By Fred A. Reed
When I mentioned to a dear old friend that I was contemplating writing about rain, he immediately sent me the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Going to Fall. After reading the words closely I concluded that such a rain was not what I had in mind.
The idea of precipitation as a portent of foreboding also found powerful expression more than twenty years ago in a Macedonian film called Before the Rain. In that tiny country wracked by “ancestral hatred,” a coming storm prefigures the descent into chaos, civil strife and social dismemberment. I had been to Macedonia back then (now they call it “North Macedonia" to please the Greeks). I could smell the oncoming downpour and saw what it could bring. That wasn’t my subject either
It, too, is evoked in Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, a story that chronicles the self-destruction of a house whose inhabitants have died in a world-ending nuclear war. Told from the house’s point of view, Bradbury’s tale is an excursion into terminal darkness. Incorporated into his Martian Chronicles, it helped give shape to my horror not only of such a war, but also of those who would justify one. Was that my subject?
For the songwriter/poet, the filmmaker and the author, there is nothing innocent about rain: it threatens, foreshadows, and ends with a whisper of annihilation.
None of the above for me. Instead I wanted to write about rain in a place where it almost never rains. That place would be Agadir, our hometown overlooking the Atlantic, where for nearly a year only a few hours of fine mist had fallen. Until the rain — the real thing —began at last.
Here, the absence of rain is not taken lightly. When rain does fall, melting snow from the Atlas mountains eventually finds its way into the irrigation systems that have made this place an international exporter of citrus fruit, and a vital producer of vegetables, not to mention bananas. Without water, all would wither and die. Millions would lose their livelihoods. Drought was no idle threat. No metaphor. It was real.
As month after rainless month came and went, and the King himself called for prayers, quiet desperation began to set it. Even though there were no tourists, people began to notice that golf courses continued to be watered. The swimming pools of empty hotels were still full of water. Indignation simmered just below the surface when nightly water cuts began.
The local water authority reduced the flow. You thought twice before you turned on the tap. Filled buckets, just in case.
And then, surging out of the mid-Atlantic, came the storm. From our third-floor window we watched the sheet lightening on the horizon, then the squalls as they swept over the port and the town itself until the rain reached us with a rush, pounding against the glass.
These were hard rains, but they brought happiness not dismay; euphoria not gloom. And after the first impact, the downpour modulated into showers. Was it our imagination or was there a certain sprightliness in the step of passers-by? No, their reaction was real enough. People were smiling even more than usual in a town where people smile a lot. A town where getting wet warmed the heart. Rain as divine mercy.
We decided to take advantage of a break in the weather to go for a quick stroll along the seafront Promenade. Others had the same idea. The day was bracing: steel grey waves came crashing onto the beach; gulls wheeled and swooped in the wind. But our interlude ended as soon as it began. Heavy drops began to fall again. We took shelter at Jour et nuit, our favourite café, and sat down under a banyan where, we reasoned, the wide glossy leaves would provide shelter. Just long enough for us to gulp down a glass of nouss-nouss— half hot coffee, half frothed milk — in the event.
Out on the Promenade an itinerant vendor suddenly appeared, hawking umbrellas. Business was brisk. But as the rain increased in intensity, so did the wind. Before long the sparkling new umbrellas, including the vendor’s, had been blown inside out.
Six days later, the storm finally exhausted, fine weather settled over our town. The rain had scrubbed the skies, washed the streets, left mud in hollows and tufts of fresh grass sprouting atop rubbish heaps. Soon one of those everyday miracles of nature would clothe the obdurate earth with tiny wildflowers.