Straight from the Horse's Mouth Buy from other retailers

Publication Date: Sep 15, 2020

304 pp

Paperback

List Price US: $16.99

ISBN: 978-1-892746-79-5

Trim Size: 5.23 x 8.02 x 0.80 in.

Straight from the Horse's Mouth

A Novel

by Meryem Alaoui Translated by Emma Ramadan

2010

JUNE

CASABLANCA

FRIDAY THE 11TH

When I’m finished working, I don’t waste any time. I put my djellaba back on, smooth out its creases, and I wait. For the guy to zip up his fly, smoke a cigarette, and leave, so I can go back to my spot and harpoon another guy. That’s the first thing I told Halima when she arrived last week.
The day he brought her, Houcine asked me to teach her a few things about the profession, explaining that she had just gotten out of prison. I don’t know anything else about her.
And to be honest, Houcine was a little annoyed that day. So I didn’t ask too many questions. He’s always on edge. You can tell by his muscles. Slender but conspicuous, like they’ve been outlined with a pen. The last time he blew a fuse was only two days earlier. I don’t remember exactly what happened. Someone he doesn’t like must have disrespected one of his girls.
That’s the thing he hates most in the world, who knows why. When it happens, you can’t do anything to stop it. His mustache starts to quiver, he stands up straight, though he’s already tall, his skin blackens, though he’s already dark, and all you can see are the scars spread over his body like the cracks in the city’s sidewalks. Or maybe more like the stripes on a tiger’s coat. It’s intimidating, and that’s why we work for him. We feel safe.
Now, Halima and I, we’re sitting on my bed, in the dark, and to tell you the truth, I’m only explaining the bare minimum to her. It took me years to learn what I know; I’m not about to give everything away to some slut who’s just starting out. And as for Houcine—worked up or not—he doesn’t get to tell me how to spend my free time.
When she arrived, there was no need to show her around my place. The tour doesn’t take long. The room is rectangular, and inside are two mattresses perpendicular to the door. Lounge furniture during the day, and at night they’re beds. There’s one for my daughter and one for me.
I also have a small round wooden table to eat on. And an armoire for our clothes. Halima stows her things in a horrible blue bag and sleeps on a foam mattress that she brought with her. When she
wakes up in the morning, she rolls it up and wedges it between the armoire and the mattress on the right. Above one of these mattresses, there’s a window that looks out onto the street. I spend a decent amount of time there. Because when I’m not watching television, I’m watching the people come and go while I eat pepitas.
To the left of the entrance, there’s a kitchen. Not a real kitchen. It’s just a room that serves as a kitchen. I furnished it with a small fridge, a butane stove, a cooking pot, some large plastic tubs, and my favorite thing in the house besides the TV: a beige teapot with a pink flower on it and clear glasses, engraved with flowers, all of which sit on a round tray. I keep the tray on a wooden shelf way up high, so that nothing breaks. Opposite the shelf, there’s a square opening that looks onto the hallway with the rooms rented by the other girls, and the bathroom, which has a toilet and a faucet for our ablutions.
This is my home.
And since there’s no bathtub, once a week—Monday—I go to the hammam. Before going to the bath, I wash my clothes and lay them on the roof, on the wire clotheslines we share with the others in the building. I told Halima not to touch the ones all the way to the right. They belong to the neighbor on the second floor. She’s not one of us, but believe me, she knows how to command respect.
The other day, we wanted to move the garbage can down below, at the entrance, because someone pointed out that when we bring men back, sometimes they grimace when they see all the black bags under the staircase. It’s true that it’s not very clean. Plus, when they’re not closed properly, they attract street cats, who come and scavenge around inside. They rip open the bags and then garbage ends up everywhere. On the stairs, on the ground, even on the walls.
So, since we were sick of it, we sent Rabia, who lives on the first floor, to knock on everyone’s door and tell them that from now on, they had to throw their trash in the large green garbage can on the sidewalk opposite the building. Not the one at the entrance. The neighbor on the second floor nearly gouged Rabia’s eyes out when she heard that. Rabia, in typical Rabia fashion, was terrified.
