"I feel like going for a walk. Let's get coffee up at the kasbah, no? The waiters here are making me feel gloomy."
Avenue Hassan II led straight into the Bab El Hammar and the kasbah by way of the lovely place El Makhzen. In the first hour of dimming, the menfolk were out in force on the long square filled with trees, eager for debate in crisply laundered djellabas; they stood around in circular groups holding hands, fingering rosaries behind their backs.
There was something shrill but paradoxically quiet about the masculine cleanliness, the speed of the children whistling about with shopping bags and peaches. The whitewash, the angular shadows. She gripped his hand, the marriage ring biting into his palm, and she held on to it as if it would provide long, consecutive moments of stability inside this flux. Did she need him more for a little while, just enough to get through this town? The petty disputes of the last few weeks melted away and in the end it was all just words and words, she thought, words that melt away easily as soon as you are in a strong enough sun and you are moving. They found a lopsided square with a fig tree where there was a Cafe du Miel with tables that all leaned to one side on the slope on cedarwood legs. It offered no drinks, but strong coffee with grains and a good smoke, and he felt at home at once. There was a saucer of cardamom seeds for the coffee and a plate of almond pastries. Small acts of delicacy. The streets were patriarchal, if you liked, but they possessed intimacy. The trees made delicate shadows on the underfoot stones. He stretched and dropped a cardamom pod into his coffee.
"I feel less tired now. I think this afternoon was the worst stretch. If we leave at seven, we can be there by midnight or so."
"Do you think they'll wait up?"
"They'll wait up. We're a large percentage of their weekend emotionally speaking. They'll be boozing long past midnight."
Or all night, she thought hopefully.
"It's not a military timetable," he said with more conciliation. "If you want to stay here a night, I don't mind. I was thinking?.?.?.?two nights of party might well be more than enough."
She shook her head.
"I don't want to, I want to get to Richard's place."
In a moment, her eyes brimmed over, and she felt an irrational hatred of the whole situation. It was the usual things. The heat and the thick coffee and the stickiness in the air and the tone in his voice. That clipped and impatient twang seemed to go so perfectly with the way the men in the cafes stared at them with their eyes held back in some way, yet sharpened by their provincial curiosity and used like pointed sticks to pry. She had thought a trip through the desert would give her ideas for a new book, but such calculations rarely pan out. What kind of new book after all? Instead, she was beginning to feel boxed in by the schedule to which they had to stick, and the men in the street stared and stared and their hands played with rosaries on the surfaces of the tables. They stared so hard she felt her center of gravity giving way. They stared with a blank hatred, but it was equally possible that it was not hatred but a sense of unconscious superiority that did not even need to be conscious in order to put the other in her place.
"It'll be all right," he said tersely. "We know they're repressed and enraged. They treat their woman like donkeys. For them, you are an escaped donkey."
She looked away, and she was gripping her napkin.
"I hate it when you say that."
"Why? It's true, isn't it?"
"It doesn't matter if it is."
"I would say it mattered," he countered. "I would say it mattered if they disliked your presence because of your sex."
"I'm sure it isn't that. And you have no idea how they treat their women--none."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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