A/N: I do not own "Casablanca." I hope to make this story as short as possible, so I'll actually finish it.
I am not a noble woman. In the time I spent in Casablanca, I behaved no better than anyone else—the desperate refugees, the crooks who fed on them, the cowardly French policemen who obeyed the Nazis, the indifferent American saloon keeper Rick Blaine—I did as bad or worse than any of them. (Of course none of us were as bad as the Nazis, but I do not count the Nazis as people; my sweet sister Rachel would say they were human beings, only misguided. She's the noble one.) I was only another refugee, drinking away my problems in Rick's Café American, waiting to obtain an illegal exit visa to escape to America.
The only thing that, perhaps, made me different from others in that city was that I was an artist. Not a very imaginative one. But I could draw what I saw, and remember it to tell others. I had an artist's curiosity that caused me to ask questions no one else in Casablanca would ask, and I wound up collecting many peoples' stories. Not of anyone terribly important, mind. I never much became involved with the great Victor Laszlo or that beautiful woman who traveled with him, nor Captain Renault or even Rick. I kept myself safely away from "big" people. But the refugees and the criminals I came to know very well.
I came to Casablanca when I was twenty-six, to await my sister and her children. The Nazis had taken her husband. She and her children were in hiding in the cellar of their Christian neighbors, in Nazi-controlled Poland. I, meanwhile, had been traveling around Europe. I'd left Poland at eighteen to explore Europe, originally to find inspiration for my drawing, but soon I was just trying to avoid the Nazis. I wound up in Casablanca, en route to the Americas. I wrote to my sister, saying that she should bring her son and daughter here as soon as possible, and that I would have the means for us to leave when she did. She wrote back, saying that she would be here as soon as she could. When she would reach Morocco, I had no idea. I came to Casablanca with the clothes on my back, and the money in my purse. I would have to find a place to live for the time being, and a way to pay for it. I didn't know what the market for a sketch artist was in this city. Fortunately, I found an apartment almost right away, with a Frenchwoman named Yvonne Le Fleur.
Yvonne was waiting in Casablanca for her wealthy father, a banker, who had sent her there a couple of years earlier. She hadn't heard from him in several months, when I moved in. She worked as a seamstress in the daytime, and spent her nights enjoying the Moroccan nightlife. It was as if there were two of her. When I first arrived at the apartment in the mid-afternoon, and asked Yvonne if I might fill the wanted position of roommate, she was dressed in plain work clothes, with her gold-red hair pined up into a messy bun, having just returned from the market place. We spoke in English, the only language both of us knew.
"Yes of course, come on in." Yvonne had a low soft voice made more elegant by her fluid French accent, a voice I admired—almost envied. "I hope your journey wasn't too troublesome." Her courtesy was genuine, but her tired smile was forced. "I can perhaps help you find work. Come with me to Rick's Café American tonight, and you might find someone. There are always businessmen there, perhaps you can find someone looking for work, Miss…?"
"Sofia Beckman," I said, which was a lie.
Yvonne wasn't stupid. She probably knew that the German name didn't match my Polish accent. But perhaps my Jewish features kept her from prying. So she just smiled sweetly and said, "Pleased to meet you Sofia."
"Call me Sofie."
That evening when Yvonne stepped out of her bedroom, smelling of rose perfume, she was completely transformed. I might have been looking at a movie star, with her glamorous makeup and a glittering white top, her red hair lying in natural curls. Earlier that day, I'd found time to wash my one change of clothes, which consisted of a plain black skirt and a buttoned up white shirt, and my matching black suit coat. I tried to brush my black hair into curls like hers, but failed. I dabbed on some cover-up make-up from my purse, and colored my lips with my three-year-old lipstick, and we were off.
The café was like no place I'd ever been before. I heard every sort of accent I knew of, saw people of every color seated at fine tables, and all interacting with each other, as if the differences of their accents or races were of no more consequence than that of their hair color. I felt instantly safe, for it was so unlike the world the Nazis had created. A black man played the piano, in a gold suit, and was cheered by everyone. I tried not to be caught staring, but I'd never seen a black man in person before. I found it remarkable, how un-remarkable he was; just like any other enthused piano player I'd seen, but just some shades darker. Over here sat an Oriental woman, conversing with an Italian man; over there, a French couple was playing cards with an Arab woman in a Moslem headdress. For the first time in many years, I felt no fear about anyone noticing my large Jewish nose or tanned complexion. I fantasized that this might be what the afterlife would be like. It would make sense, all the souls of the world now—
My head turned sharply when I heard a German accent mention "the Fuher." Some Nazi soldiers were seated at a table, laughing over some drinks. I gasped and grabbed Yvonne's arm.
