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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 neither smokes cigarettes nor takes any type of alcoholic drinks. Since his early youth all his friends have started since their adolescence to smoke or to try smoking, to have the taste of it. In his case, and nobody knows why, he never had, so far, the temptation to put in his mouth a cigarette, of whatever type, yet it is reported that once or twice he was seen smoking a cigarette. On the other hand, alcoholic drinks have never been part of his life either at home or outside, although several members of his extended family take various types of alcoholic drinks as many people do in the community of the rich.

In spite of the fact that Amr does not smoke cigarettes most of the time he enjoys having his cup of coffee. He really knows all the traditions and the rituals of taking coffee either individually or in group. Amr knows, more than most people in the community, how to take his coffee and how to enjoy the cup of coffee not only in the morning but also at any time of the day. Amr treats the cup of coffee gently, tenderly, kindly and delicately. Amr is well aware of the fact that he holds in his hand a dear and a cherished thing while he carries the cup of coffee from the tray and brings it prudently to his two lips which are waiting anxiously to be touched by the warmth of the first sip of the contents of the cup.

First Amr just lets the edge of the warm cup touch his two trembling lips just to discover the extent to which the coffee is hot or in fact full of life.

After that Amr, the old consul, begins to look around him discreetly, especially through the open window. He makes certain observations and then he abruptly closes his eyes just to review what he has witnessed and to digest and to internalize in his spirit, his soul and his mind what he has seen few moments ago. Amr becomes in the midst of a sweet and emotional and sensational ecstasy.

Amr asks himself whether the source of this joy comes from what he sees or from what his two lips just touched. Is it the kiss of the cup? Then Amr opens his eyes. He takes the cup of coffee in his right hand from the tray. He looks at the contents of the cup, at the coffee itself. He imagines that he sees in the cup a beautiful smiling face. Amr wants to be sure that the cup of coffee is covered on its surface by some attractive bubbles, some froth, some foam. A well prepared cup of coffee should be decorated by these shining and dancing bubbles at the edge around the cup. The person, who enjoys the traditional Turkish local coffee, normally prefers to start with touching by the sensitive tip of his tongue this coffee foam or the froth. The tip of the tongue, in a sense, finds pleasure and joy in touching these hot bubbles which burst and blow up, one after the other, by the simple touch of the forward part of the tongue.

Simultaneously, and with the enjoyment of swallowing the juice of the small coffee bubbles, the person who enjoys taking coffee, especially early in the morning, expects that the cardamom perfume, fragrance and odor would come in flaring waves to the enchanted and the loving nose.

Amr expects to see fumes and vapor coming out of the cup of coffee which are completely saturated with the intoxicating fragrance of the coffee and the cardamom. These fumes would penetrate into his nose, or, in fact, would go to the inside depths of his existence.

Then Amr ventures to have a mouthful of the coffee liquid, drink. He wants to taste the totality of the coffee of the morning prepared for him by the most experienced maid cook. At this stage, Amr has the intention to discover the sweetness of the coffee. Is it moderately, ideally, sweetened? How does the coffee now taste with the criterion of the quantity of sugar taken into consideration? Usually, it is very difficult for the cook to know how much sugar she should put for a cup of coffee or for two cups.

After swallowing a full gulp of the coffee, Amr smiles to nobody. He smiles as a signal of satisfaction and approval. He finds the coffee which is taking now to be well prepared. At this point Amr carries the cup in his hand and he smiles again. Really, he is satisfied and he thinks that after taking this well prepared coffee he would have a good and a nice day. For the majority of people in the community, especially in the quarter of the rich, the cup of coffee of the morning determines, and to a large extent, their behavior and the way in which their daily life would take.

All at once, Amr remarks his daily newspaper placed on the tray which is found on the low table beside him. For a while he forgets totally the cup of coffee which is only half finished. For him, the daily newspaper is equally important as the cup of coffee. The newspaper plays an important role in the determination of the program of his daily activities. Amr is extremely surprised to find the daily newspaper very thick, very voluminous. Yesterday's paper was of a normal size. But today's paper is different in size. He never saw such a voluminous newspaper before. He never saw such a paper in the five continents of the world, not even in New York or in Paris or in London. Amr is really very much impressed by the volume and the size of the paper.

