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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

Amr consults his watch, a Roles mark, which he bought once in London, and discovers that the time is only just four o'clock in the afternoon. He wonders whether it is suitable to pay a visit to the house of his cousin at this awkward time. He thinks that it would be inopportune not only to visit in person the house of this cousin but also to telephone him.

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Amr hesitates a lot and starts to think and to contemplate, to go or not to go, to go or not to go, to go or not to go? His cousin, who is almost of the same age as that of Amr, or may be few months younger, has not yet paid a visit of courtesy to him since his return from Chilnega.

Amr has been thinking during the last few days of the reasons that prevent his cousin from making a courtesy visit to him in his house. He could not find a reasonable answer for this kind of behavior on the part of his cousin Sari. Although, nobody so far has come to pay him a visit of courtesy, Amr expects that his cousin, Sari, would come to see him and without any delay. As far as he remembers him, Amr, has excellent relationship with this cousin in the past and that they have been friends, intimate and close friends, for the last sixty years.

So Amr is a little bit worried as to the reasons for the absence of his cousin Sari. In the past, Amr, the hero of this story, and up till now, had been having good and friendly relations with his cousin Sari.

In the past and before the retirement of Amr, since three weeks, and whenever Amr came in leaves and in holidays to his country and to his home-town, Sari has never forgotten to invite Amr, the consul and the diplomat, to all the social evening receptions and parties held in his house.

In the past, Sari used to take his cousin, the consul, with him to all the social evening reception parties whenever Amr used to be found here in the city.

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Consequently, and with remembering all of these evenings of the past with the company of Sari, his cousin, Amr got more and more confused why his cousin, Sari, did not so far pay him a courtesy visit and even why his cousin does not call him by telephone. All of this negative and or most probably neutral behavior and reaction on the part of Sari towards his cousin Amr, his close friend since childhood could not be explained at all or accepted by the old consul, the newly retired diplomat.

Amr goes to the corner where the telephone is placed and made available for use by anybody and at any time of the day. The moment he arrives there, he stands still, tranquil, immobile and motionless. He does not dare to touch the telephone receiver. But he has an inner impulse, a sudden inclination to talk to his cousin, Sari. He stretches his hand to reach the telephone receiver. At the same time he hesitates to touch the instrument. In the final analysis, he decides not to talk to his cousin by telephone.

He retires, withdraws, his hand without any reluctance and he puts it on his mouth. This gesture, made on his part, usually helps him to think better and, perhaps, to come to the right decision and in the shortest possible time. All of a sudden, Amr remembers, and without any difficulty the reason which made him not to telephone to his cousin, Sari. At that particular moment he remembers the wife of his cousin.

He does not want to disturb the wife of his cousin who might be busy doing some of her home work or guiding the maid-servants carrying out their daily work. She might be occupied in preparing something special in the kitchen for her husband and her dear son. Amr remembers very well that this wife has been always nice and gentle to him whenever he came in contact with her in previous years. Amr, now and at this particular moment he wants to avoid any possibility of disturbing her at this time of the day.

However, since Amr does not want to telephone to his cousin now, then he should wait for at least two more hours so as to be sure that his cousin could be found in the house. His cousin most of the days of the week, works in the morning and in the afternoon, till six o'clock in the evening. Amr discovers that he has a lot of time till six o'clock in the evening and he should have something to do, something to fill his time and to avoid frustration and confusion.

What could he do? What could he do? He looks around himself and he finds his house full of many pieces of furniture of the French style, especially that of Louis 15th. For the first time in his life Amr discover that his house does not contain a space, a place, for the library, the library of the family. His house does not contain a study room and a place for writing. What a tragedy and what a shame!! This is the first time in his life when he discovers that in all his life he did not buy a single book and in all his life he never read a single book. For him, he discovers that this is a crime, to be the enemy number one of books and the world of books. For the first time is his life he discovers himself to be a criminal because his hands never touched a book and because he never read a book. What a tragedy in his life.

Indeed, he realizes that it is not only he who does not read books but also all people whom he had known for the last half a century. All of those people, some of the residents of the Quarter of the Rich, are proud of their being enemies of books. Most of his friends are proud of the fact that they never read a book in their life. Amr, and to his delight, discovers that he lives in a community where nobody reads books or intending to ask his children to read books.

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So in this respect, he Amr does not have a space for a library where he could sit and spend two hours reading in a book of his choice. What a tragedy, what a tragedy!! He discovers that the only printed script which people of this community could read is the daily newspaper which Amr had daily a copy of it in his house. This daily newspaper contains mainly news about death and the funeral and the burial of persons who die in hundreds in the city and in the country as a whole each day and without any recession.

Amr remembers in this respect that in certain families it is prohibited, absolutely prohibited, to buy books and bring them to the home. Of course, the ignorant fathers all the time make an exception for the entry of the textbooks in case the family has still children of the school age category. Obviously, at the end of any school year, all textbooks bought at the beginning of the school year are either put in the waste baskets or are burnt in the backyard of the house by the help of the servants of the house. Sometimes some quantity of kerosene is poured on these school textbooks so as to be sure that the books would be totally burnt and not a single copy is saved and brought back inside the house.

