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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

Abdu leaves his master all alone in his solitude and walks slowly and prudently towards the door of the salon which is wide open. He is not sure what his master would be doing next. While he is walking to the door he expects that his master, Amr, would call him to come back. Maybe, he would ask him to do something of which he is not aware at all.

Abdu thinks that he should stand somewhere in the spacious and the magnificent salon, nearby the wide open window with the red velvet curtains, or next to the chimney or just beside a blue covered canapé, just to let his master look at him, stare at him, see him and for a while. Abdu knows very well that his master appreciates his attractive stature and admires his handsomeness and is enchanted by his charm.

Amr closes his eyes just in order to avoid seeing the landscape that presents itself before his sight. He thinks for the moment that he will be thinking better if he sees nothing in front of him. Yet he changes his position because while closing his eyes he could not see except darkness and obscurity. So he opens his eyes and is obliged to see and witness the landscape hoping that he would have seen his mind activated and put into action.

At that particular moment Amr becomes overwhelmed with joy and enchantment. An illuminating brilliant idea passes in his spirit, in his mind. He becomes exceedingly excited because at last he starts thinking and he commences to produce ideas that would pave for him the path of salvation and of a productive life in this retirement phase of his life.

In the past, not very far past, but just an epoch which is very near, just few years ago, so many stories have been told about the nature of the private life of some old and retired persons in the quarter and in the community at large. Anyhow, most of these stories concentrate more than anything else on the nature of the private life of some very rich persons of the quarter and how they spend their time.

In a concise, precise and explicit way, one of these stories says that a considerable number of old persons who are retired since a long time spend all their time since early in the morning till the coming of darkness of the evening and the disappearance of the sun behind the horizon, in having a walk, a leisurely and relaxed walk in the main avenue of the city, or what is called the main street of down town.

In fact, this is the only constructive and useful activity which some of the old aged persons undertake and carry out. Such a type of walking has become the daily habit and the daily duty of the elite groups of elders. This walking starts early in the morning and is carried out in the main avenue of the city and lasts for the whole working day.

The long and short stories told in this respect give some details concerning these old men in retirement who spend all the time of the day in walking like ghosts and phantoms in the main avenue of the city. All of these men in retirement, who are of the average age of sixty five years, go down town to the main avenue and begin walking on both pavements, the side-walks, of the main avenue.

Those old retired men walk there for the whole day without being tired or fatigued. Most of these old men in retirement who go daily down town to their daily walking, their daily stroll, know each other since a long time when they were either members, colleagues, of their national civil service, as government high officials, or have been employees and employers in the private sector of the economy or have been friends since their childhood when they were pupils in the primary schools.

However, the fact that they know each other does not mean that they speak to each other while they do their daily walk in the main avenue. It does not happen, ever, that one old man in retirement exchanges even one single word with his friends who are usually found walking in the same avenue.

Nevertheless, it is possible that when an old man sees another whom he knows, he might make only a wink in his eyes to his old friend just to tell the other that he knows everything and that he has no intention to talk to him. This eye wink, this flash, means also that he wants to tell his friend, the other retired man walking in the main avenue, that he already knows his story and that the two of them have the same story that they wish to tell each other.

Sometimes, the other passer-by, the old man does not see the wink of his old friend, and in most cases he sees it. So in this case he answers by giving either the one wink answer or the two winks answer.

Sometimes, they exchange, those two men in retirement, some smiles which would signify that for today he is all right and that for tomorrow he might be absent.

Of course, it is very strange that these men in retirement behave as if they do not know each other in spite of the fact that they have been seeing each other daily for the last forty years because they were employed in the same public department or they have been meeting daily in the evening in some of the evening social and entertainment parties and till-the-morning dinners in the house of their rich, very rich friends of the quarter of the rich.

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Sometimes, a certain old man in retirement, when he sees a friend of his and who is walking like him in the same avenue, has the temptation to stop and talk with his friend. Of course, he just makes a wink and continues his leisurely walking in the main avenue of the city.

The two persons who cross each other in the main avenue of the city could have been pupils in the same primary school, classmates for ten or twelve school years or friends for several years, or they could have shared the same desk in certain classrooms, but yet in their daily walk in the main avenue lf the city, when they see each other, they pretend that they never saw each other in their life.

Sometimes and even very often, when this avenue at a certain time of the day, or on certain days of the week, becomes overcrowded, two old retired men cross each other and even their shoulders touch each other. Two of them stop just to apologize to each other because they touched each other by the shoulder. Both of them think that each of them has hurt the other. When they stop they are completely astonished to find themselves to be old friends.

Before ten years they have been, both of them high government officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What a surprise!! They look at each other. But they do not at all utter a single word. They pretend, they allege, that they do not know each other. After a stop of very few instants both of them resume hurriedly their work in the main avenue of the city.

