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The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals

Najati Al-Bukhari

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

One day, a very sunny day of mid-summer, when the sun shines from the summit of the blue sky indicating that the time is a little bit past midday and when the sky is perfectly serene, calm and tranquil, Amr, the ex-consul and the ancient member of the diplomatic corps of his country, observes and really witnesses just by chance and by accident the presence of a crowd of people, most of whom are old men, standing before the house in bereavement and in sorrow in the Quarter of the Rich.

Amr recalls very well that he has been in this house in sorrow and sadness just this morning and disguised as a woman. He stayed there three hours in the salon of the house putting on a black veil dress of a woman.

He recalls everything he saw in this bereaved house and remembers the total domination of old women in all festivities who were about to be nude but covered by pieces of ornaments made out of pure gold and some precious stones.

So far the ex-consul has already visited many houses submerged in sorrow and grief and based on his long experience; he thinks that he knows everything, about the detailed rituals and the ceremonies of offering condolences to the bereaved families. He is sure that he is well informed about the Kingdom of Death.

The ex-consul stands nearby this strange crowd of old men astounded and stunned. In spite of his long experience in life he cannot see at all a convincing explanation for the presence of the crowd of men who look to be composed of people belonging to the poor quarters of the city.

Amr, as far as he can remember, cannot recall that he ever saw any of these men who are mostly middle aged with the presence of many old men amongst them.

The old consul looks at his watch so as to know the exact time. The Rolex watch indicates that the time is almost one o'clock. By chance, the wall which surrounds the house is not at all high as most of the walls of the other houses are.

Normally, and as it is the tradition, each wall is higher than the tallest man in the quarter. The wall of this house in sorrow and sadness is so low that even small boys could see the interior of the house garden and courtyard, or what is there behind the walls. So it is expected that all the passers-by could see what goes on in the garden of the house and even inside the numerous rooms and halls and special places and spots of various sizes.

As it is the case of all great and magnificent palaces of the Quarter of the Rich, all families have already constructed additional annexes attached to the main building of the little palace where most of the members of the servicing staff are accommodated.

Also sometimes, very luxurious parts of these annexes are utilized for the social activities of the members of the family. In the case of some rich families of the quarter social activities are held every day in these annexes till sunrise.

At this particular moment, the beginning or the birth of the afternoon, Amr is just passing by this magnificent, splendid and glorious villa. Normally at this particular and special time, the hero of this story is there in his house. He is about to finish taking his lunch or begins to take this main meal of the day. Nobody knows, at all, why Amr is standing by chance in front of this house which he has already visited in the morning disguised as a woman in a black color veil dress.

The ex-consul, the old man in retirement, is still without his midday meal. He convinces himself to have a short walk, a stroll, a promenade around some of the neighboring houses. His walk leads him finally to the bereaved family house which he visited this morning. He stops for a while before the wall surrounding this splendid house in order to know the reason for which many people have been gathering there.

Something is taking place in front of the annexes to the main building. Some kind of a strange event, an activity is going on. From a distance, Amr is trying to discover what is going on there in the annexes to the main building.

Sunlit Window
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

With more and more of observation on the part of Amr, he could see that these men are seated on chairs around an oblong shaped tables that are full of the various kinds of plates and silver trays of cooked food and of fruits of the season.

The most important dish is that of the cooked rice with quantities of sheep meat that have been prepared and cooked with the gravy of yogurt. This gravy is poured in great quantity on the heaps of the rice and meat. It is only after pouring of the cooked yogurt gravy that the persons around the oblong table start eating.

All persons, guests, around the table use their right hands in eating the rice, the meat and the gravy, plus some bread. There is no exception to this general rule especially when rice is the main dish offered on the table.

As it is the custom and the tradition, usually the right hand is used in eating and in the preparation of the mouthful of the food eaten. While guests continue eating from the heaps of rice, several boys, waiters, continue to pour the yogurt, the cooked gravy on the heaps of rice and meat.

The guests who continue eating never exchange a single word. Everyone is busy eating and nobody at all has the time to be wasted in talking to his neighbor. No one can spare one minute to ask his neighbor about his opinion concerning the food they are eating and which is offered to them free with no charge at all.

The guest has only to eat without asking why this food is offered to them free of charge and in an unlimited quantity.

Frankly speaking, Amr has never seen in his life such a phenomenon in his country or abroad. It could only be described as a rare and unique event. The first question which comes to him is the following: How is it possible for a bereaved family to receive such a big number of guests so as to take the midday meal?

From behind the wall, Amr stands and looks with amazement and astonishment at the bizarre scene which he sees in front of him inside the wall of the bereaved family house.