As soon as Amr realizes that his house does not contain a library at all, and that not even a single book of whatever form or quality could be found in his house, he decides to seat himself in a comfortable chair, an armchair in the veranda of his house so that he would be able to watch and observe the movements in the surroundings of his house.

Before being seated he remembers that since a long time he has not taken tea with lemon. In most of recent years he has been a man who adores only having a cup of coffee at any hour of the day even before going to bed. Back in his youth years he used to take tea with lemon very often, even twice a day and sometimes immediately after the lunch or the dinner meals. But later on it was not possible for him to get this type of tea. He does not know why.

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Amr calls his servant to come to him. It is worth mentioning that Abdu always keeps himself in a place very near to where his master is usually seated or found. He keeps himself invisible from the sight of the master but ready to jump in the presence of his master. If ever Abdu wants to be in a place in the house far from his master he would tell his master that he would be inaccessible.

In calling his servant to come to him Amr does not shout. He does not even call him in a loud voice. Abdu at once is now standing in front of his master.

"Abdu, prepare for me a cup of tea." the master of the house asked.

"Immediately my master, the cup of tea would be in front of you with some slices of lemon." Abdu answered.

Like an act of magic, Abdu comes back instantaneously to the veranda with a tray on which is placed the cup of tea and the slices of lemon with some cubes of white sugar. The servant puts the tray on the low table. Abdu was about to leave the place after putting the tray on the table, but his master told him.

"Wait and do not go. Bring a chair from the salon and then, if you please, be seated on it. I would like to talk to you for few minutes, for a short time, or for a while. O! I do not know for how long."

During the last two weeks Amr has been accustomed to ask his servant to listen to him while he talks, and sometimes he asks him his opinion and his reactions. Abdu in such cases remains standing for a long time, maybe, half an hour. This is the first time in which Amr asks his servant to be seated.

So when Abdu goes to the salon to bring the chair he is wondering what his master would be talking about. Would he be discussing with him some family problems, maybe some personal problems, some problems related to life in the quarter or in the community at large?

Of course, Abdu is expecting his master to talk about everything with the exception of politics. Although he is nothing but a servant yet he is well aware of what is going on in the field of politics in the country, in the region and on the international level. Abdu has come to the conclusion that nobody would like to talk about politics. Abdu realizes that it is risky and dangerous to talk about politics and everybody prefers to listen rather than to talk when politics becomes the subject of discussion.

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This negative, obedient, submissive and compromising attitude towards politics and politicians has been developed by the inhabitants of the quarter, or the city as a whole during the last thirty years. In the past, the people, the ordinary as well as the prominent and the intellectuals used to talk politics and exchange ideas and discuss arguments.

Of course, one could see that in the past, talking politics led to some negative consequences including, in some cases, going to prison or escaping from the country. Abdu, though only seventeen years old but he knows history as it is told by the people, the ordinary people, the citizens of the city and the country. Abdu is carrying the chair on which he would seat himself when he recalls all of these ideas, all of these sensitive ideas which have recent historical dimensions. Although the distance between the centre of the salon and the entrance of the veranda does not exceed few minutes, Abdu thought that he was crossing in fact the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula of which he heard a lot of stories from his friends and from his relatives.

When Abdu arrives at the veranda where his master is seated, he feels relieved as if he has really crossed the Empty Quarter or any other desert. Abdu looks to be a little bit tired when he puts the chair nearby the armchair of his master. Without being asked to sit down, Abdu sits in the chair the moment it is put on the floor.

"Start, if you please to talk to me, Abdu. I would like to listen to you. Tell me if you please the news of the people living in the quarter; tell me their stories and their tales. Tell me if you please all the rumors which you know about the people, about the families who live around us. Look there, in front of us, you could see the beautiful and the magnificent villas and palaces. No doubt there is a story, a strange story about each house and each family living in the palaces which we see in front of us."

"As you know each family pretends that it is the only one in the community that does not have problems of its own. While in fact such a family is the first in the community which is burdened by problems such as the recent divorce of two of their sons and daughters, the refusal of the mother to admit that she is no more young, thirty or forty years old, but an old woman of sixty years or even more, the insistence of the father to have mistresses, at least three at a time, though he is sixty seven years old, the continuous intoxication of the two sons and one daughter with the drugs and with alcoholic drinks, the refusal of one son to go to school since ten years after finishing the ninth grade level and his determination to sit in front of the T.V. set night and day, the presence of a mentally retarded son of thirty years old who is always imprisoned in one of the rooms of the basement, the continuous absence of the eldest daughter in the night clubs, etc. etc."

"This family has still more problems, but the father and the mother have nothing to do, when they see others, in life except fabricating false stories about the other families of the quarter."