Just after a little bit of scrutiny and a strict examination of the paper and after touching it and trying to carry it by his two hands, he comes to the conclusion that this paper consists of three hundred pages. Sometimes, in the previous days, he was not always serious to go through the whole paper and all its section. He was satisfied by looking at certain pages. But he was not particularly interested in the news of the dead.

Of course, and after examining the paper, he comes to discover that the first two hundred pages are allotted to obituary and to obituaries, to burial ceremonies and rituals and to the days of condolences. All of the two hundred pages are full of brief or very long biographies of the deceased persons and the history of their business, social and political achievements and contributions. So far and for the last nine days after his return from Chilnega, Amr has been seeing this daily newspaper every day in front of him. So he is by now accustomed to see this paper and is not astonished because of its voluminous size.

Amr has become really amazed, like every day, after looking through the whole newspaper, that only one page is devoted to local and international news. He found also that one page is allotted to commercial publicity and various kinds of advertisement.

Therefore, Amr discovers that this newspaper and all other daily papers in the country devote all the available space to the aspect of death in the quarter and in the whole community. Amr wonders what is happening in his community. Is this a community which is in its way to total disappearance and death?

The old consul thinks that those who die are much more than those who are born. This community, especially the quarter of the rich, is witnessing a phenomenon of decline and disintegration. The terrified inhabitants of the city are only busy with the problem of death and nothing but death. They concentrate their attention nowadays on the urgency and the necessity of building tombs for their dead. Amr observes that the section devoted in the daily newspaper to local and international and regional news is very small or is nothing compared to that devoted to the news of death.

He notices also that nothing is mentioned about engagements and marriages. He wonders whether people of his quarter and his City have stopped to marry because of their fear of the future or because of some pessimistic beliefs and convictions concerning life in the immediate coming years.

He discovers that people are here more occupied with death, the preparation for death and life after death. Amr comes to the final and important conclusion that the main and principal newspaper in his city has actually become a paper of obituary. It deals only with the news of death.

Of course, Amr for the last ten days or ten days or so has been looking for the reason for which this famous daily newspaper of his city has become a paper that deals only with the news of death. He decides not to hurry up in passing judgment. He has been telling himself that he would discover in the coming days the truth and the reality.

Before he puts this huge newspaper aside on the low table, Amr has become under the impression that many persons are dying every day in the city, perhaps hundreds of them as if a kind of a horrible epidemic had spread in the city and that it is the main cause for the mass massacre of the inhabitants.

Why? He cannot give the reasonable and the logical answer? Or he starts to think that a ferocious, invincible, invisible and cruel enemy is attacking the peaceful community and therefore, it is normal to have many people who cannot defend themselves.

The problem of death in the city is becoming for Amr a riddle for which he would be seeking an answer in the few coming days. Certainly, he would devote most of his time in trying to discover the secret or find an answer.

While Amr indulges himself in contemplation, in reflection and in thinking, he looks at the huge newspaper lying on the small table and he imagines himself to be in front of a huge and a horrible common graveyard where hundreds and even thousands of corpses have been put together since several weeks or several months or even years.

However, this is the impression, the imagination and the fantasy of the retired civil servant, the diplomat, the old consul of his country in Chilnega, the moment he sees this famous daily newspaper resting on the low small table placed near the window and waiting to be taken by him, by Amr.

Amr has now the paper in his hands. As usual he feels that this paper is very heavy in the sense that it would be impossible for him, or for any normal human being, to continue carrying it for five or ten minutes. Amr thinks that in the coming few days it would be much better for him to read this daily newspaper in the salon where he would put the paper in the high table found in the corner there nearby the window. To-day he has to endure the suffering and the torture of carrying in his hands this daily newspaper for at least five or ten or more minutes.

