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

Natural Disasters

Ad Daljamun, Ad Delgamon, Kafr El-Zayat, Egypt

Lightning lights up the night sky. A shiver runs up my spine. Perhaps, I ought to take the storm as a good omen. However, I can’t wait for this daunting night to be over. I return home, crawl into bed and throw a thick blanket over my head.

The sky has not yet cleared when I wake up the next morning. It seems daylight might never fully break again. I feel blue, as if my intention were to make up for how the sullen skies are shining. I get dressed, in the hope that, by the time I am ready to step out the door, the sky’s wrath has petered out. Once again, I come to realize that I am guilty of wishful thinking.

Hence, I sit down with the rest of my family to stuff myself with food and idle the day away, mostly, in silence, for none of us are any good at entertaining an audience with words. We just eyeball each other, while trying to find something to say. ...Read more

Back at Bab Al Louq

Bab Al Louq, Cairo, Egypt

I decided to spend a few minutes observing him from afar before letting him know I had arrived. He was like a magnet, like what the homeland is to those who have been forced into exile, like the family one wrongly thought one could live without. I looked at him while he smoked, taking one puff after another. I had had mixed feelings about our rendezvous. With every step I had taken to get to where I was, I had felt tempted to turn around. And suddenly, I had arrived, at the Souq El Hamediya café, the agreed place, where he was already waiting for me. He looked up, saw me and chuckled. He had cleaned up well enough to let the handsome show through. On this occasion, he seemed to have gone the extra mile to impress, attire-wise, at least. And he certainly had achieved his goal. I immediately lamented having missed out on giving birth to that jolly man’s children.

He stood up to greet ...Read more

Ramadan Where I Live

Mosque in Alexandria, Egypt

I feel on top of the world: Ramadan just started. The Mahmoudiyah Canal glistens in the moon light. It is crammed with ships. Ali Samra, who has a special gift for remembering people’s names, picks us, kids, up to go from house to house bringing seasonal greetings to everyone. We sing in unison to the beat of his drum. We may not qualify for assembling a great symphony orchestra, but at least, we are having fun.

We kick off the day by meeting in front of the mosque to play in the water coming from the outdoor faucet installed between two palm trees. My grandfather, Abdel Razaq, whose appearance matches that of the typical eighty-year-old who has squeezed the most out of life, always to be seen covering his chrome dome with a checkered skull cap, comes prancing by. He doesn’t use his walking stick during Ramadan. He claims to feel rejuvenated by the sense of joy floating in the air. Word has ...Read more

An Art Like Any Other

Cairo, Egypt

An elderly lady hands me a few coins, but I still need to make more cash before I can call it a day. My father won’t let me return home unless I have bagged a minimum of three hundred Egyptian pounds.

I am sitting curled up on the pavement with my arms wrapped around my legs. The temperature plummets when night falls. I have warmer clothes at home, but I am not allowed to wear them while at work. According to my father, I will be more successful arousing pity if I shiver. I see a young couple approaching. He tries to take her hand, but she jerks it back. That is what I call a great target. Pulling a long face, I go ask them for some spare change. She looks sad and defenseless, almost more so than myself. The boy glances at me, reproachfully? Pityingly? It doesn’t matter: it worked. He reaches for the wallet in his pocket, takes a banknote out of it and tosses it over to ...Read more

The Land of Gold

 Corridor of Sphinxes, Luxor, Karnak, Egypt

I recall thinking that I had to be dreaming, for I was unable to believe my eyes the first time I set them on the archeological site.

I took the road flanked by sphinxes to get from Luxor to Karnak Temple and continued walking until reaching the Sacred Lake, which was certainly a sight to behold. Priests used to inhabit these temples and worship the giant scarab of stone located at the front. It used to be a place of pilgrimage for women seeking to conceive. Now, tourists circle it, in the hope that it may somehow bring them luck. The first time I went around it, I wished to become a tourist guide someday and be able to return to that place with a party of tourists eager to catch pearls of wisdom from my lips. Now that my dreams have come true, when I round it, I giggle inwardly like the girl I used to be back then and ask ...Read more

Everyone Has their Own One True God

Saint Catherine's Monastery close to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

The year is 2066. I don’t know the exact date. It’s winter, though: that I can say for certain. I know I shouldn’t be writing on the back of a historical papyrus that has been kept zealously inside a monastery for centuries, but I can’t find anything else to write on and, since I don’t know how much time I have left to live, I figure I’d better not waste it in trying to come up with a better solution.

By the time we held our sixth biannual meeting, there was no denying that the end of times was upon us. Dense clouds had swallowed the sun and everything on the ground had frozen to death. Helios probably didn’t want to witness what was about to go down.

Since they cut out my tongue three years ago–as they did to each of the guardians of the monastery—I have been devoting all my time to ...Read more

An Excursion to the Graveyard

Shanway WA Kafr Al Badranah, Ashmoun, Menofia Governorate, Egypt

Women stricken with grief and its derivates lose their ability to conceive. Plus, her husband started spending most nights away after their daughter passed. As it happened, he silently pressed their daughter’s doll into her hands and its hair had become the only thing that was able to lull her to sleep since. She uses the time awake in bed to figure out how she will manage to regain her composure the next morning. Her husband had gone to the wild and caught the snake that her mother-in-law had thrown at her to scare away the evil spirit she was convinced her daughter-in-law was harboring and free her from it, so that she could become pregnant again.

Her daughter’s complexion turned blue the last time she held her in her arms. She recalled kissing her on the forehead, smelling her hair, stroking her skin, which had started to lose its elasticity and moisture, and wiping tears from her cheeks ...Read more

A Dotted Sky

Bayt al-Suhaymi, Cairo, Egypt

The sun warmed her head. The asphalt boiled under her feet as she treaded warily down the street between rows of warped buildings which seemed to bend towards her, as if wanting to squash her, syncopate her and thus turn her into an expression that has lost its meaning. She was indeed already feeling the symptoms, for she could only think in phrases with a mangled syntax that impaired her ability to interpret her surroundings and left her standing in awe. She rubs against reality with every step she takes. She has become a weathered rock, whose alligatored surface has blackened over time. It was meant to happen; at some point she had to wind up getting used to the stench around her. She used to have high hopes for the future, in the past, and would have never thought she might one day turn into stone, the type one finds anchored to a bathroom wall.

She gathered her speed and arrived at the pedestrian street of Al ...Read more