The most obvious route north from Marrakech might have taken us via Casablanca and Rabat, but Omar was keen to utilise his knowledge of the back roads, and to complete most of our four hundred mile journey in the dark. He made us extra nervous by saying that it was legal for vehicles to drive in Morocco with no headlights after nightfall, so long as they maintained a low speed !
I have a very clear image of the spectacular red sunset slowly colouring the tall tower of the mosque adjacent to the main square as we said goodbye to Marrakech. Despite the long journey ahead we were hopeful that we would soon be bidding farewell to Morocco and Africa as well.
‘Try to get some sleep’ our driver suggested.
‘Which way are we going ?’ I asked.
‘Towards Fez or Meknes, but don’t worry, I know these roads very well.’
Jess had her eyes closed, but I wasn’t sure if she was really getting any rest, and I found it very difficult not to succumb to my neurotic nature. Omar just appeared quietly determined, driving fast where he was able to make uninterrupted progress, and more slowly on the very minor routes. As it became properly dark the outer world became no more than a blur; occasionally we passed through a small town with a shop or cafe open late, but as we got well beyond Marrakech there was not much visible, though still an awareness of the vast Atlas mountains to the east.
I was most fearful about the sea crossing to Spain, and prayed for a calm and clear passage, despite the fact I had no sympathy for most forms of religious worship. Omar had tried to reassure us further by saying that his brother would raise both a Spanish and European Union flag as we approached the other side, but surely there would be many patrols waiting for all those fleeing Africa and hoping for a better life in Europe – so tantalisingly close across the Strait of Gibraltar.
‘What was that ?’ said Jess suddenly.
‘Nothing, just a hole in the road, go back to sleep.’
‘I can’t seem to relax.’
‘I will stop in another hour or so, I must rest for a while’ Omar said.
I did not envy him the many hours of driving; but the bitterness he felt for the man who had killed his first son was literally driving him on through the black Moroccan night. We had unintentionally provided some kind of brutal justice, and the emptiness Omar still felt in his life encouraged him to risk being arrested by helping foreigners to leave the country without the usual forms being filled-in.
He pulled off the road somewhere near Azrou, south east of Meknes, and offered a flask of coffee and some biscuits.
‘You are very kind’ said Jess wearily.
‘That policeman was very bad; I will get you home safely.’
It was almost as if he was planning to drive us all the way to York, which might have impressed friends and family – taking a Mercedes taxi the entire route from Morocco to England. He went off for a cigarette, leaving the two of us alone, with hardly a clue as to our location in the featureless landscape of darkness.
‘I love you Jess.’