Thursday, August 26, 2010


A Story From Modern Egypt

In front of the mirror, Safeyya stood putting on the cheap mascara  she bought yesterday from an everything-for-two-and-a-half-pounds shop. Afterwards, she decided to wear her green lenses for she thought they would fit her screaming-yellow outfit she wore for work today. They did not at all match her color of skin, the lenses, and neither do they fit most of the other girls who wear them, but in Egypt, it’s not a common thing to find someone’s eyes having a color other than brown; and  the same  way it always happens in every place in the world, a country’s women yearn to look like another’s, and eventually,  they wind up making billionaires out of cosmetics’ companies. She tied her hair and wore the veil which formed a paradox with the tight clothes that made it easy to know what every part of her body looked like, but as a simple average girl, that was not a thing that had ever entered her mind. She hummed a song she’d heard yesterday on the radio while admiring herself in the mirror. Safeyya was not beautiful, and that was not unusual in her surroundings.
      After saying goodbye to her mother, Safeyya headed for the door and went down the stairs in a dancing movement now singing somewhat loudly the part she managed to memorize from yesterday’s song. She heard a sound of a door being slammed and was abruptly abashed and stopped her singing and dancing until the man who was there went away. She looked up and down checking if some other person was going down but, being put out of mood, she did not resume what she was doing.
   Standing in the street for fifteen minutes still not finding any empty place in a bus, she started to become somewhat worried. She considered getting on a taxi, but the thought of paying twenty pounds was appalling enough to make her totally throw that thought  out of her head; it was what she made in two days. But then, if her boss knew she was late, he would not give her the day’s salary and if she did not go at all without previously telling him so, that would be three days salary. Silently, trying to wind down, she prayed to God until she found a bus.
  Ascending the bus, which was a moving ball of human flesh adhered together, was quite a struggle. And what was harder, was clinging to the bars hung on the top of it without falling  and bearing the heat and the odor, not to mention the pain in her feet. Finally coming out of it to the air, she breathed a sigh of relief and thought to herself that it felt more like a stove than a bus. The ride on it twice everyday was inevitable which made her miss the winter days  in which she was not soaked in her own perspiration, but still, that did not save her from the other stuff. Taxis’ fare is twenty pounds; buses’ fare is one. That was enough reason for her and for millions of Egyptians to tolerate it.
   Safeyya was a salesgirl, and had been for the last three years of her life. She was only twenty and did not go to college having stopped her education as was her father’s wish to help in the expenses of their family, and she did not disagree with him; she had no interest in university and thought it was great she made it as far as high school.
  “Finally,”  Nahed, her colleague and friend  said at the sight of her. “ I was so scared he’d (their boss and the owner of the shop) come and ask why you were late." She was still making clothes for her second child; she was going to give birth in winter and did not have enough time in home to do that, so, she made them instead at work.
  “You mean he didn’t come,” Safeyya said quite relieved with the good news. “Thank God,” she said while slightly closing her eyes and sighing.
She placed her bag on a nearby table and took a seat beside Nahed.
“Aren’t you gonna tell me about yesterday’s suitor?” Nahed said.
  Safeyya sarcitaclly smiled and said, “the same..he sweated like hell, spitted while talking, had a mother who saved him the effort of talking, and who looked like the most unpleasant mother-in-law anyone could ever have.”
   “And how much did he make?”
 Safeyya raised two fingers.
  “Tell me that did not mean two thousand.”
  “You guessed right.”
  “And you refused him!” she now raised her eye browse, “what a fool you are!”
  “ I found it pretty hard to stay with him for half an hour and you want me to marry him?!”
  “Yes,” her friend said without one second of consideration.
   “He went away so whatever.”
   “Still, the shadow of a man is better than that of a wall” It was an Egyptian idiom .
    After one minute of silence, Nahed said, “ What are you thinking of?”
   “Huissen,” she said a dreamy look covering her face.
    “And who is that?”
    “ A guy I used to go out with four years ago.”
    “ You used to go out with a guy, if I did so, my dad would have buried me alive and Abbass wouldn’t have agreed to marry me.”
   “Like it was not the same for me, I just managed to keep it under covers.”
    “And what brought him to your mind now?”
    “ He was sooooo cute!”
     “Why did not you get married then?”
    “Are you kidding, he barely made five hundred pounds.”
    “You could’ve married the one who made four times as much as that and you refused because you just didn’t like him.”
   “ Listen, I absolutely know that love doesn’t pay the rent, but, that guy was unbearable so enough talking about him and tell me, did Abbass buy you anything for valentine’s day?”
  “ You heard that right.”
  “Okay now, I cannot remember the last time I ate meat. What did you want then, a teddy bear?”
  “Flowers would be great you know.”
  “You could go to any garden and smell as much flowers as you want. But now, one kilo of meat costs 50 pounds, so, if you eat it once every week, that would cost you 200 pounds which is two thirds our salary.”
  “ I still wanted the flowers.”
  “And you call me a fool?”
    At the abrupt sound of the door opening, they both stood up.  it was the first customer of their long working day,  which lasted from 9 am till 8 pm. But in fact, their days seemed to last longer than 24 hours, more like a lifetime.


Oddyoddyo13 said...

Gorgeous. The description, the accuracy....beautiful.

Brian Miller said...

intriguing tale and displays an interesting reality...what do you marry for...hmmm...

fyi spelling....abassa buy you for valentines...

Maha said...

thanks Brian! I was typing rather fast and I remember correcting it before but it appears like it was not saved.

THE BEATY said...

ah a discription of the mind numbing details of daily life... so fun

margg. said...

i love the detail to which you describe things.
if i close my eyes i can see everything, just as it is.


Eva said...

This story is amazing. It flows so naturally. Nothing is forced. You have wonderful talent and I hope you pursue it further.

Magpie said...

Such a descriptive peek into another world...where we can see we're very much alike in so many ways.

Blasphemous Aesthete said...

An ordinary girl, another ordinary day, but a story told in an intriguing manner, nice!

Blasphemous Aesthete

Phoenix said...

Fantastic writing! I'm glad you stopped by and said hi so I could return the favor - and I'm so grateful I did! Is this one part of a story that you will continue or this just a writing exercise that is complete? I get so hooked on good writing and story-telling!

Claudia said...

hm - glad she doesn't want to marry some ugly man just because he's rich - but also difficult when you barely have enough money to earn a living
think that's a sad reality for more women than we would imagine
glad you wrote about it Maha

Ed Pilolla said...

so she wants excitement and money, and who can blame her? it's so fun to drop in on a different world, where concerns and aspirations may not be all that much different than the debutants in the suburbs. these questions of who to spend our life with are nicely compartmentalized within the realities of riding crowded buses and working huge days at un-fun jobs. great detail of her clothes tight on her body.
what is worth living for?

dulce said...

Yeap... money cannot buy love.
Two opposites, these girls, one of them has never met LOVE...

Intriguing story..

Stafford Ray said...

I spent half my life waiting for a cute woman with money. I found one but she was waiting for the same thing... a rich woman with money! That was enlightening as well as entertaining~

Maha said...

@Pheonix: I got something n my head for it and I don't know if I'll carry it out or just leave it as something in my head