Growing up in a cabaret

 

My family and I had been living in Madrid, Spain, and one day my mother told me that we were all moving to Tangier, Morocco, and I would be attending 7th grade in the American School of Tangier. It seems my father had gotten involved in the fishing business, and had started a factory in Tangier to process camarones, very large shrimps, that were frozen and exported for fancy restaurants in the States. 

By now I was accustomed to moving a lot, and although I missed all the friends I made, I always enjoyed the excitement and anticipation of moving again. Mom explained that she was going to take me, and my younger brother and sister, to Tangier and let us stay with some friends for a few weeks so we could start school on time. She said she would be back in a week or two with all of our furniture, and we could then move into our new house together. My only concern at the time was “who were these friends?”  I was enjoying some serious freedom that summer, and didn’t want to end up with a domineering family where I couldn’t do anything I wanted.

The big day arrived and we all piled into Mom’s car. As we drove to Algeciras, everything was comfortably familiar. Algeciras was just across the bay from Gibraltar, and Mom always drove to Gibraltar a couple of times every summer to shop.  I always volunteered to go, as I missed English sweets, specially the multilayered and colored licorice bags, which were not available in Spain. 

Before long we all drove into the ferry and parked.  As we climbed the stairways to the top deck, we passed snotty young kids, farmers with their hens and goats, and Muslim women covered from head to toes in their djellabas sitting around with henna tattoos all over their hands. This was a new world for me. The entire main deck of the ferry seemed to be alive with snarfing, crying, pecking, and mothers crying out to their kids in Arabic. When we finally arrived topside, I saw North Africa slowly approaching from the horizon, riding on the whitecaps.  It took over 2 hours for the ferry to cross from Algeciras to Gibraltar, as I stood against the forward railing wondering what the future would bring.

When we arrived in Tangier, after clearing customs in the car, we drove directly to the hotel. It was a normal white 4 story building, except for building with a large red windmill abutting next door. After checking in and meeting mom’s ‘friends’, mom took us up to our 2 adjoining rooms and gave me a map of Tangier to study, while she opened the suitcases and lay the clothes in the dressers.  My rules were simple.  Take care of the kids and get us to school on time.  She said her friends, who owned the hotel would check on me every day after school.  After showing me on the map that the school was only 4 blocks from the hotel, Mom walked us to the school and back, so we wouldn’t get lost in the morning. After the short walk, she gave us all big sniffly and teary hugs, and told me that she would call us as soon as she got home to Madrid. 

Then she was gone, and I was alone…except for the rugrats next door. So I rounded my charges and descended to the dining room to have dinner so I could put “my kids” to bed early. The dining room was a large room with many large columns with red flowery designs, on them. One corner of the dining room had a table with a couple of very pretty ladies sitting at it.  Every now and then, another pretty lady would join them for a few minutes and then leave. For some reason I couldn’t keep my eyes from that table.

When we finished dinner I herded the kids into the elevator and waited interminably for it to rise to the 4th floor. After I got the kids teeth brushed and off to bed, I decided to go back to the lobby to explore the hotel a bit. 

When the Maitre d’ saw me, he came over and asked me if I wanted a drink. I stood a little taller and when I nodded, he said he would introduce me to some friends of his, and maybe I could sit at their table. I thanked him. My heart fluttered when I saw he was leading me to the table with the pretty ladies in the corner.

“Peter, this is Desire and Collette. Ladies, this is Peter. Peter is a guest at the hotel and it would be a personal favor to me if you kept an eye on him. You see he’s alone with his smaller brother and sister while his parents are in Madrid for a week or so.”

Desire got up and gave me a big hug while Collette just winked at me in a strangely alluring way. “Viens Pierre.” Desire said. 

Over her shoulder she said to a waiter, “Mahmoud, un Coca si te plais.”

She then turned to me and said in broken, but very sexy English, “‘Vee are working here tonight, and you should sit at our table.” 

“Thank you” I said nervously.

“This is a nightclub, it’s The Moulin Rouge. After the dining service for the hotel guests is over, they change the tables around and it becomes a night club. We’ll be starting the show in a little while.”

When my coke arrived I sat back and looked over the room. The lighting had changed and the alcoves that had held noisy families eating dinner, now were dark and mysterious. They were removing some of the tables in the center to create a dance floor, and the club patrons (mainly men) were starting to come back. Waiters were bustling around taking orders.  A cigarette lady with a tray full of cigarettes on it, hanging from her neck, was walking among the tables offering “Gitanes et Marlboros” to each table.

I had been sitting at the corner of the table by the back door, where everybody who came and left the table had to squeeze around me.  I found it very distracting to have the ladies return after changing, with their little frocks, fishnet stockings and high heels squeezing by me.

Unbelievable as it may sound, after a while I found myself nodding out, and realized that it had been a very long and exciting day.  The show barely started, but I could not keep my eyes open, so I said good night to my new friends, and blushed as all the girls wanted to kiss and hug me goodnight. I could feel the jealous looks from the other patrons as I left the room. I smiled proudly as I walked out.

The next couple of weeks passed very quickly and I didn’t linger after school. I was more interested in my new friends at the Moulin Rouge than the new kids in school.  Soon I wandered, unnoticed, alone, through the club and around the changing rooms.  I know my new friends enjoyed putting on a bit of a show to try to scandalize me. I loved every minute of it. In my mind, I was a cabaret owner having 20 or more half naked women working for me. (No wonder I later fell in love with the movie Casablanca, with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart) 

I was in heaven. Collette hugged me a lot and squealed every time she saw me, and that caused a great deal of embarrassment when my excitement became obvious. I was experiencing emotions I didn’t know existed previously. Until then, women had been an annoying distraction.

Unfortunately this all ended when my mother returned. All of a sudden I was a kid again. That first evening, during dinner, Desire came to the table and introduced herself to my mother. They spoke in French for a while and then left to get ready for the show.

“It seems you made quite an impression on the ladies.” Mom said.

“They are very nice to me, and I get free cokes.” I said, embarrassed, wondering what Desire told mom.

“Your father would not approve, and it’s a school night, so you won’t be coming back after dinner tonight.” Mom said.

The next day, with my broken heart, we moved into our new house and I never saw Desiree or Collette again.

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