While Amr is addressing his words to his servant he is having the daily newspaper in his hand.

"Look at this paper, Abdu. It is voluminous with three hundred pages or more. But this daily newspaper tells us the names of persons who died during the last few days. But it is not mentioned at all how these people died. I am certain that behind each name there is a tragic story. No doubt each name of a deceased, of a defunct, there is a long tragic story which is kept as a family secret." Amr said to his servant.

"Sir, I am sure you are already aware of all the stories about the people of this quarter and of this community at large. I am sure you have been getting all kinds of weekly, monthly and quarterly magazines. These publications normally, contain all the scandalous stories of this city. You know that there are more than fifty such periodicals which are specialized in telling the strange stories of our community. In fact these magazines are well known in all the countries of the region. Readers of such magazines of scandals and rumors are more in the neighboring countries than here in our city or in our country as a whole."

"Such publications provide curious details about each story. The editors of these magazines are specialists and clever in telling stories of scandals. So you have been receiving these publications when you were in the various foreign countries as a consul. In addition to these magazines you have been receiving visitors in these foreign countries coming from our city and our country. I am certain that they have been telling all the necessary stories and in details."

"So, Sir, I cannot add more to what you have already known. Besides, I think that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of our country is always careful to communicate to all its officials abroad the most recent scandalous events so that all embassies abroad would be quite informed about the most recent social development in the country. A specialized section has been established in the Ministry to prepare such reports that deal with the social developments in the country." Abdu said to his master.

"No! Abdu, you are misinformed about our activities in the foreign countries. Let me tell you first of all that I am not well informed at all of current events of my country. Let me report to you, I know nothing, practically nothing in this respect. There in the Embassy, in Chilnega as well as in our embassies in the other countries, nobody, of the officials of the embassy, reads the publication, the magazines, which you speak about. You already know that all members of the diplomatic corps of our country do not read at all. They are one hundred percent against reading, against any intellectual activity. There, nobody reads books, nobody reads magazines and above all nobody tries to listen to the radio, to listen to the new bulletins about our country."

"Of course, the T.V. screens are everywhere. Here in this domain, everybody prefers only to watch films and some others recreational programs coming from T.V. chains in Europe or in America. So Abdu does not speak to me about the fifty or sixty magazines published in our country or in the countries of the region. All of these publications are thrown in the wastebaskets or are burnt in the courtyards of the embassy."

"So you should believe me Abdu that I am a completely ignorant person. I am just an idiot. I never tried to use my brain and I never thought that my life as an old man in retirement would be a miserable one. In fact I am an intellectual parasite. I am nothing. I feel that in the intellectual field I am nothing." Amr said nervously while he was moving himself in his armchair in trying to take a more comfortable, easy and relaxing position."

"There is nothing of importance that has taken place. The same stories that have happened years ago, in the far and in the near past, are repeated nowadays. There is nothing of importance. I could make a general conclusion that there was no drastic change in the basic nature of events. The daily life of the inhabitants of the quarter did not change a lot, with the main exception of that which is related to wealth and getting more wealthy. So the same problems of the past are becoming more and more complicated." said Abdu who does not want to add anything to what he has already said."

Abdu, without being invited to stop talking and to leave the place, stands up, goes to the tray, and takes it from the low table after being sure that Amr finished drinking his cup of tea. The faithful servant rushes to the door of the veranda and goes out of it in the direction of the kitchen. He is glad to have left the veranda and his master.

Abdu is not in the mood to talk as his master expects him to do. He cannot tell his master all the recent events and stories of the quarter and that of the community in general. Abdu goes out of the presence of his master with a sense of fear and joy. He does not know what should be the reaction of his master because he failed to tell Amr the gossips that circulate around in the city.

Abdu is glad at the same time that he is no more in front of his master, Amr. Abdu, the young ephebe, goes first to the salon and then goes to the direction of the kitchen.

Of course, Amr stays where he is in the veranda sitting in the comfortable armchair of the French style of Louis 15th. He stays all alone and he tries to remember all what his servant has told him.

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His faithful servant is probably now in the kitchen talking to the maid-servant. In remembering what Abdu has already told him he comes to the conclusion that his young man is very intelligent and perhaps he is more intelligent than him in spite of the fact that he never traveled as he himself did.

Amr has nothing to do except to look at the landscape, the scenery in front of him. He is all the time puzzled, astonished and even stunned whenever he sits in the veranda and begins looking at the scenes in front of him.

He traveled a lot in the world because of his work as a diplomat. He saw all kinds of buildings found in the various quarters of the many cities he visited so far. Yet he never saw in his life a more luxurious quarter than the one he sees in front of him. Amr thinks that a lot of wealth, a lot of money, has been put, invested wastefully in the construction of these small palaces and magnificent villas. Nowhere in the world one could see such edifices built out of stones and of pure white marble.

