
“You’ve been watching me all day,” I said the military officer.
The burly man with the motorcycle and the police officer in the tracksuit were ahead of us speaking Arabic.
“We thought we lost you when you went into the forest. We thought something happened to you.”
“But it’s very safe in Morocco, isn’t it? I’ve never felt in danger.”
“We are near the border now and things are different. Probably nothing would happen to you, but we cannot know for sure. It’s better for you to be in a hotel.”
“Well, thank you for watching me. You speak great English.”
The military officer smiled at this. “It is very useful.”
On the road at the bottom of the hill was a tiny two door sedan. Behind the car I removed the tires and handle from my cart then we attempted to fit the cart in the trunk of the sedan. But when it didn’t fit immediately the military officer said to set down the cart and wait.
“We’ll find another car.”
It was dark now and the road was only lit by the moonlight reaching between the branches and a weak motorcycle headlight.
I felt a brotherhood with the three men beside me. They were only ordinary men and I’d only just met them, but I was so accustomed to relying on myself that to know these men were worried about my safety laid a heavy comfort over me as though I were home in New Jersey.
Eventually, a massive nineteen-seventies Oldsmobile clambered into the scene. The military officer stepped to the middle of the road and waved for the driver to pullover. There was some exchange between the driver and the military officer.
“Okay,” the military officer then said to me. “He will take you and I will follow.”
My cart fit much easier in the massive trunk of the Oldsmobile, but the back basket of the cart remained propped up on the edge of the trunk.
“Okay. Let’s go,” said the military officer.
I looked at my cart and knew it could be tucked in the trunk better. I almost reached into the back basket to remove my camera, external batteries, and GoPro, but then I imagined them banging around on the floor of the trunk so left them where they were.
Knowing we were about to get in a car, Savannah was sitting beside me waiting for a signal. When I approached her she reached to me with a paw to be picked up.
“One sec,” I said taking her paw and letting it down.
I opened the back door of the Oldsmobile.
Savannah leapt inside. I went around to the front.
The military officer got in his car and beside me was a man who must have been ninety. He was hunched over the steering wheel and squinting dead ahead.
“Thanks for taking me,” I said in Spanish.
He nodded and threw up a hand to signal his indifference.
The Oldsmobile roared as the old man stamped on the accelerator and we were sent charging into the dreamy, underwater-like darkness ahead of us. First gear was used and second was skipped for third. The newspaper-yellow headlights of the car barely illuminated each pothole before we hit it.
“Please drive slowly. My entire life is in the back of your car.”
The old man laughed in a general, ambiguous way, which made clear he couldn’t understand me.
The long, heavy car bounced and I clenched my stomach imagining my camera flying out of the truck and smashing on the pavement.
I pressed my hands against the air in front of me to signal to slow down. “Easy! Easy!” I shouted over the head-shaking growl of the engine. “Please!” I shouted in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic. “Please!”
Every bump was a heart attack. I should have grabbed my camera when I had the chance, what had I been thinking? One of the potholes was sure to send it flying.
We careened through the curves. When another car appeared, because of our dim headlights and the dim headlights of the approaching cars, the old man had only an few seconds to veer off the road to avoid crashing head on.
The old man held himself tight to the steering wheel and jammed the car into fourth.
When we were out of the densest part of the forest the moon provided some light. We were driving on a mountain ridge. On either side of us the mountain fell into a deep valley.
“Please,” I begged. “Please.”
“Tranquilo,” said the old man.
“Everything I have in this world is in your car!” I hollered sharply in Spanish.
The old man, now provided some light from the moon, cranked the car into fifth. The engine groaned and seemed to be on the verge of bursting apart even as we sped downhill.
Five minutes passed, ten, fifteen. Eventually I accepted my camera was already demolished somewhere behind us and I thought at least I was going to Spain and wouldn’t be walking for a while. Maybe I’d be able to find a cheap replacement.
We drove longer than I expected, through towns crawling with nighttime activity and dirtier in ways that the inland towns of Morocco hadn’t been.
It was clear we were nearing a border.
I waited for the old man to pull into a hotel but he kept driving. He hollered some Arabic into his phone then carelessly dropped the phone back into the center console.
The military officer sped up so he was beside us. He and the old man yelled out their windows to each other before the military officer overtook us and made a sharp left.
We followed and the road wove sinuously and steeply down. There was a clearing in the buildings and I could see a few miles away all the lights of Melilla glowing like a bioluminescent taunt from a great angler fish. Spain was so near.
Parents with children in tow walked the edge of the narrow streets. There were more cars and they all seemed to be missing the families by inches. The cars didn’t slow as they passed. The old man swung the steering wheel so late at a turn that I could have reached out and hit the arm of a little girl following her parents.
