Have you ever dreamed of swapping lives with a king? I realize it sounds childish. After all, everybody knows that the prince charming who cajoles a beautiful lady into marrying him and riding on his white horse is just a numbskull with a mop of blond curls who is featured in a cartoon. However, even though in some cases it might seem like ages ago, who hasn’t been a child? There is a palace here in Idfina. It was one of the many palaces that belonged to King Farouk, who reigned over Egypt and Sudan until the beginning of the 1950s.
My mother’s side of the family lived in Idfina, and every time we went to visit them when I was a kid, my uncle took me to his workplace: the palace. Back then, it housed the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. I reveled in the thought of one day discovering all the treasures that I was sure were hidden somewhere inside the building. First, my eyes always fell on the gates, which faced the rank-and-file houses. The path leading to them ran parallel to the Nile and was flanked by trees. Every time I took it, my heart thumped heavily with excitement. Taking the same path that I knew a king—a real king!—had followed regularly allowed me to fool myself into believing that I was somehow getting closer to becoming a king myself. From afar, the palace looked majestic, worldly, even suave, like some kind of utterly ravishing sorceress who had managed to live for centuries without aging a day.
To the right side of the palace, leading to the Nile, descended a beautiful white staircase called “The Small Balcony.” One day my uncle told me that the king had been accustomed to sitting on the stairs in the afternoons. I had been thrilled to bits to gain yet another nugget of information on what it was that kings did every day and immediately ran to sit on them myself. I closed my eyes and tried to absorb my surroundings. I wanted to get an impression of what the king might have felt when sitting in the exact same spot. The tang of roses hung in the exceptionally clean air. Save for the flowing river, the rustling tree leaves, and the chirping birds, nothing disturbed the reigning peace. The way I felt was no doubt how I had always imagined it would feel to be a king.
The gardens of the palace were also a marvel to behold. They were large and teemed with all sorts of trees, some of which, I had been told, had even been fetched from Europe. Anything to please a king, right? Besides, they were tended to with great care and dedication. They truly looked like the palace gardens typically showcased in movies, although it’s undeniable that time, which is not particularly renowned for showing a disposition to letting things preserve a pristine appearance, had left its mark on them.
When I first went inside the palace, I had to strain my imagination in order to visualize what the interior must have looked like back in the days when the palace still functioned as such. Past the main entrance, one stepped into what formerly must have been the dining hall. A marmoreal staircase led to the second floor, where one could find the large bedchambers of the king and his family. The kitchen and the servants’ quarters were located on the ground floor. Unfortunately, I never did uncover any hidden treasures while visiting the palace, but that doesn’t change the fact that I always had a terrific time when I was there. After all, if only for a while, my surroundings vested in me the ability to feel like a king.
Written by Mahmoud Fawzy Taha.