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It took Jonah too long to think of an answer.

“You are Jewish,” repeated the curly-headed ringleader of a gang of boys swarming in from all sides of the spice market, voices high, fingers grasping at air.

“Half,” Jonah lied, inhaling a musky whiff of cumin seeds toasting nearby. Lunch was two hours ago, and the smell made him hungry. He didn’t dare look for its source; these Moroccan boys might confuse his curiosity with fear. This area, the Mellah, was once Marrakesh’s Jewish Quarter. Now it seemed like something else.

“Keep walking,” Jonah muttered to his friend Nick.

Nick appeared more amused than afraid, his hands deep in his pockets, the slight swell of his stomach protruding proudly from his peach-colored tank top. But Nick was Christian, neutral like Switzerland. Jonah was on the lookout for enemies everywhere, just like his late father, whose vigilance ultimately proved prophetic if futile. Last spring, a blond teenager in black military gear had marched into the Southeast Florida Jewish Center with an AK-47 and started shooting. Jonah’s father was among the seven Jews killed.

The news labeled the kid an “extremist,” a characterization Jonah’s father would have found offensively optimistic. “They’re born hating us,” his father used to say about Gentiles. “They suck it up in their mother’s milk.”

In life, Jonah and his father had agreed on very little. But since the murder, this one lesson had lingered.

“Come,” said the lead boy. “I will take you to the synagogue. I will guide you.”

“We know where we’re going,” said Jonah, which was half true. He had a map ripped from his guidebook, hidden inside his sweaty palm. But Marrakeshi streets didn’t match the neat, straight lines in guidebook maps.

“Let them guide us. We came here for an adventure,” said Nick with the confidence of a Cossack.

I didn’t come for an adventure, thought Jonah. I came here to forget for a while who I am.

Everyone in Rome said Marrakesh was good for a cheap, sunny, and slightly exotic getaway, but Jonah had felt nervous about going by himself. A Jew alone in Morocco: It sounded like a bad Philip Roth novel. So he’d invited fair-haired, clear-eyed, snub-nosed Nick to be his Gentile beard.

Nick, who’d moved from New York to Rome that winter, led a typically American expat life, overindulging in pasta, wine, and napping, while Jonah devoted himself like a monk to his work: his paintings and his side business designing custom websites. He considered himself a refugee rather than an expat and lectured to anyone who’d listen—mainly Nick—that the American experiment had failed.

Before his father’s death, not to mention Trump and all the rest, Jonah had believed that as an artist it was his duty to reject politics and systematic thinking of all kinds. Now he no longer could afford that liberty. While his liberal friends fooled themselves by putting on pink pussy hats or planting Hate Has No Home Here signs in their windows or bumper stickers on their cars, making themselves easy targets, Jonah was a realist. There was no resisting these red-faced screaming white men brandishing lit torches and guns. Democracy was finished. The white supremacists had won, and they were armed.

“Those boys expect a tip,” Jonah shouted over the noise.

“I don’t mind paying,” said Nick, who was always out of change, frequently promising and forgetting to buy the next round of espressos or beers.

“The cost is beside the point,” said Jonah. After two days in Morocco, he was tired of being seen as a walking wallet. Nick wouldn’t understand. Anyway, how could he be trusted to pay the tip when he still hadn’t kept his promise to contribute toward the glossy copy of Time Out: Marrakesh that Jonah bought at the English bookshop in Rome. (Jonah was a Lonely Planet guy, but Time Out was all they had.)

Jonah’s mother had cautioned him against Morocco. Though it had been a Christian who’d made her a widow, Arabs frightened her. And as if to confirm her fears, since his arrival in Marrakesh two days ago, the Moroccans Jonah met kept asking if he was Jewish. At the airport, at their riyad, in restaurants, once in a fucking museum bathroom.

The gang of boys moved around Jonah and Nick, behind and in front of them, screaming, “This way to the synagogue!” Jonah turned left, so they said, “Turn left!” He went straight, and they said, “Keep going straight.”

