The first morning of our stay in Essaouira, our breakfast waiter met us at the dining room door to steer us to the table reserved for our small group of travelers. To our surprise, he did not seat us in the dining room. He led us instead to a table he had set for us, and for us alone, on an outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean.
You could tell he was pleased with himself: the smile that spread over his face when he saw our delight was positively beatific. “This will be your table every day,” he announced. “My name is Aziz.”
Aziz spoke Arabic, Berber and French, Morocco’s three official languages; he also spoke some German, pretty good Spanish, and passable English. In all these languages he was unfailingly exotic, old fashioned, over the top. He executed the most amazing flourishes and deep bows as he set down plate after plate of breakfast breads and pastries, huge bowls of fruit, hot coffee and milk, and fresh squeezed juice. Voilà. Voilà. Voilà.
He also made sure he learned our names so that he could greet us personally as we came to breakfast and inquire solicitously about our sleep and our health. Aziz was a quick study, and before we knew it, he had associated songs with some of our names, literary snatches with others, movie references to the rest. Even the bleary-eyed “I am not a morning person” member of our group was completely charmed by him when he broke into song or recited some corny verse tailored to her alone.
The cynic in me was tempted to think of Aziz as an astute showman who had figured out that Americans are suckers for this sort of local color and tip accordingly. And there was probably some of that in his behaviors. But I didn’t care. It’s not every day someone treats you like exalted royalty, let alone like a simple human being. It did wonders for me, who felt depleted and just this side of depressed at this point in the journey. I needed everything Aziz had to offer.
This was the morning dialogue he used with me:
“How are you today, Mary?”
“I’m fine, thank you, Aziz. How are you?”
“I am well if you are well, Mary. I am well if you are well.“
Of course I believed him.
When he flashed that smile, I had no doubt that his wellbeing hung on the thread of my own, his pleasure weighed in the balance with my delight. Of course he could not and would nor be happy if I were not, and so I resolved to be well for his sake. And for my own.
And of course on the last morning I slipped a very large bill into the pages of the memory book he begged us to sign with all his customary theatre and his brilliant, brilliant smile.