"What are your plans?"
The mustachioed driver has a courtly, pleasant way about him; he seems altogether too elegant to be chauffeuring such a woebegone, bedraggled creature around.
I catch his eye in the rearview mirror and say, "Casablanca for six hours, then back to the airport."
"Six hours? But this is not enough to see Casablanca!"
I explain in broken French that I am here to sleep. I tell him about the twenty-seven hours it took to drive from northern Maine to Brooklyn in the blizzard, our car parked on an I-95 flyover for six hours until the highway was cleared. I tell him how we slept in the car and shared a bag of chili lime sunflower seeds, turning the heat on and off to conserve our quarter tank of gas. I tell him about the four hours I had to pack when we finally arrived, and then the twenty-six hours I spent in the airport waiting for my flight to Bamako. I tell him that the airport was like a refugee camp - toilets overflowing, food in short supply, bodies strewn about - and that in the chaos, I missed my flight by going to the wrong gate. I tell him how I wept openly from fatigue and frustration, and how my sainted parents came to the airport in the snow to bring me food and comfort. I tell him that my backpack somehow got on a plane without me and that I'd probably never see it again. I'm too tired to care.
All the while, the driver makes sympathetic clucking noises and pulls the kind of disapproving faces perfected by the French. "You should stay in Morocco," he says gently.
It seems like a good idea now that I am here, whizzing by fields dotted with bright red wildflowers in a Mercedes. The sunlight is so pure that you can almost see the individual photons beaming down from the sky. I luxuriate in a warm patch that filters through the car window. Later, when I am at my drab little hotel drinking mint tea and watching the world go by, I feel a tug urging me to stay.
"I'd like to," I reply. "But I'm going to Mali tonight."
The driver looks perplexed. "What is there in Mali?"
"Timbuktu." The name itself buoys me up and I am reminded of all the years of yearning, the months of anticipation, the weeks of planning.
He laughs. "Mais il n'existe pas! Il est un lieu imaginaire..."
When I am back at the airport that evening and my ticket to Bamako is refused, my heart sinks and I begin to think the very same thing.