They Have a Dream
Last night was quite. The sky was starry. There was no wind. An ideal weather for fishermen. The early faint sign of dawn, which succeeded the peaceful night, was still darkish. However, the curious eye could spot the Patera, the Spanish word for the boat used by Moroccans in the North. Its name Assalama, meaning safety, was chosen to distinguish it from other Pateras. It was scribbled in bright, big and white letters on the right side. Later, a dull and yellowish light was brooding over the sea. The few houses implemented in that area beside the sea shared that dim light.
Assalama was due to leave at four a.m. A delay of one hour was not as influential as to make Harragas, those migrants who burn their identity documents so that authorities in Europe cannot identify them, change their minds. They landed there only for one purpose: Hrig, to burn the borders. They paid for it. A fortune. More than 3000 €. In advance, the cash payment had gone to Ezzouine, the smuggler or the Razor as gangs called him, before he granted them his service. Ezzouine thought that four o’clock was an exceedingly inconvenient time. As usual at this precise time, the Moroccan border surveillance, either land authorities or maritime patrols, are at their extreme surveillance to clampdown Harragas to take sea routes to Spain.
Ezzouine was 52, but he looked younger than his age. Also, he looked rough. He was tall. His head round and bald. His arm muscles unveiled the strength hidden inside him. His questioning eyes very black. He was dressed in a pair of midnight blue camouflage trousers and a white T-shirt, on which “No Trust” was written. “No” sat above “Trust”. To avoid his feet getting wet, he put on a yellow waterproof boots. He had a keychain on one of his belt loops. The ring was holding many big keys which made him appear as a prison officer.
In his business, Ezzouine was attended by three men. Trustful. Extremely useful. Driss, the oldest of them, was 36. He was short, burly and bearded with a military haircut. He looked like a large oak barrel. He had an eye half closed, but the other was wide open. The different shapes of his eyes and his crooked nose composed a scary face. Before Ezzouine assigned him to take command of the boat, he had worked as a truck driver.
Ali, 27, just reached his physical prime. He was rangy and strong as a bull. Up on his left bushy eyebrow, there was a large scar, may be a mark remaining from a fight. He resembled to those figures proliferating in action movies. He had worked as a drug dealer before he joined the smuggling of migrants. He was incredibly versatile. He was Ezzouine’s informer. Ezzouine had to know the updates about the local and national migrants smuggling networks as well as the movement, tactics and control timetable of Moroccan authorities. He was responsible for transporting illegal migrants to that seaside niche. He was closely acquainted with all those truck drivers, competent and trustful and generously paid, moving from Tetouan to the location. He knew them as he knew his hand fingers. He sometimes assisted his boss in collecting potential migrants. On the trafficking site, he was Ezzouine’s body guard.
Bousselham, a middle-aged man with dark hair, was the youngest among the smuggling gang. He was 24 years old. He was as thin as a screw. He wore dusty clothes. Every minute, he pulled up his trousers. If seen without his clothes, his shoulder blades would seem like little wings. He was in his debut in these silly affairs of human trafficking. He had been employed as a cook in one of those Medina’s restaurants in Tangier. A quarrel with the owner had driven him to land in Ezzouine’s trade. He was appointed as what might be called a chef: to cook, to serve and to go shopping. He looked after the needs of Harragas. Most of the time, he made them some Bissara, a soup made of dried fava beans in which garlic, olive oil and some spices are used; sometimes tomatoes and eggs; and other times only a canned sardine or tuna which they eat in a big piece of bread accompanied with a hot mint tea as the Moroccan construction do. Harragas seemed to admire Bissara more than any other dish. A bowl a day kept hunger away. Now the three helpers were deriving good profit that could sufficiently feed more than one large family.
Six days ago, Ezzouine had detained Harragas in a room of a small house which was on a slope. It was newly painted, blue and white. In front of the house, there were a shovel, a wheel barrow and some bricks abandoned to the wind and the rain. The huge sea stretched illimitably before it. They have been stuck there as though they were cattle in a barn. The shelter was dark with two small windows through which light timidly filtered. Their nostrils have been searching air because of the smell of sweat that invaded the place. They were dripping with sweat out of heat and fear. Heat of the room. Fear of police. In their minds, fear was more predominant than heat. They were afraid of being arrested by police which meant for them the failure of the dream, though a flying lack of success. Many like these Harragas try Hrig more than two times. They all dream of crossing to Europe for a better life.