“I know where I’m going,” Jonah repeated, careful to avoid the boys’ eyes, unlike Nick, aiming his camera and whitened smile of goodwill in all directions. Didn’t he realize their ploy, stepping into the camera frame, then charging a dirham or two for the privilege of capturing their image?

What if things took a dark turn, and the only way for Nick to escape was to sacrifice his Jewish friend?

Shopkeepers emerged from their stalls to point and giggle at their strange parade. Women with netted shopping bags were laughing too. Even the donkeys, swishing away flies with their tails, turned their heads to stare.

Jonah silently cursed the manager of the riyad where they were staying. She claimed the Jewish Quarter was safe.

At least one thing she’d said was true: The Jewish Quarter had a more interesting street life than other parts of the city. Bands of hot sun knifed through gaps in the awnings over the market. Merchants sold spices in colorful cone-shaped mounds. Wooden window shutters dangled from hinges in picturesque disrepair. Men and women in billowing robes expertly dodged piles of dung while balancing woven baskets on their heads. Despite the occasional teenager hunched over a smartphone, Jonah could imagine he’d traveled back in time.

The boys still trailed them, yelling, “My friend, my friend!”

“They want to cheat us because we’re American,” Jonah said.

“I don’t believe in labels,” said Nick. “I’m just trying to be happy.”

“How American of you.”

“Relax, my friend.” Nick draped his arm over Jonah’s shoulders. Were they friends? In America, they might not have been, but in Rome, Jonah was short on friends. His Italian was terrible, and most Americans expats annoyed him with their inane chatter, debating whether Gubbio or Todi was the more quintessential Italian hill town. Though Nick had his flaws, he was simple, affectionate, and tolerable enough to stand beside at gallery openings as Jonah seethed silently, thinking of his New York gallery, which hadn’t sold a painting of his in months.

Before leaving for Rome, he’d met the owner for lunch to demand action. Instead, as they chewed steamed pork belly buns, she talked over him, lamenting her desultory love life: “You make one little choice, and another, then another. Then suddenly you turn around, and you have no clue how you got where you are.” He didn’t like to interrupt, fearing he’d come off as a pushy Jew. As for himself, since his father’s death, he’d lost his appetite for dating. He’d gone without sex for a year.

As Jonah pulled out his map, a boy grasped for the pages, but Jonah yanked the map high over his head.

Nick was saying that his wife would love Morocco.

“She could have met us here,” said Jonah. He chose a direction on instinct and marched forward. “I still don’t get why she hasn’t visited.”

“I’ve told you, our relationship is complicated,” said Nick, jogging to keep up. “Anyway, I needed some time to find myself, you know?”

No, Jonah didn’t know. He’d come to Italy not to find himself but to disappear. He knew who he was: an artist, a painter of male nudes inspired by porn. Meanwhile, Nick’s claim to being an artist rested on several abstract digital collages posted on Instagram. When they’d first met, Jonah (who enjoyed making straight guys squirm) said he wanted to paint Nick in the nude. But Nick wasn’t at all embarrassed. He said he’d gladly pose, though it never happened. Nick was the kind of trendy straight guy who used moisturizer and pointed out hot guys to gay friends, saying, “You think he has a big dick?” If he’d been gay, he’d have been the kind of gay Jonah loved to hate: recognizable.

“Wait,” said Jonah, noting a landmark on his map. “We turn here.”

“Yes!” screamed one of the boys. “Turn here!”

The synagogue entrance was at the end of an alley: a small brown door set into the stone wall, unmarked, easy to miss. No metal detector or police car outside as there were now at the Jewish Center in Florida.

In those numb and terrible days of shock after the shooting, Jonah heard talk of the center closing or relocating, and louder talk of staying strong, staying put, remaining an easy target for the next attack. His mother was for staying put, saying you couldn’t let the terrorists win. Why not let them win, Jonah thought, if it means we survive?

“You found it,” Nick marveled, leaning backward to photograph the entrance.

“Of course. That’s why we bought the guidebook,” said Jonah, with an emphasis on the word we.

“Here you are, monsieur. The synagogue,” said the lead boy of the gang. He extended a turned-up palm: brown, dry, and scarred. The other boys stared, pressed in close, blocking the exit to the alley.

