“We’ll resume our journey to Essaouira in 30 minutes, in the meantime you’re free to shop for locally made Moroccan products or have some tea in the café.”
The guide gave a practiced smile and with that the doors opened, releasing dozens of camera wielding tourists from the controlled climate of the Supratours Bus into the little outpost in the middle of the desert.
“Jesus Christ, I haven’t been this hot since Nixon resigned!” Thomas rapidly fanned himself with the guidebook, watching his fellow travelers stream into the gift shop.
“You’re such a queen, an old one at that!” Peter laughed, pinching his butt. “Besides, I make you that hot every night.”
“You little minx!” Thomas squealed, “Not here for god’s sake!”
They took opposite seats at a white table beneath the café’s awning. Thomas took off a velvet fedora and sat it on the table between them.
“I can’t believe you bought that, you look like a queer Indiana Jones in that thing.” Peter surrendered a sigh, glancing over the menu at him.
“Riders of the Lost Cock.” Thomas stated musingly.
“Already taken. And don’t bother watching it, the Nazis are all circumcised, very historically inaccurate.”
A young Moroccan in a pressed white dress shirt came up to them, notepad in his hand.
“What would you like to drink?” He said, eyeing the red fedora on the table.
“We haven’t even looked actually…” Thomas said, glancing over at Peter.
“A mint tea, please.” Peter cut in, leaving Thomas frowning. “What? If you’d stop going on about cock all the time!”
The waiter shifted uncomfortably, writing something on the notepad.
“Oh please, you love dick as much as anyone, but tea?” Thomas gestured at the sandy expanse around them. “We’re in the Sahara in the middle of summer for god’s sake!”
There was a long pause before the waiter finally spoke up.
“I can come back.”
“That’s okay sweetie, he’ll take a mint tea, iced.”
“Iced?” The waiter looked doubtful.
“Yes, iced. You know, water frozen in the shape of little balls? Or big ones if you prefer…”
The waiter blushed, looking down at his scuffed black shoes.
“Oh Peter, for the love of Liz Taylor!” Then Thomas, turning to the waiter whose flushed face made him look no more than 18, “I’ll take a dry martini please.”
“A dry martini?” Peter’s eyebrows shot up over his sunburned forehead. “Where the hell do you think we are? The Ritz?!” Then, back to the waiter, “he’ll take a sparkling water.”
The waiter bowed his head, doubtless overjoyed at the prospect of retreat.
“He’s cute.” Thomas said, staring after him. The ties of his black sash fluttered in what little breeze there was, contrasting with the white pressed shirt and pants.
“Oh god, don’t start!” Peter sighed, unfolding a colorful map over the table. “We both remember what happened in Marrakech.”
“What? What happened in Marrakech?” Thomas demurred, fanning himself with his leather billfold.
Peter rolled his eyes.
“You know exactly what happened. And would you please put that away? Do you want every Moroccan for a thousand miles to come over and try to sell you a carpet?”
“What??” Thomas squeaked, ignoring his protestations. “You mean Mohammed?”
Peter frowned at him over the map.
“Yes, I mean Mohammed. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten him already!”
“Forgotten? No, I wouldn’t say that… why? You want me to print his photo on a t-shirt and wear it around?”
“Don’t start. You don’t even have his photo.”
“Oh, I’ve got photos… just not of his face.”
Peter ignored the comment, though it registered in the tightening of his lips.
After several seconds of silence Thomas, fanning himself more rapidly than before, addressed him again.
“What, you told me you were fine with an open relationship!”
“You’re more open than a 24-hour quick mart on the side of a freeway!”
“Oh please! Your definition of open would cause the Obama Administration to cringe.”
Silence fell again, Peter pretended to study the tattered map and Thomas feigned interest in a crowd of American tourists forming beside the bus.
“Did you hear what the trucker in the seat in front of you said?” Thomas ventured.
“The one with the Nascar cap?”
“Yes, the 300 pound ox.”
“Something about how guns and gays shouldn’t be regulated by the government?”
“Right, except that the government should keep gays from marrying but not pass restrictions on how many guns private individuals have.”
