As if by magic…

Alison Roberts in Marrakech

Finally we had escaped the bravado and banter of the souk, the hot guano stink of the nearby tannery and the women ejaculating henna onto the hands of passing females before they even had time to object to a tattoo.

Granted we were lost, but it was lovely to wander unimpeded, stopping briefly to watch some small boys scuff a half deflated football around the dusty street.

Marrakech was a slightly bewildering place to be – despite the sensory overload of the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa – the residential areas of the city felt private and inward-looking. Each house had tall, imperious outer walls, turning their backs on the outside world, and virtually windowless, like eyeless faces.

The private homes sheltered gorgeous tiled courtyards with tinkling fountains, soaring palm trees and twittering finches, and the warm aroma of orange blossom drifted from within. The pace of life was slower inside – our riad even had a pet tortoise that inched itself thoughtfully among the other residents, roaming at will.

We ambled slowly between the tall terracotta walls, stopping briefly to admire a blazing bougainvillea with flowers the colour of a flushed cheek. Slipping into an alleyway we bounced back, surprised, from a wall of advancing men. Swathed in brilliant blue and turquoise robes, one carried a tall maroon staff hung with ribbons and bells and several of the others were beating on drums. “Are these the world’s most unsubtle muggers?”, I wondered to myself, as they swept around us to form a circle and gently took both our hands.

So surprised was I by this turn of events that I didn’t protest when they tied our hands together loosely with a long skein of red wool. Another alarming thought began to prey on my mind – were we being married in some sort of unorthodox hit and run ceremony? This wasn’t quite how I had envisaged my wedding day.

As the tallest of the men untied our hands with a flourish, and no visible undoing of any knots, the truth gradually dawned on me, and with it an overwhelming feeling of relief – they weren’t criminals or wandering holy men at all, they were magicians! I scrabbled for some dirham to give them, and before I’d caught my breath again the whole merry band had vanished around the next corner…as if by magic.

This tale was a finalist in the 2011 Quirky Guide strange travel story competition. See the full shortlist here.

Written by - Edited by Antony Barton

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