Town at Dawn
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

The guests continue to eat with avidity and Amr continues to watch them. It is an event worthy of watching and deserving contemplation. Indeed, there are two tables and each accommodates about twenty five persons. The total at a time could be more than fifty or about sixty. New guests come when the feast has started long ago. Nevertheless, the quantity of food offered is sufficient to be offered to one hundred persons, the self invited guests.

Strangely enough, most of the persons who are around the table are old or quite old, of an average age of fifty five or sixty years. Very old persons could be there seated around the table, as old as being eighty or eighty five years old.

It could be noticed that most of the guests or all of them are dressed in very old dress. Some of them are dressed in the local traditional costume of the robe and the cloak. Many of them have only the white shirt and the trousers.

However, it could be said that all the dress of all kinds are old, with spots and splashes and a lot of tears in their shirts, their trousers, or their long robes and cloaks. It could be noticed that their dress is more or less dirty, that is it has not been washed since a long time. Of course, none of them has a necktie, of whatever form, color or value, around his neck with the exception of one who looks to be one of the members of the family in sorrow and grief.

Moreover, most of these guests, with the exception of one, have not shaved their faces for the last several days or even weeks. Three or five amongst these strange looking guests have beards that are somewhat long.

It should be noticed that many of these old and self invited guests are suffering from some weakness in their eye-sight. There are five amongst them who have spectacles on their eyes. They are most probably suffering from short sightedness and from stigmatism.

It is worth mentioning something regarding their footwear: It is very surprising that practically all of them, with the exception of two guests, have slippers of various kinds on their feet. Most of them have torn stockings, and very few are bare-foot with the slippers.

In spite of all, it could be noticed very easily that all of these persons, the self invited guests, the fifty or more men, are with extremely swelled bellies. Each guest, who is very busy eating the rice with the gravy and the cooked meat and bread have a swelled belly. The size of the belly differs from one person to another. However, all of these men have a very visible swelling belly in their body.

Too Much Traffic
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

How could these poor persons have such a strange swelling belly like a big ball? The only thing that could be said about this is that this swelling, bulging belly is only due to over-eating of rice, meat, bread and sweets.

Baby Plant on Table 8
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

The bumping belly of each guest is similar to a very big ball which moves in a strange way in front of the fat man.

One wonders always how such fat men walk in the streets or in their homes. The belly of each guest is so big that it becomes difficult and sometimes impossible for the fat man to move around even in his own house.

Another strange and odd remark and observation is the fact that the finger nails of all the men participating in the free-meal are long. Probably they have not been cut, trimmed, since a long time, maybe for months. The neglect of nail cutting and trimming cannot be explained and justified at all. It is only because of negligence that these nails have become long. It seems that most of these men do not have the necessary finger-nails cutting tools, like the small scissors. It is obvious that in few cases some of the finger-nails have been nibbled, eaten by the person whose nails look to be of no existence at the end of the fingers.

As it is said these self-invited guests are now eating everything in front of them. They are extremely busy by the eating activity. They do not have time to spare for any other activity except eating. Therefore, they do not have time to talk to each other.

Each guest has the main aim of taking the best pieces of meat only for himself. He knows which piece of meat he will eat next. Therefore he got a lot annoyed when he discovers that this next piece of meat has already been taken by another guest and that it has arrived already inside the stomach of the man who got it.

But anyhow, all the guests continue eating and with avidity, impatience and greediness. The problem with this meal, with this festivity, is the availability of an unlimited amount of cooked food. So every guest has enough experience to know that he can eat as much as he wants and as much as his stomach can bear.

Sometimes, there is some kind of a race between all the men present around the two or three tables, as to who can eat more than the others. Of course, this is not a healthy race because so many times it ends up in tragedies as far as the health of the guest is concerned.

At the end of the meal, each guest washes his hands by the water offered in the basins carried by boys and waiters. All the guests, and due to the fact that they do not have towels available for them, rub and dry their hands by their shirts and vests or robes or by the head-cover which is composed of a big square shaped tissue that could easily be used as towels. At the same time, Amr, in seeing some of these strange things going on before him, cannot hide his astonishment. He tries to be patient for some time in order to talk to one guest who most probably does not belong to the quarter of the rich. On the contrary, it is certain that he belongs to one of the poor quarters of the city.

One of these self invited guests to the free meal goes out of the courtyard of the house by the back door. He is really a fat man, a big bellied man of about sixty years old. Because of his heavy weight, obviously, this old man, with his swelled belly, could not walk but slowly and carefully. As soon as he comes nearby Amr he stops his walk all of a sudden because he finds himself face to face with Amr who is almost blocking the way of this fat guest.