Then Amr tells himself and says what a waste of wealth!!! What a waste of money!! Most of these palaces are now deserted and nobody lives there except the ghosts, the phantoms and the corpses of an old man and or an old woman in each of these edifices.

However, in spite of all of that, Amr notices that some movement has started to take place here and there in the quarter of the rich. This movement is represented by the coming and going of some of the most modern German, English, Italian or French cars or the appearance of some human beings, especially children.

There, in front of that small palace, on the top of the hill, a small car stops, and from it comes out a man and a woman. The two are middle aged and well dressed. It seems that both of them belong indirectly to the family living in that palace. The middle aged woman is the daughter of the old man, the owner of the small palace, who is a widower who died last year in very obscure and confused circumstances.

Another car stops in front another small palace and from it come out two children, two small girls. They look to be the grand children of the proprietor of the villa who dies a week ago.

Thus some activity takes place here and there and Amr could see this very clearly and without any difficulty. In addition to those two cars, Amr begins to see some pedestrians who are walking in the main street of the quarter. Yet they are not many. It could be said that several persons are coming from all directions.

However, these pedestrians, in particular, were few in number, six or eight. These persons might be neighbors. None of them comes from a long distance. Otherwise, they should have used cars.

At last, Amr is able to see from a far distance his cousin Sari arriving at his house, the small villa which he has built ten years age. Sari, his cousin, stops his car in front of his villa. He leaves the car and rushes hurriedly to his house.

From the veranda, the retired old man could see his cousin very clearly and with no mistake at all. The moment he sees his cousin he begins thinking whether it is time to make a short visit, an unannounced visit, to the house of his cousin, the famous constructor of magnificent edifices. Amr asks himself whether it is time a suitable time to visit his cousin.

Nevertheless, he remains for some time hesitant. He thinks that it is not the proper time to visit his cousin, Sari. Amr is considering the matter and contemplating whether to go or not to go. At last the old retired man decides to undertake this surprise visit to his cousin's house though the time seems to him not proper and suitable at all.

His main reason for going there is to have the chance of talking to somebody, to a relative, and for at least one hour or even less than that concerning some of the problems of how to utilize the free time available for an old man in retirement and in a somewhat good health.

Immediately after that, Amr goes to his bedroom. There, he opens the wardrobe where his clothes are stored. Intentionally, he chooses the best costume that he has. He does not know why he has to choose the best clothes in the wardrobe. Why? Actually he does not know.

Anyhow, a dark colored costume has to be chosen by Amr. Then he chooses the proper necktie and the most impressive pair of shoes. He does not want to change his white shirt which he put on for the first time since the morning. In five minutes time, Amr is fully dressed and he looks completely impressive, dignified and splendid. He thinks that he would impress the gentle wife of his cousin.

Amr looks at the mirror of the wardrobe and he finds there a very charming old man. Yet after another look at the mirror Amr does not like at all this bulging and blown up belly which stands out in front of him like a ball, or a balloon.

Amr forgets his swelling belly and tries to see himself without this shivering ball in his body. He discovers that he has well chosen his shoes which are shining and twinkling like two night stars, he discovers also that he has well chosen the necktie the color of which is absolutely in harmony with the color of the costume.

He goes again to the veranda to have a quick look at the landscape and the surroundings. He is convinced that all things are ready to welcome him when he goes outside of his house. But he notices that the house, the villa of his cousin is weekly lighted. He is not exactly sure what the reason for that is.

But in spite of this fact, of this observation, he is determined to go out to visit his cousin, Sari. Why should the house of his cousin be dimly lit? Perhaps, it would be well lit later on when the darkness of the night would have been fully covering the whole environment.

At last, Amr thought that it would be silly of him to be worried about the system of light in the house of his cousin, Sari. After much hesitation, Amr leaves his house. He thought that the weak light of the house of his cousin's house might be an indication that his cousin would stay for a while in the house before going to the evening social party in the house of one of his friends. Normally, his cousin does not know at all to where he would go this evening. He waits till the last moment for a telephone call in which some of his friends would invite him. Frequently, even if he does not receive any last minute invitation he would discover by telephone which family is having a party for that evening so that he would go there with his nice wife without being invited.

Amr goes out of his house through the main-gate. There at the doorsteps of his house, Amr calls his servant who is always ready to be present in front of his master. Instantaneously, Abdu is there facing his master and ready to receive orders.

At this time, Abdu looks perhaps happy or happier than usual. It is not known why Abdu is smiling now and he is more or less joyful and happy. Maybe, he is happy because he sees his master for the first time being ready to leave the house. The proof for that is that he is dressed with the best of his clothes and he is at present on the doorsteps, the threshold, of the main gate of his house.

Abdu is really happy because he sees his master going out of the house. Really this is good news, a nice surprise to see his master leaving the house.

