Burying Memories

El Shatby Historic Cemeteries, Alexandria, Egypt

A saunter around the archeological site sounded like a marvelous idea. Walking takes your mind off things and only God knew how much I needed that. It had rained the night before and the sand felt soft under my feet.

Suddenly, I saw a heap of stones that caught my eye. The collection of relics was comprised of a series of white pillars, all different heights and forming a circle around a statue resting on a rectangular stone plinth. All the pieces were numbered. The statue was of two hugging figures wearing himations. Their embrace looked sad, almost as if it had arisen from the depths of despair. These historical gems rested on a platform about a palm’s length above the ground. Its surface was covered with short perennial plants whose green had been tempted by darkness.

I resumed my stroll. Walking had proven more effective than any drug in clearing my head. Then, however, I started to feel as though something was off. It seemed to me that the statues on the site were casting me a withering glance. I felt naked. I turned around, confirmed that I was by myself and pressed forward. Further ahead I found what I first mistook for a well, but then realized it was actually a column that had been hollowed out from years of exposure to the elements. Then I saw a beheaded Sphinx. Wow! That place was such a rich repository of the past! I loved it.

I few steps down the path, I stumbled upon the grave of Ash-Shatby. The octagonal marble tombstone had the color of the clouds gliding across the blue sky at the moment. The site was by the sea, and from where I was standing, I could see the tide rising. Next to the grave was another thick column, and more of the aforementioned plants, which belonged to the same plant family as those you would expect to find growing in hell, carpeted the ground.

I still hadn’t been able to figure out why I had chosen that particular spot to process my thoughts—although I suspected that spending the last two months with my brain working overtime in order to achieve a certain level of pith while writing poetry had predisposed me to seek the traces of earlier civilizations. Yet, I certainly didn’t regret finding myself there. I recalled feeling drained of energy after my last excursion to this paradisiacal location—because I had to spend several months trying to elucidate how the place had inspired me—but certainly not of gumption and sense of purpose, which were the only virtues that could either ease my misery or put me out of it for good.

Night had fallen and it promised to become a very dark one. I could see there were still a few other people wandering around the site. One had to let culture marinate in the mind to interpret its expressions accurately and that took time.

Suddenly, I was taken aback by a statue that was the spitting image of the girl I loved. I felt as if I were seeing her reflection on a TV screen. I still remembered her smile, even though she ditched me for another guy who owned a hundred-square-meter apartment two years ago. “Writing poetry doesn’t put food on the table,” echoed her parents’ words, admonishing her to pick wisely. My desperate attempts to forget about her had all failed dismally. I wished I could cut her silhouette out from the horizon and take her back home with me. Thankfully, dreaming was still free of charge.


Written by Mohammed Ahmed Fouad.