It seems that both of them try to avoid giving the impression that they know each other, or that they were working in the same Ministry for more than thirty of forty years. They pretend to be strangers to each other as if they have been living in two different worlds or even separate planets.

The strangest thing in this phenomenon of having a walk for the whole week and daily with the exception of the weekly holiday by the same retired old men is the fact that some of these walkers, strollers, could be seen dressed in their pajamas, or even in their underwear.

It is discovered that those old retired men who walk dressed in pajamas have bought them, that is, the pajamas, especially to be dressed during their walk in the avenue of the city. Even it is said that there are now some shops that are specialized in selling this type of pajamas that are used by the retired in their daily walk in the avenue. The color of these pajamas should be white and should have blue colored stripes, streaks.

These men in retirement would like to look like prisoners who are sentenced to death. For these retired persons who prefer to have the daily walk in the main avenue, death, the approaching death, is their main objective in the only idea that comes to their mind.

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They would like to look like prisoners who are sentenced to death. The walk which they make every day is nothing but a preparation for the final Day of Judgment, for their death that might take place while they are walking in the avenue.

It should be noted also that the persons in retirement who put on those striped pajamas are practically the oldest of their category. They have the impression, besides that they would die at any moment; that they would very soon find themselves early in the morning, when they get up from their sleep that they can no more move their legs and their hands, that they are finally paralyzed.

Some of these retired old men carry in their right hand a walking stick which helps them in their walking for the whole day or in taking rest from time to time while standing. These sticks, canes, are used between now and then to threaten some naughty boys who either follow or encircle them.

In very rare cases, very few old persons in retirement, who are really senile, who suffer either from mental or physical weakness and retardation are accompanied by somebody in their daily walk. Such senile persons in actual retirement insist that they should continue making their daily walk. Most of these senile old men in retirement are almost blind, or have very weak eye sight and even they are almost deaf. They can rarely hear what is going around them. The companions of such semi-paralyzed persons have to explain, between now and then, what is going around them and to where they would be going next.

Yet, the strangest and the funniest scenes that one could see daily in the main avenue of the city is the fact that a number of persons in retirement and who are completely paralyzed are carried on the back of porters for the whole day. Some of them might be carried in wheel-chairs and are drawn by somebody.

Yet the most astonishing scene in this respect is the fact that between now and then, either two porters, three or four porters carry on their shoulder stretches, litters, on which is found an old man, a retired man of ninety years of age or more than that, who looks more like the corpse of a dead man rather than of a living human being. These corpses of human beings carried on stretches started their walking tradition in the avenue since more than thirty years. They first began walking without any aid. Then they began to have the aid of a walking stick. After that they commenced the phase of being carried on the back of a porter. Later on, after several years they used the wheelchair and at last they are being carried on the stretchers.

Nevertheless, the most tragic aspect of this type of activity for passing the time is to die while somebody is carrying out his daily walking exercise in the avenue of the city. It is expected, and after the age of sixty years and at the beginning of the retirement phase of the human life, that an old man, who finds himself all of a sudden in retirement recently, would die while he is walking in the avenue of the city.

Perhaps, the retired walker thinks that it is better to die in the street in the presence of hundreds of passers-by than dying at home where and when nobody would see him dying and where it is possible that he, the old man, dies in his house and nobody knows about his death for several days or even weeks because his servant thinks that he should not disturb his master.

Therefore, and gradually with the passing of time old people in retirement prefer to go down town to have a walk for the whole day in the hope that they die this heroic death before the people, the ordinary citizens of his city.

It is reported that during the several recent years quite a number of old people and in retirement since a long time, have died while they were having the daily walk there down town and in the most beautiful avenue of the city. Old people die while they walk or while they are carried on the back of porters, on the stretchers or in the wheel-chair.

However, contrary to what the dead expect, in most cases, when an old retired man dies in the down town avenue, his body is thrown in a corner of a narrow path where the corpse remains there for several days unidentified.

In the majority of cases, the dead, the corpses of the dead, remain there for several days, in the narrow path. Since it is there in the narrow path, then nobody comes to identify them, except, and many cases, the rats and the cars and sometimes the lost dogs of the quarter which come and try to devour pieces of the human flesh.

When these corpses are later on collected it would be discovered that not only rats and cats and dogs have already devoured part of the body but also the birds of prey, the vultures come there to have their share of the corpses of the retired old men.

Strangely enough, no one at all in the family of the defunct, the deceased, tell the internal security authorities about the disappearance of the head of the family. Not until several days later, after the death of the old man in retirement, some members of the family, children and grandchildren come to the narrow path to collect the body of the defunct.

No one knows how the members of the family of the deceased came to know about the death of the head of their family and how they at last collected his body from the narrow path in the avenue of the city.

