Boris, in Morocco, finds the police ready to shake hands and embrace a road-rager: “First the cop spoke kindly to the taxi driver, and then leant forward closely and kissed him on the crown of the head. Then the 19-yr-old road rager made a short speech to the taxi driver, bowed and kissed him on the cheek. Then there was general shaking of hands and embracing by everyone except possibly the road-rager’s female passenger. And that – believe me – was it.”
Uh-oh, I thought, this is where it all goes wrong. The car in front of us screeched to a halt and the driver door slammed. Towards us he stalked, face pale, eyes blazing like coals, hands twitching from the sleeves of his Dolce and Gabbana blouson.
His oiled black hair stood up in shark teeth tufts from his trembling head. With his beaked nose and sulky mouth he had the air of a young medieval sultan who had just discovered a Frankish knight in bed with his wife.
As he flung wide our car door I half expected him to jerk some jewelled dagger from his white designer jeans. In the instant before he physically attacked our driver I remembered the cheery predictions of the guide book.
Morocco, chirped the guide, has very little crime. You may be offered all sorts of things at outrageous prices, but no one, said the guide book, will offer you violence.
In the course of two days strolling around the pink-walled city of Marrakesh, I found that this optimism was well-founded. Everybody smiled. Nobody so much as jostled us. No one even raised his voice, except the muezzin. Yes, I thought, he must run a pretty tight ship, this King Mohammed VI.
Which made it all the more surprising to see this eruption of rage, here on our last night, in the dust and darkness of the ring road. The young man, of about 19, shouted at our driver to come out of the car and then aimed a kung fu kick at his head.
As the guidebook had prophesied, however, the police were almost immediately on the scene.
Police arrived in a van proclaiming them to belong to the Surete Nationale. Out stepped a balding plainclothesman in a leather jacket, with a hint of Mukhabarat menace. Both sides began babbling their cases, the taxi driver complaining of assault, the kids protesting that the taxi had cut them up.
The policeman clapped his hands for hush. His brown eyes bored intelligently into mine. Tell me what happened, he said. The chap had indeed kicked at the taxi driver, I attested, though whether he had connected I could not really say.
Suddenly the policeman clapped his hands again and barked a flurry of Arabic at all present. That’s it, I thought: we are all going to be hauled off to the blooming station for an orgy of tedium. Then things got very odd indeed.