Two ladies are chatting in the doorway to my building. Both are wearing face masks which teamed with their hijabs, leave very little of their face exposed.
There is a doctors surgery on the ground floor of my building, and it’s not uncommon for the steps in the foyer that lead to the lift, to double as a waiting room.
‘As Salaam Alaikum,’ I smile from behind my mask as I brush past with my basket full of shopping.
‘Wa Alaikum Salaam,’ they respond in unison.
The lift chugs up to my floor and I burst through the door to my flat, hissing at my mask as I fling it onto a beautiful chair in the entrance, ‘hate you,’ I scold laughingly, as if the mask suddenly has feelings.
It’s early, probably about 10.30am, and I’ve deliberately been out just as the shops open, to avoid the crowds who venture out much later. In the old days, Tangier would rise for the day at a slow, Mediterranean pace, these days she is hard to raise from her slumber at all.
My shoes are slid off and inside slippers are slid on. I shuffle around the kitchen after my mandatory hand wash, before the ferrying of goods from the basket in the entrance begins.
Salad, fruit and vegetables from the market are soaked in a bowl of water. Milk and wine are placed in the fridge, and I thank my lucky stars the wine didn’t clink against my keys as I bustled past the women waiting for the doctor minutes earlier. Bread goes in the bread basket.
‘Where is the bread?’ I ask myself, before realising I didn’t pick up a baguette from the boulangerie.
By now it’s been fifteen minutes since I arrived home, and what would have once been a relatively simple exercise of unpacking the shopping, takes forever as I apply extra caution to surfaces and things touching surfaces whilst wiping the wisps of hair out of my eyes; hair that has for some reason become static and adamant that it will itch my face in these new times of ‘mask wearing’.
Cursing myself, I slide my slippers off, grab my money and antiseptic hand wipes (German, they smell like medicinal heaven and would kill a man if he ingested one; take note, Donald), I slip my mask back onto my face and put my outside shoes on again. Off I trot down the stairs and back into the foyer of the building.
‘As Salaam Alaikum’ I smile from behind my mask to the same two women still standing on the stairs. Must be a slow morning in the Doctor’s rooms.
‘Wa Alaikum Salaam,’ they respond in unison.
Mohammad’s on the street shouting into his phone. He see’s me coming and gives me a big wave. I love Mohammed. He guards the street like a member of the family, and he is always there to help me through the door. Moments later, I arrive at the boulangerie where a queue has formed outside the door. The security guard who mans the foot traffic at the boulangerie gives me a nod. Two in, two out. He knows that I know the rules.
These days, I’m very obedient.
A homeless man holds out his hand, but my money is deep within my basket. Now that it is mandatory to wear a mask, I can no longer multitask (let alone see, for some reason) and I telepathically tell him to wait a minute.
Once inside, the banter begins with the girls who are always full of chat and polite, happy exchanges. The one who is pretty and has a mouth full of braces, is unrecognisable in COVID times with her face behind a mask and her hands covered in latex. She looks more like a dental nurse than a bread seller.
My hair is static as I reach for the money inside my bag, and the temptation to wipe it out of my eyes makes me sniff. The cashier is behind a plastic visor, the type you might use if you were a blacksmith, or a welder.
Everyone jolts when I begin to sniff and stifle a sneeze. I want to joke that I haven’t ‘got it, just my hair is static and I don’t want to touch my mask,’ but I’ve only recently learned to even say ‘sorry’ in Arabic, so I choose that offering instead.
I prepare twenty dirhams out of my change for the security guard at the door, and a further five dirhams for the homeless man who is bound to accost me as I leave.
Waving everyone goodbye, imagining that they’re all nattering ‘do you think she’s got it?’ I hand the security guard his money with a whispered ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ and a smile.
The homeless man shuffles forward and he takes his five dirhams with mutterings of ‘thanks to God, God is great’. I smile at him from behind my mask, a hopeless gesture really, but I hope that he can see the creases around my eyes join together when my face lights up.
Mohammed is off the phone when I reach my street and he’s quick to open the door. Each year, I give him money for Ramadan as he is incredibly kind and always helpful.
We have very little language between us, and during the COVID19 lockdown he has developed a ritual of waving his arms each time I step outside as he speaks to the sky delivering a message to his namesake. I understand he’s saying something to ‘the other’ Mohammed about the virus, as ‘Corona’ is a universal word.
‘Shoukran, Mohammed’ I thank him, handing him 100 dirhams. ‘Lah, Shoukran,’ he offers, before promising to spend it on his children.
The two women have obviously been ushered inside the Doctor’s rooms and the steps are now occupied by a young family waiting patiently and with their faces, also behind masks.
‘As Salaam Alaikum,’ I smile from behind my mask, nodding at the mother holding her child as the father busy’s himself on his phone.
‘Wa Alaikum Salaam,’ she responds.
The lift chugs back up to my floor and I step out for the second time in one morning. I toss my mask back onto the beautiful old chair in the entrance hissing at it once again, and I slide my feet out of my outdoor shoes, and into my inside slippers.
A mandatory hand wash follows, before I place the baguette in the breadbasket and race to the bathroom sink and brush my hair tightly back into a hair clip.
Another year has passed us by, and here we are again in the month of Ramadan. Had I known twelve months ago that we’d be in lockdown because of a strange virus and that planes would no longer fly, I’d probably have torn out the very head of hair that plagued me with its static fit during my morning shopping trip.
Isn’t it strange how we’ve just ‘adapted’ to this new way of being?
Masks, static hair, the fear of sniffing or heaven forbid, sneezing, reduced contact, et al.
Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim friends, who have had to accept a different approach to Ramadan this year.
There is still the daily fast from dawn until dusk, but without the added fun and excitement of the much adored evening promenade in the streets and cafés with friends; a nightly extension of the much anticipated evening l’ftour.
When I sighted the crescent moon at the end of last week, I felt happy for my neighbours as they entered this time, but only the slightest bit sad about this changed way of living and the way it will impact this normally very holy and social month.
As Twinkle Toes loves to say between every second word; ‘Inshallah’ we will meet again soon and next year, another year on, we will reunite with the freedoms that we (seemingly unknowingly) took for granted in the past.
Where ever we are in the world, and whatever it is that we believe in.