I had begun writing a piece over two weeks ago about the Chinese Lunar calendar and the fact that it was recently broken to me that I’m a Goat.
One of my very dearest friends and I spoke on the phone for hours about both being goats and all that comes with it. She broke the news with the same breathlessness that might come with terrible news of ill health, or something equally as horrible.
Apparently Chinese people will do anything in their power to avoid having a child in the year of the Goat, and just as I was about to press publish on my work, aptly titled ‘Goat,’ my kitten fell off the balcony and fell four floors, landing in the concrete courtyard below.
‘Everything ok?’ I asked, when I saw Twinkle Toes’ number flash up on my screen.
‘It not good,’ he panted in response, ‘I think he dead’.
‘He,’ is actually ‘she,’ my beloved kitten who has been nicknamed Brexit after surviving the horrible ordeal.
Leaving my delicious Moroccan tea and running out the door of the Gran Cafe de Paris, I arrived home three minutes later to find Twinkle a pale shade of greenish grey in the kitchen. After a thirty minute wait, the guardian of the building rounded the corner greeting people in the street as he meandered towards me. ‘Rasheed, it’s a catastrophe,’ I gasped, hurrying him along.
We shuffled out towards the courtyard and he burst open an ancient door with an equally ancient master key, where I quickly fashioned a blanket out of my favourite shawl. The ‘blanket’ soon became a bloody mess after I scooped the baby up after finding her perched on all fours with a blood nose.
My dear friend Sue who lives around the corner and happens to have been a nurse in a former life, arrived in time to accompany me in the taxi; the driver ignoring the fact that I was carrying a kitten in my arms and not in her cage, and the passenger who sat in the front seat stared vacantly ahead. In an act of complete kindness, the driver sped through school traffic, dodging the line of taxis outside the big mosque and whisked us to the vet in record time.
After two nights under observation, the naughty kitten arrived home in one piece and has since been spoiled rotten by anyone and everyone. My pleas to keep all the doors closed when she is not being watched, are now being realised and god willing, she will not repeat any such activity anytime in soon.
I have always loved Christmas, and at this time of year I become very reflective. As I think about family and friends far away, I dream of nights filled with an endless glass of red wine and my favourite film, Love Actually, playing on repeat.
I could happily watch this film every day for the rest of my life, utilising the endless packets of Kleenex purchased from my favourite man on the street who has wobbly teeth and is extremely sharp on the money; he is also always grateful for the extra few dirhams given to him for a coffee.
Just before I began writing this, I finished wrapping all of my Christmas presents in newspaper purchased from the old man with a hunchback who staggers around the streets like a packhorse carting news. He is a complete character and he finds me at every cafe or restaurant, greeting me with a perfect cockney accent, grinning ‘ello, and ow are you today?’ and to the next person he will speak in relatively good French, Spanish or Arabic, depending on what he observes as he eavesdrops on his prey. I love him, and I have a stack of newspapers in my study that I’ll never read, because I can’t, as they too are written in Arabic.
I know that he knows I cant read them.
Recently, a friend and I dressed up and attended a charity night in aid of a new orphanage being opened in Tangier. We were the only two people in the room of about one thousand who weren’t Moroccan, and my eyes welled up when a handful of children took to the stage, and further welled up, when we still hadn’t (in typical Moroccan fashion) had dinner as midnight fast approached.
‘Shall we sneak out,’ I whispered, knowing that dinner was miles away and the night was still young. I was also about to eat Gene, my sweet dinner companion. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, and with that we whisked back to the Kasbah in a taxi, chatting at full throttle the entire way. I haven’t forgotten those children and in a moment of serendipity, I received a phone call from the boy who saved the kitten and had sweetly agreed to babysit her for my first night out since she had returned from my kind vet. As I neared home, he wondered if we could meet for a coffee and quick catch up.
He is so kind to me and is ever patient with my appalling attempts in both understanding and speaking in the local Arabic dialect of Darija. My questions are always answered with consideration and patience and ‘nah why’ has become his standard response when I say something he doesn’t agree with. I too, now find myself saying ‘nah why’ when I mean, ‘no way’.
In an act of chivalry, he walked me home following our coffee, and just as we rounded the corner from the boulevard, four little boys of about ten years of age came towards me holding their hands to their mouths, whispering ‘manger, manger,’ the French word for ‘eat’.
I shot a glance to the kitten rescuer, ‘can we take them for dinner?’ I asked, not about to take no for an answer. ‘Yes, of course,’ came his response.
Two of the boys hung off his arms as he marched them towards ‘cheap street,’ my favourite place in Tangier, where I often eat for next to nothing in one of a handful of tiny restaurants lined up side by side. The food is fresh and delicious and totally Moroccan. I had the other two boys holding each of my hands, with one wrapping his spare arm around me in a huge hug, barely able to walk his grip was so firm.
As we approached my favourite restaurant where I eat lunch most days, I shot another glance, ‘are we dining in?’ I asked.
‘Of course,’ came the response, ‘let’s have Christmas dinner.’
So, there I sat with four little boys and the kitten rescuer translating every word. The waiters arranged baskets of bread, plates of rice and a bowl of mince. A bowl of warm beans followed and a bottle of coke was donated, along with a huge jug of water.
The children fought, making finger gestures at each other and I asked Monsieur Kitten to teach them some manners, first off, encouraging them to thank the waiter. Suddenly, everyone was sitting up straight and ‘shoukran bzaf’ (thank you very much) was being bandied around the table.
‘She is the queen,’ they told him, shooting naughty grins in my direction before pouring a huge glass of coke into a filthy cup covered in slobber and placing it in front of me.
I downed every sip and finished their ends of bread which they passed to me; ‘make her eat,’ they begged.
One was particularly entrepreneurial, taking a baguette from the basket and filling it with leftovers, announcing that he wanted to be prepared for tomorrow.
The boy to my right had his arm around me at all times and planted kisses on my cheeks. As he left, I gave him a huge hug, planting a kiss on his forehead and asked him to look after himself. His big, dark eyes looked into mine in a gaze that I’ll never forget.
I’ve seen these children before, and I will continue to look out for them in the future.
In a life filled with everything I could possibly want, but without children of my own, I have always found complete solace in the children of others.
This week, as I wrapped presents for my five nephews and five godchildren ready for the post the following day, I reflected on the importance of caring for each other at this time of year and always. And, as I tied the final bow on my palm tree in the sitting room, fashioning a North African Christmas tree, I was reminded again that it all comes down to love, actually.
With Christmas just under a week away I will continue to be reflective, just as other religions reflect at different stages throughout the year. Each day I am reminded of the religion that rules this country, and as Christmas approaches, I am constantly reminded that is my time to celebrate.
As I walked home today, the part time street guardian who works just a couple of days a week, shot me a smile followed by a loud, toothless ‘good morning,’ as he always does, even late into the night. ‘What is your name?’ he asked, before adding, ‘you have Christmas, you look like a Christmas person’.
I suppose I do.
On that note, I’ve got a film to watch.
Pictured: Amira, the wonder kitten, in a more restful moment.