[Novel] The Road to Shamawes ④


A whole day may pass without seeing her. He gets up early in the morning, according to his thirty – year biological clock. He waits to her in the horizon cross the green path on her way back from the village of Shamawes. She cuts her heart, as a knife cuts a ripe fruit, until she disappears behind Viola’s villa backyard fence. When will he see Nargis? Thousands of questions, but no answer!

Things were different before General Wagih Essameddin’s retirement. He would have gone out in his uniform to intercept, or even sent a corporal to tell her the Pasha was waiting for her. He would have taken her by hook or by crook, with or without her family’s knowledge, at or against her village’s will. But today he can’t. In service, supply is still short of demand. Junior officers are competing with their seniors, leaving nothing for retirees like him. So he can do nothing every day but wait.

He can’t contact Viola to ask her why Nargis was absent all that time. He knows that Viola is a late riser, at sunset. Since she gave up art, or rather art gave her up, she has been fixing her appointments early at night, receiving guests at midnight, clinching deals late at night, receiving phone calls during the night. He coddles her, and unless she knows that a thin thread still links him with the Ministry of the Interior, she won’t give him the privilege of attending her soirées from time to time.

His big body reveals his real age, in spite of his attempts to hide grey hair with a good German hair dye, practise sport regularly in the yacht club, follow a strict diet which deprives him of a lot of the food he craves for.

When he hinted that he wanted Narjis, Viola warned him :
“Nargis is different from all other girls. She speaks a number of languages, you know, and is well dressed and well educated because she is at university. I brought her in to help me when I have foreign guests. Damn all languages. I was at a government school and speak only Arabic. She is like a radio. She stands beside me so I don’t feel I’m as deaf as a post. But she doesn’t drink, eat, dance or indulge herself. All she wants at the end of the soirée is the few piastres. She may have difficult circumstances. Please don’t disturb her and me. I had difficulty finding her.”

When he said he wanted to marry Nargis, Viola shouted:
“Marriage! No, Pasha, I don’t recommend that. To begin with I’m not a matchmaker. Secondly, marriage can’t be proposed from the back door. Go to her family and offer a proposal of marriage, but I don’t think they will accept because of your age.”

She hastened to add perhaps apologetically:
“All university girls have lovers and relatives. I know about all their affairs!”

He took the last sip of coffee looking at the dusty tracks which look like lines of ash separating the green fields. Little grey birds hover, and other big and white ones jump on the small streams watering the land. He wasn’t aware how long he was in this state, because when he awoke his heavy head was leaning on the chair arm. He looked at the paper which fell off his hand when fell asleep. The headline was: “Police Day Celebration”. O far the old good days! He would have been among the first invitees, but today not even an honorary invitation. All that links him with the Ministry is that his son works for it, and all that reminds him of its benefits is this villa which he bought from his end-of-service gratuity. He put the paper in order, got well dressed and took a final look at the track leading to the village, then went out of the balcony.

“Do you know, Emad, that it is the noblest creature. Forget about man, because Allah has chosen and distinguished us with His revealed religions. But the donkey has its own peculiarities. The happiest moment in my life is when I go down, sit in a chair and watch and draw the donkeys as they play and talk to one another.”

Emad listened carefully to his master and friend. Emad is well built, but he almost bends when he talks to Dr. Karim. Emad brought in the “Umma” paper as requested by Dr. Karim, then entered the kitchen and made some tea and carried the tray to the balcony opposite the land. When he saw his master watching a donkey which approached the villa’s back yard, and when the artist saw him, the latter began to praise donkeys:

“Powerless creatures. They remind me of a poor, helpless people. They are humble and tolerant. They don’t care who leads them – an old man or a young boy. The young man who was here and went away a short while ago is a journalist at the “Culture Today” paper. He told me that a pop singer sings for donkeys – at last!

Emad comes on the days he has no classes in fine art. After two years of study he got to know his professor artist Karim, who became one of his favourites, particularly when he knew he lived near the villa. Karim invited Emad to his villa where he saw his daughter, Donia. He loved his master more and had to bear up with him to see Donia, even by chance, on her way to or from the college. When he invited her to have a cup of tea with him, she didn’t say no, as she trusted him seeing her father’s relationship with him.

Emad tried to change the donkeys topic which the artist talked about every day. Unless he knows her faher well, he will suspect that his master has a sexual relationship with donkeys. Emad said:
“I read the “Culture Today” weekly. It carried an excellent art page edited by the prominent critic Mustfa Sulaiman, whose vision and views are to the point.”

Artist Karim interrupts Emad laughingly :
“No, not prominent at all. He is the same young man who was sitting in your place an hour ago. He came to do an interview with me to be published in the page. True, he is young, but his views reveal wide reading about and love of art. This is rare today.”

Artist Karim stopped pointing to a scene outside:
“Look, Emad, a female donkey is walking behind a male one. It seems she was worried about him when it didn’t see him for some time. My son, we do donkeys injustice. It seems the feelings of living creatures have no limits. Fetch me the sketchbook, you know where it is, don’t’ you?”

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