I didn’t sleep well that night. My dreams were filled with a vision of an ever-mounting dish of couscous that it was my duty to eat clean. Each time I neared the bottom it filled up again. I ate and ate and ate until I was in pain and could eat no more. “Stop, STOP”, I shouted. I woke and found myself alone in the room, still shouting, “Stop, STOP”.
Group at the summit.
Then it all suddenly became clear. Like the mist lifting from a mountaintop view, in a moment everything was laid out in front of me. I understood it all, I knew who had the secret and how they had got it. But now it was too late, the bird had flown.
I packed my bags and headed south towards the desert. There was no longer any need to continue the lie and head to the airport, I would return to Senegal to explain myself. As the four-by-four carried me through the Saharan expanse I fretted over the missed opportunity. The secret was exchanged right in front of me, in front of all of us, but we hadn’t known it.
"Stop, STOP". I remembered where I had heard that before: in the hammam. It had been the plaintive cry that Bob and Peter had given to the masseur as he manipulated their legs. Why had the masseur moved into another chamber to work on them? Of course it was obvious now, this was the moment the masseur had passed on the secret. The wiry Berber had given them each one half of the truth about the Argan tree. On its own each half was no use, but together it would unlock the secrets of the crop. Whoever was paying them wasn’t going to place their trust in a single agent.
When the rest of us were enjoying the final rooftop dinner, each eyeing the other with weary suspicion, they were back at the hotel. I think I can be fairly certain of the scene. Bob’s iPod, which I’d seen casually left around our room, was not what it seemed but instead a device for sending a coded message back to their masters. Of course they would have needed an aerial. I can’t believe I took their multiple walking poles at face value; they were obviously an ancillary part of the transmitting equipment. I don’t know who was paying them, and I never will, this pair were far too good to leave any tracks.
After a day’s travel, and still with a heavy heart, I prepared to sleep under a clear Mauritanian night sky. Then I received a call. The word was that a hive of jogoo bees, creators of the world’s finest honey, had been located in Tanzania. A local goatherd was willing to lead the highest bidder to it. I reset my compass. The next day I would become Richard Hanney, a Canadian mining engineer, and join an exodus tour group to the top of Kilimanjaro.