Nick was studying the settings on his camera with a pensive look, forgetting his earlier promise. He looked handsome and refreshed, his blond hair swept back, his profile clean and straight, his face slightly flushed but dry, as if he could turn off his sweat glands at will.

“Oh, here.” Jonah surrendered a hundred dirhams to the boy.

The boy blinked up at him, his hand frozen. The faintest breeze might have blown the pink note out of his grasp. “And for my friends?” he added.

After forking over another hundred dirhams, Jonah said goodbye in a firm voice. The boy’s sweaty fingers closed around the money. He and his noisy crew of “friends” scrambled away, presumably in search of other tourists to shake down.

Jonah jabbed the doorbell in three long bursts. After a buzz in return, the lock gave way, and the two men were admitted into a quiet, cleanly swept two-story courtyard, a relief after the mess and buzz of the street.

At the center of the deserted courtyard was a round fountain, its dry basin filled with blue pots of geraniums. The fountain and walls were lined with painted tiles like in their riyad and the museums they’d visited, but instead of the usual brilliant diamonds of red, yellow, and green, these were in blue and white diamond shapes that formed Jewish stars.

“Anyone home?” Nick called out.

Jonah wondered how long it would be before dark.

A wooden door swung open, revealing a handsome Moroccan teenager in a crisp white shirt. His dark curly hair, faintly damp with sweat under his yarmulke, glistened in the light. His nose was sweetly rounded at the tip, and his brown cheeks were soft, smooth, even girlish. The young man’s gaze held theirs longer than expected—as if to cruise them. Perhaps like the street boys, he expected a tip. Or maybe he was genuinely interested in Jonah. Don’t be dumb, he told himself. But was it really so farfetched? Though Jonah was nearly forty, he was no troll. His chest and stomach were plausibly firm. The light in Morocco softened the slowly expanding moon of baldness on top of his head as well as his Jewish nose.

By contrast, Nick wore white linen capri pants and black leather sandals that showed off the pedicure he’d gotten last evening in the spa at their riyad. “In the States I’d pay double for this,” he’d crowed. “Just look at my toesies!”

The Moroccan asked in English, “Are you lost?”

“No,” said Jonah. “We wanted to come here. To see the synagogue.”

“Are you Americans?” His accent sounded French.

“Yes,” Jonah admitted.

“And you are perhaps Jewish?”

“Yeah,” said Jonah in a low voice.

“I’m not,” Nick said brightly, almost shouting. “Is that all right?”

“Of course,” said the young man. “Anyone may visit here. Inside the sanctuary is another group about to begin a tour. You may join.”

“My name is Jonah, and this is Nick,” Jonah said.

“I am George.” He offered his smooth brown hand.

Jonah was tempted to kiss it but instead gave it a firm American shake. Before Nick could get his turn, the wooden door opened again and an unshaven old man wearing a yarmulke appeared, clinging to the doorframe and groaning George’s name. He was bald, with a dusting of silver hair on each side of his head, which was the shape and color of a russet potato. His white shirt was tucked into a pair of dirty black pants, with a wisp of shirttail caught in his fly.

George took the old man’s hairless arm and explained that they had two more visitors.

“I am David,” said the man. Only now did Jonah realize he was blind. “The tour is free. But we request a donation.”

Jonah handed George several bills.

They were admitted through the wooden door into the synagogue. Two other couples, both straight and middle-aged, sat in a pew facing the massive ark. Jonah overheard them whispering in French. The sanctuary was small, a quarter the size of the dour brown funeral chapel where Jonah had eulogized his father. African sunlight poured cheerfully through the sand-dusted windows, lighting up white plaster walls lined with painted tiles and framed calligraphic prayers.

The tour, which was in French and took fifteen minutes, was basically a stroll around the room. Resting his arm on George’s elbow, David ambled slowly between the pews and described what he couldn’t see, at one point gesturing up toward the women’s balcony, where visitors were not allowed.

