For some reason, likely sparked by a passage in 2666, I find myself, as I'm treading the familiar path from the métro to my office, thinking about Touficq and Brahim, and trying to recall how to spell his name, maybe it's Toufiq without the "c" — I still have his name written in his own hand on a scrap of paper in my photo album — I never did write to him, though I thought about it — although admittedly I haven't thought about it for years now. But today I find myself wondering who were they really.
Toufiq cut hair, he cut my sister's hair; I don't know if Brahim did anything other than hang out at the hair "salon" and zip around on his moped. Everyone knew them, but they were their own gang of two, although maybe it only seems this way, maybe it was because of us, that they dissociated for our benefit, to devote themselves to caring for the foreigners. It's Toufiq who found us at the bus station while waiting for his sister to arrive. She wasn't on our bus. There was another bus later that day that Toufiq went to meet, but she wasn't on that one either. I heard about her return a day or two later; I'm not sure if she's one of the sisters I met.
I don't remember anything about Brahim except for his Fremen-like eyes. But it's Toufiq who tried to kiss me in the inky night of the oasis. I was terrified. I'd never known after dark could be so dark. We could hear the murmur of the crowd at the restaurant, Le Petit Prince, metres away, but the electric lighting was soaked up by the night and did not reach us.
I don't know why I'm thinking about it now. I've skimmed back through the pages of 2666, and I can't see what the memory trigger might be. Something to do with the mysterious Swabian and the lady, or Archimboldi's planned trip to North Africa.
I'm the age now that Toufiq's mother was then. Still a remarkable beauty, Ethiopian, head high and scarved, but considered old. Mother to a brood of 8 or 9, she would not travel to distant lands, she rarely left home. But thank Bourguiba, the sister was getting a university education; she would be a doctor.
They rode us out on mopeds late that last afternoon, those wild boys, Toufiq and Brahim, to watch the sun set over the Tunisian desert. That's when my sister and I were separated; somehow we couldn't catch up with each other. Toufiq and I looked out over the desert before the setting of the sun — we saw a caravan sailing along — and he took me home for supper. So I didn't see a full and proper desert sunset. Later we drove into the oasis, and he switched to English to declare his love.
My sister and I didn't find each other till midnight, just in time, at the station; we boarded the bus to return north, to the sea.
For some reason today I wonder who they really were. They belonged there, but didn't. Their minds were bigger than that town. They had hearts of adventurers. They were plotting an escape. Maybe it was just pretend.