After the road flattened the Oldsmobile finally slowed.
The old man carefully maneuvered through a series of concrete road blocks before coming to a stop in a small parking lot in front of the Moroccan/Spanish border.
I got out of the car with tunnel vision focus. I went straight to my cart and saw that somehow my camera hadn’t been flung onto the street.
The military officer and I lifted the cart from the trunk and sat it on the pavement. The old man handed me the cart tires from the backseat of his car and Savannah jumped out and circled me with excitement.
A passing man whistled at Savannah and she went running over to him. I stomped at her leash on the ground to stop her but I missed. She was at the man’s legs and the man was backing away laughing.
“Savannah!” I called to her.
The man’s high laugh made me want to punch him. He was taunting her. He whistled to Savannah but then backed away when she came to him. It wasn’t anything violent, but in the moment, at night beside an unfamiliar border, I was jumpy like a live wire.
I went over and grabbed Savannah’s leash.
“Why the fuck did you call her over you fucking prick?”
I knew the man couldn’t understand what I was saying, but that didn’t matter. Throwing a few curses at him was enough to get my point across; that if he wanted to start something he would have it from me gladly.
The military officer threw up his hand to shoo the man away and yelled something in Arabic at him too.
I was too focused on getting my cart reassembled to look back at the cackling man, but I did appreciate that the military officer thought similarly of him as myself.
By the time I had my cart back together and looked up I realized the military officer was pulling away.
He held up a hand and I ran over to the window.
“Thank you so much. Thank you.”
As he drove off I realized that I had been totally absorbed in getting Savannah and all my things in place and that I hadn’t even looked around at where I was.
The place was lit by clouded yellow street lights. Down one end of the parking lot was a walkway bordered by a tall barbed wire fence. People flowed in either directions. To my left, on the same path people followed to and from the border, were men lining a concrete wall hawking wares. From the streetlights high above them the hawkers cast long shadows over each other.
Looking at the men with the shadows cast across them I suddenly had a deep appreciation of what I must look like to them. I was standing alone in the middle of the parking lot with a baby carriage and dog beside me.
A police jeep was the sole car in the parking lot and I moved my cart and Savannah so we were standing beside it. A police officer in a nicely cut, formal green and white uniform was leaned against the jeep. I thought of him as home base. As long as I stayed near him I could slow the flow of possible dangers and think a little.
I took a moment to process things and gather myself.
At the end of the parking lot opposite the border, outside a row of stores beyond the concrete barriers, was a crowd perpetually breaking apart and reforming as people moved to and from the border. There were lots of stores and lots of people, but there was no hotel in sight.
I always tried to cross borders first thing in the morning. Border crossings could be messy, and with Savannah there was a good chance I’d be darting between offices for hours gathering duplicates, stamps, and signatures. That wasn’t something I wanted to be doing at night.
However, without any hotels near I had little choice but to cross the border.
“That’s the border over there?” I asked the trim police officer over the hood of the jeep.
“This border is only for residents.”
“Only for residents?”
“Where are you from?”
“America! Wow! A long way from Morocco.” The officer lit up and came around the car. “You have to go to the other entrance five kilometers from here.” The officer pointed behind me to a single lane road which followed the barbed wire fence along the border and plunged into darkness almost immediately beyond the parking lot. “Follow that road.”
There was no chance in hell I was walking that.
Border towns were dangerous. Walking at night was dangerous. Walking through a border town at night as a six foot two white foreigner pushing a baby carriage was idiotic.
“I’m not walking,” I said.
“No. Perhaps not.”
“Can you give me a ride?”
The officer thought for a moment, then turned and called over to a man seated on the concrete barriers. The man was about my age but with gray hair. The officer and the gray-haired man spoke in Arabic then the gray-haired man went off.
“I have you a ride.”
I was stunned. The officer didn’t hesitate for a second in finding me a ride. Perhaps he knew as well as I did that walking those five kilometers was essentially guaranteeing I’d be robbed.
The gray-haired man returned with an old Ford. I disassembled my cart once again and together we lifted it into the trunk. The cart fit securely, but the gray-haired man tied down the trunk too.
“That’s great,” I said in Spanish.
The gray-haired man spoke fluent Spanish. He’d been raised beside the border.
With Savannah in the backseat we drove around the barriers and onto a street which would take us to the other border entrance. Seeing the amount of people still on the streets reassured me I’d made the correct decision. We were taking an indirect road to the border entrance and because there were streetlights it was probably safer than road which hugged the border, but there were still areas doused in darkness and so many people shifting about that if I took this route by foot I would have been gripping my mace with a sweaty palm the entire way.
