All was dust. He drove on doggedly, determined to get out of the city as fast as possible. The light all day had finally worn his eyes down; the road was reduced to a geometric glare alive with hostile movements: animals, children, trucks, broken-down thirty-year-old Mercedes.
The suburbs of Tangier were ruined, but the gardens were still there. And so were the crippled lemon trees and olives, the dogged disillusion and empty factories, the smell of seething young men.
The Hotel Salam in Chefchaouen looked over a river called the Oued el Kebir and a gorge; the road on which it stood, avenue Hassan II, was a steep lane of hotels, for the Marrakech and the Madrid were just next door, and along it the city walls loomed up, white and monkish. The tour buses were already there; the salon was full of Dutch couples feeding upon mountains of turmeric eggs. The Hennigers were not sure whether to enter the hotel lounge and participate in this buffet orgy or to stay aloof. The Dutch looked frantic and disturbed, as if they hadn't eaten in days. David wondered if they were given sandwiches on their immense buses. They were faintly disgusting, with their big red faces and their beefy adolescent ruminants grazing around the buffet tables. He was hungry himself.
"Let's eat straightaway," he said excitedly, "but not here. Perhaps outside, away from the Continental wildebeest? I wonder if one can get a drink that isn't Pellegrino Citrus?"
Fortunately the Salam had its own terrace and it was not too crowded. They took a table with views and ate their tagine citron with a bottle of cold Boullebemme. It was wine, at least, and he said a silent thank-you to it.
"Should you be drinking?" she asked quietly.
"Oh, it's just a glass. A glass of fly pee. This stuff is fly pee. Look at it."
"It's not fly pee. It's fourteen percent. You have to drive another five hours."
She began to devour the salted olives at their table. David always took these sorts of remarks in his stride, and he settled down.
"It'll make it easier. I know it's the lame excuse of every alcoholic. But it will."
"I shouldn't let you, Stumblebum."
"I would anyway. The roads are empty."
"What about the trees?"
There had been eleven years of this sort of contest; the exact, fastidious Jo crossing lances with the bad-tempered David, who always felt that women were out to suppress the peccadilloes that made life half worth living. Why did they do this? Were they envious of life shimmering away with improvised masculine curiosities and pleasures without their consent? One had to ask the question. You could smile or not--it was up to you. Jo was ten years younger than him, a mere forty-one, but she acted like an ancient nanny. She enjoyed reproving him, pulling him back from tiny adventures that would have no consequences even if they were allowed to degenerate to their natural conclusions. "I'd never hit a tree anyway," he thought. "Never in a thousand years. Not even in my sleep." She swallowed half a glass of the raw Moroccan wine and he raised an arch eyebrow. She wiped her mouth defiantly. The blood rushed into her brow, into the corners of her mouth.
"You always get what you want, David. It's our schema, isn't it? You always do what you bloody want."
"I'm not putting your life in danger." His voice was a little pleading. "That's absurd."
We'll see if it's absurd, she thought.
"Also," he went on coolly, "it's patently not true. I very rarely, as you put it, get to do what I want. Most of the time, I am following orders."
At the bottom of the gorge stood white houses with jars of salted lemons on their roofs. Around them, dogs barked in the palm groves, and the waiters at the Salam seemed subtly ashamed of them. One of the Dutch beauties floated in the little terrace pool, rotating slowly under the first stars while gazing at her own toes. He watched her with meticulous curiosity. Her breasts nicely rounded, parting the waters. The dinner was short and efficient, because their minds were racing ahead to the journey instead of enjoying the present moment. Afterward, he finished the remains of the Boullebemme and cleaned his teeth with a pick from the center of the table. Something in his voice was not quite right.
Excerpted from The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne. Copyright © 2012 by Lawrence Osborne. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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