We stopped in a moody town about 3am. No-one on the bus stirred, except the driver and the Saharan, who wanted a cigarette. A man was sitting on the side of the road with his head in his hands, the moon casting a noirish shadow over his face. A friend, or so it seemed, was trying to comfort him. Three ghost-white, almost transparent dogs prowled a few hundred metres down the road, without even a token wag if a human passed nearby. A street light flickered an epileptic glimmer of light, shadows carved into the wall behind the sobbing man. The town felt like the wind had blown through like the Pied Paper and taken all the life out with it, the latent ashes comforting scoundrels and empty medication sachets. We didn’t leave for an hour. Someone had taken off their shoes and the smell had made the driver uncomfortable.
We went through six checkpoints on the way to Dakhla, from the Western Saharan border. We were the focus because we were tourists, and we had to clamber past everyone with apologies etched on our face. Each time the guards would ask our occupations, and I wished they’d instead use walkie-talkies from one checkpoint to another to tell the other soldiers about us. It’s not as if we were going to suddenly find arms and start a rebellion in-between check-points. Apparently the Moroccan government is trying to encourage tourism here. I half-considered saying I was gainfully employed as a journalist, or a Mormon missionary, maybe mercenary, maybe a human rights lawyer, but I settled for music teacher. Essentially you could make it up because there was no way of checking, though mine is technically true in that I teach in the popular music papers at university, but when pushed by men armed with guns, I say I’m a saxophone teacher. It’s simpler. It’s not as if they’ll have a saxophone out in the desert to prove it.