Before months existed

by HRM on June 7, 2011

The Literary Conference: Agadir, Morocco - Day 1


Until now I have concealed my purpose under the accommodating guise of literature. Because I am a writer, this causes no particular concern.
– The Literary Conference, César Aira

Flying over the Atlas Mountains, three thousand feet above Agadir, a man leans over and shows me his empty customs form.

“We must fill it in?” he asks, in choppy French.

“Yes,” I reply, punctiliously.

Atlas Mountains“Please,” he says, and puts his paper on my fold-out tray. I look at it, and look back at him blankly. He makes a sudden expression of surprise and finds, within his old leather satchel, another (older, crumpled) practice form with all the necessary information filled in. He gives me this other paper and makes a “satisfied” face.

Name: Mohamed M.

“What’s your last name?” I ask.

“No matter,” he says, pointing with blunt fingers to the form.

I continue, somewhat sceptically. Birthday: 1931.“When were you born?”

He points to the page. “1931,” he says.

“Yes, but what month?”

“I don’t know, no matter. There is no month, this was before months.”

“You don’t have a birthday?”

“Oh no, no, no!” and he laughs at me. I am starting to feel like literacy means little when the rest of the rules are so different.

Job: Salary.

“So, what do you do for your job?” I ask.

“Salary, I salary.”“Yes but what do you do for your salary?”

“I do nothing!”

“You do nothing?”

“I do nothing. I do not work. I ra-té-té,” he says.

I make a “do not understand” face. He repeats, and repeats again.

“I do not work, I ra-té-té!”

“You are retired? Retraité?”

“Yes! Yes!” he is delighted, his silly student finally understanding, the communication barrier breached enough to cover the basics, but no more.

For my part, I never know what to say in the box where you are supposed to write your profession. In this case, as I was sent to cover the conference, I ticked the “work” box and write “writer.”

The customs official seems to take issue with this.

“You write for what?”

“A magazine.”

“So you are journalist.” It is not a question. I do have a press pass, somewhere, which may or may not be expired.


“What is the name of the magazine?”I tell him.

“Write it down.”

I do.

“Her Royal Majesty?”

“Yes, it’s a literary magazine.”

“Oh, literary, okay, great. Is there a website?”

I never thought I would be cultivating a fan-base among the customs officers at the airport, though I could not tell if he was sceptical or impressed – is she a royalist or a writer?

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