It’s half past ten and the sun paints my room gold. Like a retired vampire, I am awaiting nightfall in order to go out. The streets summon me as I bask in the warmth of the sun’s rays clinging to my back. They caress me softly without forcing me to close my eyes. I walk aimlessly, with a head free of windmills. The streets are still empty; the children are trapped in school. I could stroll around forever. Everything in my town is within walking distance. I even think about bundling it up and thrusting it in my pocket: the narrow entrance to my grandmother’s house; the small wooden boat on the shelf; the shelf next to the photo albums that play music when opened; my favorite café; my old place; the street with the church on it; the street with my old school; the uncomfortable benches of the Nile Corniche; the girls that mesmerize us with their beautiful voices as the evening wears on, whose countenances blanch with apprehension at my leering; the smell of fish baked in sea salt, which, despite being who I am, I have no taste for; the Mosque of the Sea, which takes up the whole street and is sore at me for shirking my religious duties; the commemorative statue whose subject matter I no longer know and whose date of dedication I cannot recall.
A little mermaid comes into and recedes from view. She once had a place in my mind that she suddenly forsook. Like Nessie, the moment I see her, she is gone again as if the encounter had simply been a figment of my imagination. Whispering in my ear, she highlights my melodramatic skills. Today is the last day I am allowed to move freely. There are no orders to follow and no one to seek permission from. Tomorrow, I will be devoured by the departed, I will render up this poor devil’s body to become their customary pound of flesh.
“Everything comes to an end,” says a swan in socks that starts to sway on its feet as though it wanted to put its recently acquired article of clothing to the test. Its logic dazzles me. Tomorrow I will be joining the army. That may be why the world today seems a riot of color. I find the women I see even more alluring than their fairy-tale counterparts. All the streets merge into one road that I am now leaving behind forever. I won’t look back. Perhaps the swan’s statement is not as apodictic as it seems.
As the café welcomes me with open arms, I lean back against one of its chairs. I have sat on all of them in the game of musical chairs. I tried a different one every day until there were no new options left. That is when I realized I had to get up and leave. Now I understand that I love her, even while I hate myself and my circumstances, more than I care to admit. The little mermaid shows up again to whisper in my ear. “I will find a way,” she says, “an effective magic solution. I have thought about transplanting this place to some uncharted territory, a location where it can’t be found.” I suddenly find myself smiling—all because of a boy who was obsessed with dice. It was only a matter of time before his fixation with the road would drive him around the bend.
Written by Eslam Ashry.