"Listen to me Abdu. I am going to visit my cousin Sari, I do not know for how long I am going to stay there. Perhaps I would stay there for one hour and not more than that. Please tell the maid cook to prepare my dinner for about nine o'clock, or a little bit later than that. I will be, probably, and as usual, all alone. There would be nobody with me to share my dinner with." the master of the house said to his servant Abdu who is listening to him with a smile on his face."

"Sir, I wish for you a good time. Yet, I tell you now, as I told you already several times during the last few days, it is very strange why your cousin has not so far paid a visit of courtesy at your house after your return from Chilnega. As you have told me, he has not even called you by telephone. This is very strange. Is there anything that happened between you and the family of your cousin? But once you told me that his wife, Saba, is an ideal woman. You told me that she is more than a wife and more than a mother. She is always devoted to her husband, her son and her family. Nothing is more important for her than the well being of her family." Abdu said to his master.

"O! Abdu. There is no specific explanation for such an abnormal behavior. You cannot know what is happening there, I mean in the house of my cousin. Probably, my cousin Sari is very busy nowadays. Perhaps he is over-occupied with his work. So we should not pre-judge him and his behavior. Let us wait. I will tell you after return from there. He might have some family problems. We do not know exactly what the real situation there is. Let us wait till the end of the visit. But now, the situation is vague and within the field of the unknown." Amr said to Abdu.

The master of the house, who is standing on the threshold of the house, prefers now to start his walk to the house of his cousin, Sari. For the first time the sixty years old retired man feels that he is insecure and that he is threatened by the unknown. He cannot walk comfortably. He feels insecure and he looks around him to be sure that there is no danger which threatens his life. Amr is amazed why he is overwhelmed by this sudden fear.

Anyhow, he can see the house of his cousin from a distance. It is just nearby and he has to walk for few minutes. The total distance that separates his house from the villa of his cousin is not long. The distance between the two houses could be covered, crossed, in few minutes, not more than five minutes on feet.

Nevertheless, because of the disturbing mental condition of Amr and the feeling of fear which almost paralyzes him and makes him not able to walk in the normal way, the distance between the two houses looks to be very long, a distance which requires him to walk for hours. The more steps he walks forward the more he imagines that he has to walk for more and more time, and for more and more hours. The more he walks forwards the more he feels that the house of his cousin becomes far from him.

Amr thinks that in order to save himself from any possible trap that could be found in his way, he should walk faster and faster. He thinks by now that he is not only walking rapidly and hurriedly, but in fact, he is flying like a bird to the house of his cousin. Amr runs and runs hurriedly towards his final destination, the house of his cousin. But at the same time, and from time to time, he looks backwards to be sure that his house is still standing there in its place and that nobody is following him.

Amr wants to be sure that nobody carries an arm, a knife, or a revolver, with the main aim of killing him. Then why there should be somebody who would want to follow him so as to kill him. In his race to his destination, he comes across few children, two or three, who seem to him like two or three giants who want to follow him, to chase him and to kill him. Of course, these children, who are thought to be giants, are doing nothing, they are not threatening him. They are just playing innocently.

However, Amr is very glad to have passed those children-giants. He is relieved and he feels himself in peace and in tranquility. Amr continues his walk and at last he arrives at his destination. This is really a victory to him to have reached the house of his cousin, Sari.

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As soon as he arrives at the doorsteps of the house, Amr stops. He stops his walk and feels relieved in complete comfort. He is at last in front of his destination. Nearby the doorsteps of the main gate of the house Amr sees by chance the son of his cousin, a young man thirty five years of age. The son of the cousin was there standing by chance. In other words, he was not there specifically to receive the cousin of his father. It seems that the son of the cousin does not know at all the identity of the visitor although in the past, five or six years ago the two met in the same house for few minutes. Perhaps, Amr, during these six years has grown very old and his bulging belly has grown more and more like a ball.

Furthermore, the son of Sari, the cousin, has grown during the last six years in a very fascinating way. The son looks more as a matured man than just a young man. So, without the need to add more justification for the, the two do not know each other.

It is natural for the son, without posing any question to the visitor and without trying to shake hands with him, to run quickly to the interior of the house for alerting his father of the presence of a person, of a stranger, of an alien, of a fat man, of a curiously dressed man, of a man with strange front teeth in his mouth.

Of course, the cousin of Amr is not but a wise man. He could understand the message of his son. Naturally, Sari, after the disappearance of his son inside the house, goes immediately to the door where his cousin has been waiting for some time for him. Of course, it should be remembered that his visit of Amr to the house of his cousin is unannounced. It is more or less a surprise visit.

When Sari goes to the door he does not know at all whom he would be meeting in few instants of time. When Sari goes outside the house he becomes pleased to see in front of him his cousin Amr.

Sari welcomes his cousin Amr with warmth and enthusiasm. He shakes hands with him. Sari embraces Amr warmly and for several times. Both of them look at each other with a smile of appreciation and gratification.

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Sari has the same age as that of Amr, or maybe he is one year younger. Physically, mentally, intellectually and socially speaking, the two are different, as if they come from two worlds and two different families that are not related at all by blood.