Honestly, I get why. You’d have to see her, the neighbor, to really understand what I mean. She’s tall and looks like an armoire. She has black hair, pulled back beneath her scarf. Her enormous breasts are an extension of her stomach, or the other way around. And when she speaks, she always has one eyebrow raised and her hands on her hips. As soon as you see her, you ask yourself what the hell you’re doing in front of her.
So, when Rabia went to talk to her about the garbage, she was polite.
“Salaam,” Rabia said to her.
“Salaam,” she replied, stressing the “s” like a snake, her eyebrow prepared for war.
“My sister, please, we’re having problems with the trash, so we’ve decided to start putting it on the opposite sidewalk, in the green garbage can. Can you put yours over there too?”
“My trash?”
And she continued without pausing for breath: “What do you mean, my trash? You think I’m the
one you need to tell to throw her trash in the street?”
“. . .”
“And you come into my home to say this to me?”
“. . .”
“You should take care of the filth that you all spread around here before coming to see me!”
When she started her tirade, her right hand was on her hip and her forehead closed the gap with Ra- bia’s, like the Eid sheep when you try to catch it. When she was talking about herself, she brought her left index finger to her chest, tapping on it. And when she was talking about us, she brought it right in front of Rabia’s eyes. Rabia didn’t push back, even though it’s not like her to miss an opportunity to stand up for herself. She just muttered, “All right, all right, no need to get worked up.”
Rabia turned back around while her neighbor continued to grumble behind her back, saying, “It just keeps getting better . . .” From where I was on the stairs, I could see her shooting daggers into Rabia’s back as she tied up her hair, pin in her mouth and head slightly cocked back to better arrange her bun. I could see her dirty look as she continued to whistle between her teeth, “And she came into my home to say this to me . . .”
When Rabia told us later that she hadn’t wanted to fight back, we understood that it wasn’t worth pushing. Because Rabia has good instincts. That’s saved her more than a few times in her life. Really, we all have good instincts. And that’s why we’re here, in the middle of downtown Casablanca with Houcine, and not in prison or living on the streets.
Since that day, we’ve stopped asking Fatty for anything. That’s what we call the neighbor. Fatty, or Okraïcha, it depends. And we move the trash ourselves, since she still leaves it in the entryway.
Telling this to Halima, I might have forgotten to mention that some nights, when we’re good and tipsy, we climb onto the roof, we throw Okraïcha’s sheets to the ground, and we hose them down with you know what, laughing like lunatics.
In those moments, I let out a youyou like no one’s ever heard before. I’m incredible at youyous. When I unleash my tongue, it takes off like a high-speed train.
So with all the noise we make, it’s impossible for Fatty not to hear us. That’s part of the reason we revel in it so much.
She never comes up, never says anything.
“So, while you’re in my home, you don’t go anywhere near Fatty, understand?” I say to Halima.
With her distressed face and her puppy dog eyes, she says yes.
I approach the ashtray, I light a cigarette, and I puff on it rapidly as I continue to tell her about my days, emphasizing what’s essential: quantity. Because you have to get with them, men, to live. At least six per day. Seven or eight is better, but six is pretty good.
When I finish with a client, I run back to my spot. Really I walk, but when you see me, it looks like I’m running. That moron Hamid, the security guard for the Majestic garage at the end of the street, told me that. The bony guy who spends his days shooing flies. He’s worked in the garage for at least ten years. Since the day he failed his bac, actually. And for ten years, he’s been shooing away flies. At night, he’s always hanging around with two or three of his friends, a band of bums, and he tells them everything he sees during the day.
I’ve never slept with any of them. In the neighborhood, I only sleep with those passing through, not anyone who lives or works here. They respect you more that way.
At least, that’s my official story, because when I need to, I do it in a corner and don’t tell a soul. But I’ve never been with Hamid. I just hang around with Hamid from time to time, so he’ll tell me the latest news of the neighborhood.