"Sir, excuse me I would like to ask you certain questions concerning this magnificent banquet offered free and open to all in this house of bereavement. I could see a lot of persons surrounding the tables who are busy in feeding themselves out of these huge heaps of rice which we could see from here." asked Amr the self invited guest to the free meal who just comes out of the backdoor and who is really surprised to see a man whom he does not know stopping him. Amr, the ex-consul, tries as much as possible to be polite and respectful.

"Are you a stranger in this community, or what? It seems to me that you do not belong at all to our community. You are a stranger, and maybe a foreigner. In other words, you do not belong to our culture and our traditions. If you have been a member of our community you would not have posed such a question, or questions. You should know that it is part of the tradition of our people and country, and especially in this quarter of the Rich, to offer this hospitable banquet, this feast, exactly as you see it there, inside the walls of this house, in the green garden nearby the annex of the house in house in grief and sorrow. For three consecutive days, and in a very regular manner, this free lunch banquet which you see now before your eyes is offered at midday and it is open to all men who want to come and eat. Whoever wants to come and eat can do so. It is important to know that the bereaved family is ready to offer food for whatever number of people who might come to the free banquet."

"As you notice in front of you, all of those who are participating in the banquet are men of almost all ages, yet actually they are mostly the old people. Women are not welcome here. Whoever wants to come and take his midday meal can come. It should be added that there is no control on the type and origin of persons to be accepted as guests to the banquet. You should know that while men take this midday meal here in the garden, in an open space, inside the house a limited number of women, the relatives and the friends of the family of the defunct, are invited to take their meal in the dining room of the house in sorrow. Of course, they are normally served the same kind and type of cooked food offered to men. The number of women would never exceed at all twenty or twenty five."

"While men do not talk while eating, here, women talk a lot and make comments concerning what has been happening during the three hours session of the morning. While women eat less and talk more, the men outside in the annex continue eating without interruption and without uttering a single word while eating. As you see, now, there are about fifty five men who are about to finish eating and filling their bellies to the maximum." said the fat man to Amr.

"Listen to me if you please. What you say is not true and has nothing to do with reality. I am a member of this community and you should know that I am born here in this city more than seventy years ago. I am from this quarter, the Quarter of the Rich. Consequently, and obviously I know all the traditions of this community. Listen to me; I am the product of the traditions of our community. Therefore, I know all the details of our traditions."

"Yet and however, and in spite of all of that I was practically absent from my country for more than a quarter of a century. I was practically out of contact with the traditions of my country for a long time. Therefore, and due to this long absence from my society, I might have forgotten everything about this specific activity which we see now inside the walls of the house of the bereaved family."

"I might have forgotten also other aspects of our traditions. You should remember my long absence from my home-town and my country. I am sure that during the last twenty five years, the last quarter of a century, many aspects of the social life of our community and its traditions have undergone some changes the can be described, in some cases, as drastic, radical and intensive changes and development. As you know, with the passing of time, of years, of decades and of generations and centuries, some of our traditions undergo some slight or drastic changes. Even, during the long periods, some new aspects are being introduced without or being conscious of them. As much as I can remember, such free banquet of sorrow and sadness used to be arranged and in a regular manner by each family of a defunct."

"However, the magnitude and the extent of these banquets are limited. It never goes outside the reasonable limits. Usually, only the members of the family of the defunct, his close relatives and friends are invited. I remember, it used to be a family affair and in most cases men and women, the relatives, are offered the food."

"Now and here, the situation has completely changed. Practically anybody in the community, in the quarters of the city, can come and have his midday meal. There is no limit or restrictions as to who should attend the banquet. Those who come do not come on the basis of personal invitation. On the contrary, anybody can come by himself. Anyhow, have a look at those who leave the annex and go out of the gate. All of them are old, and all of them are fat with swelling bellies. They could hardly walk after the meal. Most of them cannot control their balance and their equilibrium." said Amr while he is staring at the old men who are still eating or who are leaving the garden of the house through the back-door.

"No doubt, no doubt. Many things in our social system have changed with the passing of time. A lot of new patterns of behavior have been introduced. In the long run, in spite of forces of resistance that are inherent and rooted in the society, new patterns and aspects of social changes make their way into the daily life of the members of the community. Listen to me; you should not forget at all that quite a lot of the members of our society have become very rich, with a lot of wealth and power. Of course, each has become rich in his own way. Most of the rich people of our community do not know what to do with this wealth and money. Whatever their wives and the other members of the family spend extravagantly, it would be considered only as a small drop in the sea of the wealth of the family. Having several family cars that should be changed into the most recent models every year means nothing as to the total amount of wealth available for the family to spend."