Members of the family of the defunct bring the corpse of the dead that had already lost some parts and some members of the body, to the house of the family that was inhabited by their dead father and a number of servants.

In several other cases, a number of old people in retirement fall on the ground fainting on the pavement. Most of the fainting incidents take place during the months of July and August, or sometimes in the cold days of the winter season especially in January and December. When any old man in retirement faints he remains there on the pavement for several hours without being saved. Passers-by on the pavement just stop for few instants to have look on the face of the victim and then the passers-by continue walking leaving the fainting man lying on the pavement.

Unfortunately, all people who pass by such fainting old men in retirement think, of course wrongly, that they are drunk and that they have been, since early in the morning, even before sunrise, in the bars of the famous quarter of the rich taking without any control aaraq, or beer or even whisky or any other alcoholic drink.

Most of the passers-by spit on the fainting old men in retirement. Some others kick them with their shoes as an expression of disdain, disgust, loathing, repugnance, abhorrence, abomination and contempt.

The old retired fainting rich man wants to cry, to ask for help, for assistance, for relief, but he cannot. He is a helpless old man and in distress. One of these fainting old men in retirement tries to stand up and strives to cry, to pronounce his name and declare his identity, his family name, his address. He could not. He fails. He is pushed down. He falls down again and loses his complete consciousness.

"But all of a sudden, a passer-by, of about fifty five years old or a little bit more, stops and stands nearby the fainting old man in retirement and declares in a very loud voice and in astonishment and in a surprise. 'Listen to me all of you, listen to what I am going to tell you now. Come all of you and have a look at this old man. Come here and have a look. This is Abu Mustafa, one of the richest persons in our community. He is a rich man and the owner of half of the big buildings of this national avenue. He is the owner of the three commercial banks of our country." still no one listens to this passer-by who identifies the personality of the fainting old man. However, this same man, the passer-by, goes to a nearby shop so as to call the family of the fainting old retired man by telephone."

In an unexpected way, Amr stops his contemplation and the deep reflection regarding the horrible, the frightful, the appalling and the terrifying destiny of the old man in retirement on the pavements of the main avenue of the city.

Certainly, and without any doubt, Amr does not want at all that his body, his corpse, be thrown in an unknown corner of a narrow path of the main avenue of the city to be, in the final analysis, devoured by rats, cats, dogs, and birds of prey and vultures. He does not want to be kicked around in the main avenue by the wicked passers-by when he faints because of fatigue and extreme exhaustion.

Therefore, he should look for a solution, an outlet for the impasse, for the dead-end, for the deadlock, for the blind alley in which he finds himself. At that particular moment of his thinking and his mental and intellectual reflection and contemplation, he thinks for the first time in his life that he should smoke a cigarette so that he could be able to think better, to be creative in thinking and to solve problems which he faces nowadays concerning the best ways to utilize the available time throughout the day for all the old retired men.

He does not know exactly why he wants to smoke a cigarette. In all his life he is the enemy number one in the world against smoking. In fact, he has so far convinced several of his close friends and acquaintances to leave cigarettes and to stop smoking. Throughout his life he never encouraged others to smoke. However, he was very successful in his campaign against smoking.

But today, and at the beginning of his life of retirement he does not know why he wants to smoke a cigarette. Is it true that in smoking he would think better, in a creative manner, and that it would be easy for him to find solutions for the difficult problems he faces in this phase of his life, the phase of old age and retirement.

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Amr, the retired old consul goes without hesitation to the low table, his favored table, where there is a package of cigarettes, a new one, of a well known imported American brand. Amr, after looking around, takes one cigarette in his fingers. He takes the lighter and he is about to light the cigarette. Abruptly, Amr sees Abdu standing in front of him like an angel sent by heaven.

"Don't do it, master. Don't touch the cigarette. Don't risk putting it in between your two lips. This is poison" said Abdu to his master."

"Thank you Abdu, thank you a lot; I am not going to smoke. I can live what remains to me of my days without touching the cigarettes." Amr said to his servant.

Amr becomes astonished tremendously to see around him nobody. Abdu is no more there at all. Amr imagines that he is seeing his servant standing in the middle of the salon. He throws the cigarette in the waste basket placed in the corner of the salon. He shakes his right hand just to wipe from it any trace of the tobacco of the cigarette which he carried for the first time in his life.

Amr is sitting in his arm chair and he resumes his contemplation. "Why not try and go down to the main avenue of the city. I should try to go there and walk in this street for one whole day, from the early morning till in the evening. Maybe it would be a good and a fruitful experience for me to go down town and as soon as possible."

