Chit Chat on the Oriental Express Café
By: Aadel M Al-Mahdy
Chapter 1: The Oriental Express Café
The Oriental Internet café is a place where they meet once a week; a group of intellectual adults of different education, religions and nationalities. They gather together to discuss freely and honestly a variety of topics; everyone does according to his own personal view whether such view is moderate or extreme, with no grudge held or insult taken.
Located in Al-Azhar Street and owned and run by Dhabbourah Abu-Ali who is assisted by Memmis Al-Halawani and his little army of waiters; Zuklah, Halambas, Abu-Sinnah, Ukashah and Zeiner-Rigaal, the Café is of a considerable size, furnished with tables and chairs inside and outside on the terrace. The inside is composed of a big hall with a large Satellite TV monitor, a moderate size room on the right hand furnished with internet computers and a printer, and a conference room in the back equipped with a medium size TV monitor, one internet computer, a small printer, tables and seats. In this room they meet once a week not interrupted by the outside world. Lavatories are located next to the conference room.
The renovated café is clean, air-conditioned and well-ventilated to combat the smoke clouds created by the Shishahs’ customers. A whole array of oriental hot and cold soft drinks is served in the cafe; tea, Turkish coffee, salep, carob, caraway, whole and ground Fenugreek, anise, kakady, cocoa, liquorices and the likes. Small dishes of sweets like meshmishiyyah, mihallabiyyah, rice pudding and custards are also served. No alcohol, except for local and imported beer, is served. A variety of dishes of nuts and delicious pickles always accompanied the beer.
Before modernization, the café was frequently raided by the police for suspicion of drug deals. In fact a stone throw behind the café lies Al-Bateniyyah quarter where Cairo active drug lords lived. Also at almost the same distance from the café stand Al-Hussein Mosque and Al-Azhar Mosque supplemented by the second oldest functioning university in the world, Al-Azhar University.
While Osamah was sitting in the terrace of the café having his hot whole-fenugreek drink and waiting for the rest of his friends to show up, the same man came in and sat quietly in a corner inside the café far from the shishahs’ smokes and the clients’ commotion. Osamah saw him once before. The man was in his early forties, neatly dressed in meticulously clean and pressed pair of trousers. Grey hair invaded the pitch black hair of his head that was covered by a white Egyptian Takiyyah. His trimmed beard was not exaggeratedly long. He was a handsome man of medium height whose facial features looked so relaxed and eyes so serene as though he was in an ecstatic state of content.
When Halambas passed by, Osamah held his sleeve, bent forward and whispered curiously in his ear, pointing stealthily to the man who aroused his curiosity, “Who is that man?”
“He is Sheikh Ali, the Dervish. Thank you for pointing him out to me” Halambus whispered back to Osamah and then turned around and loudly announced, “And prepare one hot whole-anise drink, and make sure it is extra sweet for our beloved Sheikh Ali and also be doubly sure it is on the house” Osamah asked Halambas who was about to leave, “Wait! Why do you call him the dervish? He does not look like one. Halambus said, “He is a Dervish all right and sometimes he slips into peaceful fits and mumbles mysterious words which Dhabbourah consider as blessings to the café” Osamah exclaimed, but asked Halambas, “Seized by fits, sometimes!”, “Is he sick, or mad?” Halambas answered before left, “Neither! He is just a dervish”
A man pressing on little pieces of burning charcoal on top of his tobacco roll and diligently sucking in an intermittent manner on the stem of his shishah hose looked at Osamah and smiled. Osamah smiled back, moving his hands in the air in a certain way signaling his confusion. The man then said after clearing his lungs from the retained shishah’s smokes, “He’s one of those blessed who are into religious things” Osamah asked, “Does he Hallucinate?” but the man quickly said, trying to explain himself by means of gesticulating, “No! Maybe... Religious hallucination…I mean…You know, those mysterious things” Osamah said, “Ah, you mean mystic things Feeling a relief, the man smiled and nodded before mildly having a round of short dry coughs. Osamah thanked him, and then stood up to got to the conference room to await his friends. On his way to the conference room Osamah passed by the dervish who mumbled when their eyes met, “One, One, He is One and the only One. He is alive, alive and never dies” Zeiner-Rigaal who brought a glass of water to the dervish said, “Here is the water you demanded, Sheikh Ali. Allah makes it taste in your mouth like honey” Ten minutes later Osamah’s friends started to show up one by one.