Nick kept asking Jonah to translate, then declared, “I’m pooped,” and plopped down on a pew. Jonah lagged at the edge of the tour group. He wanted to remember details to report back to his mother—see, Marrakesh is safe, they have Jews here! Anyway, how could she talk about safety when, despite Jonah’s warnings, she’d resumed attending services at that same Jewish Center? His dad only went there to play racquetball; the center was one of the few places left with courts. Who played racquetball anymore? In a sense, his father had died not for his religion but for his love of an unpopular racquet sport.

The teenager who’d done it was shot dead by a swat team, yet for months afterward his picture survived online, like a bad Grindr photo. His hair was buzzed on the sides and long on top, falling in a thick wave over his sleepy right eye. His cheeks were full, and his nose was turned up like a pig’s. Jonah dreamed of stabbing it.

Someone touched his shoulder, startling Jonah. It was George, now free of the old man. “Do you like our synagogue?”

“Very nice. But is it safe, this area?”

“Yes, completely safe,” George said, then strolled over to rejoin David, who was concluding his tour by asking for an additional donation, “For the children.”

They returned to the courtyard. George escorted David into a room behind the blue and white striped curtains. The French couples escaped back to the street.

While Nick dawdled, taking pictures of the painted tiles, Jonah rested beside the fountain. He’d expected more from this visit, some sense of belonging. But why should he find that here when he hadn’t found it in the synagogues of Florida, the gay bars of New York, or the ruins of Rome? In June, his Italian visa would run out. Then where would he go? In the US, anti-Semites marched with torches and shot Jews. They had Jew-haters in Italy too, but at least there it was harder to get a gun.

George emerged from behind the curtains, and Jonah asked where to find a taxi.

“It is difficult in the Mellah,” said George. “I can call one for you. Or, if you prefer, I can take you in my own vehicle.”

“We couldn’t impose,” said Jonah.

“Sure we could,” said Nick. “You have a car?”

No, he had a kind of motorized tricycle with a cart attached, where Nick and Jonah perched themselves like luggage. They bumped along through the streets of the Jewish Quarter, sharing space with donkeys, bicycles, and foot traffic. Shopkeepers and boys begged them to stop, to sample hot tea, to buy leather goods, rugs, pots, and spices, until finally they were out of the Mellah and on the main roads.

At their riyad, Nick immediately hopped off the cart and ran inside. This left Jonah alone to pay George, who oddly refused Jonah’s money. He placed his hands together as if in prayer. “A gift,” he said. “From one man to his brother.”

“Can I at least buy you a drink for your trouble?” Jonah asked.

George looked adorably puzzled. “With you and your friend?”

“No, no. We’re not together. I mean, we’re traveling together, but he has his own interests.”

George leaned against his cart. To rest or strike a seductive pose? “Very well. I will return tonight. Then we can go somewhere special, something unique to Marrakesh.”

They shook hands on it, and the boy’s skin felt like velvet.


Safely back inside their riyad, Jonah felt better. He and Nick shared a massive room with a large stone hearth shaped like a beehive, a bathroom featuring a deep clawfoot tub, and a stained-glass window overlooking the blue plunge pool right outside, where Nick was splashing around. But Jonah didn’t feel like swimming. He climbed the wooden stairs to the riyad’s shaded roof deck, a safe vantage point to watch streams of donkey carts and motorized scooters, wheelbarrows carrying hay and loaves of bread. Standing still like islands in the middle of it all were clusters of fair-skinned European tourists his mother’s age, on the hunt for cheap rugs.

Well, Jonah didn’t want a rug. He’d come here to distract himself with beautiful scenery. Looking upward, above the mess, he admired the pale pink rectangles of the cityscape, which at sunset melted into the distant mountains. Could you ever get used to such a magical view? He might ask George. George must have seen it a million times.


At six that evening, the manager knocked on their door and informed Jonah that he had a visitor waiting in the salon.

