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 deemed too knotty to be solved.

Everyone is back from work by the time dinner is ready, at which point they gather around a big table to enjoy the superb food the women have cooked together. After thanking God for all He hath bestowed on them, they go to bed. And they always sleep through the night. Whatever bane dogs them they handle with aplomb and patience, because they know their neighbors have their backs and will be there for them no matter what. Because no issue is to be taken so seriously that it may threaten straining relationships.

In winter, people take part in competitions for becoming the fastest and most dextrous one at sliding down mud slopes. The mud, which has been carefully fixed in advance, starts to melt as soon as it is poured onto the roads because of how much heat they absorb during the day. The contenders for the gold medal then wait in line, mentally rehearsing the choreography they are about to perform while sliding down the mud, which they are hoping will be remembered in the fashion of performances by the ballerinas at the Bolshoi company.

One of those cold winter nights—the mud almost dry already, the kids throwing stones at street lamps—the town’s veterinarian arrived at the cowshed of one of the farmers. His cow—his main source of income—had caught something and had been lying around, seemingly unable to get back on its hoofs, for the last two days. The veterinarian took the cow’s temperature and, after taking a moment to examine it, drew the farmer to the side, as if he were trying to avoid being heard by the cow:

“If you wake up tomorrow morning and the cow’s condition hasn’t improved, slaughter it and sell the meat, before it goes bad and you are left with nothing.”

The farmer asked teary-eyed, “Is there really nothing that can be done to save her?”

The veterinarian shook his head. The farmer was devastated.

What they didn’t know, however, was that, while the cow had been successfully kept in the dark about her gloom fate, the sheep had heard everything. As soon as the coast was clear, they went to warn the cow of what might befall her if she didn’t show signs of recovery by sunrise the next morning. After all, the cow had always been kind to them and they knew she was mostly tired of working so hard. The cow thanked them for the tip-off and stood up at once, devoured all she could discern as edible around her and drained her water trough.

In the morning, the farmer went to check on the cow and found her standing and perked up. She had eaten all the food and drank the whole trough. He jumped for joy and praised the Lord saying:

“Oh God, let me repay you for your generosity with this offer: I will slaughter the sheep and feed the poor with their meat in your name.”


The Author, Mohamed Naguib Tawfiq Hassan Matar:

He is a member of both the Egyptian Writers’ and Story Club’s Association.

He has published several scientific books, as well as works of science fiction and fantasy for adults and young adults.

His novels are called: Negative Influences, The Funny Revolution, Hidden Forces, A Precarious Balance, The Siren and the Baker, Qareen, Osirak, The Aliens, The Revolution on TV.

His short stories are called: A One-Way Trip Only, The “N” in Women, Smart Cars

He has won several literary awards, such as the Ihsan Abdul Quddous Literary Award, the Nihad Sharif Literary Prize, the Imad Qatary Literary Award, and the Alhosini Literary Prize.