“This is real camel bone,” said the Berber, placing a light, rounded phial in my hand to examine. He pulled out the stopper, showing me the bone applicator inside.
“For putting the black on the eye,” he explained. He picked up a dagger and stroked its sheath.
“Real skin from snake. And this…” he held out an agate pendant set in metal and something I didn’t recognise… “horn of gazelle”.
His smile was captivating.
“Here’s the thing,” I said, finding I was somehow already beside him on the ground, with his blanket of wares spread before us. “I love animals; I don’t want them to die. So what have you got that’s not made from an animal?”
He picked up costume jewellery: semi-precious stones, colored beads, metal hands of Fatima.
“I’ll give you special price.”
It was special, all right. Still unused to the conversion rates, I eventually handed over the equivalent of 50 Euros for two plastic necklaces, and thought I’d got a good deal. I was a bit shocked when Bunty told me what I had just done. The Berber, with some embarrassment, handed me back my money and we fell to haggling again. I had never haggled before. We spent twenty minutes, alternating between grinning and acting insulted, while Bunty waited awkwardly to pay.
“You’re cutting my leg off!” he cried, chopping at his leg with the side of his hand.
We were standing by this time, facing each other down.
“You’re cutting my leg off!” I retorted.
He burst out laughing. I paid him 50 Dirhams for one necklace, which I think was still a good deal for him.
It was drawing towards sunset, when everyone would be able to break their Ramadan fast. Fruits and breads were being sold from stalls all up and down the main street of Mirleft, and dogs hung round in the shade, perhaps waiting for scraps, perhaps just hanging around.
People parked their vehicles anywhere. This van had been left in the middle of the street, causing cars and bikes and donkey carts to weave around it. Nobody seemed to mind.
Feeling drained after our intense bout of social contact, Bunty and I retired to our hostel by the edge of the sea. It’s run by a woman from Lancashire. She knows the Berber, and laughed when I told her how much money I had nearly given him.
“Larbi probably thought it was Christmas!” she said.
Or Muslim equivalent…