Taha the cabdriver wasn’t having a good day. Upon waking, his wife Fatima demanded money so that she could buy food to feed the half dozen relatives who had come to visit from the Rif mountains. He tried to tell her that he had no money, but she had already been through the pockets of his jacket where he had carelessly left his earnings from the night before. After arguing for nearly an hour about the fact that he needed to buy gas, pay for a new taxi license, and get his car tuned up he ended up leaving his house with only about a hundred dirham of the three hundred he had previously held. Of course, none of his excuses were true. Fatima knew that, but to just give her the money went against his nature. After all, if he gave her nothing, she would spend nothing. If he gave her all of the money, she would spend all the money. Such was the nature of life. However, in this case, it had apparently been written that he would leave the house with only a third of his money. The rest would be used to show hospitality to his wife’s relatives even though it was unlikely that they would ever have the hospitality returned since the relatives were poor even by Rif standards.
After having his coffee and reading the newspaper in the cafe where most of the cabdrivers gathered each morning he only had a forty dirham left because it had been his misfortune to run into a man who he owed 100 dirham to and the wily fox had seen him pay for his coffee with the hundred dirham note Fatima had left him with. Taha had escaped giving the man only fifty. The morning had gotten worse from there with nothing but short fares and complaining Moroccans who all claimed to have less than the fares he requested.
Returning to his home for the afternoon meal, he found Fatima irritable and that her family had already eaten most of the food she and his daughters had prepared. The guests had demanded lunch earlier than usual, no doubt in order to keep Taha from eating with them and thus to get more than they would have with one more mouth present. Fatima had saved him a plate of cold tajine with only the barest scraps of chicken.
After lunch, things were similar to the morning and finally as the evening came, he decided to take a chance on fleecing some Spanish tourists arriving on the ferry from Tarifa. Of late, many drivers had been complaining that the Spaniards had become even more cheap than usual and so he had stuck with Moroccan business people in the Ville Nouvelle. On this day, it wasn’t working out very well.
Since he was not a usual at the Tangier port, he was given many nasty stares and more than a few harsh words by those who made this their regular route. He noted that most of the walk off passengers were returning Moroccans and that the majority of Spaniards had brought their own cars. Those few Spaniards who did wander off either ignored him or went with touts who spoke better Spanish. It was his misfortune to have studied English rather than Spanish at the Lycee. Not that his English was good, but his Spanish was far worse being limited to Senor and Hola.
After nearly all the other drivers had left he looked up to see a Spaniard coming down the ramp from immigration. Sometimes being patient paid off. The man was average height and to the delight of Taha he was not a backpacker. He carried a leather shoulder bag and dragged a small wheeled suitcase behind him. On his head he wore a hat which to Taha marked him as prosperous, a brown fedora such as the bankers in Tangier often wore.
“Hola Senor.” Taha said hopefully. “Taxi?”
“Lla,” the man replied in very poorly accented Arabic. “Shukran.”
“Takalllum a laura Arabiya?” Taha said in his friendliest tone.
“Lla, Shukran” the man said again. It was obvious this was the only Arabic he knew.
Taha tried to speak to the man in Derrija, in French, and then asked if he was Spanish, but the only reply he got was the one he had already heard as the man walked quickly away from him.
The only other person coming off the ferry was a Moroccan soldier. Soldiers rarely tipped, but Taha decided he would rather have a fare than none. He began speaking to the man, found out he was going to the bus station, and offered to take him there for the usual fare, about six dirhams.
As he started the taxi he saw the foreigner, whom he now doubted to be Spanish getting money from an ATM machine. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. The man would not have change and probably didn’t know how much a taxi should cost. The banks had been good to drivers and merchants by making the ATMs dispense mostly 200 dirham notes. He stopped his cab, got out, and approached the foreigner deciding to try speaking English to him.
“You need taxi?” he asked as he opened the back door. The soldier was in the front seat looking through his paperwork.
The man looked around and it apparently dawned on him that there were now no other taxis at the port.
“I need to go to the train station,” the man said.
Aha! He spoke English.
“Oh, very far to the station and too late, maybe you need nice hotel here in Tangier for tonight?”
The nicer hotels gave generous commissions to any drivers that brought them guests.
“Lla, shukran.” The man’s Arabic annoyed Taha. It was already 6 pm and the trains wouldn’t run again until 9 pm this evening. It seemed a shame to just take the man to the train station.
“Okay, maybe you eat now. No trains now.” The man looked a bit panicked at this but he was coming to the cab with Taha at last.
“No. Just the train. Shukran.” Taha had changed his mind about the man being wealthy. There was something almost shabby about him. He was unshaven and smelled strongly of cigarettes and sweat. Taha could see why he had been held up at customs.
As the man began to get in the cab he noticed the soldier in the front seat and pulled back.
“No problem. He goes to same.” Taha said soothingly. Foreigners always seemed surprised that they didn’t get the cabs to themselves.
“You are English?” he asked. Of course the man was English.
“Ana askoon fil America.” His Arabic was awful but apparently he did speak more than just lla shukran.
“Oh, Barack Obama. Muzien!” The soldier in the front seat laughed. He was a negro, obviously from the south of Morocco. He turned and tried to speak to the American in Fusha, standard Arabic. The man didn’t understand a word. It was fortunate for Taha since the soldier was telling him that the trains didn’t run until 9 pm and that the fare should be about ten dirhams for the cab ride there.
The man nodded as if he understood and the soldier gave up. Taha dropped the soldier at the bus station and was surprised to be given ten dirhams, the fare was only eight dirhams and the soldier had tipped him two. A strange night.
The man seemed concerned that he was being let out at the bus station but Taha reassured him. “You are next. Wait. Sit.”
Taha drove several times past the station on side roads and finally when the man seemed to be getting anxious stopped the cab at the train station.
“Shal Faemrik?” the man asked. How old are you? No, he must mean the price.
“150 dirhams,” Taha replied. He didn’t have enough change to only charge the man the correct amount. It was the will of God.
“Kbeera,” the man said with uncertainty. Big. He must mean it was too much, but he didn’t know.
“No. It’s the right price. Standard. But because soldier being in taxi, I charge you 130 only.”
“No, just fifty.” the man said. “Hamsareen.”
“Lla, one hundred ten.” Taha worked hard not to smile.
Finally, after painful negotiations they agreed on a price of seventy five dirhams.
The man held out a blue 200 dirham note looking dubious.
Taha counted out an odd assortment of change, the more change, the less likely the man would notice he was not being given enough back. 7 dirham coins, four 2-dirham coins, three 5-dirham coins, and a 20-dirham note. Taha counted the twenty as a fifty, the fives as tens, the twos as fives, and the ones as twos. “Fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, eighty-five, ninety, ninety-five, one hundred, one hundred ten, one hundred twenty five.” At the end, Taha dumped all the coins in the man’s hand and moved quickly to go get the man’s bag from the back of his cab hoping the man wouldn’t count his change and was as unfamiliar with Moroccan money as Taha thought he was.
The man moved back quickly to make sure his bag was safe and put the fifty dirhams change in his pocket.
Taha smiled as he handed the man his bag. “Welcome to Morocco. Marhabban.” Then he moved back to his cab and drove away quickly.
He smiled as he looked in the mirror and saw the foreigner looking at the purple twenty dirham note. It had turned into not such a bad day after all. Now if he could just keep Fatima from finding this money when he got home.