We landed in Marrakesh on Thursday evening, and after a brief stop at customs and a knuckle-whitening taxi ride found ourselves at the hotel: a four-star riad in the center of the old city.
The room was overly spacious. All mosaic, arched doorways and blackout curtains. On the bed a single rose had been placed, the petals already beginning to wilt around the edges. A small card was propped on one of the nightstands. It read ‘Malika is your maid!’ in tidy scrawl.
Lexi slept late. We spent the next afternoon in the medina, dodging panhandlers and hopping between the souk stalls to escape the heat. When we returned to the hotel we relaxed by the almost vacant pool until the sun decided to dip, and then retired to the room to get ready for the evening.
There’s a certain Christmassy excitement to re-discovering a room after maid service has been: Hand towels folded into abstractions, or contorted into animals and perched on the immaculately made up bed sheets. Discarded garments collected and folded. Complimentary items replenished. As we re-acclimated to the air conditioned room I discovered a torn fragment of letterhead sat on top of my copy of ‘The Corrections’, which sat askance on the mahogany coffee table.
‘Great book!’ the note read, in the same curvy flourishes as the card on the nightstand.
Grabbing some hotel stationary from the armoire I added ‘It’s really good!’ beneath.
The next afternoon we returned to the room to find other tears of paper. A lightly curled scrap on the bed read ‘I will make the bed, you don’t have to!‘; surely a response to Lexi’s insistence that we attempt to leave the sheets in some semblance of order before we head out each morning.
Later that night I found a note resting inside our travel wallet full of Lexi’s neatly printed itinerary. ‘Busy week!!’, it said, to which I left no reply.
As the week progressed we continued to observe the unwritten holidaymakers law to be out of the room by late morning so as to keep out of housekeeping’s way, returning hours later to find another note or some other bemusing adjustment has been made to our apartment. Invariably it was my possessions that attracted comment.
‘Nice shirt!’ read a scrap, stolen into one of my shirt pockets at some indeterminate point. A fat red heart was drawn in biro beside the familiar penmanship, rendered in firm and artful strokes.
“Another funny message from Malika, or whoever,” I said, passing the note to my partner who evidently took the flirtations in middling-to-bad humour. Over the next few days her exasperation mounted at a growing collection of messages and perceived slights from Malika.
“The maid only replaced your bathrobe!” she announced, holding the his and hers garments separately in outstretched hands like a human Scale of Justice; a scuff of dirt on the hem of the smaller robe was her smoking gun. On another occasion we returned to the room to find rose petals scattered liberally over the bed, predominantly on my side. I argued that it was probably a coincidence – the careless result of a flourish practised in room after room, day after day – and rebuffed her as I identified a litany of errant petals that had landed on her side of the sheets. The maroon lipstick left on the bathroom mirror was probably a cultural display of hospitality, I tried to assure Lexi, rather than a calculated attempt to steal her lover.
On the way down to the pool in a baggy tee and flip-flops I passed a maid, offering her a smile which she returned. I wondered if this was Malika.
On our penultimate day in the city Lexi suggested we order breakfast to our room before taking a slow amble through the square one last time. When the breakfast of grapefruit and bagels arrived she nursed each bite and spent long periods gazing out over the pool from the ample balcony. It became apparent that she was reluctant to leave the room before getting the measure of Malika, this being her last chance to do so. How embarrassing for her then, as an hour passed, followed by another, with no arrival from housekeeping.
“Maybe they don’t clean the room on the last day”, I reiterated, sensing the emotional paper-cuts that even by her inaction Malika was now capable of inflicting.
When it was eventually time to leave the hotel Lexi insisted we didn’t leave a tip for housekeeping. She slouched against the retractable suitcase handle and motioned absently to the recently neglected room. I was caught off-guard by her pettiness. As we left the room I siphoned off a note and a handful of change from my pocket and left it on the nightstand.