It was in October, I think, when I first brought up that I wanted to go to Morocco. My father was hesitant about my plans. He doesn’t travel much outside of the country, especially to places he knows so little about. It would be the first time we traveled alone together.

My mother had just left him. It wasn’t always official– until recently, that is, when she moved out of the house and filed for a divorce. He never told me this, nor talked about it in front of me, and I really appreciated that. He didn’t want to come on this trip with me all by himself because the relatives might find out about the news, and he was keen on keeping things as they were: without judgment.

My father eventually agreed to come with me, since I was very insistent about this trip being a “father and son” kind of trip. I haven’t spent any long period of time with him, at least not since I was about thirteen. I never longed for any fatherly figures in my life because of it. But he seemed lonely. I don’t know any people in his life besides myself, and I’m usually thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world. I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to have the only person you love so far away from you. They’re having the best time of their life, and you’re nowhere close to being in their lives.

I started to regret the trip when we stepped on the plane at JFK. Fuck. I wouldn’t know how to talk to him. I’m very particular about my travel companions, and I couldn’t fathom my father being on my side all the time for the next month. He’s not going to like who I am, how I talk, how I drink, how I go about in the real world. I was overthinking, paranoid, and scared, just like any young person would be these days. Then I look over to him sitting on my left, excited, anxious to travel once again. Yeah, I’d do it for him.

12/18/2018, Casablanca 

After dinner, he urged me to go on a walk with him, in the city. You could just go alone, I told him with an indifferent tone, but the sight of the streets from above was quite enchanting. He followed me through the streets of the old town tirelessly, closely behind. There were a lot of people; he held his bag close.

“Stand over there, let me get a photo of you.” My father proceeded to act like an Asian tourist, crouched down, preparing his shot. Against my instinct, I complied in shot after shot.

12/20/2018, Rabat

We had breakfast on the terrace of this little riad in the middle of the old city, overlooking the imminent sunrise. When he finished, my father lit up a cigarette as he looked to the direction of the sun. Behind him was the Kasbah, cast in rays of light that made it look like fire. He finished his cigarette without a word, took out his phone, and took a photo of the cityscape.

He was especially quiet; not being able to speak any French or English made him very tame, which I’m not used to. I tried my best to translate all the information for him, but he always had more questions. I kept telling him it’s not too late to learn another language, especially if you want to travel around and see more of the world. My father would often avoid my eye: “Where am I gonna go? Plus, I’ve got you.” Then I would divert my own gaze, knowing that the next time I travel with him or even see him could be many moons away.

12/24/2018, Merzouga

“The dunes faraway look different than the ones we’re standing on.” My father lights up another cigarette. “I like that color much more.”

“The light reflects differently to your eyes when you’re far.”

“The dunes up there are prettier, Let’s go climb that one.”

All I was concerned about was getting lost. It’s very easy to lose direction in the desert if you’re not a bird. Then again, you don’t really see birds flying above in the desert.

“I’m heading back, do whatever you want.” There was no hesitation in my voice.

It was stupid not to bring water. Regardless, he stayed up there among the dunes until sundown.

“You should’ve seen it, everything was on fire.”

12/27/2018, Ouarzazate

We were having couple of beers when the prayer call began. He asked me about the movies that were shot here and listened attentively while I talked about them. There was no doubt he knew little about any of these films, but I can see he enjoyed listening to me talk about my passions. Growing up I was always annoyed about his endless questions concerning my day, what I did, and so on. I often said little to get him off my back, but it never worked. I don’t remember if I had ever said this much to him in one conversation.

“You want to make a film here?”

“Yes, of course. More than anything.”

“You will.” 

In Marrakech, my father asked me to not talk about my mother if anybody asked. There’s a lot of regret whenever he mentions her name, a lot of resentment. I took away his beer, told him he was drunk, and said I won’t say anything if anybody inquires. He got really quiet, perhaps recounting what went wrong along the way. For the rest of his life, he’s going to be alone and I’ll be the only one there for him. It’s a crumbling, immense pressure to know that you are the only person that matters in someone’s life. The idea haunts me way more than it haunts my father. Drunk from the beer, he slumbered into the night, and left me with nightmares in Marrakech.

Leo Zhang’s “Song For My Father” won third prize in the Sixth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. He is a junior majoring in Film who wishes not to die within five miles from where he was born.