The single furniture in their confinement were two big hand-made Hassiras, traditional straw mats, and few pillows. The Hassiras were old with some scattered holes; they provided a space where to slumber tightly. Tiny black spots hung over the pillows. The nasty smell of those who recently occupied the cell-like room still glued to the pillows. There were blankets, more than they needed. Their sleep looked like honey bees in the hive. At night they used to turn on a lamp. It was all covered with dust which thwarted light to reach the floor. Rules were stricter here than in jail. No shouting. No loud laughing. No glances from the windows. Quite talk. Yes, the toilet was allowed. It was a possibility for Harragas to get some fresh air. Going to that locality, so called restroom, was as if escaping from hell. At least for a short time. Lucky they were. There were three wall sockets to charge phones that kept them connected with the world outside: families and friends. At first they had been forty one before a young man left under the pressure of an attack of severe diarrhea. He felt a kind of dehydration due to fluid loss.
When these risk-takers were acquainted with each other they opened their hearts to tell their stories. Two days ago, a morning gentle breeze made life in that room more bearable. It boosted their vitality. They set off imparting the motives that drove them to such a hazardous adventure. A hazardous dream. Many explained, with unbelievable bitterness, that they wanted to get rid of poverty. Others elucidated they were no longer able to bear oppression. Numerous confessions were displayed. No one resembled the other. But, Asar, who crossed borders into Morocco and who refused to reveal the name of his origin, disclosed a bizarre account.
“I am here because I really crave for pursuing my university studies in France. I am heartily willing to major in political science. I got the highest marks in the baccalaureate,” he seemed to breeze effortlessly through the detail of his performance. “I was named the most outstanding high school leaver in the country. The headmaster informed me that I had to apply for a grant. I did. Unfortunately, my application was ignored. In Africa, what you have in mind does not matter, what matters is who you know. Connections. No one is interested in knowledge or what knowledge can bring to the nation. The embassy refused twice to give me a visa due to my family. Impoverished family.” He felt relieved. He needed to talk to empty his heart.
The boat was waiting. It was slightly floating and was swaying. It was fully prepared and ready for action like a volcano on the brink of eruption. Driss supplied the boat with a GPS tracking device, and extra petrol was stored in two jerrycans for times of adversity. Who knows?. There might be a Spanish coast guards pursuit or whatever.
While Ezzouine was thoroughly raking the area with his eyes for any inconvenience, especially the prying eyes of informers, Driss strolled to the boat, pushed it a little bit into water and professionally climbed. Then, Ezzouine sent Ali his confident signal to start embarking them.
“Come out. Come out. To the Patera. Hurry up, hurry up,” Ali made two steps towards the house and issued his order.
“Hurry up, boys. One by one. Pay attention to the slope,” Bousselham repeated after him.
Obeyed. When Harragas were slipping off to the boat, an untoward change in weather occurred. A faint wind began to blow. They could not feel it because their hearts were brimming over with happiness. Finally, they were moving towards the dream. The dream of a new life.
One by one, they were scooting down the slope to the Patera. They were hovering at it, trying to find the best way and the best place to climb. There was some confusion as to how to get into the boat. The puzzlement ushered the most frightful mess. Noises grew louder. Harragas were kicking each other, were pushing each other, giving orders and counter-orders to each other. A battle to clamber aboard for the beginning of a new life. Driss was shouting at the crowd. The whirl relieved. Two young Harragas could jump into the boat with the help of Driss, the expert, and started giving a hand to their boat mates.
“Can I go back to the room. I forgot my medication,” Farid, the youngest clandestine in the mob, said in a begging tone.
“Medication ! No medication or whatever, hurry up,” came Ali’s order with a great voice of contempt. “Do you want the authorities to arrest us all?,” this time Ali yelled at the top of his voice.