Yvonne glanced at me, then at the Nazis. "Yes, they come here too. Everyone comes to Rick's. Don't worry Sofie, they cannot harm you. The French control Casablanca, not the Nazis. Just stay out of their way, and don't be caught doing anything illegal."
One of the Nazis' heads began to turn, and I looked away before our eyes could meet. I brought my hand up over my nose, pretending it needed a scratch. Yvonne strode slowly to the bar with total confidence.
Seating herself at the bar and folding her arms on the counter elegantly, she said to the bartender, "Hello Sascha."
The tall lanky man whirled around, and blinked at Yvonne. "Yvonne!" he said with an exaggerated enthusiasm. "You look more beautiful tonight than you ever have!" his accent was Russian.
"You say that every night Sascha," Yvonne gave a laugh. "Sascha, I want you to meet my new friend Sofie. She is living with me now. I've brought her here to find a job in Casablanca. I'll buy a drink for her and myself."
"Oh Yvonne," I shook my head, "You really don't need,"
Yvonne touched my shoulder. "Yes, you need a drink Sofie. You need to loosen up if you hope to have a decent conversation with any employers. Or anyone else you might need to speak with."
I could read the subtext. Like a black-market visa broker.
Sascha and I were introduced, and I immediately liked him. His had a very comical personality. It wasn't exactly that he told a lot of jokes, just that so much of what he said had that over-the-top tone of voice, and occasionally was accompanied by some silly sound he'd make, like, "Rick! The Germans—bo-bo-bo-bo-boom!—wish to pay their check!" I felt at times like I was inside a cartoon short, speaking to one of the silly characters. Not halfway through my drink, I was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe.
"Yvonne, your friend, she is turning lovely colors!" Sascha said, which made me laugh harder. "I think I may have killed her!"
Yvonne leaned over the counter and kissed Sascha on the cheek. "I forgive you."
What exactly his relationship with Yvonne was, I wasn't immediately sure. They might have been an item, or perhaps just friends who flirted now and then. Whatever the relationship was, Sascha seemed to take it far more seriously than Yvonne did. She laughed at his jokes and smiled at his compliments, but the few she gave back to him seemed half out of humor. Sascha on the other hand scarcely took his eyes off her.
The three of us conversed for perhaps an hour, with Sascha running back and forth between sentences to serve other patrons. We got into a discussion about the architecture of Morocco, and I mentioned a beautiful mosque I'd seen earlier that day. This lead to a conversation about going to church.
"I never attend church except on Christmas and Easter," Sascha said shaking his head, pouring a drink for a German refugee. "Church is for getting baptized, married and buried. Are you a churchgoing lady, Miss Sofie?"
I nervously glanced behind me at the Nazis. They were engaged in some enthusiastic conversation, taking no notice of me.
"Aaah," Sascha seemed to understand. "We'll not talk about that subject here. Forgive me."
I smiled thankfully at him, fiddling with my cloth napkin. I was silent for a while, letting Yvonne and Sascha talk with each other. Yvonne asked Sascha a lot of questions about the café's owner, Rick. If they asked my opinion on something, I smiled and shrugged, or made some sound, pretending to pay attention.
I finally cleared my throat. "I…need to use the restroom…I'll be back." I glanced at Yvonne, wondering how I could subtly ask her to come along.
Yvonne looked up at me, her face resting on her hand. Her expression changed, as she looked carefully at my face. "Oh. Yes I…think I will join you." She smiled at Sascha and said quietly, "I'll be back."
Someone was in one of the stalls when we arrived, so Yvonne and I pretended to check our hair and makeup in the mirrors. After the other woman had washed her hands and left the restroom, Yvonne glanced my way. "What is it Sofie?"
"I need exit visas." I whispered. "I don't know how this business is conducted here. How I am to find the right people, how I find out who to trust,"
Yvonne nodded. "Of course." She glanced around, as if to be sure no one was in the room with us. "I am no expert at this, but I know of at least two names. One is Captain Renault, the French head of police here. He is a good friend of Rick's, I know. What I hear, he charges a fortune for an exit visa, unless the customer is a beautiful lady."
