CASABLANCA AND THE SQUALID HOTEL
We barely had a day to rest before our long-haul journey back home. An entire day of overland travel across the valley from the Atlas Mountains means miles after desolate miles of arid countryside, of which a warm bath and a homey bed could have been a much welcomed respite. But that was not the case.
Gay and I finally arrived at Casa Voyageurs—the train station hub in Casablanca and a popular stop among travelers bound for the international airport. I had a lurid image of this place in my head weeks prior to our trip: An exotic merchants’ medina with clusters of towering sun baked riads, enliven by kids topped with trays of bread slithering through flocks of women draped in festive coloured fabrics. Like a flourishing oasis, a voyager’s paradise.
The harsh blasting wind slapped me back to my senses.
Because in reality, Casa Voyageur’s station is as cold and lifeless as a high school campus toilet on a semestral break. Devoid of joy and fervour one would expect to see in a picture of a cheesy postcard from Morocco.
No children, nearly no women in sight, just men with severe expressions behind their angular nose and bushy patch of moustache. Lined in a wall formation like unamused walruses, they suspiciously pry at arriving train passengers as we walk through them with huge bags in tow.
Outside at the parking lot, the dust from the nearby Sahara hangs like an ethereal blanket stirred by occasional wind dragging random litters, shreds of plastic bags, and pages of last year’s paper. As we treaded the time-forsaken streets dotted with what looked like some pre-internet travel agencies, laundromats, and small tea houses, I couldn’t help but theorize—the thick layer of sand, frosting the store sills and pulldown steel blinds were probably the evidence that the city was abandoned in the 90’s. For such a prime estate to attain such bleakness, it would require a catastrophic nuclear leak, an abrupt fall of communism, or perhaps a cataclysmic zombie apocalypse.
We reached the address in our booking confirmation, in a nondescript flourescent-lit sidewalk entrance. We were welcomed by a nearly enthusiastic, half-asleep, potential owner (possible bellboy) in an almost pitch dark hall of a semi-squalid hotel.
Room 306. I thought we mistakenly entered a stockroom of old beds. The two queen sized, one single, and a full seating couch filled the small space to its brim, leaving minimal area hardly enough for one to move around.
Covered with suspicious quilts with old rose floral prints, it somewhat appears more like splatters of blood when you squint your eyes from afar. It felt damp, almost sticky, as if the stain maps were remnants of a fermentation process of some sort. I had second thoughts of even sitting on it. I was certain it was last washed when it was first fitted by some designer named Aunt Velma, the one with a rabid reputation.
It was a long night in Casablanca, the city bears a name that means White House. But it was a descriptive irony of where I was at that very moment— neither pristinely white, nor remotely qualified as a house. The hanging incandescent bulb disturbs me on so many levels, but I choose to leave the light on. My current fate would be more bearable if I am not blind and be able to take a good look at dear life, in case some unknown creature oozes out of the mattress and engulf me in a slow agonizing death.
Eight more hours.
(11th October 2016, Abu Dhabi)