May 22, 2005

Couple On a Train

They were sitting in second class, against the window. I recognized her right away and would have found some place else to sit but the train was full so I entered the compartment. He was looking out at the station. He looked several years older than her. He wore a long black raincoat and a white shirt, black shoes and white socks. He didn't look Moroccan but later I saw that he was.

She noticed me right away but merely smiled. She wore her pink veil and I will always remember it because when she was trying out for the role of the mother in the play I'd written about the harragas, I tried unsuccessfully to persuade her to take it off. She wouldn't. I explained the scene again and again to her. She was to be undoing herself as her husband, a ghost, stood just behind her. I merely wanted to suggest sensuality. I told her we'd cut the light if she even began to undo it. Just the suggestion, I kept saying. Just the suggestion of sensuality. But she wouldn't do it. Once, I played the role of the ghost to show the actor the part and I got very close to her, close enough to catch her scent and almost touch her veil.

We all pleaded with her and the rest of the cast was much tougher on her than I was. Why do you let her try out for this, they would ask me. She wants to join the troupe, I said, how can I deny her? Oh, they said, but don't you see how hypocrtical this is: if she were a true Muslim she wouldn't try out for the drama club in the first place. We began to call her Diva.

For a while she kept coming, even after it was clear we would have to abandon the play for the semester. She claimed she'd been a drama star in high school. With us she was always a little over the top. She spoke in a loud, commanding voice, she moved clumsily around the stage. She reminded me of a Russian baboushka, thick and mother-looking. She was right for the part. But then she stopped coming and I didn't see her for several months.

Sitting on the train she reminded me of when I had first seen her. She has a beautiful face, and a charming smile. Now here she seemed even more beautiful and confident. It occurred to me that she was in love; I began to see it quite clearly as the trip unfolded.

I assumed they were going somewhere together, but he got off in Rabat. She moved to the window and waved. He stood stock still on the platform looking at her, his right hand spread out on his heart, in the Moroccan way. I couldn't see her, but you knew their eyes were locked to each other. The train began to move and she pressed closer and closer to the glass to see him disappear and stayed like that for several moments, long after he was out of sight.

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