By: Aadel M Al-Mahdy
Thoughts chased each other so fast in his mind ─ Goddamn those customs and traditions. They are nothing but a rotten yield of unhealthy past; arrogance and pride. Goddamn the corrupt upbringing of my brother Ghayeth. He has turned my life into misery. He lived the silky side of life; a womanizer until he was shot-dead. Blood-feud has now become unavoidable. Ah, blood-feud; a feeling that keeps wavering back and forth in the chest of an Upper-Egyptian and never rests until revenge is attained no matter how many years have lapsed and generations been born.
Here it is; a letter from his father instructing me to immediately come home whatever the circumstances are to carry out his duty. He is the eldest son, therefore, he must seek revenge for his brother’ death. Thus, the perverted customs dictate, or else he will live in eternal shame.
He held his head in his hands and squeezed on his temples to stop his mind from thinking, but his efforts doomed to failure ─ Hasn’t my brother gotten what he deserved? I have frequently warned him not to bother Rashidah, the daughter of Abu-Swailam, but he did not listen. He would not lust after nobody else but her. And my father, yes, whenever my brother’s erotic adventures tickled his hearing, he would, eh, damn, Gayeth was the youngest and my father’s favorite son. Honest to God, I found nothing in Gayeth but moral depravity, dissolution, and obtuseness. But my father always discriminated between boys and girls. Girls were the family’s untouchable pride and honor, and there would be no harm if boys matured a bit earlier. My brother matured earlier all right. And Hamdan, Rishidah’s husband, lay in wait in a sugar-cane field and shot Gayeth then went home and killed his wife. For giving me a chance to avenge my brother’s death, the police had been intentionally misled. They never knew who the killer was though I knew while I was still Cairo ─ Now, obliged to perform a cultural duty, here he is in Cairo train station waiting for the train that goes to Upper-Egypt.
No one will mistaken the station by anything else; the baskets, the boxes, the luggage; all scattered around in indescribable chaos and the very long train that arrives in after it has traveled a very long distance to finally stop gasping for breathes and blow its horn; a complaint of injustice done to it by the sons of Adam and Eve whom it boards in its abdominal cavity and carries on its back along with their luggage.
He turned his face away to distract his mind by a different view as his thoughts were nothing but a torture. The cold drink vendors filled the station with their voices and their knocking on the bottles by metal openers. A family sat on the Train-Track curb having their dinner while their belongings heaped up beside them. On his left hand, his eyes caught a rich man with a big turban on his head. He had a shining soft face and on his chest a long catena glittered. Attached to a leather wallet pregnant with banknotes, the other end of the chain hid in the left side of his chest causing a bulge. He smiled as he saw, close to the rich man, who seemed to have just sold his cotton crop, two pick-pockets planning how to hunt this fat goose and how to severe his wallet’s metallic umbilical cord. A man sat reclining to his basket; his bare feet hanging down the train track. He snored so loudly that his waxed and twined ends of his mustache wiggled rhythmically. Beside him, an eighteen-year old lad, wearing his lined Upper-Egyptian traditional garb, stood holding a thick club in his hand as if he were a watch-dog on duty. People were hither and thither; men and women, sitting or standing, or snoozing.
He managed to walk through the crowd searching for a remote empty seat but his mind was still roaming ─ Damn you Gayeth! And vengeance, too! And damn the law! It does not quench the thirst. So full of loops the criminal law is that a second-year law student can manipulate it as easily as a sharp knife cutting through a bar of butter. But families exaggerate their vengeance. Thus killing begets nothing but killing; a vicious circle. Hasn’t Gayeth gotten what he deserves for lusting after Rashidah and hurting her husband’s honor? ─ His eyes caught sight of a bench and a man sitting on it by himself. He sat a bit far from him. Tears rolling down the man’s cheeks moved his curiosity. The man was weeping. He wondered if the man was burdened by blood-feud, too. The man seemed to be in his thirties; hansoms in spite of signs showing his strive and struggle with life. “Why is he crying? He whispered to himself as the man's moaning has almost burnt his face. The man was looking at him with eyes full of misery ─ "Does he want to talk to me? Come on, open up, brother. Birds of a feather flock together” he whispered to himself again.
“Doubt, It is doubt, sir, which made me loose my mind” The man said as if he has read his thought. “What are you talking about? What doubt are you talking about?” He asked. “The severest kind. Let me tell you something that happened to me” the man said and then after a short pause, he whispered, “I have to tell someone. Let it be you, sir. Do you think my kids are mine or Afifi’s? Please, let me tell you my story of doubts, my wife’s cheating with my closest friend. God, what a whirl causing my head to spin! Will you hear me out, sir? What! Did you say you will? Thank you”. But suddenly, the crowd’s noise grew louder and people started to move in every direction. The Upper-Egyptian train has arrived; smokes coming out of its chimney in hot and quick blasts like breaths coming out of a wounded beast and steam clouds were breathed out on both sides of the locomotive engine thus filling the place with thick fogs. Squeaking and screeching heightened as the enormous piston-rod stopped slamming the wheels. Compartments slightly ran into each other, and then the train came to a full stop, panting like a buffalo chased by a predator on a hot summer day.
Swallowed up in the crowd, he found him self fighting his way through like a worrier in one of the ancient battles. Finally, he sat on a window seat. Baskets and luggage were flung in and out. A piece of luggage hit his nose. “Oh, God, it is so painful” he whispered, his eyes shining with tears. A man with a sarcastic smile on his face looked at him while he was shaking the dust off of his cloth. Unconsciously, his hand plunged into his pocket searching for the train ticket. The noise abated as the station became devoid of people save for the cold-drink vendors. He looked out the window. There on the bench, he was still sitting; misery depicted on his face. His mind roamed again ─ I almost forgot him. What a cheating wife; women in Cairo and Upper Egypt. Are they all Rahshidah? Oh, no, of course not. It is men, too. Damn you, Gayeth! Damn you Afifi! Hamdan should not be blamed for doubting his relation to his kids. Do I still have to kill him because of a whole bunch of old customs and traditions? Damn!
The train’s engineer blew the horn. It wailed like a loving mother who lost her child. He looked at him again. He was still there, his eyes were so sad ─ No, no! I will not kill you, Hamdan. Let someone else do it. Not me ─ he thought and then jumped to his feet; a muffled scream coming out of his mouth. People looked suspiciously at him.
The train started to move leaving behind black clouds of smoke. On the other side of the train track, he found himself standing watching the train’s departure. And before leaving the station, he looked again across the track but he found the bench empty.