"The Exchange"

"A spare but spirited story in Josh Pachter's colorful series — in which the scrupulous Pakistani policeman, Mahboob Chaudri, in Marrakesh on a brief assignment, looks for a souvenir to remind him forever of his free afternoon in the city's main square, the enormous, tented Jemaa el Fna..."

This is, I think, the most autobiographical story I ever wrote. I spent several days in Marrakesh on vacation, actually bargained for and bought the "ceremonial Berber belt" with its "bold colors and long tassels and colorful bits of mirror" which Mahboob regretfully passes up as too expensive, watched in fascination the workings of the con game by which Mahboob willingly allows himself to be victimized. I wanted to write about the city, so I sent Mahboob there as part of a security detail accompanying the Bahraini Minister of Defense to a Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, gave him a day off to explore the city, and then just reported on my own experience.

Original EQMM editor Fred Dannay was notorious for changing his authors' titles, but I had much better luck with Eleanor Sullivan. She left all of my Chaudri titles intact except for this one. My title, "Jemaa el Fna," was way cool: how could a reader see the word "Fna" on the page and not be sucked right into the world of the story? "The Exchange" is not only boring and bland — it's almost identical to the title of the first Mahboob story, "The Dilmun Exchange," which had appeared in EQMM only two years earlier!

I lost the belt in my 1991 move from Europe back to America, alas. A pity: it looked every bit as beautiful hanging on my bedroom wall as Mahboob knew it would look on his....

After its appearance in my The Tree of Life collection in 2015, "Jemaa el Fna" was reprinted online in Kings River Life's February 20, 2016 issue.

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