After that Amr stops reflecting, thinking and contemplating. He closes his eyes for few moments for a short time. He is now in the world of emptiness and oblivion. Then he wakes up of all of this process of reflection. The evening has already come and its obscurity has spread everywhere in the house of the old consul, Amr. The twilight, the dusk, is now dominating everywhere in the quarter of the rich. However this twilight is running away very quickly from the environment leaving the whole world to be dominated by the darkness of the night. In the sky, it is very easy to see that the twinkling and shining stars are decorating the ceiling of this wide and infinite universe.

Amr decides finally that tomorrow morning he should go down-town to walk in the main avenue of the city from the sunrise to sunset, the evening and the end of the working day. Amr knows that most of the old men in retirement who go there for walking in the avenue disguise themselves so that they could not be recognized by the people, the passers-by, in the two pavements of the avenue of the city.

But in the case of Amr, it is not necessary to disguise because his absence abroad would not help the citizens of his home-town to recognize him. It could be said that he was absent from his quarter for at least twenty five years. The only thing that he would change is his dress. So he asks Abdu to prepare for him the costume which he bought ten years ago and which is considered nowadays as out of fashion. White striped pajamas are no more in fashion.

The servant Abdu is now quite informed of the intentions of his master to go to the main avenue of the city tomorrow morning. Abdu is quite neutral to this plan which his master is going to put into action the coming day.

During the night, Amr slept very well. He almost slept ten hours without any interruption. He slept a deep sleep without any dreams or nightmares. He usually gets up to have some water from the glass of water put on the bedside table. But during this night he does not feel thirsty at all.

In some nights during his advanced age, Amr usually goes once or twice to the toilets. But during this night he does not feel the need for the toilets at all.

Amr gets up at six o'clock and he feels himself full of enthusiasm because he is going to have a walk in the main avenue of the city. He goes to the bath room, takes a quick shower of ten minutes duration. Then he shaves and does everything that is necessary for him. He then goes out and rushes to his bedroom where he puts on the old fashion costume which he asked his servant to take out of his wardrobe.

After dressing himself up he looks at himself in the mirror. He sees there in the mirror a funny person whom he does not know. He hopes that nobody would recognize him down there in the avenue. After that his breakfast is served in a hurried way in the kitchen.

The old maid-servant smiles for a while as she sees her master dressed in the old fashion costume he bought ten or fifteen years ago.

At exactly seven o'clock in the morning Amr stands on the door steps of his house for a while and looks around him. In fact no one was there. The quarter of the rich looks in peace and very calm. It is empty and engulfed by a complete silence.

The black cat of the neighbors just passes beside the retired diplomat Amr imagines that this cat is nobody but the witch of the quarter who wants to tell him that she knows where he is going. The dog of the neighbors of the other side barks repeatedly as if the dog wants to tell Amr that he knows also the intentions and the plans of the newly retired old man of the quarter of the rich.

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A car only passes by before him in which there were a young man and two children seated beside him in the front seat of the car. Amr tries to remember if he knows this young man, but he fails to remember anything in this respect. Naturally, Amr has the intention to use the public transport facilities in order to go down town. He knows very well where he could find the bus stop. The bus is rarely used by the inhabitants of the quarter. They are rich and every family has one or two private cars of the latest models. Nevertheless these buses are used by the ordinary people who can never dream to own a car of their own. In their case, some of them use the bus to come to this quarter in which they have some kind of employment in the service sector.

Yet, from time to time, these rich people, the inhabitants of the quarter use the bus when they want to go down town preferring not to use their private cars for going to the main avenue of the city or to some other quarters.

So Amr walks at least one hundred meters. There he is at the bus stop. Two young girls stand there who look to be foreigners, from a south Asian country, from the Island of Tri Banka, who, it seems, are going somewhere in the quarter. They might get down from the bus after some stops.

At last, the bus arrives at the bus stop. First, one single person, passenger, an old man, comes down prudently and carefully from the bus. Then Amr and the two girls rush hurriedly inside the bus. Strangely enough, the bus is almost full of passengers. It seems it would be difficult for Amr to find a seat. Fortunately, a woman whose child occupies a seat offers the seat of her child to Amr who immediately sits in the vacant seats.

Amr feels completely relieved and in comfort. He smiles, then he smiles, then he smiles in looking joyfully around him. It seems that he is very happy, joyous, blithesome and delighted to have been offered a seat. By chance, his seat is in the middle centre of the vehicle.

From there, from his strategic seat, Amr begins to look around him, to see and observe his right and his left sides. After a lot of time given to looking around and general observation Amr becomes surprised and even bewildered. What a surprise!! What a surprise?? With the exception of the woman who gave him the seat of her child, he discovers, with a lot of amazement and astonishment, that he is the youngest passenger in the bus, almost the youngest. The rest are old people, older than him. There might be one or two passengers who could be considered as having the same age as his. Of course, one should not forget the presence of the two young foreign girl passengers. Nevertheless, how could he be almost the youngest and he has already passed since few weeks the sixty years of age?