"Look around you, and you could see the edifices, the palaces, the villas and the sumptuous houses with several swimming pools in each which the rich people have built recently and in which, in the final analysis, only two mummies could live, the father and the mother, or one mummy lives in each of these huge monuments, either the father or the mother. I think you have already noticed the recent development in the case of the objective of having a magnificent residential edifices. All heads of the families are building before their death big tombs, sepulchers, mausoleums in the gardens of their houses. All the rich people of the Quarter of the Rich waste their money and wealth in these various strange ways, palaces, cars, dresses, ornaments of pure gold or of precious stones. At last they have started to construct tombs in their gardens before their death."

"Here, we should not forget the army of servants and the various home management staff, personnel. Each rich family employs more than twenty maid-servants recruited from South or South East Asia. These maids are in fact in charge of the small children of the family. Children of such families look like chimpanzees and small monkeys. They never had the chance of listening to and learning their mother tongue. Mothers of such children have other duties and activities and therefore they have no time to take care of their children."

"Indeed, one very important way of getting rid of the unlimited quantity of wealth is to have these free lunch banquets of which we see now one of them. Here anybody can come and have a free meal. The most important aspect of this meal, of this banquet, is that it is not necessary at all to be invited. Anybody can come, even those who have hated the defunct all their life. With the passing of time, of days, of weeks and of months and years, this banquet of the midday, which takes place for the consecutive days of mourning of each bereaved family, continues to be a part of the traditions to which rich people continue to be faithful."

"Also, with the passing of time, the nature of the clientele and the behavior of the members of these guests have undergone important and basic changes. Those who have been accustomed and addicted to come at noon to have the free lunch in a bereaved family house garden, have become, in fact, professionals in this particular field of activity of detecting a copious free lunch meal which is systematically offered in the bereaved rich family houses for three consecutive days. It is estimated that there are certain hundreds of persons, only old men, who are accustomed to have every day a free lunch in the house of the defunct in the rich family quarter."

"For example, here, I am a person who always and in a systematic way is present every day in a free lunch banquet somewhere in this Quarter of the Rich. With me, I see others who attend such banquets like me every day. All of us, we know each other and have developed friendship, comradeship and companionship amongst us. Obviously, in my daily life, I am a beggar who earns his daily life by asking help from others. I, myself, have a grocery which I have been managing since about forty five years when I had inherited the shop from my father, who died very old. As you see, I am not in need of the charity and the kindness of others, the rich. Nevertheless, I have never taken my lunch for the last ten years, at home and with my family, my wife and my children."

"Every day and since more than ten years, I have been going to the houses of the bereaved families for taking my free lunch. This is the case of many persons like me who come from the other poor quarters of our community where only poor and needy people live. As you have noticed, here, in observing all of those who take their lunch, that most of them are old men and in retirement. As a result of that their own occupation in the morning is to know the exact address of the house of a family in bereavement so as to rush there at lunch time for taking their meal and fill their stomach as much as possible. I could see with me others whom I saw in the previous days somewhere else in the Quarter of the Rich."

"I would like to tell you, my dear friend, that now, and in our city, an association has been formed since two years. It aims at providing the exact information about the houses of persons who died during the last few days, their address, and the possibility of finding a lunch banquet to be offered free to all those who would like to come. This association has its own president, chairman, and has its main administrative structure and staff with experience. Through this Association each member can choose the bereaved house the most suitable for his purposes and interests."

"Obviously, a free lunch banquet is chosen by each person on the basis of its richness and its geographical location. Most of us prefer the bereaved houses that are nearest to our residences. However, since most of us come from the other poor quarters, the geographical location of the bereaved house is not a determining factor in the choice of the place where the banquet is offered. As you should know, all the activities of this association are secret, confidential. Most of the final and important messages are sent by telephone to all the members of the Association. A network of telephone contacts and information has been established. The center of the Association of the Free Lunch usually contacts ten members and each of these is supposed to contact two more members until all the members of the Association become well informed of the most recent facts and information about the free lunch banquets offered in the Quarter of the Rich. Because of this rich, copious, substantial, plentiful and ample midday free meal and because of the great quantity of food which one can consume, each member of this Association of the Free Lunch has a big belly which is horribly swelling and looks like a big ball carried by each of these guests of the free meal banquet."

"It is very important to point out here that the more the belly is swelled the more the person who has this belly would become respectable, venerated, honored amongst the members of the Association of the Free Lunch of the dead. This fat person is also respected amongst the inhabitants of all the quarters of the city of the community."

