Bled Dry

The Casablanca night doesn’t really begin until after midnight, but after midnight, anything goes. Nezha was wondering where Hammadi would want to finish off the evening. They left La Falaise at one in the morning and got in the car. Nezha tried to be even more seductive, stroking the side of his head  and tickling his crotch.

“Where you taking me, Daddy?” she asked flirtatiously, blowing cigarette smoke at him.

He looked over at her with a lewd, conniving smile and fondled her breasts.

“To hell, God willing,” he said shamelessly.

The car took off in the middle of the street and Nezha knew right away he wasn’t heading to Ain Diab, as she was hoping. Ain Diab is the posh neighborhood on the beaches of the Atlantic, packed with the most famous nightclubs, which are usually packed with Gulfi tourists. It also boasts Casablanca’s high-class brothels, which stay open until dawn, and the louche bars of the rich and powerful, and big-time drug lords, where the stars of Moroccan popular music play every night. The glorious nights that everyone winds up talking about the next day always happen in Ain Diab.

Instead, Hammadi took Nezha for a tour of the neighborhoods of Moulay Rachid, Rachidiya, and Hassan II Street. These are the most beautiful streets in the city during the day, but at night they turn into a disgusting showcase for selling sex.

As soon as the car entered the first street, young men came out from behind the trees, showing off their erect penises to the gay drivers who passed by slowly to check out their wares. A teenager with a thin mustache came up to Hammadi’s car waving his throbbing penis in Nezha’s face, pushing his merchandise, screaming that he fucks both men and women at the same time and place. Another jumped up on Hammadi’s side shaking his thick cock and moaning sexually. No sooner did the car pull away and pass these two than a line of transvestites appeared with their tight women’s clothes and hair in locks like little girls, wearing lots of cheap make-up. Some were strutting back and forth flirtatiously, dancing with each other, batting their eyes, and cracking their gum. Others were yelling at the drivers passing by, sticking their asses up in the air, and blowing kisses. Some would show themselves off with perverted sexual gestures, twisting their tongues and licking the air as if they were sucking on an imaginary penis. A few feet away from these, a bunch of prostitutes of fast pleasure who worked on the spot for cheap money—a quick ten bucks—were lined up. It’s enough to move away a little into the trees nearby, drop your pants, and stick it in, standing there like wild dogs without any kind of protection against STDs. And if one of these prostitutes insisted that the customer use a condom, that’d only stir up suspicions and make him think she had AIDS. They stood there all night crowded together, their legs swollen with exhaustion as drugged-up pimps with a share in every operation kept an eye on them from a distance. This last kind of prostitute is the lowest of the low. Most of them are over forty and divorced, widowed, or abandoned, with huge families to support. If no customer came in and they spent the night without a trick, they’d turn into beggars during the day or give blowjobs in alleyways or the entrance of dark buildings for a quick five bucks. This sex market is held every night, from midnight until just before dawn, but competition is fierce the first Saturday of every month when men’s pockets are full of cash.

The tour through this obscene show amused Hammadi and aroused his appetite. He decided to cut the party short and head over to Hotel Sheherazade. And with that, Nezha’s hopes of going to one of the Ain Diab nightclubs were finally dashed.

*******

From the outside, Hotel Sheherazade looked somewhat respectable. It occasionally fooled the odd traveler who would spend the night there thinking it was a legitimate establishment after seeing its unlit neon sign. In reality, it was just a hotel for prostitution. Sheherazade was located on a narrow street in the middle of the city, surrounded by bars and cafés where girls normally hunted down customers. The owner was a former drug dealer who used the hotel partly as a means to launder money. He enjoyed protection from the cops and made some deals with the police chiefs to have them turn a blind eye on his business.

It’s illegal for a Moroccan man to get a hotel room with a woman, unless they have a marriage certificate. And that means the biggest problem for those seeking passing pleasure, like Hammadi, is figuring out where they can go with their prostitutes. At Sheherazade, the customer normally pays for two separate rooms, one for him and the other for his girl. Once inside, they just meet in the same room. Added to that is a special fee for “convenience,” as the clerk would say. That’s something extra for the cops.

Nezha was one of the hotel regulars. As soon as they staggered up to the entrance, the doorman greeted them, knowing full well he was in line for a generous tip. He opened the door, welcoming them, despite being half asleep. The reception area was awash in the odor of sex and left a dark ghostlike impression, as if the billions of sperm spilled out in the hotel rooms turned into invisible specters haunting the place. There was no furniture to speak of, only a tattered couch where the doorman slept and a chair with a broken back, a clear message not to sit down. It was obvious that the reception area was designed to repel anyone who was only looking for somewhere to spend the night.