Here, humanity is ignored. Here, profit neglects the human connection, affection, and warmth. As Farid was rushing to the boat, he fell down. But his new friend Hamid, who came from Sidi Kacem, set him on his feet again and escorted him to the boat.
These guys were eminently suited to their work. They were shouting at Harragas to hurry, were banging them on their heads, were pushing them and were sometimes hitting them. They allowed themselves all sorts of violent and humiliating acts.
The sole female in the company was missing. She was a heavy sub-Saharan African woman. She had a baby of less than one year and who was crying, perhaps, for some food. She was still inside, fidgeting nervously with her fingers. She was wearing jeans and old sneakers with golden stripes. The upper part of her body was clad in a multi-colored sweater that was far from fitting her. Her hair inharmoniously drained into long cornrows like an unfinished ploughed field. Ali flew into a rage. To her surprise, he grabbed her and propelled her through the door to fall down like a broken doll. An attack on humanity itself. Her baby fell far from her. She found her legs wide apart, and her right arm behind her back. From her right temple little blood trickles were running down her cheek. Tears began to well up her eyes. Where is the baby?, she asked her herself. Then, she sprang to her feet to catch sight of the baby. Safe. Thanks God, she sighed with relief. She stuffed her hand in her pocket and took a white handkerchief. She tied it round her head to cover the wound. Now she looked like a true pirate. The event was loading her with more fear and doubt. She strolled to the boat. With the help of many kind hands, she and her baby were the last to plop down in the Patera.
“Hey, you, son of a bitch, make room for her,” roared Ezzouine, foot in water.
The targeted guy, middle-aged, already squeezed, pressed his waist against the body of his neighbor and withdrew his legs. The woman gained a leeway, at least, to lift her toes and spread them in case of any pain. She sat down in the middle between the rows with bent legs and kissed the baby as if she did it for the first time. She comfortably placed the baby between her legs, forming an upside down V, and her belly. The baby gave up crying as if the boat were a cradle. Ezzouine carried on delivering his undisputable instructions. Driss took over him. He was arranging them in order the weight was correctly distributed. Some Harragas sat in rows of four, occupying the middle seats of the Patera. Now, everything was arranged according to the boatman’s rules. Everyone on the boat. Time for it to reach the dream. Time for it to face its destiny. The Patera is the master of its own destiny.
For these dreamers and risk-takers on board, desperate as they were, there is no difference between life and death. For them, no space between living and dying. But, isn’t life worth living?. Is it not reckless to leap into the void with no care to those who love you and those you love?. Human beings cannot live without dreams. True ones where risk is not involved. Reasonable ambitions that fuel enthusiasm and energy. Dreams must be measured. Very often, aspirations are bigger than the ways to realize them. Dreams can build people’s life. They can destroy it, too.
The waves were caressing smoothly the sides of the boat to make it dance. Probably the dance of death. Harragas’ eyes were traveling from each other, hands clawing at both sides of the boat. The Patera seems like a horse that balks at the starting gate, holding his legs up and down. Ali and Bousselham, with every power they could muster, pushed the Patera ahead. Done.
Driss gripped the starter rope handle and pull it firmly. The first cough, the second, then the third. The engine refused to respond. A silence descended upon the Patera. The knocks of the engine were beating against Ezzouine’s heart to inflict doubt and wonder. Baffled and confused. Is there anything wrong with the engine?, he whispered to himself. Driss tried for the fourth time. The motor turned over, and the boat jumped forward. This departure of the boat, with 40 people in her belly, was marked by an unusual silence of those dreaming souls. Silence lasted to what seemed to be a long time.
The Patera was moving slowly and carefully like a pregnant woman. Even those birds that often stood there out in the sea, flying over ships and boats, quitted the sky to prepare a calm scene for the canoe to cross. The only things to impose themselves on the quietude of the sea were the outboard motor noise and the repetitive music of waves. The two matched well to deepen the solitude and isolation of the boat. The sea wrapped itself around it. So dreadfully, we will miss our families !, some of the Harragas pondered. Then all of them, as if it was arranged before, were looking at their captain Driss. Now he was the savior and the new life giver.
