The fierce eyes of the forlorn hope of building a bridge between the dawn and the dusk of civilization that is the city of Alexandria cast a plaintive glance over us as we wended our way through the bustling streets. Like a mother, she carries us on her bosom, looks after us and decides for us. Regardless of how whimsical her will may seem, we have no choice but to bend to it.
Every year, our company, which is based in Cairo, organizes a week-long summer trip for its employees. Transportation and accommodation are arranged for us and our families, and the destination is chosen by a majority vote. This story is the one of how Alexandria became our journey’s end.
We were sick with excitement when we jumped into the bus, especially the children. If we had only known the fate that awaited us there.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and rushed to the beach right afterwards. There, we spent the whole afternoon running around half-naked, playing soccer and beach volleyball with the kids. A light breeze came off the calm sea. What bliss it was to be alive.
The next morning, the women woke up first to go swimming in the sea while a golden sun climbed over the horizon. The men arrived at the beach with the kids a couple of hours later and took a turn in fighting the waves while the women made the sandwiches for the picnic. Meanwhile, the children frolicked in the sand.
When the food was finally ready, the kids were called to join the grown-ups in the dining area. Suddenly, we noticed one was missing: Farid, the son of our colleague Mansour. Farid’s mother immediately began looking for him but quickly realized that the task of locating him would prove harder than expected. She screamed herself hoarse trying to find him, but to no avail. She asked the other children she had seen him playing with hours before when and where they had lost sight of him, but they weren’t able to recall the exact moment when he had gone missing. It was as though he had just disappeared into thin air, as if he had been swallowed by the big blue sea.
The coast guards deployed a search party to look for him and all the adults joined in. The women clutched their children to their chests, fearing the worst. The chances of finding him grew slimmer by the minute. Night fell, dark and thick, and Farid still hadn’t been found. One of the men from the rescue team advised Farid’s mother to resume the search at sunrise the next day, because, if the waves hadn’t carried the body ashore by then, there was still hope that the boy would return to her alive and well.
The next morning, everyone met again at the beach, where they found Farid’s mother with eyes like two burnt holes in a blanket staring blankly at the sea, which had remained silent out of sheer defiance. She mumbled her son’s name as if she were reciting a spell that might mend her aching heart. She had run out of tears already, but the waves lapping the shore echoed the weeping and wailing to which she had devoted the previous night. A few hours into the day, someone started shouting and pointing at what, from a distance, appeared to be a little body floating in the sea. We left Alexandria the next day. Nobody felt like staying.
Some years later, my boss called me to his office and offered me a promotion. The new position, however, was in the company’s branch office in Alexandria, the city of bad omens.
Written by Mohammed Abbas Dawud.