The gray-haired man left me as close to the border entrance as possible – which was still down a long road packed with cars, trucks, stores, and people.
This entrance was familiar to me. The area was hectic, but I had crossed a dozen borders just like it and I knew its patterns better than the residential border. Still, it was night, and what I knew more than anything was that the safest place to be was at the border itself, not the street leading up it.
As I reassembled my cart a man came up to me holding pieces of paper and a few pens.
“My friend, you need this to enter.”
I was in no mood for anything remotely distracting. I was possessed with a singular thought – get to the border.
Once I had the wheels on the cart I kept Savannah on a short leash and we charged through the two-person wide clearing between the storefronts and the eighteen-wheelers parked bumper-to-bumper.
A boy of about eight bent over and barked at Savannah.
A man with the border paperwork jogged to catch up to me. “My friend, you need this.”
I glanced at him and the papers but continued charging forward. “Give it to me then,” I said.
“It’s one Euro.”
I waved him off.
A young woman in a colorful dress and hijab saw me approaching from behind and tugged at her mother’s arm to pull her to the curb.
As I passed I caught the woman’s brown eyes and while I looked at her the world seemed to slow. She and her mother stood there in complete ease. The frantic energy coursing through me didn’t even approach them. It was as though they were at a farmer’s market while I were at war.
“Shukraan,” the words barely left my lips. “Thank you.”
The young woman smiled and nodded a fraction of an inch.
When I turned back to the path between the eighteen-wheelers and storefronts the world sped into hyperdrive again.
People hopped barriers. Music blasted. Different colored lights splashed across the dark urban world. Everyone in the teashops watched me as I passed. A little person came up to me with his palm held out for money.
I shook my head and plowed on.
Eventually, I reached the border gate.
There five people waiting in line and two twenty-something men against the wall selling the same paperwork as the men before. I parked my cart and Savannah outside an office twenty-feet from the control.
When I returned to the control, which was essentially a tollbooth, a man in a suit asked for my passport. I gave it to him and he cut in line and handed it to the control officer.
I stood beside the control where I could watch both my passport and Savannah lying beside my cart. As each person walked passed my cart I was ready to sprint over to protect it. I was tuned way up, waiting, expecting someone to prod my cart or tease Savannah.
But no one did.
When the control officer couldn’t find me in his system I was brought into an office where three men handed my passport between them and combed their computers for some trace of me. They were all working on old computers with round black displays and lines of neon green text.
“You enter Tanger Med?”
“It doesn’t show on computer.”
I shrugged. I had the cart and Savannah in the lobby and could see them through the reinforced office window.
“You can see the stamp,” I said.
Since taking my passport the man in the suit had been obsessed with my profession. And when I told him I was a photographer he told me he wanted to see my camera. Whether out of genuine interest or to prove I was actually who I said I was, I was unsure.
When we were in the office he asked me to get my camera. I took it from my cart and showed it to him.
The only other officer who spoke English, a bald black man, said, “Professional.”
The officer in the suit lifted his chin at the camera as though smelling it from afar. “How much is the cost? Five hundred euro?”
The black officer pumped his thumb in the air. “Much more,” he said.
I agreed. “Much more.”
The office was possibly the only indoor space I’d seen in all of Morocco that wasn’t spotless. The glass of the front window was spiderwebbed and duct-taped. There were papers strewn on the desks. The white tile floor was peeling.
One of the men tapped his computer screen. He was in one corner and I was in the other but I could see my last name on the screen and a series of numbers beside it.
The men huddled around the computer then began shouting at each other.
The man who’d found my name stood up triumphant.
“I’m there?” I asked the man in the suit.
“What was the problem?”
“Not you. It is us. It is the system.”
“But I’m good now?”
“Yes, yes. Come with me. We get the stamp.”
I went to shake the hand of the man who found my name in the computer, but the man threw a hand up at me.
I looked down at my hand and saw it was entirely black with grease from disassembling and reassembling my cart.
I made a fist to give the man a fist bump but he walked passed me not realizing what I meant.
A few minute later I had my Moroccan exit stamp and Savannah and I were gliding through the tranquil neutral zone toward Spain.
The first Spanish officer glanced inside my cart, looked at my passport, then waved me on. Then at an office window I handed my passport to a second Spanish officer.
The officer was joking with the two other men in the office. He flicked through my passport only half-looking for an empty page, stamped it, then without looking tossed my passport under the window to me.
“Bienvenidos a España,” he said indifferently.
I slipped my passport into my backpack. Then I grabbed Savannah by the cheeks and kissed her forehead.
“Back in Spain, baby-girl.”