Suddenly, the Patera was speeding up. Harragas began to feel confident in the transit means, and they were slowly breaking the silence. Very addicted to fun, Abdelatif, who came from the city of apples Midelt, launched them a series of jokes that made their hearts ache with laughter. Then, a chorus of voices burst into songs. Some were simply humming along with those family songs they used to sing in familial celebrations. Some were busy sending phone photos to their homes. Others were trailing their hand in the water. Very few were simply crying for no reason. They were hooting with mirth.
“Good morning! How are you doing,” a hoarse voice said.
“Good morning, Lghoul! (the beast). Very ok. And you?,” Ezzouine replied, moving towards his Mercedes car, left by the side of the road, ten minutes walk from the site, to go back to Tetouan.
“Are we going to meet at 9:30 as we fixed?. I have good news about those new people,” asked Lghoul with a clearer voice.
“Ah! I am sorry. Ali is going to see you at 9:30. Café Assabah. OK?,” quickly responded Ali
“Ok, I will be there. Sure I will be there,” Lghoul assured him. Nothing in that morning could satisfy Lghoul so much as that call.
“Ali, come with me. I am going to drop you in Café Assabah, where you are going to meet Lghoul to fix things about those new comers,” Ezzouine said, looking for his car key in his pocket.
“Alright,” agreed Ali
“Bousselham, call me if you need anything. I can send it to you with Tahar,” poured his words showing his back to Bousselham.
Tahar, an old veteran living in Tetouan, had a shop to provide food supplies in that isolated area. He was available three days a week. He knew the needs of Bousselham. Food and other things.
From where Bousselham was sitting, legs crossed, his ears could reach the car’s roar and followed it to fade as if it were never there. Bousselham took out the two parts of his Sebsi, a long traditional Moroccan pipe with a clay bowl for smoking Kif, a mixture of cannabis and tobacco, built them into one, filled it, and pressed it tight into the bowl
When he looked at Harragas, with his Sebssi ready in hand, they didn’t seem to be moving at all. Later, when he finished smoking his fifth, the boat showed very tiny. Pretty soon, out of sight. He got up, knocked out his Sebsi, conveniently disassembled his pipe into pieces, and let himself in to clean the dirtiest room in the world.
A storm of questions was crossing Driss’ mind. Will we come across the Spanish coast guard?. Will these illegals be quick to slip to the shore in Spain?. Will the weather remain peaceful?. He was sure he couldn’t give any assuring responses to those worrying inquiries. However, they were there, in his mind. They were part of the journey.
As the wind was rising, middle-sized waves were thumping on the beach. The wind and the waves were growing furious as if warning anyone who cared to listen that an incident of grave nature was about to take place in the water world . The sea turned very black. The first rain drops visited the boat. Just then, a flash of thunder stroke, sending a demoralizing bleu light to the sea. The rain became thicker and thicker. Torrential the rain was. It seemed like the Patera sailing through an angry waterfall. Gradually, thunder was booming to occupy the sea space as large as the world. The wet and lonely Patera, in spite of its seducing color, started to have a dreary look.
The dreamers were in a storm. They made astonished faces. Pale. The smile passed away from their faces. Wrath began to gather at the back of their minds and fear was glowing in their veins. Painful tears were trickling down their very pale faces.
Is this the end of the journey?, most of Harragas said in a whimpering tone. All the migrants raised their eyes to the sky as though looking for someone to stop this loud rumbling. These souls want passionately to live. There are still so many places in this astonishing world to visit, so many queer delightful people still to know, so many merry moments still to enjoy , so many opportunities still to come. Darkness grew, and the storm’s mouth blew, without mercy, a violent wind to whip the Patera. It was like a sharp blade sliced into a human heart ...
Author Notes: BENZAHRA Mustapha is a teacher of African and English Literature at Moulay Ismail University, Meknès, Morocco. He is an emerging writer. He has already published some books like Disillusionment and Revolutionary Imperative: An Analytical Study of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born And Two Thousand Seasons. He has also released short stories like A Piece of my Diary. The Generosity of Coronavirus is his masterpiece. It is published in Melbourne (June 30th , 2020), Australia.