Le Jardins de la Mendoubia by William King

A story by

William King


The clear blue sky invited the heat from the sun into every single place, anywhere that was not shaded by either the narrow streets or the leafy trees. I don’t recall who had the idea to wonder up here, but it seemed our direction was dictated by the desire to go upwards, the reward would be — hopefully — a view.

There were people everywhere, no matter the time of day, in these places humanity gives you the impression of never sleeping, even if it slumbers to wakefulness in the early morning. The hint of freshness in the air was easily overcome by the sunshine after escaping the narrow alleys of the old city.

A low white washed wall skirted the grass bank of the park. In the distance an old man dressed in his brown djellaba and wearing dirty white babouches, was watering the bushes. We sat there on the wall, feeling the heat from the sun, happy to have found a quiet spot and a rest from walking. The view back across the city was marred only by the accumulated rubbish and litter across the street.

It is not a place, even apparently deserted, where you can expect to be alone for long. Ahmed and Mehdi joined us, uninvited you might say, but it was after all their city, not ours. Besides, my eyes drank in the slim, smooth body of Ahmed, I made no attempt to move as he sat down next to me.

“English?” His white teeth almost shone, accentuated by the brown of his skin.

“Yes,” my reply was short, I was used to the demands of these street kids.


If they only wanted a cigarette, I offered the packet and watched as they each took a cigarette. I shifted to extract the lighter from my pocket and struck a flame. He cupped his hands around mine as he leant forward lighting his cigarette. I handed the lighter on to his friend, finding it difficult to ignore that touch.

“You like it here?”

What sort of a question was that? “Yes, we like it.”

He smiled. Was it my imagination or was this encounter taking a different turn. The conversation was both unimportant and at the same time it seemed charged with something hidden. Why are the English so reticent? A national trait, our upbringing, a difficulty to overcome, but not for our Arab friends.

“Nice place.” They both sat there smoking, his friend was silent.

I looked as he spoke and couldn’t hide the attraction reflected in me eyes. I could almost hear the beating of my heart. Trying to be nonchalant and at the same time steal discrete glances, was something that may have worked in the company of Europeans, but not with street wise Arab boys.

He played the game, even if it was obvious he saw right through it. His smile was cute and made me avert my eyes lest I reveal my heart entirely. But I need not have been so shy, he wasn’t. His hand found it’s way to my belly, his fingers sliding delicately under my loose t-shirt. If any conversation was still going on, I didn’t hear it, or wasn’t listening. He was leaning over me as his hand touched and moved across my skin. Soon, very soon, he would feel my heartbeat.

“You want to smoke some hash?”

The question wasn’t that unusual; except mostly they would be selling it, this was different.

“Yeah, sure,” Sam had a habit of pushing us into situations.

It must have been Ahmed who said to go back to his place. Anyway, we did. Back down the hill and into the Kasbah, along the narrow streets. The sunlight never penetrated here, kept out by the tall buildings separated only by a maze of intersecting streets, not wide enough to drive down. Just the donkeys and their carts went here, and all the people walking back and forth, going about their own business.

In through one of the many doors and up a turning stone staircase. He took the key and inserted it into the old carved wooden door, revealing a room, his home. Mathew and Sam went with Mehdi up another little staircase to the roof terrace. It’s funny how some things happen implicitly, without a word. I stood facing Ahmed, I felt excited and nervous, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

He sat down on the large bed, which apart from a small table and some cushions, was practically the only furniture in the room. He took a little packet from the drawer of the bedside table, a lighter and some cigarette papers, then turned to look at me. “Can I have a cigarette?” He smiled. I took my packet and handed him one. His hand brushed over mine with the lightest of touches, but ever so sensual.

Ahmed focused his attention on rolling the joint. I watched as he licked the edge of the cigarette paper with the tip of his tongue. I wanted to kiss him, but I was frozen. His eyes bore into me as he flicked open the lighter and brought the flame close, then breathed in the smoke. It crackled and glowed. I watched him inhale. Then he reached over and pulled my head towards him, his hand on the back of my neck. His lips covered mine and he exhaled the smoke into my mouth. I breathed it in.

We fell backwards together onto the bed. He kissed me, a long deep embrace, our tongues danced together. He brought the joint back to those delicious soft lips and he sucked in the smoke, holding it in, he passed it to me. I took a long drag and sat up to flick away the ash into a little round clay bowl. I had to lean across him, the touch of his body sent seriously electrifying signals through my skin, I shivered.

The hands of the clock next to his bed seemed to slow and stop, a solid signal that time was in a vacuum. We undressed each other with gentle caresses, in a slow dance that risked our disappearance into a state of ecstasy beyond time. At last we slipped beneath the sheets our bodies touching, skin against skin, our lips embracing, our hands performing with magic touches.

Nothing else existed, there were only the two of us in that moment, when the universe had ceased to turn. I don’t think there is anything more magical, his gentle touch, loving embrace, the consummation of desire. I fell in love. It would not be forever, happiness is often tinged with sadness, but for an instant we loved each other. I would never forget that, I would take this with me to the end of my days and beyond.

Footsteps on the stairs broke the spell as Mehdi came back down from the roof. He looked at us lying there, his gaze a mixture of knowledge and lust, I saw it in his eyes. They exchanged words I didn’t understand, Mehdi left, and we got up out of bed. Ahmed took me by the hand into the shower, where we washed each other under the tepid drizzle of the water.

We joined the others on the roof and suddenly the sounds of the city were all around. The call to prayer rang out from the minaret of the closest mosque. A beautiful wailing voice that rode across the roof tops like a wave on the sea. We couldn’t stay there forever, although I wanted to, I so desperately wanted to.

I never saw Ahmed again, I often thought about our encounter, I still do. I never went back to that place where we met, I never tried to find his house. He had shared a part of his life with me. I knew a lot about him and he knew something of me. Two different worlds that neither one of us had the power to break out of. Just a moment in time and for me, my first time.