Crossing the Atlantic

by

As I stand on a rooftop late one muggy night in Meknes among clotheslines drying the day’s laundry, I gaze out at the glow of the Medina. Next to me is Salah, a Moroccan boy my age with a princely bone structure and eyes like rich caramel. He leans back against the railing quietly discussing the Koran with me. He explains a part in the Koran about the mixing of two different bodies of water. When salt water and fresh water collide, he says, there is sweet water. While the two bodies remain separated, where they touch, in the middle, the water has a different composition. I wasn’t sure how this was relevant, or what it said about the Koran, or whether or not I believed it, but the idea was striking. I thought about the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, this grand ocean that touched everything. The same body that gently caressed the worn beaches of Asilah is the same body that wraps itself around New York City. Yet there is far too much in between for us to understand. We only know the small parts of the Atlantic that we’ve seen and ran our fingers through. And even though it’s all the same water, there are still these currents, points of intersection and collision that are entirely unique. I thought about this in context of my life. I thought about myself as a flood of history. I had dragged it all with me to this country, this city, and to this rooftop. My history swirled inside of me, but it seemed that the swirling streets of the Medina, the smell of spices and amber, the constant movement, the intense sound and color rivaled the chaos inside of me, and as if through osmosis, had calmed me. It felt like a point of collision, a mixing and blurring of two different nations and cultures. I didn’t know exactly how to explain it.

After a little while, Salah and I went inside the house. We stood in the kitchen leaning against the window in the small space next to the oven. The light was dim and there was a faint throb of hip-hop music humming from the living room. The smoke from Salah’s Marlboro Red swirled out the open window, his arm wrapped around the middle of my back, my head tucked under his chin. The smell of cigarette smoke mixed with the salty smell of his arms. Outside, the city is quiet. Our friend’s voices blend with the melody and the deep bass notes that buzz in the walls of the house. Suddenly, Salah yells in Darija to turn down the music. I look up at him confused. He explains, pointing out the window with his cigarette that we can’t play music during the call to prayer. I nod, remembering where I am, as if I had forgotten. And then, with the music turned off, I hear the gentle cry of the caliph drifting over the flat rooftops of the city. The sound seeps into the silence of the kitchen where Salah stands smoking, slowly and silently, his chin still resting on my head. The waves of sound and smoke from the window float in with the night air, rippling and reverberating in the space between us. I close my eyes and let it wash over me. We were in the same body, the same ocean, swirling like an eddy somewhere in the middle. After all I had been told and had seen, in the dim light of that tiny kitchen nestled up against his chest listening to the call to prayer, I understood everything. I felt the sweet water coursing through my veins, my body fuller and lighter than it had ever been.

 

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