I Was Born Just Yesterday, Pt. II
Part II of a series on the beauty and death that Egypt now faces.
Read part I here.
Many faces leaned toward me; many lips moved toward my face. Gentle kisses landed on my forehead; my forehead prayer spot was stamped with thousands of lips. A fresh river of tears moistened my face. I didn’t know these people; we had never met one another. Now I know the touch of their fingers, the colors of their eyes, and the feel of their lips.
- “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.
They raised me up, uttering the name of God with the board resting on their shoulders. Many shoulders took on the burden; they shifted and changed. Thousands of bodies crowded around me, tens of thousands of fingers clung stubbornly, determinedly, to the board.
I was on the bare board, my face pointed up to the sky and my eyes closed, but I could see what eyes cannot see and what was unnamed. I saw what cannot be expressed through words; I saw what cannot be spoken. The board under me was cruising on their shoulders smoothly, flowing on the sea of human beings.
They put me down in the garden of El Sienia in the middle of the arena. They lowered the board to the ground before the people who asked for this. They came wearing white clothes; they had been wearing shrouds since coming to the arena.
Young people gathered around me; their faces and eyes of white angels leaned toward me. And they washed me.
They washed me without water. They washed me with tears in their eyes, eyes that saw their beloved when they looked at me. They washed me with their skin features that came to meditate with mine and my body organs one by one, the visible and the invisible. They washed me with hearts full of passion, wishing to wash the blood off, and to erase my pain.
They washed me not with water, but with tears that fell like dew without volition from men, women or children. They loved me without knowing me, without purpose.
One of them struggled through the crowd congregated around me, and his insistence made people give way. Eventually he came, smiling, a young man bright like the full moon.
He stared at me with beautiful eyes; his eyes were blaming me. He stared at me from head to toe, releasing an outpouring of tears without a sound. He got down on his knees and sat next my head, using his hand to gently fix my hair; he leaned to my right ear and whispered in an unheard voice saying: “You have disappointed me.”
And he started to slowly take off his linen shroud, three layers of it, one after the other. He sat me on the board, and started to dress me while he was whispering to my spirit gently but with pain:
“Oh darling, why did you precede me? How am I supposed to get another three shrouds today? Here you’ve reached heaven before me and left me. You disappointed me, so you should call me from there. And don’t get tired of asking God to let me follow you; I will ask God to give me what he gave you. You are the precedent and we will be your God-willing successors.”
He clothed me and then, half naked, he left.
People wearing white shrouds said with determination and persistence: “Excuse us, it’s our turn; we’re the only ones to hold him.” They came with the name of God the great, and rested me on their young bright shoulders, and moved on among the crowds; the whole procession was white, drowning in charm and light.