Only the stern of the ship, the prow of the plane, and in between, the long strip plastered with her guilt over what she had not been able to see back then remain visible. The rest she has been able to scrub off the wall over time, by rubbing the surface with her shoulders.
“Stop! God help you if you don’t!”
She doesn’t heed the warning, puts the bin with henna sticks on the ground and searches for the keys to open the entrance door.
“What’s wrong with you? You either don’t see me as a threat or don’t value your life.”
The thick soles of her bare feet hit the ground with gritty determination and cool composure, and behind her every step drags the tail of her black outer garment, which engulfs her in every respect. She could wear her habit inside out and nobody would notice, for it had been sweeping dirt off the streets for ages. She put on a blank mask to face the world every morning and forgot to take it off on the rare occasions that she found herself alone. Only the eyes, which see it all, and the henna tattoo she has on the fingers of her hands peek out from behind her veil.
“Aunt Fahima! Aunt Zamzam is asking for you. You have to hurry.”
She hates her aunt Zamzam with all of her being. She only needs her when the dogs catch someone trying to steal cucumbers. They won’t stop barking and threatening to tear the sneak thief apart until she shows up and pats their backs. As soon as the thief, who most of the time is a famished lad from the neighborhood, sees her turn up, he starts weeping, on his knees, pledging to never do it again. She knows he will break his promise as soon as he turns the corner, but lets him off the hook with a warning regardless.
Close to the Bridge Abu Al Hassan, the sun of Paoni reaches the apex of the skies. That is the father monkey’s cue to release his little toddler beasts and let them prey on the honest people of this town. Their little feet don’t mind stepping on the boiling-hot manure that blankets the fields.
The roads are so full of dark corners that she chooses to avoid them and instead walks along the trail by the Nile waters that run through the canal under the branches of the surrounding willow trees. She can use their shade right now. The donkeys smell her scent as she enters the side alley and start braying emphatically.
She opens the door and steps inside. The place is a mess. The floor is covered with ribbons of the peeled and dried apricot skin that is used to fuel the furnaces. Then, she counts the black boxes. One is missing. Her heart lurches, like the day her father, the pasha, passed away. Aunt Zamzam is going to kill her.
Once, her aunt took what she was carrying over her head and pushed her. She fell on the floor. Her aunt Zamzam didn’t care to ask whether she had gotten hurt. She just finished her meal and left the room, without cleaning up after herself, without asking her to do it either. She dunked her head in a bucket of water, with veil and everything. Then she pulled it out and grabbed the single slice of bread her aunt had left on the table. She ate it while the wet surface on her tunic grew.
The women greet her; black boxes she could swear she has never seen before. She doesn’t know how dear they are to her aunt Zamzam. Then she reaches the entrance. She turns her head right and left. The place seems empty. Only stray dogs roam the area.
She never heeds him, although he is always there for her, looking over her every step. Even the smell of freshly-cooked food has lost its appeal for him. He sits down by her side with his ears hanging down and is stunned into silence every time her hand suddenly advances towards him, almost grazing his skin.
She swallows as she takes a look around. None of the faces seem familiar. Her voice cracks as she asks, “Where is my aunt Zamzam?”
The Author, Mokhtar Mahmoud Abdel Wahab:
Egypt — Al Ammar Al Kubra — Qalyubia
Civil Engineer who is never absolutely sure about what to include in a short story.
Secondly, short-story club in Cairo, 1998.
Thirdly, Ihsan Abdel Quddous, 1998.
Fourthly, writers’ association, 2008.
Newspapers that have published his work:
Conferences: The Story and Cultural Memory