I was walking on tiptoe as I stealthily crept towards the exit. This escape on my mind for months now, and from the day I began plotting; ooh, I could just feel my endorphins and adrenaline rush and spike in my body. Well prepared for my escape, the high I felt was all related to my anticipation. Making my way to the exterior of the laundry area, I walked just a little further and boosted a bike that was conveniently parked outside one of the local taverns.
I spotted this all too comfortable and relaxed street scenario a few weeks prior during my first days moving laundry in and out of prison. Fortunately, I was one of the few trusted inmates because I didn’t get into trouble and spoke three languages fluently, which was valuable (acting as a translator to the guards). They had given me the work in the laundry at all hours of the day and night on different shifts as a sort of thanks for all the translating.
I got on the bike and rode it as fast as possible to the closest spot on the mainland between where I was and Spain. It meant one step closer to freedom for me. I knew I would have to swim for it and had carefully chosen only a few memorable things I wanted to take with me.
My swim training in high school and later in college would be of good service to me in facing my current situation. I had been a top-notch swimmer until my wrongful imprisonment in Morocco. Before my incarceration, I had looked into swimming this Strait with a group of swimmers, and we had trained a lot for swimming the Strait of Gibraltar. I felt as ready as I would ever be. The water would have to be a decent temperature since it was near the Tropic of Cancer and Spain's known as home to some class A1 hot spot locations. The swim across was about 4-5 hours long, including the time I would be dodging freighters in the Strait.
I had no sooner ditched the bike when I was dipping my toe into the surf. The air temperature was around 35 degrees, and the water temperature was slightly below that. I figured I would have no problems swimming since my adrenaline and endorphins were at their ultimate.
After the heat of my escape, the water’s temperature felt calming and almost comforting. Once I began my swim, I found my stride and kept on moving at a steady pace. I was determined and never gave failure a second thought. I swam with the dolphins and sometimes felt like I had become one of them. I was sure they were cheering me on to continue. Elated and in constant motion, I did not seem to lose any adrenaline. My strokes varied from freestyle to backstroke to breaststroke, butterfly and then back to freestyle. I was in a groove now.
As planned, I put my foot on the sandy beach of Spain four and a half hours after entering the waters off Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar. My goal was complete; I was a free woman!
Celebrating freedom, I found a smooth rock that had washed up on shore and pocketed it. My first acquisition as a freed American woman!
Nervously I called the US Embassy. Once in contact with them, I explained my situation, and they sent a car to pick me up. They had a lovely hotel room ready for me. The service I received at this luxury hotel was exceptional, and the staff provided me with excellent personal care. I was supposed to fly home as soon as my official passport was issued. I was provided with a temporary one, valid only for land travel within Spain and given some pocket money.
It was unimaginable: being imprisoned in Morocco for not allowing a man to control me and my refusal of his advances. Who knew Moroccans punished women who were disobedient to men with imprisonment? My research indicated that they were more open-minded toward North American women tourists than in other northern African countries. I learned the hard way not to get involved with a local while on a tour of Morocco; let me tell 'ya!
My ordeal began when I was imprisoned for disobedience to the man I had been dating for the past six weeks. We had just been discussing my need to move on to another country. We began to argue because he wanted me to stay. I was unyielding and tried to end the relationship on a positive note. He would not stop arguing until I firmly told him the relationship was over.
I knew he was hurt and, worse, infuriated with me. He returned to his home, wrote a formal complaint and filed it as a Police report. The next day, I was taken from my temporary quarters while Hazem watched with a smug look. A trumped-up charge from an influential, wealthy man was no match for me.
I was an American woman who knew nothing and no one in Morocco. And that is how I landed in prison. Hazem probably kept tabs on me while I was there, and I imagined he had something to do with my laundry assignment, but who knows, that could've been just wishful thinking on my part. It was pretty evident that Hazem didn't care about me anymore since I landed in prison based on his complaint against me.
Being in prison did not stop me from making friends quickly. I was brilliant, and more importantly, I was resilient. I would not let them break me and always took what they handed me without wavering. I did my sit-ups and pushups at night when I was supposed to be sleeping (when I wasn't on the laundry shift) so that no one would know what I was up to. I ran on the spot while doing the laundry until I thought I would drop. All this was done with my master plan in mind. I had an end game.