Sari has the same height as that of his cousin. But he is not an over-weight man at all like his cousin, that is, he is not fat. In this aspect of the physical composition of his body Sari looks different from all men of his age in the community where people, of the rich class, know only how and what to eat. The main physical difference between the two is the fact that Sari has a very dark brown complexion exactly like that of the best Indian Moslem Maharajas of Hyderabad. This color of the skin is very rare in the community. Sari gives the impression that his blood belongs to a race whose human beings are all with a royal and princely dark brown complexion.

Sari in seeing his cousin standing before him is really overwhelmed by surprise and bewilderment. He does not expect to see his cousin in front of his house without knowing that he would be visiting him. At this time of the day nobody in the Quarter of the Rich expects any visitor at all.

At this time of the evening, or the late afternoon, people, the inhabitants of the quarter are usually extremely busy in preparing themselves for the daily evening-all-night activity which each of them would be attending. They need time to choose the dress and they need more time to have some preliminary drinks before going to the house of somebody to attend the evening-all-night social activity. Such social reception parties are always composed of having dinner at midnight after having listened to sensational jokes for three hours or more and after having drunk two or three drinks which are mostly alcoholic.

So Sari does not expect this unannounced visit of his cousin Amr. But in spite of all these distressing feelings and disturbing sentiments, Sari smiles and smiles and smiles in seeing his cousin in front of him. It is a smile of welcome to his old cousin who is the friend of his early childhood.

Of course, the two old cousins embrace each other warmly, cordially and impetuously. After that, the two cousins walk joyfully while they are sometimes laughing for remembering some episodes and adventures of their early childhood or of their early adolescence. Then they reach a place in the villa which looks to be more of a parlor, a sitting room for receiving visitors. They start to have some kind of a friendly and family chat and conversation.

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However, both of them, Amr and Sari, remain standing and facing each other. Each one of them is staring at the other in such a way that each of the two is trying to find out and discover the secrets of the other by means of the eyes and not by means of the mouth and words.

Amr is anxious to know the secrets of his cousin, Sari. In fact, Amr wants to discover, through his vision and his piercing eyes, why his cousin does not come to his house, just to say hallo after a long absence in so many countries. Is it he, Sari, who does not want to visit him or is there any other reason? Of course, Amr, for the time being could not find any answer.

The silence that has been dominating their meeting for the last few instants has been finally interrupted by the musical voice of Sari.

"It is almost five years that you have not visited the country at all. It is very strange. How have you been able to bear all of that absence? I mean being absent from the country and the family." sari asked.

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Amr heard and understood the question and it is a straight forward question. It is a direct question that does not need any interpretation or explanation. Yet Amr, shocked, extremely shocked to hear his cousin asking such a question, discovers in the recent few days that actually speaking he does not relatives at all. Before that, he was under the impression that the members of his family could constitute according to traditional standards and considerations a tribe, a small tribe. Unfortunately, and since three or four weeks, his discovers that he is really without relatives, and that some of these relatives could be considered as his only real enemies. Amr notices all of a sudden that this is not the time for thinking and reflection. His cousin said something and he has to give back the answer.

"Yes you are right. It is since a long time that I did not come back to my country, or that I did not see the members of my family. I think you already know that I am now in retirement, a retired old man and nothing else. This is the end of my active life, although I think I have never been in my life a really active person. I consider myself as a lazy human being. This is how I was brought up. It is not my fault to be lazy. It could be claimed that it is the fault of my family. This is how I was brought up. How could I be active in my old age, in my retirement?"

"Anyhow, I will try to be a little bit active, even though I am an old man and in retirement. Here I am in the city, in my country and in my quarter and in my country. I would stay here till my death, till the end of my life. I am here since almost a fortnight and this is for me a very long period of time. For me it is as long as the eternity. During this period of time I saw nobody of my relatives. Not a single relative came to visit me. I was wondering why. This is a very strange phenomenon for which I cannot find any explanation. This is very strange. Isn't it so my cousin, my dear cousin, Sari." Amr answered shrewdly, sagaciously and intelligently.

Sari at that moment looks to be disturbed. Between now and then he looks at his watch as if he wants to show his guest, the unwanted guest, that he is extremely busy, or, actually has something else to do. The guest, the visitor, realizes at last that his cousin, Sari, is busy and does not have time to talk to him. No doubt, Amr tells himself, that his cousin and his wife, Saba, are going to a reception party and they are preparing themselves to leave the house. The retired consul arrives at the conclusion that he should leave the house at once and that next time he should tell the cousin in advance about his intention to visit him.

During the following days, and especially during the morning of the spring season, the ancient consul and the old man in retirement, who has come to his country four weeks ago discovers that he has nothing to do, nothing to do at all, neither in his house nor outside.

At last, the retired consul discovers himself to be a useless retired human being. He finds himself a prisoner in his own house, like an old dying rat waiting for death to knock at his door.

