Mercy Street

Khorshid_awaed Rd, Al Khodrah, Markaz Kafr El-Dawar, El Beheira Governorate

After the service was over at al-Hamd Mosque, I headed out into the street. I couldn’t bring myself to recall the subject the sermon had touched on. It had not only been long and repetitive, but also atrociously rendered to boot. However, it had at least allowed me time to psych myself up for my upcoming appointment.

I crossed the paved road that ran parallel to the Mahmoudiyah Canal and arrived at the beginning of Mercy Street. In 500 meters, I would have to overcome what had kept me away from him for 35 years. He used to glare daggers at me, to the point where I began dreading the very idea of stumbling across him. It was only natural that all these years later I cringed at the thought of seeing him again, especially after estimating the amount of rage that must have welled up inside him over time. I walked gingerly, minding the gap between the train and the platform. After all, time does not pass in vain, ...Read more

Nostalgia

El Qanater el Khayreyya, Egypt

On the morning of the Sham Ennisim holiday, peace reigned in our town, save for our house, which had been set in motion at the crack of dawn. I had been the first to jump out of bed and had then scurried from room to room to wake up my parents, my sister, and my brothers.

“Hurry up, it’s time to go!”

I packed a whole rucksack with sandwiches and put Pepsi and water bottles in plastic bags while waiting for the rest of my family to fully dress and primp themselves. Finally, my father finished using the john and we stepped out of the house, closing the door behind us.

At noon, we arrived at a bustling city. We left the car close to a long bridge whose piers lay underwater. I looked at my dad and asked him, “Are these the Benevolent Bridges?” He replied in the affirmative.

We stopped to contemplate the clear waters of the river and the bridge’s arches, which looked like doorposts with water flowing through them. Afterward, we crossed ...Read more

The Self of the Heart and Other Innards

Nile at night with boats, Cairo, Egypt

Sami was lolling in the garden of the Nile’s island that lays in front of the Egyptian Opera House. He was surrounded by tall buildings and big boats that threw a blue glow on the calm waters of the river, lighting it up at night. In the background, he could hear the deafening music that was always blaring out of the speakers installed inside the boats, which took not only tourists but also locals for a brief trip along the Nile; they gave all those racked with pain a short break from their everyday lives. For almost half an hour, they could lose the crosses they had to bear onshore. Sami, however, was not paying heed to the music of the boats. He had his headphones on and was listening to music he had downloaded from the Internet, which acted as a magical world of sorts. It stood in stark contrast to the real world where one was forced to comply with the allotted default setting when listening to music, when entering the labor ...Read more

The Stranger

Tombstone of Port Saids cemetery, Egypt

My city earned a place in the history books when the first strike from a pickax was delivered to dig the Suez Canal. The city became famous not only among Egyptians, but also among foreigners, who started to arrive at it, wound up living in it, and eventually died in it. On the western side of the city, close to where the “beautiful” beach begins to stretch, one may bump into the fence of the old cemetery of Port Said. It is divided into different sections: one for the deceased who hailed from the Commonwealth, another for those who were Catholic, and yet another for those who were Orthodox Christians. Besides that, there are five sections for deceased Muslims. It has recently been expanded to include five new sections in the suburban slums of Abu Auf.

Upon accessing the foreigners section of the cemetery, I saw a heart-rending epitaph written on one of the tombstones. It read: “Dear son, rest in peace in this foreign land, which lies so far away from your loved ones who grieve for you.”

That is ...Read more

My Father and Mansoura Corniche

sunset over Mansoura Corniche

Roughly thirty years ago, on an otherwise seemingly ordinary afternoon, he looked different. His narrow chest, gruff voice, and steely eyes struck me that day as belonging to someone else, someone one would have expected to find at the Mansoura Corniche of the ’80s. Even as the schoolboy I was back then, I was able to tell he had quite suddenly become barely recognizable. I felt a sense of distance from him. As I sauntered alongside my father, I suddenly felt that he was no longer the man he used to be. From time to time, we stopped walking and our eyes drifted over to the opposite shore.

A foreign-sounding voice cut through the silence. “That is the al-Banna mosque.”