Amr hates to carry or to touch this daily paper because every day he finds his fingers all have become painted by the dark black color of the black ink of the letters of the paper. So many times he thinks to ask Abdu for carrying in front of him and for turning the pages in front of his eyes.

He is now busy with the first page where usually this paper presents the table of contents. So far and due for his experience which he acquired during the last ten days, Amr knows what to look for in the table of contents of this voluminous and heavy newspaper.

The section on obituaries in the table of contents would help Amr in finding what he is looking for. In the section on obituaries in the table of contents full and detailed information is provided concerning the names of persons who died during the last twenty hours.

The list contains the names of all persons who died within the preceding day, rich persons, poor persons, men and women, young and old people, babies who have been just born or babies who died inside their mothers' womb before birth, persons who were killed, drowned, assassinated, poisoned, strangled, hanged, mutilated, burnt alive, stoned to death, decapitated in another country, electrified, run over by car, fallen into deep abyss, died of starvation, died during a medical surgery, died as a result of a wrong injection, died of cancer, etc. etc.

The list contains above all the names of several girls who were slaughtered like a sheep because of the profanation of the honor of the family and the names of girls who were shot by their elder brothers because of bad rumors and gossiping. The list contains the names of sick people who entered the hospital alive practically suffering from nothing and who came out of the hospital after two or three days dead as a result of an operation that lasted for few minutes. The list contains the names of dead children who died because of taking the wrong medicine or because they were run over by the neighbor's cars which were driven by boys or girls of ten years old.

The list of obituaries contains also the names of persons who died in their prison after staying there for more than forty years and the names of four young persons who were finally found dead in a cave in the desert after being lost for two long months.

The list contains also the name of an old man of sixty five years who was killed by his eldest son while this father was prostrating to God in the early Morning Prayer. The list contains also the name of the young blond girl of the age of fourteen years who came out of her house burning in flames and nobody knows who burnt her or why.

The list contains the names of two boys who had drowned while trying to swim in a pool nearby the outskirts of the city or the names of the young man who killed by mistake his young friend who were on that day in a wild animal hunting adventure in the valley of the River, or the names of two old rich persons, husband and wife, or father and mother, who were found shot dead in their small palace since three weeks, or the names of the five members of a family all dead in their villa without knowing who killed them or why.

The list contains also the names of ten members of a family who were all adult and males and who were found dead in their three cars in the desert because of the attack of hundreds of black desert serpents.

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Still in the table of contents is mentioned the names of six young men who died because of the misuse of the drugs and who were found dead in their cars which parked nearby the main highway of the city.

Still the table of contents contains the names of several young and old persons, males and females, who committed suicide during the last twenty four hours. The number of those who committed suicide could exceed the one hundred in one day. The most common method of putting an end to one's life is the revolver or the medical injection.

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Still the table of contents gives the names of three old men who were found dead in their bathrooms after committing suicide by following the same method of dying without pain or regret by shooting themselves in the mouth by one bullet. Those three old men, who committed suicide, each on the bath-tub of his bathroom, were members of the same club and they negotiated and discussed fully this method of dying since they were young in their twenties. Each left a note indicating that they killed themselves by their own free will and choice. This note has been written just to avoid and doubt to consider this act of suicide as an act of murder in which wives would be implicated and considered as the only culprits, or probably, the eldest sons of the three families who never exchanged a single word in all the years of their life with their fathers.

Still the table of contents gives the names of two young people each of the age of twelve years, who were found hanging themselves by ropes tied up to the ceiling of the salon while their parents were attending a social function that continued till the morning of the next day, or the names of two old persons, each of eighty five years old, who died in their beds after taking all the medical tablets that were prescribed by the doctor to be taken during two months.

Still the table of contents gives the names of the rich old lady who was found strangled in her bed probably by two or three house breakers or burglars, or the names of five young men and women, two males and three females, who were all found dead due to a car accident, or due to driving cars while the driver was completely drunk, or the names of many others who died because of one reason or another.

It is to be noticed that natural deaths, because of old age or because of a sickness and incurable diseases, are rarely mentioned in the paper to explain the sudden death of many persons whose names appear in the paper.

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The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals

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