Next Stop: Paradise

Refugee camp

It was an icy-cold winter night. Silence reigned. Only the wind could be heard.

She turned her eyes to the sky. Clouds had rolled up and hidden the moon, which certainly didn’t bode well.

Suddenly, her heart started racing. He was back. She could tell it was him, despite the darkness, because of his nauseating smell.

He threw a bucket of cold water over one of the girls knowing her screaming would wake up the rest. He then went to grab one of the younger girls, but she scooted away from him, running to hide behind her mother. She, in turn, started pleading with him to have mercy on his own daughter, but that only seemed to enrage him. Without even bothering to try and verbalize his anger, he swung his rifle and smashed first the mother’s and then the daughter’s head with its butt. The rest of the women started bellowing hysterically when they saw the blood gushing out of their friends’ heads, but he didn’t even flinch. Instead, he grabbed another one of ...Read more

My City

Madinet Zefta, street view, Egypt

The small city I call home lies on the Nile Delta. It’s a very peaceful place, where the wind’s moaning can be heard, and hence, everyone treasures silence. Most of its residents are either farmers or work at the local cotton ginneries. The city, which is the capital of a province that includes several villages and is known for having been politically significant in the past, houses some schools and governmental buildings, and its edges peter out into bucolic countryside, where the warbling of birds and the crowing of cock fuses with the bray of ass and the grunts of camels, as well as with the yelling of the vendors on its streets. The locals are good-faithed people who take life as it comes and don’t fret over anything. Their leave-for-tomorrow-what-cannot-be-done-today general attitude slows life down. Even the conversations they so effortlessly hold expand until it almost seems like they won’t ever cease. Their carefree ways are certainly enviable. There is never a problem that is ...Read more

On Top of the Museum

Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

All eyes were fixed on her. She was standing on the roof of the Egyptian Museum, right on top of the main entrance. Nobody knew how she had gotten there and she could barely remember it herself. She looked like she was about to jump.

One could tell the people on the ground were scared. They were running around like headless chickens. Some yelled at her that she should come to her senses and get down from there.

She was an unemployed widow without means to provide for her children. The country’s spiraling inflation hadn’t helped either. She had heard people talk on the news about the loan Egypt was going to receive from the International Monetary Fund, as well as about Egypt’s policy of letting its pound float free. She didn’t have a clue as to what all that yapping was about, but she wondered why anyone would want them to starve to death. Then, one day, she ...Read more

On the Inner Outsider

I don’t know why, but I am infatuated with this café, even though I didn’t get what I came here for the first time I stepped inside. In comparison, I felt like this eensy-weensy thingy, for the café is an institution nonpareil that provides a public forum for the locals, where they are welcomed to pour their hearts out without having to keep a civil tongue in their heads. One has to be wary of being ripped off, though, for what is set on the tables tastes like sheer ambrosia for good reason: fancy don’t come cheap. The fine sea views its windows give wound up prevailing on me and I sat down on one of its chairs and forked out some money for a drink.

I had just bought two books, mainly to look smarter than what my age made me seem. I was looking for someone with whom to engage in stimulating conversation and had been told to come here.

Time went by, but the increasingly-crowded café ...Read more

Playing God

Borg Rashid, Markaz Rasheed, El Beheira Governorate, Egypt

To her feet, she asked: “Why do you keep dragging me to this place?”

“Why do you keep punishing me?”, she enquired of her heart.

She was again on her way to Borg Rashid, the place where they used to meet and on which stones they used to carve a heart with their initials. Back then, it stood for hope for the future, because, coincidentally, it was also where the boats crossing illegally over to Europe chugged out to sea from.