The clerk tossed aside the newspaper he was reading as the two came up to the desk.

“This man’s with you?” he asked Nezha with a feigned severity, as if he didn’t know her.

“Don’t know who he is,” she said, straightening her skirt, taking a look at herself in the cracked mirror on the wall. “Never seen him before.”

She then lit a cigarette and blew the smoke in his face.

The reception man was young and sharp-featured. He went a little too far with the self-importance, acting like he had some official position, not an under-the-table job in a crummy hotel. It was obvious he knew how to conduct business with the necessary cunning. Greed made him treat his best customers like they were nothing more than strangers.

He put one key in front of Nezha and another in front of Hammadi, who was always embarrassed by this stage of the evening. Hammadi looked up at the reception man with a complicit smile, preferring not to say a word, and then put down on the counter the price of the two rooms and a big tip.

Their room was lit with a single dark bulb hanging down from the ceiling as if it was somewhere underground. There was a closed window with a curtain full of dust that looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. In the middle of the room was a sagging bed made up quickly with a single long bare pillow on top. The bed had an old cover draped over it with yellow spots that no detergent could get out. The odor of strong disinfectants  wafted from the toilet. Mixed in was the stench of  urine, no doubt the last drops of some drunk, deposited after having rough sex.

Nezha sat on the edge of the bed, which was still a bit damp from   previous customers. As she lay down on her back, a huge bug ran out from under the bed and climbed up the window curtain. Nezha lifted up her dress, revealing her beautiful ivory thighs. Her pure white skin, glowing with the youthfulness of a tight hot twenty-year-old body, was the opposite of her face, which was ravaged by constant all-nighters and too much smoking, drinking, and cheap make-up.

Hammadi ogled her, trying to work himself up. He looked at his watch and saw it was two in the morning. He stared at Nezha again, but nothing was happening. She realized what was going on and immediately turned over on the bed, slipped off her dress, and started gyrating in exaggerated positions, imitating what she had seen in some pornos. What finally started getting Hammadi going wasn’t the way she was moving but the squeaking coming from the bed next door, together with the moans, panting, and exaggerated sounds of delirious love.

In the blink of an eye, Hammadi pulled off his clothes and threw himself down on the bed. That was all he had to do. Nezha would take care of the rest. She was determined tonight to make all of his desires come true and then some, in the hope that he’d be more generous with her afterward. She had to come up with Firqash’s money, but the moment she thought of him, she felt sick.

She threw herself into having sex with Hammadi, this customer who was her only way out. She pulled him between her legs and began to bounce up and down on top of him, letting her hair fall over his face. She then stood up, bent over in a lewd position, and started rubbing his flabby tan body and sucking on his cock until she made him moan. Everything she did surprised and aroused Hammadi so much that he felt like he was going to pass out. She then wrapped herself around him, embracing and licking him, opening the folds of his wrinkles and tickling him with her tongue, kissing him passionately all over his body, making every effort to keep him erect. Hammadi’s weak point was losing it in the middle of the road, so she had to give him some additional doses of intensity and overwhelm him with sensuality, a skill she picked up from her experience in the field. She was on intimate terms with all kinds of guys and knew how to pull them out of shyness, disgust, or superiority. She did her work with total professionalism and absolute spontaneity.

Hammadi shook as if he was on fire and mumbled incoherently, then began moaning loudly. Nezha started giggling and giving him excessively lustful looks, closing her eyes halfway as she rode on top of him. She enjoyed watching the fruits of her labor as she saw him holding his breath. Pleasure was splitting him apart and his worn-out heart was beating hard, barely able to keep up. He finally let out a heavy groan, like a calf being slaughtered.

Nezha threw herself down next to him, bathed in sweat. He turned to her full of gratitude as she appeared in his worn-out eyes like she was overflowing with life. A sharp jealousy suddenly overwhelmed him when he realized that she did the same thing with other men, and with the same degree of enthusiasm.

