The Facebook Girl and The Poet
Two lives, on either side of death in the Revolution.
The Facebook Girl
During the early days of our revolution—once internet access was restored after being shut off for days during the first wave of protests in January—a young woman would regularly update her Facebook status with this phrase: “Today, I am going to the square. Tahrir square… see you there!”
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
Every day she would go and every night I would wait for her to post the same status so that I could make sure she had made it home safe and was sitting in front of her computer screen again.
She is beautiful. She appears delicate in her profile picture, a dark-skinned dreamer with black eyes and soft black hair. Her smile is innocent and attractive.
Usually she wrote her statuses at around 1pm. On Wednesday, February 2, 2011 she wrote: “Today, I am going to the square. Tahrir Square. See you there!” then she added, against her norm, “These are the happiest days of my life!”
After that her status did not update again. Her page fell quiet, frozen on that final sentence.
Twenty months after she was killed she returned online and a new status appeared on her page: “What about me? What role do I play, do women play, in the new Constitution?”
That question has repeated itself every night without interruption.
The university poet, who is embellished here with stoicism, was my friend.
No one had seen him in ten years and, in that time, he had neither written nor published a single poem. Now he leaves the cave of our distant past and comes to us. He bends and crawls to emerge from his tent of isolation, his small hut in Tahrir Square, and gathers his body in his hastened step over the hard asphalt.
With both arms he makes room for his body in the crowd and squeezes through. He leans against the shoulder of a stranger standing in front of him and gets up on tip toes. Raising his right hand, he spreads his palm and waves it in our direction in a greeting. Then he moves towards us.
In Tahrir Square, the poet appears sickly; his hair is ragged and long and grey and his track suit is wrinkled and stained, its collar blackened with dirt. He has not slept in days.
The poet has lost much of his weight and youth. The skin around his eyes is wrinkled and his mouth, forehead, and neck are lined with age, but he still still moves with the sharpness of a young man as he carves his way through the crowd towards us, smiling, as I am.
We embrace, wrapping our arms around one another and he whispers in my ear with a soft, beaten voice, filled with fear: “Finally. Finally I have loved.”
I understood what he meant and was happy for him. I nodded and patted his shoulder. Then, as he took in the sight of his old circle of friends, closely examining our faces, his smile continued to light up and he started to cry, burning with happiness.
And twenty months went by.
Twenty moths after the death of his lover, poetry exploded in the poet’s chest once again—the poetry that tortured and overpowered him for many years—and he wrote a poem. A poem about the Facebook girl.
Translation: Nour Abdelghani