The old retired man sits in his dark corner and sees nothing. He sees nobody of those whom he used to see night and day of his family members, of his relatives, of his friends and his acquaintances. He sits in his small cell and waits to hear the steps of the eternal judge, the guard and the hangman, the executioner, the tormentor. The judge wants to tell him that the time for saying good-bye to the world has come. The hour for his death has come.

Amr begs the judge to give more time, few more weeks, few more months, few years. He does not want to die at once, hanged before the inhabitants of the quarter of the rich. He claims that he is innocent and that he does not deserve this harsh and sever sentence of being hanged by the rope. He claims his innocence. He has no crime except being an old man.

"But you are one of the followers of the Devil. You are Evil" Comes the answer to the shivering human being who stands on the threshold of his tomb."

"At that critical fastidious, crucial, delicate and important moment in his life comes to him the voice of Destiny."Several times you have pronounced blasphemy, impiety, profanity, execration, sacrilege, obscenity, imprecation and mockery in talking evil against the most virtuous lady in our community, one or your cousins, just to please the worshipers of Devil, with whom you have been associating yourself, your close friends, throughout your life. You have to pay for your irredeemable crime. You are a criminal"

It should be mentioned that these hypocrites, the followers of the Devil and the worshippers of Evil, with whom Amr has been associating himself with all his life, have severed their relationship and their contacts with Amr since retirement and his final return to the country.

It is already known that Amr is not married. He has not family of his won. He is a lonely old man. Nobody has so far come to see him, pay him a courtesy visit. For him, it is not very important to discover that he is a lonely miserable old man, a solitaire. But the most disastrous aspect of his new life is that he has nothing to do exactly, nothing to do at all.

He is not yet a mentally or a physically handicapped retired old man, like many old men retired since a long time. He knows very well that after several years, and if he would not be yet dead by that time, he would be able to carry out some activities that are not necessarily useful activities to him or to his society. He knows that in other societies old men like him are engaged in some voluntary social work associated with some social and philanthropic associations and organizations. Such voluntary social work opportunities could not be found in his community.

Two or three main activities retired persons could do reading all sorts of printed materials, books, newspapers, magazines, sometimes writing anything of value or of no value, gardening, in case there is a small garden, or watching various T.V. programs.

In the case of Amr, he has never read a single book in his life. It should be mentioned that he was once the head of an association which had the main aim of discovering the people to read or to touch books.

Besides, after a certain age, an old man cannot read any more any written or types written or printed materials. As for gardening, Amr, the retired old man, never believed in gardens at all and he never appreciated the presence of flowers in his house. At last Amr does not have a T.V. set in his house and is not planning to have any in the future. This is a firm decision taken by him: never to have a T.V. set in his house.

Thus Amr has nothing to do and he must have something to do while he is still capable of moving himself from one place to another and while he can use his hands in manipulating various kinds of things.

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Before he would be in need of a wheel chair, and somebody to move him from one place to another in the house, Amr would like to have an activity to occupy his free time. At present he discovers that he cannot consult anybody. He lives in solitude, in isolation. He cannot come in contact with people living around. Nobody is around. Nobody is aware of his presence. He walks inside all the spaces of the house just to discover if there is something hidden which he does not see and which needs now to be touched by his hands. Unfortunately, the house, his house, has nothing to offer to him as a means for occupying himself during day time when he is quite awake.

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In the afternoon, the climate inside the house has become more or less suffocating. The air-conditioning system which operates in the house since several years is not working very well in those crises days of retirement.

Strangely enough, and starting from the third week of his return from Chilnega, Amr is feeling that he is living in a prison and not in his spacious and magnificent villa that could be called even a small palace. This is a large prison that has been built for him many years ago by his father. Amr thinks that his bedroom is nothing but a solitary sequestration cell in the big prison which is his house.

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In spite of the fact that he is sure that the young man who lives with him in the house is only an ephebe, a servant, Amr thinks, or has the impression nowadays that Abdu, the servant, is his jailor and not his servant. It is becoming extremely difficult for Amr to realize that he is in his spacious and beautiful villa.

Sometimes when he has some feeling of depression and confusion, he feels that his house is a prison, and that he is the only prisoner and that he would stay here till his death.

What a tragedy?? What a tragedy?? Amr never thought that he would suffer during his retirement in such a tragic way. He thought in the past that life after retirement would be full of joy and pleasure. Life would be easy and not complicated as he feels it to be now.

The loneliness and the solitude are going to crush him and to leave him into pieces. This loneliness is for sure going to kill him. What a pity if one day he would be sitting dead in his armchair and in his hands the daily newspaper which presents to the reader the stories of the dead of the community.

Since few days, Amr began to look for a solution for his solitude, for his loneliness and his torturing retirement. Unfortunately, Amr thinks that all the windows of his house are firmly closed and that the interior of his villa is dominated always by the gloom, the obscurity and the darkness. Moreover, he thinks that the sun of the day is really eclipsed and forever and that he would be living all the day of his life in the darkness. Amr thinks that he is really engulfed by the absolute darkness and that he is surrounded by the obscurity of the night.