A quiet, dignified, olive-skinned woman, the manager patrolled the residence wearing a pink hijab with a matching apron and perilously high heels. She continually expressed her delight at hosting two Americans. Since Trump’s election, Americans were avoiding Marrakesh, and she was eager to please Jonah and Nick so they’d leave a flattering review on TripAdvisor. “We are open-minded in Marrakesh,” she said when they arrived, then asked if he required kosher food, a presumption that pissed him off. Things got worse when she showed them to their room and proudly pointed out the two single beds pushed together, its bedspread covered in rose petals spelling L-O-V-E. As Nick tittered behind his hand, Jonah angrily shoved the beds apart.

“Good luck,” said Nick, giving Jonah a playful spank as he left to meet George.

Telling himself to be calm, cool, and polite, Jonah checked his hair in the mirror, then trotted downstairs to the formal salon. Theoretically guests could linger there, though they never did. The room was too dark and heavy, ornate with crowned mirrors, a shiny brass fireplace and chandelier, and marble-topped coffee tables.

Resting on an intricately carved wooden throne was a jowly old man with cloudy blue eyes and long yellow fingernails. It was David, from the synagogue. “But where’s George?” asked Jonah.

“I am here to talk about George,” said David. “I am his agent. You see, he is my grandson.”

“Where is George?” Jonah repeated, refusing to sit down.

David waved his hand in a circle. “You are from America?”

“Was,” said Jonah. “Now I live in Rome.”

“Americans are free to live anywhere,” said David. “What is your business?”

“I paint,” said Jonah. “I make pictures.”

“You make money, selling these pictures? How much?”

Jonah hesitated before answering. “Last year I sold one for ten thousand.” This was true, if eighteen months ago qualified as last year.


“Dollars. That’s about eighty thousand dirhams.”

David’s face broke into a smile as he counted off some numbers on his wrinkled fingers. He seemed even more overjoyed about the sale than Jonah’s father had been at the time. It was hard to know which Jonah’s father had disliked more, Jonah’s being an artist or Jonah’s art itself.

“Of course, a chunk of that goes to my gallery, and to taxes,” said Jonah.

“How much goes to the gallery? How much to taxes?”

“What’s this all about?” asked Jonah, sitting on the arm of the leather sofa.

David ignored the question. “And your father? What is his profession?”

“He’s…a doctor,” Jonah stammered. “Or was. He died. In Florida.” Closing his eyes, Jonah saw the news coverage of the shooting, felt the old wave of nausea—Florida? Jewish Center? Dad? He heard a shovel piercing a mound of dirt by the gravesite and the sound the dirt made as Jonah sprinkled it on his dad’s coffin.

Jonah squeezed his temples, tried to shut the memory out of his mind. “It’s hot in Florida,” he said, “like here.”

“No,” said David sharply. “Florida is not like here.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jonah. “I guess you’re right.”

“One more question. I heard on the radio that in America, two men can get married. Isn’t it true?”

“Well, yes…”

“And if one man is not American, he can become a citizen if he marries the other man. True?”

Jesus, thought Jonah. Are you asking me to marry your grandson? “It’s true. But why do you ask all these questions?”

The old man farted loudly. “You can go outside now.”

“Where’s George? We made plans.”

“Outside,” said the old man, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

In the central courtyard, the painted iron tables had been set for the dinner service. George, sitting inside one of the carved niches in the courtyard wall, wore a maroon tunic that fell gently from his shoulders and dark blue jeans; on his smooth brown feet he wore cracked, dusty sandals. Jonah took a deep breath, then called out his name.

George’s face relaxed into an easy, guileless smile. “Bon soir.” Was he looking forward to this evening? “Are you ready?”

“Don’t you have to escort your grandfather home?” Jonah asked.

“He will find his own way.” George hooked his arm through Jonah’s elbow. “Come.”

Jonah wondered if he should tell Nick where he was going.

They left the riyad and walked without speaking through the Medina, George leading Jonah deep into the maze, through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Finally they stopped at a heavy wooden door with brass bolts. George pushed it open with his shoulder, revealing a dark hallway. He lit a flashlight at the tip of his cell phone, the old-fashioned kind that could do little more than make calls, then led Jonah up a gloomy narrow staircase. Jonah braced himself against the stucco walls as they climbed, feeling weak in the knees, not to mention hungry. Maybe they were heading to an off-the-beaten-path bistro, some hidden gem missed by Lonely Planet? “Where are we?” he asked.

