Standing toe to toe, their eyes locked in hatred. For this moment the bravado that masks the raw emotion is gone, intense jealously burns between their eyes. A whistle’s piercing blow, the ball bounces with a thud; Whoosh! Mohamed’s long canoe like feet get there first. The game is on. Angrily Yasser calls instructions to his team mates ‘tackle’ , ‘tackle’ and get back the ball he’s just lost. Bigger and more aggressive than his friends, he’s used to using brute force to achieve his aims. It’s too late, the balls passes back to Mohamed, with his silky skills, he’s dancing through the defenders with the same mischievous smile that gets him into so much trouble. The worlds stands still, he’s in front of the goal; he’s no longer Mohamed, he’s Zinedine Zidane and the whole of North Africa is cheering on their long lost son. Bang! The ball flies through the keeper’s hands, the stadium erupts, Mohamed turns to the roar of the stadium.
‘Boy! Boy!’ The stadium shatters and he’s back in the village. The ball has flown through the keepers’ hands and smashed straight into Najib’s game of backgammon, several metres behind. Najib is one man you do not want to upset.
Najib’s neatly trimmed beard and round weightlifter shoulders pound towards him. This is not the first time Mohamed has been in trouble nor will it be the last. Yasser smugly giggles as his father’s temper explodes at his boyhood rival. ‘Silence’ Najib commands his sniggering son, before marching Mohamed off to his grandfather for punishment.
Grandfather and Najib have been uncomfortable around each other ever since the death of Mohamed’s father. A quiet tension over Najib’s presence at the death, has locked the secret of what happen between the two men for decades.
Grandfather laughs, begins one of his usual rambling statements and then gently slaps Mohamed over the head before ordering him to fetch the water. Discipline and respect burn through Najib’s blood. He stands there, furiously stunned at the leniency. Grandpa gingerly returns to his chair, picks up his brush and resumes his painting of an abstract city many miles away. ‘An artist, what purpose has an artist?’ Najib fumes to himself as he walks away. ‘Maybe in the city to sell to troublesome tourists but in the village surely the old man could find some better purpose with his time.’
Najib is a practical man and doesn’t understand those who are not. In the village he is respected for his strength and power, yet in his house it is Rabia, his wife, who is the more cunning of the two. Rabia is always there with advice, making sure her husband never misses an opportunity to take the moral high ground and assert their status on others.
The heavy clunk of the kettle, Mohamed struggles to bring it back as instructed. He gazes at his grandfather who has always remained a puzzle to him. His age brings respect but amongst his love for the old man, Mohamed, has always felt slightly embarrassed. Why does he mumble and laugh when others shout? What are those secrets locked in the old mans mind? Of all the uncertainties, Mohamed remains convinced of one thing; as soon as he can he’s heading to the city. Life must be easy there. Whilst his grandfather explains Mohamed wants to be doing. Driven by ambition and curiosity will he ever understand his grandfather’s calm approach?
‘Tanjia you will love Tanjia.’ The barman offers him the complimentary snack as Jonathan stares into his lonely glass of scotch. The city was bursting with sound and bright colours, the pounding beat of the darbuqa drum seemed to be mocking his failure. This wasn’t what he came for. ‘I must find a story, something big’ His ego and ambitions are rarely far from the surface. ‘Cheer up! Can’t be that bad’. It was an English voice his eyes dart upward as he sees a doctor with deep soaked tan stood beside him. Jonathan didn’t like to talk, he liked to listen and it normally worked.
Sat on the bus, Jonathan struggled to hide the devilish grin he was feeling inside. The chance encounter with the doctor had given him the break he needed. As the doctor bemoaned a delay that meant he couldn’t head off to the village for another ten days Jonathan had the cover he needed. For weeks he heard rumours of mysterious deaths in the countryside by pretending to be the doctor he could get the answers he needed. He would arrive in a lie but who would suspect? By the time the real doctor arrived he’d be gone and have all the material he needed.
Mohamed has never really had to try for his status amongst the other village boys, his natural charisma and energy was always fun to be around. He had an adventurous spirit that made him popular even if his inability to think through the consequences has often landed them all in trouble. Like his father, Yasser lacked a sense of humour but his aggressive personality and strength had always made him the kind of boy that was useful by your side. If you were friends with Yasser no one would cause you trouble. Yasser’s father was always strict and in a way he envied the kindness of Mohamed’s grandfather.
Yasser knew he wasn’t a smart as Mohamed but he could hide this with aggression.
