Every time I during my daily stroll landed up at Izbat Al Milh, which is on the outskirts of Meniet El Morshed, my town, my heart pounded to the beat of a funerary march.
The relics of his Serene Highness Mohamed Attieh’s humble abode marked the entrance to the precincts of the neighborhood. They told a beautiful story, that of the sanctuary that place had become in the last half-century.
The shop with the big umbrella had been reduced to ruins and what it stood for was on the brink of fading into oblivion. People used to come here to take refuge from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Sir Mohamed liked to sit down with his clients on the porch in his white tunic that, despite the fact that he spent all day handling food, always looked pristine, and a taqiyah made of the same fabric.
He was friendly to everyone twenty-four seven, and was always wearing a sunny smile on his face. The people that clustered together around him came from all corners of the neighborhood to converse about politics, agriculture and philosophy, to relate anecdotes, trash authority, articulate feelings, wonder about miracles and the connection they have with certain frustrations and even discuss fears about their impending grim fates.
On the porch, close to the gathered crowd and functioning as a primitive fridge, stood a wooden box filled with ice and refreshments. On its door hung a sign that read:
“Open me and pick your poison. We have Coke and other sparkling bitter-sweet beverages.”
When someone ran dry—which, considering that this part of the world reaches almost unbearable temperatures, happened rather often—all they had to do was grab the small key that dangled from a string fastened to the side of the fridge. It was startling—almost as if someone had fired a gun—when a bottle was opened and the pressure inside was released. They gulped down the bottles’ overflowing contents before they spilled all over, then burped with evident satisfaction, and lastly, toasted one another.
A few steps away, there flowed a stream that watered the fields. It had a reddish tinge, as though it carried blood. On one of the banks of the stream, grew a white mulberry tree that bore delicious fruit. I remembered that Sir Mohamed allowed the children to climb it, but that the look in his eyes denoted that he rued this decision every time he saw the berries fall into the stream and get carried away by the water. At the advent of fall, however, he not only carped about the berries drying out, but also about the fact that there were less children hanging around the tree due to the beginning of the school year.
The shop remained open and busy until the sun went down, after which the empty bottles where brought back inside. Sir Mohamed then mounted his jenny, which had spent the whole day grazing in the meadow abutting his property, and trot home while whispering directions in her ear.
Over what was left of the former establishment towered the mosque. The owner of the field where it had been built had hired architects from the capital to design it and they not only exceeded his expectations, but had created a work of art at that. I remembered that Sir Mohamed had taken it on himself to restore it and refurbish it with the money he had been saving over the years. But then he got the disease that plagued him for many years, and he had to shelve his future plans. Hence, the poor condition in which the mosque was found, the roof had caved in and the paint on the walls had almost completely flaked off. Its doors had closed to the public a while ago. It was a pity, because I used to love pouring my soul out to the spirit that had taken up residence inside.
As consequence of his prolonged illness, he had to shut down his business and his clientele started gathering elsewhere. The shop and its umbrella fell apart. Even the white mulberry tree was uprooted at some point. Time is known to be unforgiving for a reason. Nothing from back then stood its test, just the wide empty space, swept through by a fierce gale with plastic litter in tow and smelling of straw and the past.
Written by Samir El Manzlawy.