[Novel] The Road to Shamawes ⑥

[9]
Donia bought some pancakes from the cafeteria opposite the College of Fine Arts and ate them on her way to the art hall before going to the Hanager gallery in Gezeira, then goes back home for an early dinner or late lunch with her father.

A slim girl, looking like a porcelain doll with her delicate features. She moves gracefully. Her voice is always low, and her eyes never go beyond her glasses’s frame.

Uncle Khodieir waits for her at the college gate. He’s been the chauffeur of her father’s BMW since he returned from abroad and gave up driving saying:
“People here don’t drive cars. They are suicides in the making you know – either the driver or the passenger or even the pedestrians are to die.”

The chauffeur will be with her as long as her father awaits her at home. He has no schedules or classes. Donia looks at him as nothing but a watchdog, as part of her father’s control over her since his return to Egypt and her enrolment in university.

‘Right or left, Miss Donia?”
“You should now be familiar with my schedule, Uncle Khodeir. Take me to the art hall. I’ll stay there for some time.”
“I won’t move from the gate until you are back. You’re the custody given to me by your father, Dr Karim, the son of Eve and Adam, my God bless him.”

When Dr Karim came back from abroad, he sought for an honest chauffeur, who was one of Emad’s many recommendations which Karim is grateful for.

Khodeir used to work in a car agency in a Gulf country, part of a number of agencies from the East and West: Japanese, Korean, American and European cars. But Khodeir’s concern was different: the Russian Lada, which didn’t withstand the Gulf’s heat and had many problems, as if it collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union itself!

Things came to a head when a popular poet bought a Lada which caused him much trouble and decided to attack it in a poem which became very popular. That led the company to close Lada agency and asked Khodeir to sell the cars until they were out of stock.

Khodeir went to the schools and institutes where Egyptians worked highlighting the advantages of the Lada which only he recognized. The only advantage as seen by the Egyptians, apart from its low price, is the fact that its spare parts are available – as genuine or imitation – everywhere in Egypt. He richly earned the name Lada Khodeir. When he sold all the stock, hoping to be transferred to an Asian car section, he was given a notice of termination of employment.

The Soviet Union came to an end, so did Lada Khodeir’s years in the Gulf. A few years following his return to Egypt his savings had been used up, and the only job suitable for an old man with an almost bent back was that of a chauffeur. If he weren’t Emad’s neighbour, he wouldn’t have this chance, and he would certainly join the club of the elderly who would smoke the hookah in agony with tea and coffee.

[10]
Emad received Donia’s quick steps across the Hanager hall with a hidden smile:
“At last!”
Emad said that looking at his watch, but her return made him forget blame.
“You know my tragedy better than anybody else, and you’re involved in it as well.”

Before the expressions of surprise appeared on his face, she added laughingly:
“Didn’t you bring Uncle Khodeir, my personal bodyguard, to my dad’s home?”

They laughed and walked together round the exhibition of the artist Hassan Sulaiman: “Cairo’s women” paintings. The thin clothes on women’s bodies made Donia blush a little.

He told her about his encounter with her father that morning and gave familiar details.
“Though I was still young, I saw how my father suffered when my mother died. He used to depend heavily on her. He thought of returning to Egypt, but, as he said repeatedly was afraid of losing me. You know his firm decisions. He decided not to return to Egypt before I go to university.”

She sighed on her way out for some fresh air.
“Nine whole years…no mother, aunt, girls outside school, no boys of course. I felt the world had only two faces: my father’s and that of Darseen, the Indian woman who looked after me, particularly as my father was so totally devoted to me that he stayed with me during tutors’ lessons.”

They went to the café of the Supreme Council of Culture and sat at a table near the front glass:
“I was of course absolutely amazed when I came to Egypt. I felt as if I came from an alien planet. True, satellite channels made the picture a little closer, but the picture is far from reality. Beieve it or not, my father and I spent a whole month in my grandfather’s farm, after which he came to the villa several times to furnish it. He used workers from the village in order not to come into contact with anybody in Cairo, until you got acquainted with him in the college…”

Emad listened to her in the evening as he did to her father in the morning. He is almost sure they both speak in the same manner. He remembered the first day he saw her father by chance in front of the villa as he was getting off the microbus on his way through the fields to Shamawes where he lives when he was stopped by Dr Karim who asked him:
“You’re a student at the College, aren’t you? What brought you in here?”
“I live here.”

Dr Karim was astonished, looking at the two villas around his:
“Which one?”

Emad, smiled, looking at the fields and the horizon:
“Well, I live beyond the fields, a small village called Shamawes.”

Emad’s smile and spontaneity made Dr Karim less reserved, and so he invited him to a cup of tea.
“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me? But you make it!”

The waiter brought Donia and Emad the tea and Turkish coffee, and as she was putting sugar in her cup said:
“You’re lost in thought and only a few minutes are left before I say goodbye to you.”

Reaching his coffee and looking in Donia’s eyes Emad said:
“Time flies when I’m with you, but I look forward to the next encounter.”

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