The guards were lax and never ever dreamt anyone would attempt to flee. Ah, but I remember my grandmother saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Grandma was appealing to me tonight, giving me the courage I needed to take that chance. I was the essential risk taker tonight, with no choice but to go for it. It was my time! So I persevered. I let them believe that I was not in control of anything and that they were in charge.
The last call came “Lights Out, Ladies, in 5 minutes! Social time is over. Make your way back to your cells.” Always the same guard (Kamel) and always the same message over and over like a broken record. Oh, how I wanted to smash that record! But I had other records on my mind tonight. My record was going to be swimming across the Straight of Gibraltar.
Adjura and I hatched a plan; she would make sure I got out of this place come hell or high water! She had arranged for a friend to take my place in the laundry in my absence. It was risky, but there was no choice for me now. Making my way, we locked eyes, I said my goodbye, and the last words she said to me were, “get outta here, be free! You have your whole life to live, but it's not here in a Moroccan jail for something so frivolous. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again!” Adjura smiled and went on her way to her cell. My heart began to thump, and there was no saliva in my mouth; it was pasty. This was it! This is why all that training is so important now!
My shift in the laundry was about to start, and I had to split. The guards all know me and allow me to move around the jail on my own, especially at times like these. I spoke, “Guard Aamara, Sir, I have laundry duty, sir. Can you please buzz me through? My tongue was so thick now I could barely get the words out. “Yeah, sure, hold on.” He radioed, “Inmate Smith needs to go to the laundry area, let her through. Thanks. OK, you are all set!” “Thanks,” I didn’t dare look at him as I thought what I was going to do was written all over my forehead.
I ducked my head low and started on my way. He must have been following me with his gaze because he asked, “Hey Smith, what’s wrong with you? Are you not feeling well? Maybe you should stop at the infirmaries?” He radioed again, “Ah, change of plans; Inmate Smith will first report to the infirmaries and then to laundry, let her through boys. Thanks.” Moving toward the infirmaries quickly now so that when I was out of sight of the guards, I moved like a jack rabbit as this stop was unexpected and might interfere with my plan.
At the infirmaries, there was a nurse and psychologist on duty. The nurse took my blood pressure and then asked why I was there. Despite my blood pressure being a little high, she said I was fine otherwise. I explained, “Guard Aamara wanted me to report here as he thought I needed medical attention.” She asked, “Well, how do you feel now? I can wait a bit and retake your blood pressure if you want?” I replied, “No thanks. I feel fine. I think my blood pressure is always high.” I hoped she would buy that and let me go to the laundry now. The psychologist observed that I was a bit frazzled and said, “Inmate Smith, I would like to schedule a psychological assessment with you on my next shift.” “OK,” I responded, my pulse beating so fast I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. “Can you take me to the laundry, please?” I heard myself ask. “Certainly,” she replied.
Walking to the laundry, I didn’t say a word; I wondered if my window of opportunity to escape was disappearing. Guard Hassan in the laundry barked, “you’re late, so you better have a– “ he froze and stopped talking when he saw Dr. Aloui. “The young lady was with me. Is that going to be a problem? Guard Hassan?” “No, no, ma'am Dr. Aloui. No problem at all!” Dr. Aloui had the right to ask for psychological evaluations of anyone at any time on staff: anything in that evaluation that was alarming would have to be reported, so most guards feared her. That was my cue to get to work. Hopefully, Adjura's friend, Jasmine, snuck out to pass for me tonight until morning came. She would show up in the laundry room after I was long gone with the key I had swiped from Dr. Aloui last month. I made my way to the back, where I would make my exit.
I never felt so great as when I spoke with my parents on the phone. They had been "worried about me since they had not spoken with me in about eight weeks or so," said my mom. I knew it was exactly 58 days since I was imprisoned; I was cut off from the rest of the world because of a fling I really should have never been involved in.
A week later, back on US soil, the timing was overdue for a visit with my grandmother. At her gravesite, I placed the freedom stone I had picked up in Spain onto her gravestone. After all, she was my inspiration for freedom and remains my rock; she provoked me into escaping when I needed it most.
Lily Finch is the pen name for an author, editor, and creative writing mentor. She lives South of Detroit in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She is an emergent writer who works on short stories that depict real-life situations. She has one short story publication, “The Beauty is Watching.” The Literary Yard. Sep 20, 2022. And one flash fiction publication, “The Ruse.” Worthing Flash Fiction, Sep 24, 2022.
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