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. Someone suggests, jokingly—most likely—that we should offer a sacrifice to the sky, so that ...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 me and pressed a kiss on the palm of my hands, as ...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 it he has cheated death not once, but several times.

He opens ...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 me. I can feel proud of myself. ...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 for love.

After our visit to the Luxor and Karnak Temples, me and my ...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 praying. I pray every day all day long, much more often than the scriptures require of me. Not to be spared, lest ...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 that her dead eyes had shed just a moment earlier. Then her daughter’s grandmother took her ...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 Moez, which belongs to Cairo’s old city center. The ground under her ...Read more

Who Turned on the Tap?

The Egyptian Forensic Medicine Authority in Cairo, Egypt

What is that sound? It seems to be that of running water. However, I just went through the whole building to check that all the taps were turned off. It should be just me and the deceased in here. I strain my ears to identify the direction the sound is coming from. The autopsy room seems to be the source. I know it can’t be, because I was just in there, all the taps were turned off and nobody would have been able to enter the room since. I could swear I left it locked. Regardless, I go to the autopsy room once again and, to my surprise, find out that there is in fact a tap that has been left running. How can it be? There is no one there, other than the dead bloke lying on the examination table. He had been hit in the head by a stray bullet. Maybe it is his spirit, trying to drive me crazy. Perhaps he is trying to dissuade me from meddling in his affairs.

Cairo’s morgue ...Read more

The Room

TV in room

Every time I sit down to write, my hand reaches for the remote. I can’t help it, it is almost an instinctive reaction I have to blank pages awaiting eagerly to be filled with words. I wish I knew what it was that drives me to turn on that annoying TV. Although, on second thought, it seems only reasonable to expect that the straight and stiff lines on the paper might have a hard time competing for my attention against the lively images on the screen. But even when I try and force myself to turn my gaze away from the screen and back to the paper, I am faced with mutiny by the muscles of my neck.

I recently bought a larger TV screen to enjoy the cinematic experience at home. The problem is that now movie plots feel so real that I can’t watch anything even slightly upsetting if I want to be able to sleep at night. Writing is the only thing that helps when I have trouble distinguishing what is real from what is not.

I ...Read more