It has been four months since I've been back in the United States, in New York, in Brooklyn, in the same apartment where I used to live, where the same deranged man sits in front of my building, drinking tall boys as he hawks old clothes. When he gets drunk, he taps on the window of the ground floor apartment below mine, yelling, “Brownie! Brownie!” There is a mean dog that lives there, who responds with foaming snarl. It seems Brownie doesn't like Crazy Harry any better than he did before I left for Morocco.
And the B61 bus still barrels northward, destination Red Hook. And the skinny white boys in stovepipe jeans skid past on skateboards, and the girls in knee-high boots and mini skirts place cell phone calls, and the teenagers still shout, “What's good son?!?” en route to the vocational school down the street.
That first morning, that very first morning after fifteen almost-solid months in Morocco, I woke before dawn in New York. My interior clock was set five hours ahead. In Morocco, at that time, my friend Moha would be at one of the cafés eating harcha with Laughing Cow cheese, smoking a spliff and drinking Nescafé. Fatiha, who was a friend who worked as a prostitute, would still be asleep on her skinny mattress in the tiny windowless room she was calling home. In the building where I lived those last three and a half months, the tiny white and orange cat that I'd named Sweet Soul and her three newborn kittens would be mewing at what was my apartment door, wondering why I hadn't fed them yet.
But I wasn't in Morocco to feed them. I wasn't in Morocco to take a grand taxi down to to visit the café where Fatiha worked at night, or to the restaurant where Moha did. I wasn't in Morocco getting stared at anymore. I wasn't buying olives and farmer's cheese at the souq, or trying to find women to interview. I wasn't dragging the portable gas heater with me from room to room as if it were on a leash. I wasn't making my sad trips to Poste Maroc, going to my mailbox to see if any letters had by some miracle made it through.
I was home again in my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Bedford Avenue, and I was in bed, and it wasn't yet daybreak, and I wasn't waking to the Muslim Call to Prayer. I was waking in absence of something I want to say.
I don't know what I am trying to tell you here.
Some of you want to know how Morocco was. You want to know if it was great, if it was interesting, if it was amazing. Was it amazing? you want to know.
Yes. No. (I had forgotten how many of you say the word “amazing”.)
No. It was that first morning in New York that was amazing.
As I lay in bed, I pulled back the curtains from my window. I looked out to Bedford Avenue below, and watched an African American kid in a puffy coat and do-rag walk by; he was holding a cup of coffee in one hand, eating a Honey Bun with the other. Then I saw a blond man in a camel hair coat pass the kid. He was wearing a plaid scarf that matched his coat, he was on his cell phone, and he was also holding a paper cup. And something about how the two people never looked at each other, just walked past each other without saying a word, and how both of them were carrying their coffee with them in paper cups, and because when you are away for a very long time, and then you return, everything reveals itself in the smallest of details. Everything is laden with significance: in New York there are paper cups and in Morocco there are not.
What an enormous distance there is between here and there. What an enormous distance there is between me and you. Oh, paper cups.
I cried there in bed – I cried very hard in fact – and I would find, well I would find I would cry a lot over the next few months. Was Morocco amazing?
Yes. In the apartment where I stayed, there were pictures of Paul Bowles everywhere. There were pictures of Paul Bowles standing in the kitchen where I cooked my lentils; there were pictures of him in the foyer; there were pictures of his study; there was a picture of him above the bathroom sink where I brushed my teeth; there were pictures of him in the bedroom where I slept. It was like living in a house that was haunted.
No. More precisely, it was like living in a house where there was a coddling of a haunting, an insistence to keep the past present.
There was a book there of photographs of Paul. (For by then I felt we were on a first-name basis, Paul and me.) Often, when I ate popcorn for dinner, I'd page through the book. In it was a story of how Paul had once been asked to describe himself in three words. Describe yourself in three words the author said.
Paul wrote his answer on a small piece of paper.
He wrote: “I live here.”