The bus he had arrived in took off and with it disappeared all traces of civilization. On that sand beach, the official means of transport seemed to be camels and horses. In front of him, was a long row of thatched-roofed wooden huts overlooking the sea. He advanced towards one, knocked on its door and waited for it to open. From up close, it seemed almost a miracle that the cabin was still standing, as the logs with which it was built looked rotten. Since nobody was answering the door, he went around the hut, which lead him to stumble on an open window. He couldn’t help himself and peeked through it. Climbing inside the hut through its narrow window probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas, but the interior, towards which he felt strangely drawn, didn’t seem to be serving as a living space, so he decided to trespass anyway. Inside, his gaze fell on an old man, who was napping peacefully in a chair. His face was red and swollen. He considered waking him up but quickly discarded the thought. Instead, he took one of the half-empty Whisky bottles scattered around him and snuck out of the hut the same way he had snuck in. He then stepped away from the cabin, opened the bottle he had filched, took a sip from it and let its bitter-tasting liquid poison linger in his mouth. He cast his eyes aloft and breathed in. The air carried the smell of the sea, which wafted toward him interlaced with the scent of musk.
He moved toward the shore. The wet sand felt good against the soles of his feet. Close to him, rose a big rock forming a tunnel. He went through it and, on the other side, saw a tent made of a white—though still opaque—fabric that resembled chiffon or silk, because of the grace with which it fluttered in the wind. Without hesitation, he lifted the cloth at the entrance of the tent and stepped inside, where he found an old woman wearing an abaya combining the colors red, yellow and light blue, which stood in stark contrast to the dark color of her skin. A few girls were sitting in front of her. She was talking to them while giving one of them a fanciful henna tattoo. He noticed she spoke Arabic with a funny-sounding Nubian accent. She raised her head and directed a steely gaze at him as he entered the tent. He smiled at her, perhaps hoping she would forgive his intrusion. The old woman ordered the girls to leave the tent and he decided to seize the opportunity to get out as well. At that moment, however, she said his name, and that made him freeze on the spot. He turned back to look at her and took the seat she offered him next to her. With her eyes, she then asked him to show her the palm of his hand. The fact that she didn’t even have to speak out the words to get him to follow her instructions scared him to death. It was as if she were inside his head!
In an instant, a bleak expression flitted across her wrinkled face and the look in her eyes suddenly appeared even more sinister than what all the black kohl she wore on her eyelids made it seem by default.
A chill shot up his spine and his heart started racing, for, after examining the lines on his hand, she looked him straight in the eye and commanded him in a biting tone, “Return to the time you hail from!”
Rania Mansi was born in the city of Alexandria in 1986. She is an Egyptian short-story writer, whose literary pieces have been published in several cultural magazines and websites. One of her stories was also featured in a collection of short stories including those of famous authors.