"I should point out that the final objective of the members of our association is only to eat in feasts and banquets offered by the bereaved families who lost one of their members, especially the masters, the chiefs of the families. The moment a guest of such banquets finishes eating all what he could eat, he begins dreaming of the next coming free lunch banquet of tomorrow. He already knows the detailed information including the address of the bereaved family offering the free banquet."

Here, the fat man stops talking to Amr. It seems he got tired and even exhausted because of the long talk and the extensive presentation which he made to Amr. This fat man leaves the ex-consul and goes immediately towards the bus-stop of the location. Of course, he walks slowly because of his heavy weight and his being more or less in a state of confusion and disequilibrium.

As for Amr, and after having seen something which was for him a surprise and totally unexpected, he decides not to continue his walk but to go back to his house and as soon as possible.

Probably, he is fatigued and tired because of what the strange fat man has told him just few minutes ago. It should be remembered that Amr is determined to go in the afternoon to the same house in bereavement which he has visited this morning disguised as a woman. There, he met his friend Monkar disguised equally as a woman.

Inspired Animal
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

For Amr, such an evening visit to a bereaved family house for offering his condolences has become a sacred duty and as part of the routine activities of his daily life. Without such evening condolence visits he believes that his life on that day could be considered as wasted or as of no value at all. He tries as much as he can, to be perfectly ready, physically, mentally and morally for such an evening activity which has become for him as a holy duty. On the other hand, he considers his morning visits, when only women consolers are present, as, also, an important activity which he has to carry out on a daily basis.

As a matter of fact, the visit of the morning is considered by him as more important than that of the evening because it constitutes for him a challenge, a real challenge.

The morning condolence visit, where only women are expected to be present, is considered by him as a real adventure which is full of many risks and unexpected developments and events.

Amr is now absolutely decided to take his lunch, not as it is expected of him in his own house served by Abdu but in some of these houses in bereavement where the family of the defunct offers the free lunch banquet to all those who would come.

Of course, such a house could only be discovered in the Quarter of the Rich. For him, it is extremely important to track down a house in sorrow in the other side of the Quarter of the Rich. There, on the other side of the quarter, it is not probable at all that anybody could recognize him in this banquet in which only poor people are supposed to be attending. The absence of Amr for about twenty five years makes out of him a person who could hardly be identified either by the members of the bereaved family or by one of the guests.

In any case, Amr is quite sure that in the house in which he would take his free lunch he would be completely unknown. But at the same time he thinks that he should put on the old used clothes which he used long ago for visiting the coffee houses in the old parts of the city. These old costumes are still there in his possession, in his house. Or he might buy another old costume that has been used by a man living in the old quarters of the city. Or he might buy the old and shabby clothes of a beggar.

The next day, Amr awakes more or less early in the morning. He takes his breakfast. Then he unexpectedly smokes only one cigarette while reading the daily newspaper. While reading the paper he smokes several times because of the smoking of the cigarette.

Amr knows in advance that this day would be the most difficult for him and the most tiring and exhausting, because he has to go in the morning session for offering condolences with women. Then, he is planning to have his free lunch offered in one of the bereaved family houses. Later, in the evening he would go to the same house of the morning to offer his sympathy and his condolences to the bereaved family where only men would be participating in the ceremony.

Therefore in the morning and after finishing three hours of offering condolences with women, Amr hurries up to go to his house in order to prepare himself to go to the same house to which he went in the morning so as to take his free lunch with the other old aged guests.

He is sure that anybody could go there without being invited. He puts on the old and the shabby costume and looks at himself in the mirror. He is satisfied and is sure that nobody could recognize him. He would be completely unknown there amongst others who would be busy all the time eating avidly the rice with meat, yogurt gravy and bread.

Amr sits in his car and is somewhat excited because this is the first time for him in which he would take the free lunch. It takes him a short time to be in his destination, which is the house in bereavement which offers the free lunch. Amr parks his car somewhere far from the house in sorrow and grief.

Of course, the time has now passed the midday and it might be that it is twelve thirty or about to be one o'clock. The new guest, Amr, is not in fact very late. He is on time and the guests, the old and retired men, have just started to eat with excitement, animation and passion. There is an unlimited quantity of cooked food to be eaten. Obviously, there was no need to be in a hurry.

Amr directs himself vividly and excitedly to the back of the house. It is a kind of an annex which is separated from the main building of the house. The annex by itself is an independent unit from the main building.

There are many persons, all men, who are mostly old people. All and without any exception are poorly dressed. They are actually about to enter into the hall of the annex utilized as a dining room. Inside the hall there are three tables which could accommodate about one hundred guests or a little bit more.

The lunch commences at exactly one o'clock. At that time of the day all the three tables of the hall of the annex dining room are filled with all kinds of food with a lot of bread available in great quantities.

