When I lost Gertrude in Jemaa El-fnaa

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Gertrude is a German national who came to Marrakesh, Morocco, to finish her studies, but she never made back. Last time seen was in Jemaa El-Fnaa, a square on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, where snake charmers, singers, story tellers and healers attract both foreign and Moroccan audience.

Submitted: March 03, 2012

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Submitted: March 03, 2012




Even those kleinigkeiten she used to do whenever she came over had never upset me; for she was the type of person you would harbor no grudge against her. You would forgive her for the practical jokes she used to play on everybody, including me. And to let you know, I am very irascible, quick to get irritated even when it is about a petty thing. Both my parents scolded me a number of times for having an explosive temper. To this moment, I don't understand why I let her dupe me over and over again. Being one of her easy and gullible victims, I admit even letting her play games on me. And there were a couple of times we both laughed about it when we thought the jokes were witty and creative; most of them were. During this eventful period I had to sit aside sometimes and ask myself the same question: Why don't I get mad at her?

I never was able to find an answer though.

Being a jokester caused her to have few friends.  I was lucky enough to be one of this elite entourage that hanged out with her most of the time. And the reason I was lucky, I think, to spend much time with her was because she was fun to be with. She could make you laugh right after she played a joke on you. And I guess the most interesting thing about her was not her queer sense of humor, but her astonishing ability to make her stories interesting even if they were dull. Her sophisticated manner of narrating stories made her a perfect storyteller and may be that explained her fondness for spending a lot of time in Jemaa El-Fnaa. She was a faithful fan of this magical place. Whenever we lost sight of her, we would look at each other in wonderment and say: "She must be in Jemaa El-Fnaa"

By the way, she was German and Gertrude was her name. What a name? What about kleinishkeiten for a word? I bet you were wondering about this it as you drifted down the lines to here. As a matter of fact, kleinishkeiten was her word, or justification, whenever she was faced with disapproval of her actions. She explained it to me one day as "trivial stuff". Some people, for example, were offended by her lavatorial humor and deemed it inappropriate and childish. She never liked how the German responded to her jokes. She mentioned two incidents where she was almost physically assaulted by some folks who did not appreciate her witticism

"They can’t take a joke” she protested one day.

"We Moroccans take jokes,” I replied.

Gertrude came to morocco as an exchange student from the University of Mainz to study Arabic and Islamic studies in Marrakech. She revealed to me once that the East-and she meant here specifically the Arab world-always fascinated her to a great extent. Discovering Arabic calligraphy by chance, she said, ignited in her a raging appetite for knowing more about this part of the globe. I asked her once if she was going to turn out to be just like Muir, Nodlke, Spencer and Margoliouth

“Who are those?”  She exclaimed.

"You don’t want to know now", I commented.

I wondered more than once if her study of Islam would lead her to a balanced and unprejudiced understanding of its tenets, or:

"Are you just going to join the same hateful bastion which had been stuffing the so-called "encyclopedia of Islam" with all sort of flagrant and absurd falsehoods and lies about our religion and its prophet," I told her once.

"What lies in this encyclopedia?” She wondered.

"You better look at it after you study Islam from its authentic sources" I replied.

“You made me curious to find out more about it” She argued.

"Ok, you want to believe, for example, Ernest Renan who claimed that Mohammed did not received any revelation but he suffered from epilepsy" I explained. She stared at me for about a minute and then said as she walked away:"You may be right about studying Islam from its authentic sources"


 It was one of Marrakech’s typically hot nights, enjoyably hot though. Any visitor of this exquisite city knows that Marrakesh is the place to run away from cold weather. Gertrude, smiling and ecstatic, was some inches away from me. This mid-June starry night was great until I found myself lowering my head into a position where I was able to maneuver through sudden waves of a scorching hot air. As I squinted trying to make way through the crowd, I wished I could stop somewhere and shut my eyes. Reaching the end of the street, I turned back to check on Gertrude, but I found her nowhere. She disappeared. I searched for her there for about two hours but in vain. I walked the streets around there back and forth asking the people more than once if they had seen her. No answer. A labyrinthine sense reigned over me leaving me sunk into a moment of deafening silence and misgiving. My vision was so blurred that I had to dodge passing people I sensed around me. I felt like they were trying to run intentionally into my disoriented body, punishing and pushing me to the sides for losing her in a blink of an eye. I deserved, however,  being elbowed in that gridlock-like sensation that enclosed me that night.


Whatever had to be the case, she was determined to leave nothing behind but little sweet memories which some of us still cherish. So do I. One of these memories is when she and I each quaffed down a glass of orange juice in Jemaa El-Fnaa.

“You know, what you are drinking now is half water half juice" I told her

"What do you mean?” she said

"Have you ever heard of the turkey baster?” I said.

"Of course I know", she said.

"Yeah, but what does that has to do with orange juice", she grimaced at me 

"Well, it is quite similar in some way", I added, "Americans inject their turkeys with marinade, but these Moroccan vendors imbibe oranges with water to squeeze more juice out of it"

"Hmmm that is slick but the juice still yummy", she commented

At that point, I noticed that orange juice vender eyed me up and down. I figured he knew what our conversation was about. I got scared especially when I saw two other people standing next to him. As I handed him back the empty glass, I pursed my lips to show him that I enjoyed his orange juice. 

"It is the best juice ever", I complemented him

He nodded with quick yet menacing smile. I turned back to find Gertrude sipping the last drops of her cup. She handed him the cup too and thanked him in a broken Moroccan dialect.

"Tbarkla alik"

I grabbed her from her arm and we lumbered across a group of French tourists standing in a circle, in the center of which stood an old man in a white and well-ironed djallaba reciting in a singsong and an intoned manner the halcyon years when Morocco was prosperous and powerful. As I accidently shouldered the seemingly excited guide, I made sure not to turn around, for I did not want to look scared. But every feature on my face indicated I was.


The night she disappeared I met her heading toward Jemaa El-Fnaa. Originally, I was going to visit a friend of mine whom I had not seen for long. When she asked me where I was going, I told her Jemaa El-Fnaa.  She was hyper as usual. She seemed to be setting about some kind of unplanned journey or adventure. She would stop in the middle of the road, spin, with her head up facing the sky, and laugh loud. That embarrassed me a bit because I had to deal with the intimidating looks that were coming from all directions. I felt people pinned the blame on me for what she did. Upset with their doing, I pretended to be very complacent. Her hysterical laughs added to the beauty and vibration of the place. To the contrary, much more exasperation was felt by the people around who rejected the idea she was a bit boisterous.


Three months after her disappearance, two friends of Gertrude and I gathered in Jemaa El-Fnaa in the same corner where we used to hang out. We sat there, without her, reminiscing about every moment we enjoyed together. Amine, one of her close friends, reminded us of her fascination with the German history. Ahmed, her third friend, was never on good terms with her after he undervalued the German literature one day. Being a rabid fan of Schiller's poems, she declared that his poem "the Tauscher" is the acme of poetry. She too believed that the world owes a lot to the German genius.

"We invented the car, the type machine and beer" she boasted once.

"And wurst" I riposted. 

"Food is a French thing," she grimaced, and “I can’t think of a German dish that I can be boastful of

Well, despite the food, I was personally amazed by the so many accounts of successes she told me about the Germans and German history. Our search for her never paid off. Now, she is gone, and maybe she will never be back. My poor friend amine tried numerous times to convince me that we will find her one day somewhere in Jemaa El-Fnaa.

"Yes,” I comforted him once, “just let's keep going there"





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