In this world which he thinks it to be engulfed by darkness, he tries to find a seat somewhere in the house to sit in, but he cannot. He thinks that he can see nothing or that he has become blind. At last he hinds a chair, a simple chair. He seats himself. Then he lets his two hands fall down in the two sides of the chair just to help him have complete relaxation and comfort.

Abruptly, a kind of somnolence, of drowsiness, a kind of a nap, overcomes him, overwhelms him. Amr is beaten and conquered. He immediately becomes in another world, that of dreams and that of nightmares. He is about to have the most horrible nightmares. But suddenly he wakes up from his sleep, from his dreams and nightmares. He opens his eyes and tries to rub them just to see what is going on before him.

He is surprised to find himself in his bed and not in the chair. Abdu, his servant is standing at the end of his bed. It is not usual for him to have the servant awakening him. Nevertheless, this time it is really Abdu who stands near the bed. It is very clear that the master is awakened by the ephebe, by Abdu.

"Excuse me Sir, somebody outside on the doorsteps insists to see you. It seems to me that he is more or less in a hurry, although he did not say so." the servant of Amr declared to his amazed master, the old retired consul who becomes surprised because of the unexpected visitor.

The master of the house expresses his astonishment because of the presence of the visitor outside the house. His surprise is really justified. Since his return from Chilnega four weeks ago nobody has ever knocked on the door, or on the main gate of his villa. Without exaggeration nobody so far has come at all. Therefore, Amr is now excited and he would like to know who has come at last and is knocking on the door of his villa.

Instead of asking the servant to go to let the visitor enter then to lead him where he, Amr, would be found, he himself rushes hurriedly to the door of the house. Before opening the door to let the unknown enter, Amr tries to guess who could be this unknown visitor. Anyhow, before arriving at the gate of the house Amr failed to guess the identity of the undeclared visitor.

Amr rushes to the door, he opens it hastily. What a surprise, what a surprise?? Nobody is there on the doorsteps. Amr stops stunned before the door and he tries to look around just to know the reality and to discover the amazing truth. After this short expectation and the failure to find anybody, Amr worries, gets annoyed. He asks himself what is going on in around the house. Where is the man, the visitor? Of course, he himself, the master of the house cannot provide the aspired answer. For a while, Amr is worried and he does not know what to do. Then, he has no choice but to call Abdu at once.

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"Abdu, please come here at once and without delay." In a blink of an eye, there is Abdu standing ready to answer any question. "Are you sure that you have seen somebody who wanted to see me. Where is he, where is he now?" the master of the house asks.

"Master, please, give me a chance to explain to you the whole situation. I saw the man and I can describe him to you." answers Abdu politely and with some hesitation."

"Tell me Abdu, tell me please. Is he an old man, a young man, or is it a woman, an old, a young female, a woman, or what, a phantom? Tell me very quickly, tell me at once." the master of the house asks.

"An old man for sure, he is an old man, he cannot be a young man because he has a stick, a walking stick in the right hand, a cane in his hand. He asked me whether you are in the house or not. This old man spoke in the dialect of the quarter and he could not explain himself in an easy manner. But let me tell you frankly that I never saw the face of this man in the quarter of the rich at all. He could be from another quarter, but not from ours. I do not know exactly from where this man comes."

"He was dressed in the normal way, like all old people in the quarter. Frankly speaking he did not have anything on his head which was all covered with white and grey hair. His head was all covered with long hair. From his face I cannot remember anything. I cannot remember whether he had a beard and a mustache or not. I cannot tell you whether he has a spectacle on his eyes or not. I cannot remember whether his eyes were black colored or green or blue colored. I cannot remember whether he was smiling or whether he smiled between now and then. What a strange personality this unknown visitor was. What a riddle? What a mystery? I cannot add any more information about this strange visitor. I hope he would come back to us in the nearest future, or I hope I would meet him once and by chance in one of these hills surrounding our city. Then I would insist on him to come and visit us, or just pass by the house." Abdu said to his master.

"This is a strange incident, a mysterious event and a bizarre phenomenon. I hope it would not be repeated in the future. I do not want to be visited only by ghosts, phantoms and spirits. Otherwise I would begin to think that we live in a quarter of ghosts and phantoms." the master of the house answered.

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

"Don't worry. I am sure that somebody tried to make some kind of foolishness and stupidity. I am sure that people, the inhabitants of this quarter of the rich, have nothing to do except foolishness. This silliness which took place today in our house or in the vicinity of our house is a proof of the intellectual misery in which people, the rich people, live these days. I think that they amuse themselves in such a way of silly behavior nowadays." Abdu the ephebe said to his master.

"Without any doubt this is a small world full of riddles. The city has changed since my last departure from it since five years." the master of the house answered.

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