The most important dish is that of rice covered with many pieces of meat and of cooked yogurt gravy. This is always and everywhere the main dish offered in the free lunch banquet. When somebody finishes eating till he is completely satisfied and has his stomach filled to the maximum, he leaves voluntarily his place so as another guest would have his turn in eating.

Amr, who is a new guest, or participant in the free lunch banquet, enters into the hall where people eat. This is the dining room of the annex. Three or four free seats are available and Amr has to choose any of these seats. Otherwise, all would be occupied in few minutes time and Amr would have to wait for some time until a seat becomes free.

Obviously, Amr begins to look at all the guests of the free meal banquet while they feed themselves with enthusiasm, interest and satisfaction. For some time he does nothing with the exception of looking at the guests who are extremely busy in eating from the heaps of rice put in front of them. Of course, the new guest, the ex-consul, becomes conscious of the fact that he is here not to look at the others but to eat, to start eating. Really, he is hungry and he has to begin eating. The thing which astonishes him of the fact that all the other guests are using their right hands in eating everything, the bread, the rice, the meat, the vegetables, the fruits etc. He finds that there is no scope to use the spoon, the fork and the knife at all. There is not trace for any of these tools of eating from the table.

This is exactly the case of the way of eating in the quarters with the exception of that of the rich. In those poor quarters it is now a general rule to find the spoon being used in the lunch and dinner meals.

But here in this annex there is no trace for the spoon. As for Amr, he cannot remember at all that he has ever used his hand in eating the rice with yogurt gravy and the meat. The spoon, the fork and the knife were always present in the house of his childhood. He never used the hand to eat from a dish or from a tray. It was all the time with the spoon alone, or recently with the fork and the knife. This time, in this free lunch banquet, he has to use his right hand only. There is no other solution at all. He has to use his right hand like all the other guests.

The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals - 14 of 20 - Top Menu / Bottom Menu

Amr soon discovers that he has to use his right hand in his initial attack on the piece of meat which he has to cut, to take, from a bigger piece, perhaps a quarter of a sheep, or a lamb. It is only with his fingers of the right hand that he should manipulate the piece of meat, the quantity of rice which he would put in his mouth and which should be completely saturated with the cooked yogurt gravy and the required piece of bread.

The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals - 14 of 20 - Top Menu / Bottom Menu

In a very short time all of these components of a mouthful take the shape of a small ball of the size of an apple. In a very quick manner, this mouthful ball of rice, meat, and bread enters the mouth of the guest. It takes also a short time to chew what is there in the mouth and to begin swallowing what has been chewed.

At the same time, another ball of rice, meat and bread, all dipped in the cooked yogurt gravy, is being prepared by the fingers of the right hand so that it could be put, thrown, into the mouth to be chewed and then swallowed into the stomach.

Amr watches carefully and intelligently the whole process of forming the ball of rice and the way it is put into the mouth. Then he ventures to make his first ball of rice. In fact, he is very successful and triumphant in forming his ball of rice. In a miraculous way, this first ball of rice, meat and bread enters his mouth. The ex-consul could be judged as being a very successful guest as far as the speed in which he learnt how to eat like all the other poor guests. He masters the method and the technique of eating by the help of his right hand only.

Starting from that point, the hero of the story continues to eat the rice, the meat and the bread in an uninterrupted and an unbroken manner. While he eats with enthusiasm he looks at his belly, which already has a considerable size, to see whether it began to swell, to expand and to inflate.

He imagines that he has already a belly that looks like a very big ball and imagines him not being able to move or to walk. He imagines himself also being looked at by all the people who see him walking in the street.

Amr has been actually counting the number of balls of rice which he has been eating. At a certain point he tells himself that he has eaten so far ten huge balls of rice, meat and bread. At this point he starts to have pain in his stomach. It is time for him to stop eating because if he continues to eat the rice and meat he will die on the spot and here in the dining room of the annex of the bereaved family house. He looks at the other guests and he gets surprised to see the others continuing eating the balls of rice and meat. Amr could not understand the strange behavior of these guests, the professional guests of the free lunch banquet. It is certain that those guests cannot go on eating perpetually and forever. There is a limit for everything in life.

All of a sudden, he is stunned and bewildered to notice that his neighbor, sitting on his right, an old man of more than seventy five years of age and an old civil servant in the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, does not move at all. He is all tranquil, all serene, placid and calm.

Amr thinks that this old man is actually sleeping. He leans and reposes his head on his chest. Is he really sleeping or what? Is it the custom to have a nap here while eating the delicious food?