He again, this time, stares for a longer time at the various passengers. He is amazed how some of them are dressed in their pajamas and some others are dressed like him in the western type costumes probably either made in Paris or made in London. Most of these costumes look to be new and which might have been bought few days age. This is very strange.

Amr closes his eyes and then he rubs them for several times. He thinks that he is dreaming and that the scene which presented to him represents nothing but imagination, his own imagination and nothing else. He asks himself whether these old men are tourists. Is it possible that they could be tourists? Why should tourists be dressed in pajamas? This is impossible. With more scrutiny and observation, Amr notices that some of these old strange men, more than half of them, carry in their two hands a very ancient newspaper. Of course, they look ancient from the color of the paper used and from the fact that some pages of the paper are torn out. It seems that some of these papers, newspapers, have been used in cleaning the glass of the windows by the servants years ago.

Several of these old men have their spectacles which are in most cases without frames. Some of the old passengers are bare foot. The feet are either bare or are covered by funny looking slippers which ordinary people in the community call Zanoba.

Amr notices, remarks, that in spite of the noise produced by the motor of the vehicle, silence dominates inside the bus because every passenger looks to be absent minded. Or in some cases several passengers look like fools, or insane old men.

People used to say in the past that all buses of the public transport authorities are always noisy. Amr does not see except one or two passengers, who are talking in a very low voice to their neighbors. Amr also notices some very old passengers who seem to be speaking to themselves. These self speaking and talking human beings are the ones who have old ancient newspapers in their trembling wrinkled hands and look to be more than the eighty years old.

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The more Amr looks at two old men the more he is sure that these are in fact mummies of ancient Egypt and not living human beings. Amr is not satisfied at all to be in the midst of this silent vehicle, the bus.

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Little by little, and inside the bus, Amr realizes that the bus has to traverse a long distance because it is evident by now that the main avenue of down town is really far from the place where he lives in the quarter of the rich. Amr has to be patient and he should pass his time in the bus by looking at those passengers who represent for him a group of people belonging to the ancient times.

Amr estimates that it will take him fifteen minutes more to be down in the destination, the main avenue of the city. Of course, the bus from now till arrival in the avenue, would make at least two stops to stops to let the passengers get down and to let others to come up into the bus.

As he really could see not a lot of people are leaving the bus or coming out of it. It seems that most of the passengers have their final destination the main avenue of the city, like Amr. For a long time, Amr keeps silent. The only thing he does is looking around him and observing the passengers of the bus.

Of course, outside the bus, there are a lot of things that are worth seeing and worth watching. Yet, nothing outside the bus attracts the attention of Amr. He keeps his looks inside the bus and does not give any effort and does not have any intention to see the environment in which the bus is passing.

It should be remembered that Amr has on the right side of his seat the young woman who gave the seat of her child to Amr. However, on the other side of Amr, on the left side, the seat is occupied by somebody who looks to be of the same age as him. The neighbor might be older by one or two years. Yet, Amr is glad to have a passenger neighbor who looks to have the same age as his. Amr feels with sincerity that he should say something to his neighbor, one or two words, a question, an observation or any kind of communication.

Amr ventures to look at his neighbor. He risks letting his ankle touch that of his neighbor. Nevertheless, the last idea does not seem to him acceptable. His neighbor might think, in spite of his age, that he wants something that cannot be expressed in words. Or he thinks again and discovers that he could let his ankle and his leg touch that of his neighbor. But still he finds this idea very dangerous because his neighbor might think that Amr has illicit intentions in spite of his old age.

At last Amr decides to address his neighbor and he finds that the easiest and the most direct method is to ask about the time and make some comments and observations regarding the weather.

"Please, excuse me my dear neighbor, what is the time now? It seems to me that I forgot my Rolex watch on the bedside table. I always take off the watch from my hand before sleeping since I had an open heart surgery ten years ago. I stopped sleeping with my watch on my hand. After the heart operation I could hear the gentle and the nice noise produced by the watch as the noise produced by the high and strong thunders. So this is how I forgot my watch nearby my bed and I would like to know the time now. I can see that you have the same type of watch like mine, a Swiss watch, a Rolex. What a marble, Rolex, and what an investment. Somebody lately offered me double what I paid for my watch. I refused. I like to keep my Rolex till the day of my death. Even. I am planning to have it buried with me after my death. I hope it would continue working and telling the time for at least five years, the life span of a small watch battery. Anyhow, whatever is the case I do not have my watch with me and I would like to know the time now." Amr says in an extremely excessive politeness and courtesy.

The neighboring passenger looks at his watch reluctantly, grudgingly and with a lot of discontent and aversion. He keeps silent for some time, and then the neighbor says.

"It is now seven o'clock and forty five." the neighbor answers while sitting on the left side seat without moving his head and without even making an effort to look at the face of Amr.

