Egypt’s Railway Station

Egypt’s Railway Station in Cairo

Drizzle and one half of an orange solar disc hallow January, which crops up behind the few hours it has left to perform and spreads its attire to wrap up Cairo before pronouncing its blessings.

The steps of the passersby, the whistles of the policemen, the shouts of the street vendors, and the bells announcing the departure of a train at times build mirthful music to welcome the ones who have been gone. On occasion the sounds compose music to bid farewell to the ones leaving, resonating like pansy petals falling from above.

With a nifty red dress that turns her into birthday’s iconic image, as if she were a princess who had just popped out of a fairy tale, she strides back and forth from the entrance of the station to the old coffee shop with its new poster, plastic chairs, and bright yellow tablecloths.

With her uncombed locks of hair out in the open, she keeps an eye on the trains pulling into the station and the ones scheduled to arrive soon.

My eyes are glued to the frames of hers, which make my heart beat rapidly and spoil all plans I may have had for the near or distant future. As a result, all I have left to hope for is that she might lift the ban that keeps her from throwing me a wink as a token of eternal love, an acknowledgment, a recognition of centuries-old rituals.

However, she has no spare time to recognize me. Her eyes are focused on inquiring, be it the station employees, the engineers, the newspaper vendors, the railroad track inspectors, the trees on the street . . . about a third person whose time of arrival is not due yet.

The sun flees from this icy weather and leaves her to dawdle around the station like a ballet dancer who captures everyone’s attention, drowning out the shrillness of train horns and the carriers’ yelling while vanilla petals float down all around her.

I have forgotten my thirty-five years of baggage in the trunk where she stores all our stolen identities. My gray-haired heart scribbles the date that I then read out loud in front of the ticket-selling counter. I do so from behind my glasses at the moment of the last call for the last departure of the last train. I have forgotten it all and stay intractable, swearing by the frame of her green eyes while shaking with love and pitying me for having wasted half my life on a far-off shore of this stream that I finally get to plunge into and drown inside, since all I have left is my hope to die in love.

However, I decide not to die just yet, and with stolen courage I resolve to approach her and introduce myself. I follow her; my chest is filled with the coffee smell that surrounds her. She jumps on the train with brimming eyes. I walk parallel to her on the platform. She sits at the window and her eyes rove around the sky. I get closer to the window. She spots me. She looks my way for the first time and studies my countenance. I almost faint. Still, I collect myself and get closer to the window while forcing her glance into a tight and wary corner.

I exhale a mist of desire that collides with the cold window and is reduced to a layer of condensed water drops. I pull myself together and, deprived of my senses, draw a heart on its surface. She then smiles; the sun in her eyes shines bright and lights up my soul. All of a sudden, the train starts to move, heedless of my presence.

It whistles loudly and takes off. I stand there, completely baffled, until I start running after it. However, I am not fast enough to catch up to it. I assess the heavy toll her departure has taken on my heart and try to relocate it in the now empty space. Meanwhile, vanilla petals rain from above.

I grab my bags and head toward the agent behind the ticket office desk. I ask him about a train leaving for Alexandria, and to my surprise, I find out the train that has just ripped a hole in my chest is the one I should have taken. The sky collapses on top of me, thundering with ire and despair.

I then inquire about the next train scheduled to leave for Alexandria.

From behind his thick lenses, the cashier spits out his answer, propelled by his urge to return home—an urge that has ballooned during these last minutes of his eight-hour shift: “That was the last train of the day.”


Written by Muhammad Sayf al-Badr.

Choose your own adventure

She was waiting on the platform for

a) her cousin, whom she was going to marry within a few days in compliance with the arrangement her cultural background had with destiny.

b) her tailor, with whom she had arranged to look like a princess from the jungle the following week.