As for Nezha, she was thinking about spilling everything, telling him all the details of her problems with Firqash and evoking his sympathy with stories of her mother’s horrible illness and her brother’s chronic unemployment. Maybe that’d push him to be more generous than ever. She was on the verge of talking when he pulled away from her, curled up, and fell asleep. Despondent, she lit a cigarette and inhaled, listening to the moans and naked words of love coming from the neighboring rooms. Her only comfort at that moment was the rhythmic way she drew in the smoke from her cigarette and then exhaled it. When all was said and done, this old man saw nothing more in her than cheap flesh to devour for the moment. For the first time, she thought about slipping her fingers into his wallet, which she could see sticking out of the pocket of his pants hanging over a chair. If he had enough cash, it could take care of her problems. She sat there, fighting the idea. She was on the verge of sneaking out of bed when she heard the sounds of feet racing up the hallway stairs, followed by pounding on the doors and men barking “Police! Police!”

She held her breath as Hammadi opened his eyes and began coming to, looking around the room. The two sat there frozen, waiting to see what would happen next. Someone banged on the door quickly and started opening it without giving them the chance to get their clothes on. As soon as the key turned in the lock, the door swung open and a young police inspector rushed in. He had a thick frame and rough features. A uniformed cop stood blocking the doorway with his broad shoulders. The inspector looked with loathing at Hammadi, who had just about gotten his pants and glasses on, but didn’t pay Nezha the least bit of attention.

“Police!” He screamed in Hammadi’s face with a terrifying tone. “Can’t you hear!?”

Hammadi reeled, his legs barely holding him up. He managed to button his pants, just as he was on the verge of falling over.

The uproar was in full swing in the hallway, as the screams of girls mixed with the pleas of men. A team of cops surrounded the place. As far as Nezha was concerned, this was all just an exaggerated scene from a show she’d seen before. She wasn’t afraid for a second. She put on her clothes calmly, went in the bathroom, and pissed in the toilet as loud as possible in a kind of barefaced challenge to what was going on. But as soon as she came back into the room, the inspector descended on her with a quick slap across the face that slammed her into the wall. He then ordered her gruffly to stand up straight.

Nezha knew the reason for all this cruelty was to terrorize Hammadi and soften him up for what was coming next. As far as the cops were concerned, Nezha was nothing but a cheap good-for-nothing whore. They knew they wouldn’t get a cent from her. What they were really after was this prized catch with his important job and family to protect from charges of debauchery and adultery.

Outside in front of the hotel, everything was blocked off, as if a terrorist attack had just happened. A number of police cars were parked next to the chief’s. On the opposite sidewalk, a cop was pacing back and forth, keeping his eye on the hotel door. At the reception desk, a detective was flipping through the registry, checking out the various names. There was a huge crowd in the lobby and the cops put the girls in one row and the men in another. Uniformed officers then led them two by two to the cars outside to take them away to the station. They were under arrest because they didn’t have enough money to do business with the cops. The ones they were really interested in with this raid were the guys still in their rooms with their “girlfriends,” now in the middle of bargaining. Most of the hotel customers were serial adulterers, but it was the respectable office workers, teachers, and employees in official establishments that had something to hide and the cash to do something about it.

Hammadi’s mind was spinning and he forgot where he was or how he even got there. He looked completely dehydrated. Even his lips seemed dried out. With a great effort, he got up and walked over to the sink. He leaned over, cupping his hands under the tepid water that was coming out of the rotten spigot, and splashing it in his face. He then stared at himself in the mirror.

“Come over here and stand in front of me, old man,” the inspector chided him, as if disciplining a dog.

Hammadi shook his head weakly without lifting his eyes. The inspector was just biding his time as he listened closely to what was happening in the room next door. His boss was just about done closing a deal.

They heard noise coming from the street as a prostitute was screaming and crying. She kept begging the cops to let her go since she left her baby alone at home after giving it a tranquilizer. Everyone in the room then heard a cop give the woman a rough slap across the face, putting an end to her pleas.

A detective suddenly came into the room from next door. He had brown skin, a round paunch, and repulsive features. He manufactured an expression of indifference when he cast an eye at Hammadi. The detective then looked over at Nezha with disgust. She came out from the corner with her hand over the red splotch on her cheek.

“Don’t move and keep quiet or I’ll bury you alive,” barked the inspector.

Nezha’s voice trembled as she broke out crying in pained agony.

“He slapped me, boss,” she yelled, complaining to the detective. “I didn’t do anything and he slapped me!”

The detective reached over suddenly and grabbed one of her earlobes, trusting that would shut her up. Nezha was in agony.It felt like he was ripping her ear off with a sharp pair of pliers. It seemed as if her body rose all the way up to the ceiling and then fell down hard.  The detective let go and immediately wiped his hand on his sleeve, as if it was covered in filth. He then warned her with a stern look that he’d do even worse if she opened her mouth again. Nezha kept quiet and swallowed her tears and snot as she tried not to fall over from pain.

