On Top of the Museum

Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

All eyes were fixed on her. She was standing on the roof of the Egyptian Museum, right on top of the main entrance. Nobody knew how she had gotten there and she could barely remember it herself. She looked like she was about to jump.

One could tell the people on the ground were scared. They were running around like headless chickens. Some yelled at her that she should come to her senses and get down from there.

She was an unemployed widow without means to provide for her children. The country’s spiraling inflation hadn’t helped either. She had heard people talk on the news about the loan Egypt was going to receive from the International Monetary Fund, as well as about Egypt’s policy of letting its pound float free. She didn’t have a clue as to what all that yapping was about, but she wondered why anyone would want them to starve to death. Then, one day, she felt tempted to murder her own children and have them for dinner. That’s when she realized she couldn’t take it any longer. She had reached her breaking point.

Suddenly, the director of the museum showed up. He looked up at her and smacked both of his cheeks. He was positively distraught over what was going down. The publicity it would attract would be all but favorable. He didn’t need an incident that might spark international outrage throwing him a curve, precisely now when things were going so well and the museum was finally receiving more foreign visitors thanks to how much the country’s image had improved to outsiders. All his worst fears stood confirmed seconds later, when a big group of tourists exited the museum, looked toward where everyone else was directing their gaze, and obviously, saw her. In his desperation, he immediately clung to the hope that they might understand the woman’s statement on the roof as another one of those unfathomable eccentricities that made Egypt so wonderfully exotic and that they would prefer to simply ignore it. At least he didn’t have to wait long to see his hopes shattered. One tourist started shouting hysterically in English straight away. At that moment, he wished the ground would swallow him up.

People kept pouring out of the building while a fire truck that had just popped up tried to force his way through the milling crowd of tourists. From above, the woman on the roof also spotted the arrival of men wearing fancy suits, dark sunglasses and stern expressions on their faces. As far as she was concerned, those men were nothing more than random bloodsuckers. One was handed a megaphone. With an authoritative voice, he began to try and convince her to climb down from the roof. She, however, was not about to cave in just yet.

Minutes later, reporters for international news agencies started to flock to the scene. They turned their backs toward her to face their camera crews before starting to elaborate on how well she exemplified how desperate people were because of how much more Egypt’s economic policy had deteriorated its population’s already dreadful living conditions. More people in suits began to appear. Their previously inscrutable countenances started to bare their pent-up frustrations. Then, their designated spokesperson started to ask her for her demands. He was almost begging her to change her mind about committing suicide.

Suddenly, she recalled the movie Terrorism and Kebab. In it, the main character accidentally takes a building hostage. When asked by the Minister of Interior to make his demands, he is unable to come up with anything he might want, despite lacking access to basic needs in his daily life. She felt like she had gotten into the same predicament the movie star’s character finds himself in in that scene.

Time dragged. Every minute felt like an hour. The different groups formed by the assembled crowd were already fraternizing. Reality was slowly sinking in. The second party of foreign journalists was joined by a third, a fourth, …and then she lost count. And those were only the ones speaking a funny lingo! The amount of government officials had also multiplied tenfold with every new contingent at the scene insisting on taking charge of the operation. The general mood was running high. She believed the heated passions that were creating the electric atmosphere down there were the ones to blame for the overly accelerated rate of the suits’ proliferation.

Then the police arrived and cleared the place. However, cameras and cell phones kept flashing and recording from the other side of the police cordon. Most of their owners were probably already fantasizing with the number of views the exclusive material they were going to upload to the net next was going to receive.

Another reporter arrived with her crew, but this one—she noticed—didn’t start jawing right away. As she witnessed the rather pitiful spectacle, a smile flickered across her face. She was enjoying it.

The growing throngs of onlookers were blocking the pedestrian traffic on Tahrir Square and its adjoining streets. From up there, it almost looked as if a zombie epidemic had struck the area. By then, half the people down there couldn’t see much and were left to wonder what was going on, and since the masses lust for blood, the rumor that all hell had broken loose in West Cairo started being spread via phone calls and had soon swept the city.

The voice on the megaphone asked her again, politely still, to put an end to the situation. Looking down at the amount of formally dressed men gathered on the ground, she surmised that people who were high up on the social hierarchy weren’t really concerned about losing their jobs. She liked to watch them in their helpless condition. A mocking smile spread across her face. Suddenly, she realized she had forgotten her reason for standing there.


Written by Mohamed Ibrahim.