Nevertheless, the old retired man does not make any movement and does not try at all to raise his head to its normal position. His belly is so swelled and big that the old consul firmly believes that his neighbor's belly, stomach, is really about to burst at any moment. Amr looks around him so as to see what he could do. Unfortunately, all the guest who are seated around the three oblong shaped tables are totally busy in eating and in feeding themselves and in filling their mouths and then stomachs with the rice, the meat and the bread as well as the cooked yogurt gravy.

Curiously enough, nobody remarks and notices what goes on in the dining room with the neighbor of the new participant in the free lunch banquet. One could notice that everybody in the dining hall is really busy only with eating and nothing else.

But suddenly, abruptly and in an expected way a strange silence, some kind of a muteness dominates in the hall, the dining-room. A heavy state of speechlessness establishes itself on the place. Because the man who seems to be sleeping and who is leaning his head on his chest, has, in an unexpected way, fallen from his chair on the ground, the floor of the hall, dead, a body without life with his mouth still open and full of food that is not chewed neither swallowed.

Nobody notices this fatal incident. Yet Amr is petrified. He is sure, certain, that the old man is dead. Has he had a heart attack? Amr asks himself. Nobody knows at that moment the reason of the death of the guest who lies there like a dead dog.

The dead body, the corpse, of the old man rests lying, stretched, on the floor of the hall while the other guests, the other old men, continue to eat from the tray of rice in a very mechanical way as if they are dogs eating without knowing what they are offered to eat.

As expected, Amr, the new guest cleans and rubs his right hand with a white handkerchief which he has all the time in his pocket. He tries desperately and frantically to talk to those who are present around him in the annex dining room. He tries to talk to the old and retired men who are busy in eating what is found on the three oblong shaped tables.

Unfortunately, he fails to speak to anybody and nobody could or is ready to listen to him. All the guests are completely busy in feeding themselves. There is no way to make them stop eating so as to listen to what Amr is telling them.

Amr thinks that the man lying now on the floor is in fact alive but he is dump and deaf because he could neither talk nor make any movement. The waiters who are in charge of serving the guests, and there are ten of them, have not remarked anything extraordinary and remain careless to what has been happening in the dining room, They continue to go and come back without doing anything to the old man lying on the floor of the hall of the annex. They do not notice at all that a man is dead.

Finally, one of these ten young waiters addresses solemnly those who are present seated in their chairs around the three tables. He says to them: 'Listen to me, all of you, a man is dead. Please, stop eating for a while and listen to me.'

Living the Mystery
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

What happens next is very strange, odd and inexplicable, indeed. Unfortunately all the persons around the three banquet tables carry on eating and maintain to behave and to conduct themselves as if nothing has happened in the dining room of the annex.

What could the ex-consul do so as to attract the attention of these strange old human beings who are really behaving like extremely hungry old dogs?

Of course, there is no time to think and to undertake some thinking. Instantaneously, Amr takes an empty metallic tray in his left hand and begins to strike on it several times by a kitchen knife that happens to be there on the front oblong table. The old consul wants to attract the attention of those who are present and to make them aware, conscious, of the fact that somebody is dead few minutes ago and that this dead old man is found nearby him on the floor of the annex.

Consequently, all of those who are present in the huge dining room of the annex stop eating. They begin to look at each other in an astonishing manner while they draw on their fat and wrinkled faces a meaningless, weird and a grotesque smile.

"It is most probable that he died because of indigestion in his stomach and in his intestines. Moreover, this is not the first case. These people eat like hungry and savage wild animals which have been deprived of any kind of food and water for several days. They are not ready at all to believe that rice and meat that are consumed in huge quantities can cause death, can kill and can cause harm to anybody who eats them without control."

"Look at the swelled belly of those old and retired men that look like a big ball. The main and the principal objectives of these greedy men are to eat the greatest quantity of rice and meat and bread. Obviously, these people never think at all of their health and of the danger of over-eating." explained a waiter eloquently and articulately.

"Excuse me. For me this is the first time that I participate in such a banquet, the free lunch banquet. The way those people eat in this lunch banquet is surprising, disgusting and repulsive. All of them eat avidly and greedily. They eat what they see on the tables without having time to say a single word. When you watch them you think that they are in a race, in a contest and in a competition because each one of them thinks that his neighbor would swallow, would gulp what is offered to all. Please, look at their belly. It is something shameful to look at!! What a shame. Look at their bellies. They are big, huge and repulsive." answered Amr with excitement.