The detective took a stroll through the room and saw a bunch of slimy tissues lying next to the bed on the ground and gave a knowing smile. The time had come to give his favorite lecture, which he knew by heart. He looked over at Hammadi, who was sitting in a submissive position, like a sinner asking for repentance.

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Director of a bank branch and respectable father, cheating on your wife with this piece of trash who’s younger than your daughter. How are you going to face your wife and kids and your colleagues at work? Look at yourself. And you didn’t even use a condom. Aren’t you afraid of giving your wife some disease?”

Hammadi winced, as if hit by a heavy blow.

“Forgive me, boss, please!” he pleaded suddenly. “I don’t want to go to the police station. Let’s come to an understanding.”

Nezha was following everything closely, but pretending she wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. The detective told the inspector to take her out of the room anyway. He grabbed her by the arm, dragged her across the room, and threw her roughly over to the cop outside.

“Make her wait in the hallway,” ordered the inspector, slamming the door.

Hammadi quickly came to and turned his eyes toward the detective.

“I’ll give you a hundred.”

The inspector laughed mockingly, baring his row of cheap dentures. He moved the handcuffs under his belt and showed part of his gun. The detective’s eyes became narrow and full of anger.

“Is that all we’re worth to you, old man!” he screamed, grabbing Hammadi by the collar and shaking him violently. “I bet you wasted more on that piece of garbage. If I tell them to take you to the station, you’re finished. You leave this room arrested and there’s no one who can stop you from going before the judge for adultery, open drunkenness, and debauchery, besides other things. How are you going to explain that to your wife and kids, to your friends and bosses? By coming to an understanding with you, we’re doing you a favor. We want to prevent you from going to jail and hide you from a terrible scandal. And here you are trying to bargain with us?”

Hammadi bowed his head and found himself for the first time thinking about Hajja, his wife. She’d never forgive him for cheating, no matter what. She might even want to see him sent to jail in revenge. Redwan, his son, the engineer who just got married, how would he take the news? And his daughter, the university professor who’s married to a member of the Islamic party? The scandal would be devastating.

“If you’re not in a rush,” said the detective derisively, “we have work to do.”

Hammadi stared at his torturers, one after the other, and realized what a big catch he was for them. There was no hope. He dug into his pants pockets, pulled out his wallet, and handed it over.

“How much is here?” asked the detective as he pulled out the cash.

“Four hundred.”

The detective counted it quickly and gave the inspector a satisfied nod. He put the money in his jacket pocket.

“Don’t leave now,” he told Hammadi, as if giving him some friendly advice. “You’re drunk and it’s late. It’s better for you to sleep here until you sober up.”

Before Hammadi could open his mouth, they left the room with an unexpected swiftness.

Hammadi stayed frozen in place. His appearance was dried- out, his face sallow, and his features strained. Blue rings stood out around his eyes. He would’ve given them a blank check just to escape a scandal.

Nezha came quietly back into the room fabricating a narrow smile and leaned over Hammadi, kissing his head. She then sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t think the guy at the reception was in on it. I know him. Maybe there’s some problem between the police and the owner of the hotel.”

Hammadi was feeling a tightness pressing down on his chest. Nezha’s words made him feel nauseated. A tremor overwhelmed him and he thought he was about to throw up.

“You didn’t have to give them all your money. They’d have been happy with just a hundred.”

He stayed silent with his head down, unable to say a word. He rubbed his red eyes under his thick glasses and felt a stinging that made him wince.

“I’m leaving,” he said in a choked voice, standing up suddenly without looking at Nezha. He then paused for a moment, holding his keys.

“Don’t you want to stay here till morning?” she asked.

He moved his head weakly and went over to the door.

Nezha took out a cigarette, lit it, and drew in the smoke in anger and despair.

“Don’t you want to wait until I finish my cigarette?”

She crossed her legs provocatively, but he turned away. And with that she knew there was no way to make things as they were. Her lucrative monthly customer had just gone up in smoke.

The night was a total disaster. She realized she didn’t even have enough for a taxi and there was no way she could ask Hammadi for money now. The police had just cleaned him out.

“Can you at least take me home?”

He didn’t say a word as he left the room.

From Al-Mustanzafun. © 2009 by Abdelilah Hamdouchi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Jonathan Smolin. All rights reserved.