“The apartment of a friend. His family is away. We are alone.”

Realizing the potential of what George was saying, Jonah felt a stirring just below his stomach. He hoped he wasn’t too much out of practice.

They reached the roof, crisscrossed by laundry lines and crowned by satellite dishes. For a while they stood there, George taking in the view of the city with a mild look on his handsome face, Jonah taking in the view of George.

George ventured behind a wooden lattice into a small structure that resembled a shed. He returned with a platter of Moroccan bread, olives, oil, and several cold salads in small colorful bowls. Also, two tiny glasses of wine. “It’s Shabbat, remember?” he said.

“Oh, yes,” said Jonah.

“Would you say the blessings?” asked George, but Jonah didn’t remember them, so George lit a pair of candles and blessed the bread and wine. Then they relaxed with the meal. In the hot evening, the cold salads, sprinkled with chopped mint and parsley, were refreshing. When they finished, Jonah reached out a hand to stroke the boy’s arm. George looked at the hand, offered a polite neutral nod, and let it lie there.

“What is the name of the city where you were born?” George asked.

“Miami,” said Jonah, his fingers grasping George’s skin. Come closer, he thought. Hold me. But the boy sat firmly in place.

“Me-ami,” he said, struggling to repeat the name. “It sounds very beautiful.”

“It’s an ugly place,” said Jonah. “Hateful people live there.”

“All the same I would like to see it. Are there many Jews in Me-ami?”

“Too many. Particularly the old ones.”

“There can never be too many Jews anywhere. We are a few people.”

“It’s amazing, you hardly look Jewish to me.”

“No? How does a Jew look?”

“I don’t know. Not like you.” Jonah continued stroking the boy’s arm. Woozy from the meal, the heat, the beauty of George’s chest rising and falling through his tunic, Jonah lay back and stared at the stars. He felt so peaceful he could have gone to sleep, but then he sat up again. George was facing him, though not quite looking at him, more like past him, toward the Atlas Mountains. Jonah leaned in for a kiss. He hoped for the lips but instead got the boy’s smooth cheek.

“I love…” George began.

“Yes?” said Jonah hopefully.

“I love America.”

“Oh, you do? Do you love guns? Do you love Trump?”

“Of course! I told you, I love America. I love everything America.”

Jonah reached for the tips of George’s fingers. “Right now I love it here.”

“You love because you don’t know it here,” said George and stood up. “Come. I’ll show you something else.”

“Oh,” said Jonah, disappointed. “Then we can come back to this roof?”

“If you like.”

“I do like.”

He followed George downstairs to the street, where George’s strange motorized tricycle was parked by the door. Why hadn’t Jonah noticed it earlier? George got into the driver’s seat, while Jonah had to ride in back like a passenger.

After crossing the city, a dark blur of alleys and awnings, they arrived at a high dark red wall with wooden gate framed in white marble: the entrance to the old Jewish cemetery. Outside the gate, old David and several Moroccans sat in white plastic chairs drinking tea, playing backgammon. David and George talked quickly in French and then David got up and unlocked the door to the cemetery with a heavy brass key. “Enjoy yourselves,” he said to Jonah.

In a cemetery? Jonah thought.

George lit a candle and led Jonah between the grave markers, rows of white triangular blocks set directly into the cement, like speed bumps. In the moonlight, they gleamed like bones. “I come here sometimes to be alone,” said George. Toward the back, the graves were more formal, rectangular blocks rising from the ground. At the center of the cemetery was a little temple with a carved wooden roof. “This is the history of my people in Marrakesh. You see? No future. Only the past.”

And then it finally dawned on Jonah—how stupid of him not to see it before—George too was a refugee, or he wanted to be one. Only he didn’t have the money.

George held up his candle to the grave markers, revealing lines of Hebrew writing. Jonah tried to make out the names with his paltry Hebrew. He used to attend Sunday school at that fucking Jewish Center, but that was years ago. At the funeral, when Jonah recited the kaddish, he relied on the English transliteration. In Israel, he’d be lost.