I looked to the place where his eyes were lingering. The mosque’s dome shimmered in the fading sunlight. It glowed green and majestic, standing in stark contrast to the darkness that had already descended over Talkha, the neighborhood where it was located. His voice was soft, much softer than what I knew it to be. But that was not ...Read more

The Donkey’s Mother

hombre en el Cairo con sacos de arena de fondo

Like any other employee at the buffet, I obey the orders of my plump boss, whose rotundity I am sure more than one or two people must have mistakenly ascribed at some point or another to some fatal disease. He shadows me relentlessly, watching my every move. He is probably more thorough at said task than an actual shadow would be, for even shadows, I am sure, must get tired of being gummmed to a person’s ass and wind up cutting their enslaved owners some slack. As soon as the diners lay down their cutlery, I clear all the empty plates from the tables in the hall and head toward the rudimentarily furnished kitchen, which nobody has bothered to equip with the implements needed to get the dishes properly scraped clean.

“Screw them!” I think to myself and then carry on heaping “praise” of that ilk on them, while fetching dish after dish with my work-roughened hands. For the life of me, I can’t say why I keep putting up with all this crap. ...Read more

The Revolution around the Corner

Shanrah Al Bahreyah, close to Tanta, Egypt

“In our town everything is organized. Everything is where it should be: the river, the trees, the old rural houses . . . All the elements that assemble our reality complement one another and establish an ideal symbiosis that rounds out the ensemble. The goldfinches sing beautifully while jumping from branch to branch, the morning breeze caresses the basil fields and wafts their sweet fragrance all over the place, dewdrops shine on the leaves of the trees . . . I seriously doubt there has ever been an artist—or ever will be, for that matter—as dexterous as to be able to match the beauty of this scenery with a painting.

“Everything is as peaceful as peace itself. I dare say even the notion of peace has more noise to it than the one reigning over this Paradise on earth. Even the trees observe the peace, for their sake and for the sake of the villagers. It is only the children who break the overall peace, snapping off twigs from the trees to build ...Read more

The Sacred Dream

Army checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid, Sinai Peninsula

The crackle of gunfire blares like a storm. The blistering heat is suffocating. The wind churns up the sand in this sour drama staged at the Sinai Peninsula by an army checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid. The small building is shored up with sand bags as if it were a fort. Muffled pants and groans can be heard coming from inside. As one approaches the scene, one sees an ailing soldier scrunched down on the floor with his hand pressed against his stomach. His blood is gushing out, soaking his vest and caking the dusty pavement. Another comrade in arms lies next to him in the same position, but he has already lost his life. Half his brains rest at the bottom of an eerie dark red pool. The wounded soldier gazes in fear and bewilderment at the young general who lies stretched out on the ground in front of him. You can see he is scared stiff by the way he clasps his machine gun, as if he could wring some sort of magic ...Read more

The Sea’s Memory

A beach in Alexandria: the sea in Egypt, with birds and waves

I was just taking my usual stroll along the sea, but the sea itself was behaving in a rather peculiar fashion. I stopped walking in an effort to better identify what exactly was weirding me out. Bingo! The stormy weather did not seem to be affecting the sea, which was looking as beautiful as ever, as if it were posing for a painting in which the navy blue was to be blanketed in a layer of sky blue and sedulously sprinkled with the white that was to depict both clouds and waves while lending the outcome a harmonic, magical air. I looked at the sea and a sensation of peace took hold of me. Suddenly, even though I tried to block them out, memories I believed I had rid myself of a long time ago came flooding back.

“Sea, what a mysterious creature you are! For thousands of years you have been by our side, listening to our stories and witnessing how our lives go by. All the same, you still somehow manage to strike us as both enticing and ...Read more

A Date on the Banks of the Nile

View over the Nile in Cairo

A beautiful smile allows inner beauty to shine through one’s shell. ’Cause, believe me, eyes are the window to the soul. A steely gaze is all it may take to win another person’s heart over. Attend the meeting: an itch to laugh, cry, and hold one’s breath.

Now that I have polished up my infamous seduction skills and sharpened my wit, I am ready to buckle down to my task. I glance at my watch. It is still early. My reflection on the window of the car parked on the side of the road stares back at me. A current of air has disheveled my coif. I therefore fish a small comb out of my pocket and rake it through my hair to make myself look smart again. I examine my shoes. The outside has already started to strike out at my spotless veneer of self-maintenance with its filthy tentacles. I get a napkin, bend down, and wipe them clean with a few graceful strokes.

First, we will walk for a while along the Nile side by side. While she slides her gaze over the sunset, her ...Read more

Choose your own adventure

Our minds are beleaguered with

a) ghosts lurking in dark chambers.

b) a reality in which the past doesn’t encroach upon the territory reserved for the present to spiral down.