“Ha, yes.” Peter’s voice took on a mocking tone. “I have 3 rifles, a shotgun and a AK-47.”
“Don’t forget the Colt Revolver.”
“Of course, the Colt Revolver.” Peter resumed his impression. “Same gun used to kill Kennedy, so Obama better watch out!”
They laughed, Peter’s slowly fading into a smile as he looked back at the map.
“Here you are sir.” The waiter appeared at the table, carefully withdrawing a martini glass from the tray and setting it on the table in front of Thomas.
“Mary Queen of Scots!” Peter gaped as Thomas grinned widely. “How the hell did he get that?”
“We have liquor on reserve in case a VIP party comes through, but nobody was looking so…” He gave Thomas a wink.
“Why, thank you.” Thomas winked back, not missing a beat. “What’s your name?”
“Mohammed.” The boy said with a smile before turning back and disappearing again into the café.
“You’ve got to be shitting me.” Peter said, still in shock.
“What? We’re in the Middle East. Everyone and their mother is named Mohammed here.”
“First of all Marco Polo, we’re in North Africa, but I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about the fact that he was obviously flirting with you… I don’t even have my drink yet! And I ordered tea for crying out loud! He can produce a martini like a fucking Muslim Houdini but can’t bring me a fucking Moroccan mint tea?”
“You’re just jealous.” Thomas said, tilting the glass toward his lips. “He’s clearly distracted with customers.”
Peter surveyed the empty patio. Other than an old Moroccan sipping tea who’d been there when they arrived, the patio was as bare as a Playboy cover model.
The boy reappeared, pretending to check on the old Moroccan who clearly was content, before making his way back to their table.
“Anything else you need?” He asked Thomas.
“Yeah,” Peter sat up straight in his chair. “How about a fucking mint tea?”
Still looking at Thomas. “Sure, just one?”
“What,” Peter leaned across the table, “do I look like an Olsen twin? Yes, just one.”
“I’ll be right back.” He said to Thomas with a smile.
Peter stared after him. Thomas watched contentedly between sips of the clear liquid.
“Since when did this become a fucking Almodovar film?” Peter seethed. “Is everyone in this country gay? They’re supposed to be hanging people like us from trees!”
Thomas sighed thoughtfully.
“This is the desert. They’d just stone you.”
Peter glared at him, turning again to the map.
The boy returned, sitting the tea down in front of Peter, though his eyes once again were on Thomas.
“Martini okay?” He asked, radiating concern.
“Oh yes, better than any $30 one I’ve ever had in New York.”
The boy smiled and, not finding anything to say, went and stood at the café entrance.
The bus’ horn reverberated through the stony ground and all three looked over.
The passengers, red-faced and impatient, stared out the window at them.
“Oh my god, our bus!” Thomas scrambled to stand, folding the map hastily and waving to the waiter at the same time.
“Sorry, our bus. What do we owe you?”
The boy flushed, searching his pockets presumably for the bill.
“Take your time,” Thomas laughed, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “No rush.”
Peter stared with disbelief, the boy appearing to melt at the touch.
“Actually,” the boy stuttered. “I was wondering whether you might like to stay a bit longer. My friend’s throwing a party tonight and-“
“Stay a bit longer?” Peter interrupted, anger in his voice. “Our bus is leaving and you want us to stay at this little desert bordello for longer?”
“My house isn’t far.” He said this to Thomas and there was no mistaking the invitation was, and had been, for him only.
He and Peter exchanged a glance but Thomas’ expression was changed, permanently.
“I’d like that.” He said, smiling before throwing back the remainder of the martini.
Peter stood, tossing some coins on the table before turning.
“I’ll catch up with you later!” Thomas called as Peter walked towards the bus.
“No,” Peter managed under his breath. “No, you won’t.”
Their laughter echoed after him as he stepped aboard the bus. He took his seat behind the Nascar cap wearing gun enthusiast, who eyed him warily.
Peter didn’t look out the window, didn’t notice all the eyes on him, didn’t feel anything other than the motion of the bus as it slowly pulled away.