Tunisian women were beautiful but…
I was walking along the streets of Sousse, Tunisia when a young guy in smart clothes tapped by elbow and asked me something in Arabic.
‘Je me regrette,’ I said in my barely functional French.
‘Oh, I thought you were Tunisian!’ he said in English, ‘Where are you from?’
It seemed unlikely that anyone would take me for an Arab but I was feeling a bit lonely that morning and so answered the usual questions of a traveler. Name, country of origin, job etc
Before I could get far though, he introduced me to his friend, Ahmed, who came up behind us with a limping gait and a predatory look on his face. It turned out his friend had spent 5 years in Rome and so we spoke in Italian, leaving the first guy out in the cold. While we were talking a Tunisian girl passed by and he called her over and kissed her on the cheek.
“Jamilah, this is Thomas from England.’ he told her and she gave me a timid smile as we shook hands. He spoke to her in Arabic for a few moments before she waved goodbye and Ahmed suggested we went for a cafe.
We entered the ubiquitous all-male Tunisian cafe where gaggles of men of all ages drank coffee around plastic tables, everyone present chain smoking cigarettes or hookahs and the football on overhead televisions. We found a table and I realised I had come this far with two strangers without really estalishing that we had anything in common. The guy who had first accosted me hadn’t said much since Ahmed had turned up and it was he who now dominated the conversation. After a few generalities, he leaned over and asked me:
‘Thomas, would you like to go to bed with that girl?’
‘Why do you ask?’
He made an expansive open-palmed gesture, demonstrating that he’d spent time in Italy. ‘We are men, no? And if I can help you I would be happy to…’
‘That’s very kind of you.’
‘But you must think of where to take her. Where are you staying?’
‘The Hotel Suq‘
He considered for a moment, conferred with his friend in Arabic and then nodded his head approvingly. ‘Yes, you can take her there without any problems. Wait.’
He hobbled down the stairs and I asked the first guy where he had learned his English.
‘I work in a hotel.’ he smiled proudly but he didn’t seem very expansive and so we sat watching the football and sipping coffee until Ahmed returned.
‘I’ve just spoken with Jamilah and she says she likes you very much. She asked me if you have a condom and I said, ha, I didn’t exactly look in your pockets. Then she asked if you drink, and I said no, he’s a quiet guy. She was worried, you know, because some guys when they are in the bed, they kick, you know?’ he looked me in the eyes to see if I was the kind of person who liked to kick while making love. Satisfied that I would be a well-behaved lover, he sat back in his chair, ‘So, if you like, I can help you…’
‘But she only just met me.’ I insisted innocently.
‘Yes, but you know the way of the world…’
‘Ah, so how much money would she want?’
‘That’s up to you,’ Ahmed assured me, ‘Some men, if the girls asks for money first then they lose interest, you know?’ and he demonstrated his point by dipping both his index fingers, ‘So it’s better you give after.’ he paused and then said, ‘Tunisian men would give about 20 Dinars ($15) but many tourists like to give more… I can see from your clothes that you don’t have a lot of money, so maybe 40 dinars… even 30….’ he added, interpreting my silence as financial hesitation.
By now I realised the whole thing had been a set up from the moment I’d been asked the time in Arabic and yet I was kinda enjoying myself. It was fun to watch this pimp try to allay my fears and entice me into an afternoon of passion with a Tunisian girl and his attempts to ingratiate himself were amusing. He suddenly asked:
“So, Thomas, I would like to go to England soon. Do you think you can help me?’
‘Probably not!’ I rejoined cheerfully and paid for our coffees. Not happy with a free drink, Ahmed continued to solicit my libido in the street and finally I suggested that he write Jamilah’s phone down for me so I could call her later if the mood struck me.
‘Okay, but I just hope she will understand you. She only speaks a little French.’
As I wondered how to lose my new friends, Ahmed stopped to buy some cigarettes and asked me if I had a spare coin, just $2 or so. I gave him a big smile.
‘It was lovely to meet you, all!’
I walked off on my own into the crowds of the city, not quite as lonely as before and vaguely chilled at the encounter. A few days before I’d been walking in the sand dunes of the Sahara and now I was back walking the gutters of the city. The world is full of small-time crooks, each occupying a little world of sordid schemes and second-rate fantasies. It was amusing to be seen as a customer and slightly unnerving that I looked like one.
I took it as my cue to move on. I hope Jamilah wasn’t waiting too long for her phone call.