"Listen to me attentively. It is reported that at least five men, five old men, die each month in the various houses of bereavement which offer this free lunch in the Quarter of the Rich. Usually all the five die because of over-eating and consequently because of indigestion. The figure of five refers to those who die just on the spot. That is; in the dining rooms of the annexes of the houses of families in bereavement. I think there should be more than five who die the moment they reach their homes or die after few days time. Those who die far from the house in bereavement would be declared as having died because of heart attack or because of a heart failure. Doctors would never say that these people died because of the swelling bellies. All of those who die while eating or somewhat later in their homes are the very old and most of them are retired from either the public or the private establishments. All die because of problems of indigestion and over-weight." said the waiter to Amr.

"Listen to me, my son. I am only a beginner in this domain of the free lunch provided by the families of the defunct during the three days of the condolences. My belly as you could see is moderately swelled since several years. I have been eating more than enough in my lunch and dinner meals without having the chance of moving around. Please, look at that man who sits at the head of that table, the first one near the door. Observe him very carefully. You could see that he does nothing but eating and eating by using in a clever way the five fingers of his right hand. He eats in a quick way and he does not make a pause for either taking some rest or for talking with his neighbor."

"His right hand is always full of rice and meat. The hand can never be seen empty and without movement. During the last quarter of an hour, this man has swallowed about twenty balls of rice, meat and bread. Each ball of rice could be the full meal of a man in normal eating conditions. This man would continue eating as long as those ten waiters, and you are one of them, go on to fill the trays of the tables with heaps of rice. This old man is in a fierce battle against time. His only hope is to go on eating as long as he finds in front of him an unlimited supply of cooked rice, meat, bread and the gravy of the cooked yogurt. This man, and from time to time, looks around him in a very furtive and secretive manner, and for a short time, just to discover whether somebody is observing him, is looking at him. This man, who would die very soon in few days time, is always afraid of the monitoring eyes. But this curious man is surprised to discover that all the other guests sitting around the tables behave exactly like him. Most of the time, they eat and occasionally they look around them." said Amr to the waiter who is talking to him.

"You should notice, if you please, the number of those guests who bring with them plastic bags of a considerable size so that they would be filled with rice, meat and bread at the end of the meal. They take these filled bags with cooked food to their homes in order to give their families the chance to eat the same food which they have been eating for the last one hour. The members of the family know that their father, their chief, would be bringing with him a bag full of the rice and the meat of the free lunch banquet of condolences. Their poor families wish that people in the Quarter of the Rich die so that there would be for them a continuous supply of free meal. In very rare cases some of these guests fill their pockets with pieces of cooked meat which they later on keep for themselves by hiding them in plastic bags somewhere in a hidden place in their bedrooms."

"You should not forget the cases of death of some of these guests when they arrive in their homes. People, the neighbors, who come usually to help the family in such an unexpected event, are completely stunned to find the pockets of the dead man filled with pieces of cooked meat wrapped in old papers which the old men normally carry for the purpose of using them to wrap the meat."

"It happens that the moment this old man arrives at home with his bulging belly, he commences to feel that he is really sick. He is a sick man who is about to die. This man discovers, as soon as he arrives in his house, that he can no more walk by himself and that he is in need of somebody of the family to help him to go to his bedroom. It is a well known pattern of behavior and of life of such fat men that in few days time from the last free lunch banquet during which they fell ill, he is announced dead because of a heart attack or a heart failure or any other sickness related to the ailment of the heart. But nobody knows that the real cause of death is the stomach and the indigestion and not the failure of the heart." said the waiter to the bewildered ancient consul and the retired old man.

Suburban Animal
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

This new phase in the life of the old consul does not last long. Immediately after this free lunch banquet, given by the bereaved family, and after one month attendance of some free lunch banquets, he decides not to attend any of these free banquets.

Amr tells himself that he would not support any more the horrible events that take place in these free lunch banquets. He would not support any more seeing what goes on in front of him in these annexes and in these free lunch banquets. He would not bear seeing human beings whose main objective in life is to go to a free lunch just to eat and just to fill the stomach and the plastic bag with rice, meat and bread all dipped in the cooked yogurt gravy. The extremely swelled bellies of these old men have become for Amr the source of repugnance, of aversion and of repulsion.

After one month of frequent attendance of these free lunch banquets Amr remarks that his belly has been swelling, in spite of himself. It has become of a size which horrifies him. As it is mentioned above, Amr before he began the phase of the free lunch banquet has already some kind of a swelled belly which has been visible and which could not have been concealed by dressing himself of over-sized costumes.

But now, his belly is about to be exactly like that of the old men who come regularly to the free lunch banquets. Amr discovers this fact and becomes terrified. What could he say? Nothing!

Jar by Window
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

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The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals

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© 1980-2017 by Najati Al Bukhari, Mont de Marsan, France

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