Mustapha made no noise when he walked, despite the magician’s ring of keys in his hand. I was never quite sure what he did at the Hotel Foucauld in Marrakesh but he always appeared at the moment something needed to be unlocked. And one day, a few months after I had arrived, he opened a door for me.
The Hotel Foucauld was the closest thing I had to a home when I worked in Morocco. It was always noisy, inside and out; the airconditioning boxes were only there for show; and the light bulbs illuminated nothing at night. It was where I landed for a few days, after two or three weeks of leading treks on foot in the mountains or by camel in the desert, and I got to know it well.
Of all the eccentric staff, I liked the elderly straight-backed Mustapha the most. He talked quietly and gently, looking just beyond my eyes when we spoke. I suspect it was a neglected astigmatism but it also gave the appearance of profound respect, as if he was leaving my innermost thoughts to themselves. I had the sense that he was a man not exactly with regrets but with some sad stories to tell if he was ever to tell them, for despite my constant questions I found out little about him. I was lonely in those days, missing Egypt where I had just spent a year, and perhaps we recognized something in each other.
One Saturday morning, not long after I had taken my tour group to the airport, Mustapha found me in the foyer of the hotel, trying to prepare for the next group who were arriving that night. He bowed and asked in his beautifully accented English if he might borrow me for a while. In his hand he held a key, an ornate silver one, heavy in the hand. He beckoned me to follow him.
The bedrooms upstairs were arranged around the outside of the building with windows overlooking either the fast-moving shadows of Djemaa el Fna or a busy street on the other side. In the middle was the staircase, a box room and some cupboards. We walked towards one of the cupboards, some of which I h
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