John Doe was an invisible man. Or rather, he was visible, but no-one noticed him, unless he let them. In summer he sought out the freedom of the shadows and in winter he raised the collar on his coat. Tangier was an ideal town to ghost around, when you had lived there long enough that your skin was very nearly tanned to the same brown as the indigenous folk whose clothes brushed his in the maze of the medina’s narrow streets. He lived alone and filed his stories and after he had, he liked to find a bar in which he could drink the local beer and talk to whichever of the regulars sat down next to him. Among their number, a former drag queen who had known Bowles and had with age turned into a similarly urbane gent with a view on every subject; and the unlikeliest Beach Boys fan he had ever come across, a Moroccan who had both a Brian Wilson haircut and an intimate knowledge of the making of the Holland album.
One of his old friends from the old country – another ghost – was visiting. The kind of friend who could like a chameleon blend into the background too. That had been what they were good at, when they did what they did, before calling time on that time. Joe Bloggs was the only man alive who could have correctly identified John Doe’s body, were it ever necessary. Not that the law enforcement agencies would ever know it.
In a subterranean bar whose unmarked doorway was a beaded curtain, John introduced Joe to the ex-drag queen and the Beach Boys fan. There was one beer head and shoulders above the rest, Casablanca, and that night they drank lots of it. But even with the beer inside them, even as a duo, they were able to make their way home without drawing attention to themselves.
Within his own walls it was John’s custom to smoke the local kif. A local dealer he had come to trust ministered to him, and usually his stash never ran dry. But this week the dealer had been out of town and besides, Joe was not a smoker. All the same, John had had enough to drink that he was greedy for a hit, and as he made tea for the two of them, he remembered the stub in the bin. He fished and found it, wet from tea leaves. It would need drying. He wasn’t a big one for cooking, habitually eating street food bought from stalls in the souq, so when he wanted a snack, more often than not he turned to the microwave and microwaved such microwavable foods as could be found in the city. But if he hit the hit with some warming waves, then he could have at least a few lungfuls.
From the sofa Joe watched him with curiosity as he fished, lay something on china, situated it on the turntable, and closed the door. He set the timer and came back through the arch from the small alcove kitchen to resume the conversation they were having about Russian literature in the Soviet era. About thirty seconds later both men saw a flash of flame, and John darted back to fling the door wide and smother the fire with a tea towel. The stench of burning rizla, tobacco and kif was immediate and strong; having extinguished the danger, John was reduced to vainly chasing the vanishing trails of smoke with his nose.
Joe what the fucked, and John gave his account.
‘How long did you set the timer for?’
Joe chuckled, and as the thickly scented air settled heavily around them, John began to grin too, knowing that his friend was going to rib him for the rest of his visit, and that he may as well make the best of it.
Accommodated on the sofa that night, the air still heady, Bloggs’ dreams were necessarily sweet.