Saturday morning, 9:15 a.m. I’m in bed struggling up out of a dream in which I did have that fourth child after all, but then I forgot her and I’ve neglected her. Fortunately her older siblings (my actual children) have been taking up the slack from me. However, now I’m confronted with her and I feel really guilty—how could I have forgotten that I had another child? —and her curls are really tangled, a sign of my neglect. (She is actually my friend Becky’s daughter Cambria, who admittedly is staggeringly cute but who in real life I do not covet, being as I’m okay with having had only 3) Donn suggests using honey as a conditioner to smooth out those tangles, and although at first I say no, it actually does work. Fortunately we seem to have a gallon jug of honey in the house…
The doorbell/intercom buzzes. Donn is already up because happily I am too short to open the garage door so he has to take Elliot to school by 8 a.m. every single Saturday. I have never blessed my height more fervently than on these cold dark mornings as I snuggle happily back under the warm covers while Donn gets up with Elliot.
I hear Donn answer the intercom with one word, the name of Khadija’s husband. And it all comes back to me. We had asked Khadija what kind of fish we should get if we wanted her to cook fish, and she told me her husband would come and go with us to the fish market. She did say Saturday, I understood that, but our mangled blend of French and Arabic had left me a bit confused as to exactly when he was coming, or to be honest, if he was coming to us. I had sort of hoped he was just going to buy it and we’d pay him for it, but instead I hear him coming up the stairs with Donn. I reheat the coffee that Donn had kindly brought in at some point between 8 and 9:15, and go out to meet them.
Donn really wishes I had thought to mention this plan to him. Khadija’s husband laughs and says the same thing—that Khadija only told him this morning as she pushed him out the door. They roll their eyes together. Wives!
Donn can’t go—he has to pick up Elliot at 10, and then he’s supposed to go surfing with friends. So the husband and I end up heading to the fish market, which turns out to be just a little beyond the place we’ve been buying our chickens, although we approach it from the other side so that I can get really confused and turned around.
The fish market is about what I was expecting. There are fish, in plastic trays of ice. People crowd around. It is not raining, for a change, but the wind is icy-cold. I pull the black hood of my cardigan up over my blonde hair for warmth and also to blend in a bit, since people keep eyeing me oddly. I notice people bump into me more from behind when they can’t tell at a glance that I’m foreign.
Khadija’s husband chooses fish; he tells me he’s getting what Khadija told him to, enough for 2 meals. “I only need enough for one,” I tell him, but he says, “You have a freezer, don’t you?” I acquiesce, since I’m all for not having to make an extra trip.
We buy bourrie and shrimp and sardines and…some kind of flat fish. I am terrible at knowing kinds of fish. I confess to you that I am squeamish about fish. I like fish in restaurants, cooked to perfection, and I like sushi, and I eat smoked salmon bravely, but I don’t fish and I don’t clean fish and I dislike the smell of fish. I am a wimp! I know this doesn’t surprise you, since I have already confessed to not dealing with chicken entrails, and to having a really hard time eating boiled liver. Sometimes people say they could never live in Africa because they don’t like mice or bugs. I am living proof that you can. I am a sort of Everywoman—basically anything that I can do, anyone can do. I’m very comforting.
After a while, we move over to a more open part of the market. I pay 5 dirhams (appox 60 cents) to have my fish cleaned for me. First my big fish (the bourrie) is gutted and half the tail chopped off. Then, fish scales fly like snowflakes, glittering in the light. The guy peeling my shrimp slices his thumb open. I watch in bemusement as he cuts a strip from a clean new plastic bag with his bloody fish-cleaning knife, and ties the strip round his thumb. I offer him a Kleenex from my purse, which he accepts. His thumb is bright red under the plastic, which can’t be good for it. He carefully puts my five dirham piece in a box right next to the fish guts and shrimp remains. I am thankful that I have exact change.
I walk home in the bright cold air. The children are all up now and grossed out at the concept of fish. Why? We ate it all the time in Mauritania. But one of the bags is dripping ominously onto the kitchen floor. I wash the fish and squirt lemon juice on it as I’ve been instructed, then put it all in the freezer. Tomorrow I am going to eat the bourrie stuffed with shrimp and olives. I’ll let you know how it is.