“Where is the train station?”
“Oh, near, very near.”
“We can walk?”
“Oh, no, no. We will drive you. Fifteen euros for five people and bags.”
We didn’t really discuss it. The bus, which was supposed to be free and actually cost 25 dirham (about $2.50) plus a tip if you ever wanted to see your bag again, had let us off not at the Gare Tanger Ville but on some random corner in Tangier. So we–myself and four gents from Bristol who I’d become attached to during a mishap at the port back in Algeciras (that will have to wait for another time)–decided, without much negotiation, that we were doing this.
The cabbies–one, the driver, was quiet because he didn’t speak English and who was obviously the quiet one in any language, and the other an endless loudmouth with bawdy jokes and offers of hash–showed us their “cab”. It was a beat-up white car with a hatchback, but smaller than most standard American SUVs. Into this were going four not-insignificantly-sized Brits (with large bags of motorcycling gear), two Moroccans (one to drive and the other to be your guide), and me, with my backpack.
We protested that we’d never fit, but somehow we all did, the Moroccans and one Brit in the front, straddling the gear shift, and the other three lads (middle-aged though they were, these were clearly lads) and I in the backseat.
It was night. We were in an unfamiliar city. The man talked endlessly. We were going back the way we’d come on the bus. This wasn’t good. We said so. We asked if we were going to the main train station, Tanger Ville. The talker assured us they were taking us to the train station. How much farther? Very near, very near. We went through a residential area, and then we were driving away from town. One of the Brits asked, at what point do we bail? But the question really was, bail to what? Plan B would just be a different taxi. And who knew where that would go.
We drove up, finally, to a suburban rail station. “See, we are at the station!” We argued, this is not the main station, we want the main station. The talker said, “this is the same!” I showed him on the map. One of the guys went in to ask about the trains, and they found they could get their train there. But I needed the main station, to buy my ticket for the next day and then get to my hotel. The talker offered to take me back to the main station. “You will be safe. See, I have no gun!” And he lifted up his shirt like a corner boy to prove it.
Now, first, there are endless places to keep a gun that are not your waistband. But more importantly, it wasn’t a gun I was particularly worried about. The Brits saw the look on my face. I don’t know if Brits can be mensches, but these ones were. “Do you want us to go back with you?” they offered.
These thoughts went through my head, in this order:
You’re smart and tough. You can do this alone.
You have money. At most they probably want money.
You shouldn’t inconvenience these nice guys any more. They’ve already gone out of their way for you.
Fuck it, I’m scared.
And so back in the car we all got, the talker still talking away, talk of how much he loved England and how he liked to drink and how good Moroccan hash is. There was a forced, hostile chumminess now, now that we all knew the score. The laughing was a little too loud, sharp like a weapon. The taxi went back near where we’d started and pulled into the large, modern train station at Tanger Ville.
The gents paid and wouldn’t take my money, and as soon as we all had our bags we walked away, the talker still begging for another tip to buy milk with. I had a one-Euro coin in my pocket. I left it there.
Welcome to Morocco.