The city retires early. When the sun sets at 5:30 over the towering walls of the medina, the winding roads are empty. The German tourists with unsightly mullets, the braying donkeys with their loads of Coca-Cola, the coercive shopkeepers with shelves and shelves of turquoise earrings and worn yellow-leathered shoes – they all disappear, stall doors snapped shut. Where they go is unclear. Perhaps to night classes in the Ville Nouvelle or home to gorge on Arabic soap operas (though Sultan, the popular Turkish period drama, doesn’t start ‘till nine).
Many of us watch the sunset from the rooftop terrace of Café Clock, where we spend many a evening perusing the internet and drinking Almond Milkshakes. We sit in silence as the satellite dishes and clotheslines that frost the top of the medina fade from grey to yellow to a deep oxblood before disappearing into the darkness. The moment is short, and we go back to our work per usual. Only later, stomachs filled to burst with lemon tarts and salty fries do we dare venture back out into the netherworld.
I love the medina at night. In the shadows, everything is heightened. The few shops still open near Café Clock mostly sell food for those heading home to make dinner. The smells are more overwhelming and invasive – saffron and animal piss mixing in an unusual cocktail. The meat slabs that hang in the dim light are more imposing; the camel head hung in the middle of the road is that much more menacing. Beggars seem sadder; sheep calls make one jump higher. Senses are heightened and I can’t help but become more aware. At night, I am not afraid to see the uncomfortable and I relish experiencing the things I ignore while the sun is up.
I do not feel unsafe like I am oft to feel during the daytime. In the medina at night, my trail home is guided by a soft, warm yellow light from the street lamps above. The catcalling men have, for the most part, disappeared behind doors for evenings with their families and I do not worry about bikes whirring around corners. While the main streets seem louder, the alleyways in my own neighborhood are silent, a silence so soft that it too overwhelms. The cats that pass by do not seem dirty, just dark, slinking their way to the next meal. Garbage has been collected and the cobblestones have been washed, and despite being with one or two other friends, I feel alone in a great, big maze. The feeling is not sad or lonely, merely empowering.
As I make my way back to my host family and the warm tagine awaiting me for dinner, I am content. This is when I love Fez the most, and these are the feelings I will take with me when the sun rises again.