I Was Born Just Yesterday
Part 1 of a series on the beauty and death that Egypt now faces.
I was born just yesterday.
I was born beautiful—the most beautiful human being, naïve as a blooming flower. I was born as small and light as my homeland birds, tweeting freedom like they do.
- “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.
At sunrise, I pinched back the earth’s crust and emerged from a womb of fertile black earth. I cried out a weak cry, and saluted the valley and the Nile. I fluttered my wings for a few seconds and flew up into the sky.
I flew over the arena. With my great wings, I soared as high as I could; I turned around and spun in the air, soaring in circles. I moved from a tree branch to a traffic signal to a high wire to buildings and other structures, then to the top of a highest point of the freedom complex. Here I landed, static, and looked around; I looked carefully for a long time, and I saw…
I saw what I had never seen before.
I saw truth, goodness, and beauty. I saw one entity, one existence, one unique body composed of hundreds of thousands of bodies: Heads, arms, feet, hundreds of thousands of colors, sizes, and shapes. I saw one in the multitude, and the multitude as one. I experienced sensations that hadn’t touched a human’s heart before, examined a scene that human eyes have never witnessed.
I was shaken, feeling musical. I tweeted without a will or desire; I tweeted and sang while I wandered around the arena again, drunk without a drink and stoned without having smoked marijuana or any of the earth’s plants.
My joy was lighter than my body weight, thinner than my wings. My tweets were consistent and harmonious. The music of people’s cheers filled the arena, along with the whispers of the plants and trees, the rattle of metals, asphalt, gravel, and stones.
After some time my light heart couldn’t handle any more; I couldn’t bear more beauty. I was hopelessly attracted to the scene, yet spent; all of the people affected me. And I was united with them in trees, in papers, in words, spoke aloud and written, and in silent cheers; I became one with the metal and stones of the field’s buildings.
If you have been filled, you will be flooded. I was filled with people, and flooded inside them and above them.
Yesterday I saw…
I saw myself in the stones in people’s palms and fists. I was the arena’s stones that men and women, young and old, threw toward the attackers coming from afar. These attackers held death in their hands in the form of smoke, swords, white weapons, and Molotov cocktails. They concealed death inside their skulls, inside their hearts and chests, riding on mules, horses, and camels.
And you saw me, a young man, standing among the people there, defending the arena, hurling a stone at evil with all my strength. The stone rebounded back with the others. One hit the middle of my forehead, a second penetrated my chest, causing my heart to bleed out, a third smashed through my stomach, and a fourth killed what lay between my thighs. I fell onto my back in silence and bled red blood from my whole body.
Many young people gathered around me and uttered the greatest name of God; they leaned toward me in an effort to know what was happening to the martyr. They were overwhelmed and taken by what had happened to my body, with my blood that was pouring out.
Moments later, one of them came running, holding a long wooden board. He put it next to me on the ground, and many people crowded around, racing to put me on it. They did so gently, while saying the greatest name of God and reciting prayers for the prophet.