Then this is followed by some silence. At this point, Amr looks extremely puzzled, bewildered and confused. He tries to gaze at the face of his neighbor, to stare at him with open eyes and mouth. Really Amr is overwhelmingly perplexed and stunned.

"It seems to me that we know each other. Let me look at your face. Please look at me. Have a look at my face. I am sure we know each other. Your face is very familiar to me. More so is your voice, I know this voice since a long time, since a long time." Amr said requesting from the neighbor an answer, an immediate answer and without any delay or hesitation.

"Mister, please leave me all alone! Leave me please to myself. Leave me in peace and in tranquility. I have decided since several months not to talk to anybody, to no one at all. So I do not want to talk to you. Please leave me in peace. I do not want to talk to you. Not because you do not deserve to be talked to, but as a new principle of behavior and daily conduct. I am determined not to talk to any person, to anybody." the passenger sitting next to Amr in the bus said.

"Please my neighbor! Let me see your face, for some instants only. Let me look at your face. O!! What a surprise, what a surprise, what a miracle, you are Naji, the small Naji, my classmate in the first primary public school established in our city. The primary school was located in the narrow path of Turshan Street. Do you remember my face, look at me my dear Naji, we were pupils in the same primary school fifty five years ago. This is more than half a century back in our history. Let me see your face. O! My dear Naji, we have been together in the same classroom for three continuous years. I remember your father was a very well known business man. I remember he died in very tragic circumstances. I am sure you know me. Just look at my face. O! Your father died fifteen years ago. What a tragedy!!!" Amr said to his neighbor emphatically.

"Please, o! Unknown person, leave me all alone. I have nothing against you but I am decided not to talk to anybody at all. In fact, I have forgotten all the past of my personal life. I know nothing. Especially I do not remember anything of my childhood, nothing, and nothing, not even the slightest incident."

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"I am a person without a past. Listen to me; I do not remember all who were my friends of childhood when I was a pupil at the primary school. I remember nothing of the past, I mean my past. Let me tell you that I am now a person who lives in the world of forgetfulness, in the world of oblivion. Listen to me; it is highly probable that we, both of us, were little friends when we were children. This is very probable but I cannot remember anything of that. It is like a black board where nothing is written and nothing is visible. It is possible that we were classmates, but now I know nothing of that."

"Let me tell you one important fact about my childhood. I remember one important fact, event, or a series of events related to my life of childhood. All the friends of my childhood, all of them, and without any exception, have become later on my ferocious, dangerous, wicked, vicious, atrocious and corrupt enemies. The friends of my childhood have become my enemies. Do you understand?" the passenger who is sitting on the left side of Amr answered in a suffocated, smothered, stifles and strangled voice.

Of course, this answer is really a shock to Amr. He never expects that he would get this answer from somebody whom he thinks to be one of his friends of childhood.

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"But listen to me. There must be some exceptions. I am sure of that. I cannot say that I am your friend. But I am sure that I am not your enemy, I am not your enemy, and I am not your enemy." answered Amr. He continues to repeat his words "I am not your enemy."

What could Amr do regarding his neighbor, Naji? He decides firmly and with determination not to talk at all with his friend of childhood. He wants to avoid any further violent development in the behavior of his neighbor. He thinks that his friend of childhood is suffering from some kind of a persecution complex.

The bus of Amr continues its route and it is advancing steadily towards the final destination, the main avenue of the city. The bus goes down the hill where the quarter of the rich is located.

From a somewhat short distance Amr could see that the bus is about to arrive at the heart, the living center of the main avenue of the city. The bus slows down its speed and at last it stops in the center of the avenue. All of the passengers get down slowly and in complete discipline from the bus. This is the terminus for all the passengers; nobody could stay in the bus. This is the end of the line.

In few minutes time, the bus becomes empty with the exception of the driver and his assistant. All the old men are now standing on the pavement. There are few ordinary passengers including the woman who gave the seat of her child to Amr.

Of course, all the members of the group of the old men in retirement of the quarter of the rich have immediately and precipitately dispersed in the various directions of the avenue. Not like Amr, this is not the first time that these men in retirement come for a walk in this famous avenue of the city. They have been coming down here for a long time in the past. Thus everyone knows where he is going. Not a single one could be found in the place of the bus stop.

Each now goes to his habitual destination in the avenue. Of course, Amr does not know where to go and where to walk and how to walk. He has to discover and learn all of these things, that is the requirements of walking in the avenue, by himself and also by asking others when it is necessary.

In a short time he notices that all the bus passengers have disappeared everywhere in the avenue. Amr is surprised, extremely surprised. What can he do now? He does not have any specific plan of action in mind. Yet, he is sure of one thing only. His aim is to have a walk in the avenue and for the whole day.