I turned this over in my mind. Were my sister Rachel in my position, she'd probably have been horrified at the idea. Rachel was the sort who thinks carefully about the meanings of her actions, and whether she'll regret them in the future. I on the other hand…I've never been bothered by many of the same things that others are. I weighted the pros and cons of the situation. I was single, so I felt I had no one to hurt by considering this. Were I to sleep with this Captain Renault, I would obtain the visas for my family, keeping my money for important uses for our journey to America. The experience would also satisfy the sexual curiosity and frustration I'd been feeling for a long time now. And if I should become pregnant, I could simply tell people that my child's father had died in the War. I could still get married someday, give that child a family and…But then, what kind of a person might that child grow to be? I'd have no way of knowing, if I didn't even know the father. I was a risk I'd rather not take.
"Who is the other one?" I asked Yvonne.
"Ugarte." She said. "He is also a friend of Rick's. He will only accept money, as far as I know. Then again, I doubt he's ever been offered anything else. He's not exactly the tall handsome type, you know. He charges much less than Renault, or so I hear. I would highly recommend seeking him out."
"All right," I said. "Can you perhaps point him out to me?"
Yvonne looked to the side, thinking it over. "I think maybe I'll just tell you now what he looks like, so you can find him yourself. He's not difficult to miss. He spends a lot of time at the Roulette wheel, so try looking there. Or just ask people if they know where he is, he is well known here. He's a small man, around your height. Dark. His eyes," she squinted, as if she wasn't entirely sure how to describe him, "He has very large eyes, sort of sad looking. His voice stands out also…sort of…I don't even know," she shook her head.
"What kind of an accent does he have?" I asked. "I don't know what kind of name that is, Ugateh…"
"Ugarte. The name is Italian, I believe. But his accent is Hungarian. I don't know what his story is." she shrugged. "Anyway, just keep your eyes opened for a sad, strange little man, and you'll probably see him."
I nodded. "Thank you. Yvonne, thank you so much."
She looked at me, with her small eyes, and moved her mouth in not-quite a smile.
After we exited the restroom, we ran into Rick Blaine. He and Yvonne apparently knew each other.
"Will I see you tonight Rick?" Yvonne asked hopefully.
Rick gently took her chin, and smiled back. "Can you meet me around ten, and we'll grab a bite to eat?"
The date was set, and then they kissed, on the lips. After they broke apart, Yvonne remembered my presence.
"Oh! Rick. My new roommate, Sofie Beckman."
"Please to meet you," Rick nodded politely, and we were awkwardly introduced.
Sascha called Rick over to the bar with some business. Once the café owner's back was turned, Yvonne looked to the ground sadly, pressing her temple with two fingers.
"Sofie," she shook her head. "What you must think of me. I don't want to hurt Sascha you know. I like Sascha. But Rick, one can't help but love him. Oh you must think I'm—"
"Yvonne, I don't…it's not my business. Listen, even if I am thinking some things about you, they probably won't last. My first impressions of everyone I meet are always completely wrong, so I put no stock in them anymore. After I've known you for more than one day, maybe then I'll start to criticize you." I smiled, in a way I hoped was comforting to her.
The corner of Yvonne's mouth made a half-smile for a moment, while she looked away from me vacantly. Yvonne returned to the bar. I meanwhile went to find this Ugarte.
I asked around, and soon found Ugarte by the roulette wheel, sipping a drink. I sat among a small crowd of onlookers, watching the game. Observing Ugarte, I took in all I could of what kind of a man he was, and whether I could trust him. He looked positively exhausted, his large eyes always shaded by heavy lids, his eyebrows turned up as though he were worried about something. But he was smiling and socializing with the others in the game, as though nothing were bothering him, so perhaps his face was just naturally carved that way. My first impression of Guillermo Ugarte was that of a quiet, mild-mannered man, probably taking questionable measures to make a living, but otherwise just another refugee, trying to relax and distract himself from the war. That first impression was, as usual, dead wrong.
I've tried to write this in a way that sounds like the way an immigrant woman, whose first language is not English, might say things. But I've edited these first four chapters, to make the narration easier to read; the idea being that the narrator has become better at speaking English years later, so while her dialogue will be written in broken English, her narration will be written more normally.
Most of the back-stories about these characters are just based on my own personal speculation. The situation with Yvonne, Rick, and Sascha was inspired by another fanfic writer's story on this website. As for Ugarte's first name being Guillermo, I just took that from what a few sources on the internet say.
The woman in this picture is taken from a screencap from the movie (from a website that I believe is public domain). It's a background woman with no name. But she is seen sitting next to Ugarte when the police come for him, and seems to look with concern when he walks away with them. So I've snagged this nameless background character and made her my Mary Su—er, well-developed, original character.