They didn't see Africa until half past eleven. The mists broke apart and motorboats with European millionaires came swooping out of the blue with Sotogrande flags and a flash of tumblers. The migrants on the top deck began to shoulder their bags, revived by the idea of home, and the look of anxiety that hovered in their faces began to dispel. Perhaps it was just the sun. Their secondhand cars stored in the hull revved as their children scattered about with oranges in their hands, and an energy seemed to reach out from the edge of Africa to the Algeciras ferry, polarizing it. The Europeans stiffened.
Sunbathing in their deck chairs, the British couple were surprised by the height of the land. On the tops of the mountains stood white antenna masts like lighthouses made of wire, and the mountains had a feltlike greenness that made you want to reach out and touch them. The Pillars of Hercules had stood near here, where the Atlantic rushes into the Mediterranean. There are places that are destined to seem like gates. One can't avoid the sensation of being sucked through a portal. The Englishman, a doctor of a certain age, shaded his eyes with a hand bristling with ginger hairs.
Even with the naked eye, they could make out the snaking outlines of roads that might have been there since Roman times. David Henniger thought, "Perhaps it'll be easier than we think, this drive. Perhaps it'll be a pleasure after all." From a boom box near the flagpole came a few bars of rai, of Paris hip-hop. He watched his wife reading a Spanish paper, flicking the pages back and forth indifferently, then glanced down at his watch. People were waving from the approaching city, raising handkerchiefs and fingers, and Jo took off her shades for a moment to see where she was. He admired the frank confusion written all over her face. L'Afrique.
They went for a beer at the Hotel d'Angleterre. It was not hot. The air was wet with recently broken mist. Con men and pretty "guides" danced around them while the sun drenched the terrace with a smell of varnish and peppercorns and stale beer. A laughing mood dominated the seedy expats and their hangers-on nursing their plates of unshelled nuts and their cooled gins. We were once the most formidable bohemians, their faces said to the newcomers, and now we are delightful, playful shits because we have no choice.
The Hennigers had arranged for an agent to deal with the car rental, a man who would run back and forth with keys and contracts, and while they waited for him, they had a few beers with grenadine and some fried goat cheese cigares. He waited to form an impression. The streets seemed massively solid with their French facades, and there was a gritty shade at their bottom. The girls were swift and insolent, with adultery in their eyes. It wasn't bad.
"I'm glad we aren't staying," she said, biting her lip.
"We'll stay on the way back. It'll be interesting."
He took off his tie. His eyes felt intensely alive somehow and he wondered if she ever noticed these slight alterations of mood, of intention. "I like it," he thought. "I like it better than she does. Maybe we'll stay a little after the weekend."
On the road to Chefchaouen, they didn't speak. The car rented from Avis Tangier was an old Camry, its brakes soft and its red leather torn. He drove it nervously in his perforated driving gloves, warily avoiding the women in ribboned straw hats who infested the hard shoulder, pushing mules ahead of them with sticks. The sun grew fierce; it was a long road bordered by stones and orange trees, and above it rose the hillside slums, the gimcrack apartment blocks, the antennas that decorate every middle-income city. One couldn't see the beginning or the end of it. There was just the taste of sea.
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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