Of course, he remembers always that he is now here in the early morning just for walking in the avenue and nothing else. He again and again asks himself.

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"What can I do? What should I do?"

The weather is fine, nice, enjoyable, pleasant and agreeable. The sun is still there in the east but the rays of the sun have spread their light everywhere including the place of the avenue where Amr is now standing. Amr finally decides to stay where he is found for some time. Naturally, he cannot determine the length of the duration of time which he should spend here.

Amr, from his place looks around and around and especially in the avenue of the city. He looks around but with amazement and bewilderment. He could see at last some of the retired old men walking either to the north or to the south of the avenue. From a far distance, Amr could see that each of these old human beings is going to his destination. From far, it could be seen that some of the old retired men are crossing the avenue to go to the other side of the pavement. They would like to start their daily walking in the shade of the buildings that are found on both sides of the avenue.

Maybe, several of these men in retirement prefer to avoid the light of the sun of the summer season and walk in the shade of the high buildings. It is evident that it is still early to have a full scale business and working activity. Many of the shops, the stores, the department stores and the workshops are still closed. But here and there coffee shops could be seen already opened and all of them have their own clients, customers who come daily to one of these coffee shops to have a cup of coffee before going to work. These morning customers and clients have been coming regularly and daily to this coffee shop since a long time.

Amr continues to look around but he is not worried at all. He is sure that very soon all of these shops and stores would open their doors. All of them would soon be filled with their clients and customers.

Little by little, this famous avenue becomes full of human beings, of people, and each of these people has their own job, his own profession and career. People of all ages, but more so adult males of various ages are either opening their shops and stores and workshops or waiting for a while so that they could buy what they need of available commodities.

Of course, Amr sees all of these activities and events taking place around him. This scene, he has never seen before in all his life. Naturally, Amr is so far happy and satisfied because he sees which has not seen before at all. He is in the midst of a new world which he has not seen before. The mode of living which he has been living so far does not give him the chance so far to witness such a phenomenon.

At this particular moment, he thinks of the whole project which he is now going to put into action. He tells himself that he should have visited one of his neighbors who are already in the phase of applying the project of walking in the avenue since a long time so as to ask one of them his opinions and reactions to the project of walking in the avenue as a kind of activity for filling time during the day time.

But now, he is already in the battle field and there is no time for him to reconsider the whole question, the whole idea of walking in the avenue for the whole day time.

Gradually, the main avenue of the city becomes full of human beings and crowded by people. Amr discovers all at once that he stands nearby the highest building of the famous avenue. In a very short time he discovers that the name of this high building is Rabhane Commercial Bank. Amr becomes very happy finding himself standing next to the most famous bank in the country and about which he heard a lot of good words during all his life. He is glad to find out that the bus-stop is nearby this gigantic building of the most important in the country.

Without any hesitation, Amr commences his walking exercise, adventure on the right side pavement of the avenue. Amr, without any personal intention on his part, begins to walk seriously, courageously, solemnly, fearlessly as if he is a man of twenty years of age. He is walking seriously as if somebody is watching him or is controlling his movements and following his foot-steps.

Amr walks and walks without being tired or without getting exhausted. He does not look behind him, but he walks forwards. It seems that he is enjoying this type of walking, even he feels very happy. He says that he finds this walking a stimulating exercise. Amr continues walking till he reaches the end of the avenue. He does not know how long it took him to cover this distance between the bus-stop and the end of the avenue.

After stopping for few instants, he turns around on his heels and starts walking in the other direction of the avenue. Till this moment of his presence in the avenue, he does not notice at all any strange or mysterious phenomenon in the avenue.

He finds everything to be normal. Nothing is abnormal or strange. Amr is really satisfied to be at that spot of the avenue. In other words Amr is happy and enjoying what he sees at that moment. Everything in the famous avenue seems to be completely normal, especially regarding the human beings in the avenue.

Life in the avenue seems to be in its best and in its normal situation. Amr walks and walks and all at once he sees a man whom he thinks to be member of the category of retired old men. The man gives the impression that he neither moves nor respires. When Amr approaches this human being who seems to be dead he sees a lot of flies that are either flying over his body, or really they have settled down on his face, in his open mouth, round his tongue, around his eyes, on his neck and on his two ears. Even his hands are not saved from these flies which are producing a horrible and an irritating noise, buzzing and humming.

"Is he dead, sick, or what?" Amr asks himself many such questions concerning this man lying on the ground of the pavement. Amr is horribly terrified to see an old man dead before him. What could he do? Nothing! Probably, this man is dead and since a long time, several days, and not hours.

A passer-by stops all of a sudden where Amr is found and addresses with astonishment some words to Amr.