This is where we all end up eventually, he told himself, trying to feel appropriately gloomy. Those beautiful bodies I paint, they’ll end up here too. It didn’t work. He felt nothing. Or maybe he did feel something, a strange dizziness in the brain and a fluttering in his chest, a feeling perhaps similar to George’s love of America, a land where he’d never been. It could also have been heartburn, from dinner.

I’m so damned lost, Jonah thought. Floating in space. An orphan.

If only George really loved me…

A silly, sentimental thought. How could Jonah ever know if George loved him? Even if George said so openly, he might be lying to get to America. No matter how long they spent together, George never would be able to prove he was speaking the truth. How did Jonah even know for sure that George was Jewish? All these thoughts were swirling. Plus his throat was dry, and his stomach was making violent noises.

“Are you feeling well, my friend?” George asked.

“Friend?” repeated Jonah as if it were a foreign word. “I mean, no, I’m not well at all. You have any water?”

“Follow me.” They went back to the gate and sat with David and his friends, one of whom passed Jonah a plastic cup of grainy tea. Strange, twisted leaves floated in the dark liquid, which exuded a strong, unappealing Moroccan smell, like anise. Thirsty and hoping to fit in, Jonah took a long drink, which immediately made him dizzier. Rather than calm his stomach, the drink made the churning inside even faster, angrier. David, George, and the Moroccans were all talking in French. Jonah should have understood, but he was losing track of the conversation. They laughed, and he laughed too, but he worried they were laughing at him, the ugly American they were hoodwinking into marrying George, to take him far away from here. The ugliness of that realization made his head swim, and then his laughter morphed into heavy sobs that wouldn’t stop. These people were not his friends, not his tribe. They just wanted him to take George home, like a Jewish-Moroccan souvenir. Yet the joke was on them. He had no home, and maybe he’d never wanted one. Maybe because he’d felt displaced for so long, he’d developed a taste for it. His crying stopped, and he was laughing again hysterically at the joke he was playing.

The Moroccans stared and talked to each other in agitation. Finally David said, “He’s a failure. Get him out of here.” In French or English? Jonah wasn’t sure.

They put him in the back of a taxi and Jonah didn’t remember any more.


The next afternoon he woke up in the hotel room. Nick came in wearing his Speedo. He was drying himself with one of the riyad’s fluffy towels. “Apparently you had quite a night,” he said.

“In a way,” said Jonah. “My head.”

“Here.” Nick handed him a bottle of water, which Jonah gulped greedily. “I paid for your taxi ride. You were in no condition to find your wallet.”

“How much do I owe you?”

Nick wrapped the towel around his waist and sat on his bed, opposite Jonah’s. “Nothing,” he said. “It was what anyone would do for a friend. And you’ve been a good one to me. Maybe better than I’ve been to you.”

Jonah was confused. “So now we’re even, you’re saying?”

“It’s nothing to do with being even,” said Nick. “Just friends.”

“Thanks,” said Jonah, and Nick clapped his shoulder, which felt nice. Yes, Jonah thought, his eyes welling up. We are friends. “Was George there? Or, did he leave any message?”

“No, neither,” said Nick.

Jonah’s heart sank, his punishment for hoping for too much. “It was an odd night. Nothing happened really, I mean, in the way you’re thinking. We went to the Mellah.”

“That Mellah seems like a sketchy neighborhood,” said Nick. “Still, I guess all’s well that ends well. We’re flying home tonight anyway.” He furrowed his brows. “Are you okay, Jonah?”

No, they were not flying home, only to Rome. And no, Jonah was very much not okay. Not okay or Jewish or gay or American or artistic or even male. Just a body, now lying back on the bed. Or maybe not even a body, especially the way his body felt now, like a cage with no way out, his soul trapped inside and banging on the bars of his bones, trying to escape.



Aaron Hamburger is the author of the story collection The View from Stalin’s Head (winner of the Rome Prize) and three novels, most recently Hotel Cuba (forthcoming from HarperCollins). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Tin House, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere.




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