Red Handed

Hey, so let’s cut right to the chase, put yourself into the mind of the Middle East, like the Disney scene that begins Alladin. A lonely street rat stands idly on the corner, empty handed. Let’s see what he’s up to:

So there I was, caught with my pants down, if you’ll forgive the expression, with a naked candybar in one hand and fingerprint ink on the other. You get what you pay for…and I paid 400 DH for it, so this had better be some good-ass eats. Chocolate is expensive in Morocco…actually, let me rephrase: Chocolate is expensive FOR ME.

But let me back up a few steps, to a bright winter morning in el Maghreb. I was minding my own business in the supermarket, meandering among the produce and processed, fiending for some yogurt (jaouda brand linea, plain, no sugar added, no substitutes please). I was in no hurry, merely walking in time to my own soundtrack, when suddenly, I found myself in the chocolate aisle, a long walkway piled high with bars of all kinds, like that scene from the matrix in the white room where keanu reeves asks for a shit-ton of guns. But here, in peaceful Morocco, arms were replaced with almonds, hazelnuts, cream, fruit, chili and of course cocoa peeking out among the shelves like little sprites some to steal me into some wonderland.

The world that I stumbled across was the epitome of indulgence, the Vegas of the grocery. Now, like a pregnant pika-having Pittsburghian, I sometimes just got to have my chocolate; soon a trip to the supermarche for yoghurt turned into a lone American staring longingly at the brown bars wallpapering the aisle. It was like a puffed corn cereal commercial, or crackfiend’s mantra-”I gotta have my pops!” Only this time, the rocks in question were replaced by the silky seduction of theobroma cacao. I wouldn’t put it past myself to scarf down an entire row of the naughty treats, package, foil and all, not even bothering to come up for air.

The sheen of each bar’s shiny bright paper-packaging teased me, and I couldn’t help but fantasize about what was under those tight clothes. I perused the selection, like a john in the red light district, carefully inspecting future investments. With porn names like ‘candy,’ ‘cream,’ ‘ginger,’ ‘jasmine,’ and ‘lavender,’ this was a high class club and I got a VIP peep show. The not way they could be dirtier would be to end their names in ‘I.’

Now walking up and down in my perverted bliss, I failed to notice the meandering manager, suspicious of my intentions. He needn’t worry though, what I had in mind was a 100% consensual, vanilla relationship with my treats. But what’s this? A dirty trick, one of the wrappers seemed to have “fallen off” a bar, exposing the coffee-colored flesh beneath. So comfortable in nudity, it was a confident seductress, just lying there, begging to be taken. I looked to my right, creepily and with eyes that evoked suspicion. No one was there.

I looked left, with the gaze of a person about to do something questionable, naughty and distinctly American. No one there. I was about to look up, when I became overcome by longing for my prize, and in a moment of weakness I seized the bar, and crammed it into my jacket pocket. It wasn’t like anyone was going to buy it anyway, all lewd and R-rated, parading it’s sexuality for all to see. So I thought I did the right thing, a win-win if you will, by cleaning the aisles of filth and pornography.

With a satisfied smile, a got my yogurt (2 packages this time, I thought I deserved it after my successful heist), and proceeded to the checkout aisle. With euphoria waiting in the wings, I purchased my yogurt (but for some reason failed to remember my chocolate mistress in my pocket), and headed out the door, with more than a noticeable spring in my step. I couldn’t believe I got away with it, and was going over all of the nasty things I would do to the bad bar when we got back to my room. All of a sudden, I heard a loud, commanding voice in darija, “Hey you, stop!”

Now, I knew this man couldn’t be talking to me, an American anthropology student, and I should have just went on my way…but against my better judgment, my head turned, and I caught myself looking at the most dis-proportioned man I had ever seen in my life. With a head the size of a watermelon atop the body of a scarecrow, he was glaring at me. “Hey you!” he said again, and it was then that I realized 3 things:

1) This man had the most yellow/brown buckteeth I had ever seen in my life, befitting a superhero moniker or at least a nickname.
2) Teeth wore a nametag high on his torso, and fingered it occasionally, like a grocery store manager on a power trip.
3) Teeth was talking to me.

​What follows is a chase scene in the style of Benny Hill—teeth chattering like joke-dentures chomping at the bit of my sorry store-carrier, market-raiser, shop-lifter ass. I am the usual suspect of store-aisle seduction in a hanout heist gone awry. My fight and flight on holiday, I am left with the most primal of the ‘f” reactions, the break-dance special freeze. A model posing for my mugshot, I am a cryogenic ice-crack-choco addict stuck staring at my capped-tooth captor.

​And as if it were just what the store had been awaiting for years, hey took be downstairs into a dimly lit basement with only one light flickering and sat me down in a chair. The North African version of the Godfathers entourage appears from what must have been the rafters and circled me like either I was about to be an Aztec sacrifice, or a YouTube sensation. At the time, I couldn’t have said which I preferred. Now Teeth saunters over to me, almost too casually to be intimidating, but I could swear I heard dramatic CSI interrogation music playing from some tinny speaker in the corner of the room. He leans very close to my, close enough that I could taste his breakfast, and with a halitosis-laced smile, he asks, “what the hell is wrong with you?”

By now I’m gasping for air, because his mouth seems to have sucked every molecule of oxygen from the atmosphere, and although I know I’m going to die here, an anonymous tourist gone missing in the capital city, I really have the urge to ask for a last meal. Despite this cheeky instinct, I merely reply, “I’m sorry, I don’t know,” in Arabic.

This sets of a flurry of chatter between the boss chipmunk, Teeth, and his similarly rodent-like associates, Rabbit, squirrel, and Capybara. I could understand about 2% of their tittering, but enough to know that they wanted me to pay for my misdeeds. Maybe they would take pity and strip me naked to make my way humiliated back to my home stay.

Instead, in a tornado of movement, they tear open my backpack, and rummage through my belongings like my mom would, looking for other evidences of sinful thieving habits. They come up empty handed in that regard, but laugh uproariously at my arabic reading material, fairy stories for 1st graders, and decide to pocket my money in an oddly parentesque manner, “that’s what you get!”

Just as quickly, they send me upstairs again, complete with toothy smiles. As I leave, Teeth pulls me over and in the best broken English I’ve ever heard, inquires, “why would a rich american like you do something like this?” he just didn’t get it. And even today, neither do I.

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