Since the garage is next door to our building, I often walk by. And it’s true that I always walk quickly, except when I’m looking for a man, because then you still have to look attractive. When that’s on my mind, I slow down and I try to look good. I sway my hips slowly, I look right and left; I lean on my left leg, then on my right, like a camel. From behind, it’s a slow, nervous movement; my butt cheeks rise and fall in jerks. It’s appetizing, like the caramel puddings I buy for my daughter.
In the street, I have my spot on the sidewalk, on the stairs, near the traffic light. At the intersection of two main streets next to the market. It’s the best spot. I’m not the only one there, of course, but it’s the best spot.
When you’re experienced, that’s where Houcine puts you. Because when you have years of hard work behind you, you deserve not to struggle so much, but also because you have to know how to look out for the cops. Generally, we don’t have problems with them. Houcine knows them well. And we do too . . .
But every now and then, they show up. Like when Anissa, the crazy girl who often hangs around the neighborhood, is off her head and screaming at the top of her lungs about God, her pussy, and the son of a bitch who did this to her all in the same breath. When they arrive, you recognize them from a distance. And even if you don’t see them, you know, because one of Houcine’s girls always gives a signal. We never take off running. We hide first, behind a car or a garbage can. To the outside observer, it must look pretty funny. All of us crouched down, asses squeezed in the djellabas clinging to us. Just our heads poking out. Since there are several of us, heads peak out from everywhere, like the flowers in the bouquets of old Haj, the market florist.
Then, we wait to see what will happen. Because it’s not always us they come for. But when they approach, we’re all ready to scamper off in the same direction: our building. At the street corner, before turning left, we all stop underneath the neighborhood tree. Most of the time, it ends in a sprint, and then our heads don’t look like flowers in a bouquet anymore. They’re more like those decorative plastic dogs you put in cars’ rear windows. Bobbing right to left, like they’re on springs. Because while we run, we check to see whether the cops are following us. Sometimes, even at that stage, it’s a false alarm. And then we all return to our places and relight our cigarettes.
Usually, I’m on my spot on the stairs with Samira, Rabia, and Fouzia. They’re the girls who are always with me. That bitch Hajar and her girlfriend—who’s just as much of a cunt—stand on the other side of the street, facing the market. During times of truce, we let them sit next to us. But most of the time, they stand opposite.
And then, we wait. For men to pass so we can put ideas in their heads. When they’re near us, we sigh. That way, if they want, they stop, they get out of their cars and they say something like, “Have we met, beautiful?” Well, to be honest, they rarely get out of their cars. However, when they walk by on foot, we never miss them. They act like they’re just passing through but it’s a load of bullshit. They come for us and we know it.
Sunday is the best day of the week, better than Saturday night, better than Friday night, better than any other day. The men who’ve had difficult weeks come to see us. They spend the afternoon in one of the local bars, and when they leave, around four or five o’clock, after several Storks or Spéciales, life seems good. They have just one desire: to make the pleasure and the oblivion last. And they do it inside us. It doesn’t last long, but it’s something.
So when they pass by in the street, they say, “Do we know each other, beautiful?” Then, you negotiate. Not for long, because they know our rates. I get a thousand to a thousand six hundred rials a pop.
I never extend credit, not like that slut Hajar, who undercuts the market. When you’re done negotiating, you walk past the guy for a few yards, and he follows you. As you go, you look back every now and then to make sure he’s still there and to keep his interest piqued.
When a man follows me and I’m concentrating on how I move, I can feel the pressure of his hard-on between my butt cheeks. I show them that I want them because in general, men like that. And we like when they’re happy because then they pay without making a fuss.
And I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been in this profession for nearly fifteen years now.
Today, I’m feeling chatty. But normally I don’t go into the details. I simply say that my name is Jmiaa, that I’m thirty-four years old, that I have a daughter, and that to live, I use what I’ve got.