HOMECOMING by Laila Lalami

HOMECOMING by Laila Lalami

For five years Aziz had imagined the scene of his homecoming. In his carefully rehearsed fantasies, he would come home on a sunny day, dressed in a crisp white shirt and black slacks, his hair gelled back and his moustache trimmed. His new car would be stacked to the roof with gifts for everyone in the family. When he rang the doorbell, his wife and his ageing parents would greet him with smiles on their faces. He would take his wife into his arms, lift her, and they would twirl, like in the movies. Within days of his arrival he would move them from the decrepit apartment in a poor neighbourhood of Casablanca to one of those modern buildings that sprang up daily in the city.

But as the date of his return to Morocco approached, Aziz found that he had to alter the details of his daydreams. He had imagined he’d arrive in a late-model car, but now he thought that a car trip would be impractical and besides, he didn’t think his beat-up Volkswagen could sustain the 800 kilometres from Madrid to Casablanca. So he had booked himself on a Royal Air Maroc flight instead. To make matters worse, the image of his family greeting him at the door of their apartment grew dimmer. His father had died during his absence, and now his mother and his wife lived alone. He also had trouble visualizing his wife’s face as easily as he had in the beginning. He remembered her to be slender and distinctly shorter than he, but he couldn’t quite recall the colour of her eyes, whether they were green-brown or grey-brown.

These uncertainties made for a stressful few days, culminating on the day of his departure. He arrived at Barajas Airport three hours before his flight. He made sure again and again that his passport and work visa were in order so that he could re-enter Spain after his trip. Once he got on the plane, he couldn’t eat the light meal they served during the hour-long flight. He filled out his customs declaration declaration as soon as it was handed to him, repeatedly checking to see that he had entered the correct information from his passport.

When finally the plane flew over the port of Casablanca, he looked out of the window and saw the beaches, the factories, the streets jammed with cars, the minaret of the King Hassan Mosque, but he couldn’t locate the medina or the dome in the Arab League Park. He held on to the arms of his seat as the plane began its descent.

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