My Town

Street in Damietta, Egypt

It’s half past ten and the sun paints my room gold. Like a retired vampire, I am awaiting nightfall in order to go out. The streets summon me as I bask in the warmth of the sun’s rays clinging to my back. They caress me softly without forcing me to close my eyes. I walk aimlessly, with a head free of windmills. The streets are still empty; the children are trapped in school. I could stroll around forever. Everything in my town is within walking distance. I even think about bundling it up and thrusting it in my pocket: the narrow entrance to my grandmother’s house; the small wooden boat on the shelf; the shelf next to the photo albums that play music when opened; my favorite café; my old place; the street with the church on it; the street with my old school; the uncomfortable benches of the Nile Corniche; the girls that mesmerize us with their beautiful voices as the evening wears on, whose countenances blanch with apprehension at my leering; the smell of fish baked in sea salt, which, despite being who I am, I have no taste for; the Mosque of the Sea, which takes up the whole street and is sore at me for shirking my religious duties; the commemorative statue whose subject matter I no longer know and whose date of dedication I cannot recall.

A little mermaid comes into and recedes from view. She once had a place in my mind that she suddenly forsook. Like Nessie, the moment I see her, she is gone again as if the encounter had simply been a figment of my imagination. Whispering in my ear, she highlights my melodramatic skills. Today is the last day I am allowed to move freely. There are no orders to follow and no one to seek permission from. Tomorrow, I will be devoured by the departed, I will render up this poor devil’s body to become their customary pound of flesh.

“Everything comes to an end,” says a swan in socks that starts to sway on its feet as though it wanted to put its recently acquired article of clothing to the test. Its logic dazzles me. Tomorrow I will be joining the army. That may be why the world today seems a riot of color. I find the women I see even more alluring than their fairy-tale counterparts. All the streets merge into one road that I am now leaving behind forever. I won’t look back. Perhaps the swan’s statement is not as apodictic as it seems.

As the café welcomes me with open arms, I lean back against one of its chairs. I have sat on all of them in the game of musical chairs. I tried a different one every day until there were no new options left. That is when I realized I had to get up and leave. Now I understand that I love her, even while I hate myself and my circumstances, more than I care to admit. The little mermaid shows up again to whisper in my ear. “I will find a way,” she says, “an effective magic solution. I have thought about transplanting this place to some uncharted territory, a location where it can’t be found.” I suddenly find myself smiling—all because of a boy who was obsessed with dice. It was only a matter of time before his fixation with the road would drive him around the bend.


Written by Eslam Ashry.

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Choose your own adventure

My town takes on a new dimension when I am about to skip off to put my life on the line

a) for my country.

b) in order to perpetuate the belief that reality should stay as depicted in the image.