They loved each other very much, but they couldn’t marry straight away. First, he had to raise enough money to be able to start a new family with her, as well as win her parents over. To see that happen, he resolved to pay them a visit. She tried to dissuade him from making the perilous journey by sea that traveling to where her parents lived entailed, but he was rather adamant in his decision and no amount ...Read more

Freelancer

Street in Cairo in 1906

I had moved to that flat over two years ago, and since, even the least ill-intentioned of taunts brought me to tears. The apartment was only comprised of the one room, where I had a small table to work on my computer and a window to the outside world. Aside from that, there was a bathroom opposite the room and a narrow, short and obstacle-ridden corridor leading to the entrance.

My landlord lived right underneath me. Sometimes, while sitting on the toilet, I felt observed and wondered whether he might have installed some camera inside of it. That better not be the case, though, if he cared to keep being able to pee while standing up.

I had been looking for a place to rent for a while before I stumbled on this apartment. I found it advertised on the website of a pizza restaurant. “An apartment for a beaver in Cairo’s old city, applicants are asked to keep their cool.” I called the number provided below, but ...Read more

The Unidentifiable

Khairat, El-Sayeda Zainab, Cairo

The speech of the honorable chief was being relayed live everywhere and his impassioned lecturing was even more unbearable than the honking cars outside. Through the TV screen, he asked, “Who are you?”, an existential question that kept everyone in the crowded café on their toes while waiting to catch the names of those being referred to; and all that collective excitement had to be handled without any sort of air conditioning, which had stopped working after the price of electricity had skyrocketed.

According to Mr. Star—the proud owner of the kiosk around the corner—the only way of reaching Rafiq’s place without being seen was taking the dark side alley. He also told me he hadn’t seen him leave his apartment in weeks. After giving me the papers I had asked for, he whispered, “Godspeed, míster!” Hence, I scooted off, the chief’s question, still echoing in my ears, and the patronizing smirk on his face, engraved in ...Read more

Out of Juice, but in Luck!

View from the car window of a road in Cairo, Egypt

I sprinted down the stairs and towards my car, which was parked close to the company building. I had to be careful not to trip and fall, for the tears that had welled up in my eyes were blurring my vision. I got into the car and started the engine. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, I just wanted to get away from there as fast as possible. With my mind still reeling after the shock of being fired, I asked myself, “Why me? What did I do to deserve the abuse they are subjecting me to?” I had always been a model employee to all intents and purposes. I had been commended by my superiors for my productivity and resourcefulness on numerous occasions. There was no reasonable explanation for what had just taken place. After losing my job, which constituted what my entire life had ...Read more

Miss D.

Markaz Tama, Sohag Governorate, Egypt

She swept the streets with the tail of her coat as she wended her way across the city. While trying to haul herself from the noxious hole she had fallen into the day she was born, she had unwittingly wound up dragging a token of her misery along.

The thought of ending her life had crossed her mind more than once. At nights, she beseeched God to guard her from all the evil surrounding her, and more specifically, from her flatmate Ruhiya. She was a weird woman who spent a third of her nights mumbling gibberish while staring at the stars. Any sensible God-fearing person would have been wary of her behavior. The townswomen, however, seemed to trust her and often turned to her for help. As payment, she demanded a jar of corn, a fist of wheat—a rare commodity around these parts—, or a few cubic feet of gas for lighting. Ruhiya had moved out of her old house because her entire family had died there ...Read more

A Vampire

Lake Qarun in Egypt, Faiyun Province

The electricity failed and the house sitting on the shore of Lake Qarun was plunged into pitch-black darkness. He counted on the reflection of his familiar surroundings on the still waters of the lake to allay his fears of hidden perils, but when he went out on the balcony, the moonless night revealed itself as more inclined to favor those with dubious intentions. An ominous silence prevailed. For a while, he just stood there, straining his senses to detect any sign that might point him to the proximity of the little beast that had fucked up his life before it loomed out of the darkness. He didn’t want to be caught off guard, because, not only had that ruthless bastard killed his father, who both him and his mother had loved dearly, by infecting him with a fatal disease, it had also set off the chain of events that had left them heavily in debt and had forced them to sell all their possessions, ...Read more