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Chapter Seventeen: |
Chris followed the road through desolated fields: fields writhing with starving grubs. A way up the road Chris passed a large fig tree. Beneath it sat a shadowy figure in a white robe and turban. A tethered burro grazed beside him.
"English!" the stranger called.
Chris entered the tree's shadow and found... another Berber. Chris was hardly surprised. Berbers were the natives of the region. This white robed figure sat in the shade holding a soda-pop bottle:it said (in flowing white figures on a red ground on the waisted body of the bottle) which is Arabic for Coca Cola.
The Berber people of the Barbary Coast are the archetypal barbarians. Fair skinned and blue eyed, they were an independent people until Genralissimmo Franco finally subjugated them in the nineteen thirties. (The General went on to subjugate Spain right after that.) Nowadays the Berbers live in the Rif Mountains under Moroccan rule.
Chris wondered if the Berberians were related to the Vandals? The Vandals moved down from Scandinavia (fair skin, blue eyes?) to North Africa during the dark ages.
The Berber under the fig tree was clothed in white flowing robes. He seemed grossly fat, yet his hands and face were lean. "You go to Ketama?" he asked. (The village of Ketama is the chief "city" of the Rif, the Mecca of the North African dope trade.)
"Just passing through," said Chris.
"You find no smoke in Ketama. Djnee mangetout."
"I'm sorry," said Chris.
"Why you come?" the white robed Berber demanded. "With death of grass no freak out in Maroc."
"I've come to visit a friend."
"Yusuf-ibn-Brahm-el-Jujaka," said Chris, and wondered why he had given so much information to this singularly unpleasant stranger.
"I know this man, " said the Berber. "I go with you." Chris backed off a pace. The Berber failed to register this movement of dissent. He beckoned Chris to approach. His face was very old and weathered, but, unlike his manner hitherto, it was dignified. "I see you wear the patchwork veil of the sufi," he observed commenting on the Gypsy’s cloak.
"Sufi today from the veil thereof," Chris replied.
"Good. Very good," said the Berber. "Hup la," he exclaimed as he heaved his frame cumbersomely from the ground to stand.
Chris helped the aged fellow lift two enormous panniers filled with figs, and heft them across the burro's back. Then the fat robed man contrived to mount the beast. Between them the bulk of the Berber and the baskets far exceeded that of the burro, but the beast made no complaint, and altogether they set off down the road.
"Sh!" sh'd the old man. "It's a Company dog." He picked out some large ripe figs from the panniers and hurled them with abuse at the cur who cringed away.
"That was not a hearing aid, my friend. It is a microphone. This dog is bugged. If you are owing hire purchase or parking tickets, and more particularly if the Company has anything against you, you'd better watch out!"
"You're not very encouraging," said Chris lightly.
"I am not that young, Chris Pasha."
"…I never told you my…"
"Your name is known everywhere in the Rif."
Chris determined not to respond: however, in as much as the stranger knew his name, he enquired whether he might know the stranger's name in turn. The Berber was happy to answer, "Today," he said, "I would be Hadji Baba. "Hadji", significance "Hadji": one//who has completed//the pilgrimage. "Baba", significance "Baba": good fellow. "Hadji Baba": good fellow//who has been to Mecca. That's me. But formerly," Hadji Baba continued, "formerly I was named many things. I have been Ali Baba. I have been an Hassan. Hassan-ibn-Hassan--el-tleta-on-tletan: King Hassan of El-Stone," said Hadji proudly, sitting on his donkey.
"Hassan of El Stone, the bandit king?" said Chris surprised.
The Berber turned. "What you have heard of Hassan-El-Stone?"
"Rumours." The Berber laughed., "Ha. Me, I was king in El Stone for forty years, which is the longest anyone ever: but I retired. Do you know, God willing, I shall be the first Hassan of El Stone to die the natural death from the accumulation of years. It is my ambition to die of oldness. There is no thing now I would rather be than old Hadji Baba tending his figs," said the fat white Berber handing Chris a fig.
The figs were ripe and succulent.
They travelled on in silence.
"That will be the American disaster team," said Hassan.
Oblivious to all this, Chris continued along the road with Hadji Hassan Baba. Hadji Baba, however, was not oblivious. As the noon hour approached and the day grew hot Hadji suggested they might rest again: siesta. "I know a place."
Hadji led Chris off the road to a high standing eucalyptus grove. A running stream was running through and water leaped rocks to a pool. "Did the Prophet promise more?" asked Hadji. He tethered his donkey and from the ample folds of his white draping robes he produced pipendope.
"Enchanted," said Christopher.
Hadji Baba got up and walked away purposefully.
Chris, alone, luxured in the water. A while gone he went to recoup his knife. Approaching the far bank he saw that the shore was now crawling with gi'me grubs. Lepidoptera have the keenest sense of smell and the drift of the breeze from their pipe must have summonsed the grubs. But the river was a barrier and the caterpillars were in a state of consternation at its edge. They were charging round making nasty little sounds like "oi" and "igi" and "gi'me". Chris had no wish to be near. He swam back across the pool, got out and whirled like a dervish to dry. Then dressed and sat beneath the trees.
Gazing up at the tree shadows Chris began to notice things dangling from the high branches. Dangling ever lower. The gi' me grubs were climbing cross the river over hanging branches, lowering themselves on silken lines to gain this nether shore. The grubs reached the ground and started nosing round. The donkey seemed to be the focus of their attention. Some started crawling up the beast's shanks. The burro didn't like it and kicked and bucked to shake them off. Many bugs perished, but they persisted in their assault. "Human waves" of grubs. The burro bucked wilder, scattering and splattering figs. Figs roiled about the grove, and onto many of these scattered figs the grubs dove creepishly. A fig rolled over within reach of Chris, and he grabbed it before the scrambling grubs, and bit into it. Powdery resin! "Lebanese!" it dawned on him.
At this moment Hadji returned to the grove. Chris ran to meet him. Hadji was deep in thought and shaking his head.
"Where have you been?" Chris demanded.
"To see a man about a camel."
"That's a shaggy one," said Chris. The Berber pricked up his ears.
They retrieved what they could of the scattered figs, and stole from the grove.
"You are not what you seem," said Chris to the Berber as they continued along the road. "Old man of the mountain, you have a treasure hidden in your Ali Babas. Tell me about these smoking figs."
"First you are to explain to me this "Shaggy" you spoke of back in the grove. It is something I would know," said Hassan Hadji Baba.
"Well," said Chris, "we say in English, to be off-puttingly mysterious, ‘I've been to see a man about a dog'."
"I know this," said Hadji.
"Well, I thought your camel somewhat shaggy."
"But how is this hair of the "Shaggy Dog"? Who is he?"
"Well, it’s a long story," said Chris. "Just that. A long rambling tale, obscure and tangled as his coat."
"The dog in the shaggy tale."
"But what significance is this shaggy dog's tail," asked Hassan Baba. "Shaggy how?"
Chris shrugged. "That's all I know. And the smoking figs?"