Ever since they were very small the pair seemed to be competing to see who was the real leader of their gang. Today it was Mohamed. The boys gather round him, waiting to hear his words. Barking! Just as he went to speak the dogs began howling with such a commotion all the boys instinctively run to see what was happening. Irritated Mohamed follows. It’s Jonathan he’d step into the village and the whole place seems to erupted with noise. The children all ran up to the stranger as the dogs chased behind. Najib pushes through the gathering crowd. If the doctor had finally arrived it would be him who should greet him.
Tradition dictated a warm welcome even though his instincts felt uncomfortable with the stranger. Jonathan, with nervous bravado, explains himself. ‘Stop, please’ Najib stated in his humourless tone. The heavy thud of Jonathan’s heart is audible. Will the lie be revealed already? ‘Marlesh! Malesh’ It’s time to eat; business would come later.
‘I really want to get started,’ Jonathan’s words made little impact. He was to stay with Grandpa. They’d been expecting the doctor for weeks.
Fun and danger appeal to Jonathan’s ego, he’s in the midst of a great game. As the doctor, he can ask many questions and make detailed notes ; no one would suspect a thing. He needed pictures though. Mohamed was quick and clever, he could teach him to use the camera. Mohamed is intrigued by the stranger. He’s from the world Mohamed is desperate to join. As their friendship develops, the other boys become jealous as their friend drifts further from them.
‘To the medical centre.’ Rabia advises a young girl whose baby was unwell. It would be a long journey so instead she headed to the doctor. ‘Nothing wrong’ If she went to the medical centre he could be found out and Jonathan couldn’t risk it.
The next day the baby dies. Jonathans lie has led to tragedy. It’s time to leave before he is caught. Jonathan had used the village and particularly Mohamed whose curiosity to help him get the information he wanted. Now Jonathan’s shallow motives had cause a death. If he does something selfless maybe his conscience will ease. ‘Come with me.’ Mohamed looks surprised ‘When we arrive on the city we go our own ways, but I’ll help you get there;’ Jonathan is offering him the escape he’d always dreamed of. Is it time to pack his bag and leave grandpa?
The death sends the village into shock. Rabia is furious, how could a doctor give such bad advice; all is not as it seems. Spurred on by his wife, Najib is determined to confront the so called doctor and marches to Grandpa’s house.
With the child’s death suddenly Mohamed’s closeness to Jonathan has made him vulnerable and Yasser is determined to exploit it. ‘Us or him!’ The boys want to punish the arrogant outsider. Time to assert their strength. Mohamed has to lure him into a trap or they will attack him instead. Should he stay loyal to his friends or pack his bags and follow his dream?
Najib’s anger is ready to explode as he reaches Grandpa’s house. He demands to see Jonathan. ‘He is my guest,’ Grandpa asserts and refuses to let Najibs see him until he can behave with manners. Their conversation spirals out of control as both men’s years of intense guilt and animosity explodes to the surface. Suddenly we are transported back to decades ago when Mohammed’s Father died. Grandpa had left the village to work as an artist in the city. The two young men headed out to fight as soldiers together but only Najib returned. Racked with guilt over his friends death, Najib had always blamed himself and hid his inadequacy by making himself strong and aggressive. Grandpa wasn’t there when his son needed him. Grandpa regretted leaving his family and returned to help bring up his grandson. Unable to settle back into village life he became eccentric. This was the first conversation about the death in ten years. Both men had clung to tradition to help them through their grief, as they stand back in the present eyes locked. What can be said? Both give a sorrowful look. Saying the words out load had somehow made them harsher.
Jonathan steps out. ‘Mohamed?’ The boy had appeared. How much did he hear? He runs confused and shocked. Rather than a waster, as a young man, Grandpa had gone to the city to be an artist. When Mohamed’s father died, he gave up that life to look after him. Without the village him and tradition Mohamed would have been alone. Nothing was as it seemed. Should he stay with grandpa? Should he be loyal to his friends? Should he join Jonathan on the next bus?
The trap is set. Yasser and his gang lay in wait for the photographer. ‘ make sure he walks in first’ he tell Mohamed. ‘First one to walk in gets it.’ He picks up a stone ready and confidently boasts about having the best shot. Someone must pay, ‘you or him!’.
Set against the charming and exotic backdrop of rural Morocco Jonathan sits waiting for the bus in contemplation ‘The moment you step into another’s world you change the path they were on’.