"Listen to me; let me tell you the reality concerning this dead man whom you are seeing on the pavement. This man has been seen lying here in this place for the last two days. You know I have been seeing him thrown there for the last two days. He might have been there for more than that. I am an employee in that clothing store where we sell clothes on sale for men, women and children. The store is near the Rabhane Commercial Bank."

"I have been wondering for the last two days why there is nobody to come and take care of this poor and miserable old man who has been lying there for this long time. What a tragedy!! Look at these flies which practically cover all his body. I am wondering why no one comes to offer help to this victim of destiny. It is very strange how this old man is left here like a dead old dog or as a dead cat, or as a dead black rat. This is a tragedy." said the young man, the employee in the clothing store.

"No doubt, you have been seeing this old man walking in this main avenue for the last several years. I myself, I do not know since when he has started to walk in the avenue. Is it two, five or ten years? I myself, I do not know. You might know better than others." said Amr to the employee.

"Yes, yes, certainly I might know better than others for how long he has been walking daily in the avenue. I think I can remember very easily when this old man started his walking habit and adventure here, in this avenue. I think it was five years ago. My boss, the owner of the clothing store where I work, has told me this information, because in fact, I started my present work three years ago. As you can notice I am only twenty three years old. All the information which I am providing you I have taken them from my boss as I already told you."

"This man who is lying there dead since two days was a very high government official in the Ministry of Finance. He served in this Ministry for about thirty seven years. When he was sixty years old and about to be retired, he was asked to serve for three more years after the age of sixty years. I am sorry, and frankly speaking, I do not know his name or the name of his family. I am sure that my boss knows the name of the miserable man. For me, this man, the dead man, was for the last five years, the period during which he was walking from the morning till the evening daily, an unknown man without identity and without a family, a man who has no address of a permanent residence. It is really very strange how this man could be without a family. Look at him and look at the miserable situation in which he is found. He is really a man without a family. On the other hand, I heard yesterday that this man has a family, a very influential and prestigious family. But nobody of his family acknowledges his existence. Nobody of his family says that this man belongs to his family. Starting from the day he has begun this way of life of walking in the main avenue of the city, practically all the members of his family became angry and decided not to acknowledge his relationship with the family" replied the young man."

"I am sure, I am absolutely certain that among the thousands of people who pass by this corpse, there is at least one person who knows the defunct, the dead man. I am sure of that. It is impossible that this man is unknown. Where are his children, his descendants, his cousins and all his friends and acquaintances? Where are all of them, all of these people? This is impossible." said Amr.

"Excuse me Sir. I have to leave you here. I have to start working just now. There is my boss, he is opening the store. Excuse me; I am already late for my work and he is there calling." said the young man.

However, Amr decides not to waste his time in looking at the corpse of the retired old man. This old man gives him a preliminary indication of what he would be finding and facing in his walk in the main avenue of the city.

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Amr decides to start walking in the avenue like all other old men who began their walking in the avenue early in the morning.

While he walks Amr comes across another old man in retirement that was with him in the bus this morning. He notices that this old man is about of the same age like him and he is almost dressed of the same kind of woolen costume. Amr could not have a look of the face of this man who tries to escape the eyes of Amr. The old man could be one of his cousins whom he does not know.

Amr turns around so as to see the face of this man but unfortunately this man has already disappeared in the midst of the crowd in the pavement. The unidentified old man disappears, all of a sudden, in the crowd like a small white bird that plunges flying in the midst of a passing dark cloud in the month of September.

Amr then resumes his walking in the avenue of the city after a stop that lasts for few minutes. He walks and walks and walks without interruption, hesitation, pause or doubt. He walks with determination and perseverance.

Sometimes, when he walks, he looks here and there at people, at passers-by of all ages who are mostly males. He sees very few women but more small girls. Sometimes, he stares at these passing and moving human beings, he gazes at them. He wants to understand, to scrutinize, to study and to contemplate these human beings.

He looks at the shops, the stores and the department stores, all filled with all kinds of commodities, goods and various types of merchandise imported from the Far East or manufactured in some of the countries of the region.

But, and to his surprise and amazement, and after having walked for less than an hour, Amr feels that he is getting tired, fatigued and even exhausted and about to be consumed. In spite of all of this tiredness which he feels in the first hour of his walk, he is still determined to walk till the end of the day.

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Of course, and this is absolutely normal and natural, he thinks of the possibility of taking some rest, some repose somewhere in the avenue. There is no point to go back to his house and withdraw, when it is possible, from the battle field.

Amr is amazed to find himself tired in a comparatively short time. He is expecting that he would need to rest at noon, midday but not in the first hour of the day's long walk. He is obliged to stop. He looks around him. What a surprise to him!! All at once he sees many other retired old men sitting on the edge side of the pavement on both sides of the avenue. All are sitting but without making any movement and without talking to each other. Some of them are dressed in their pajamas and others have on them their old costumes. He discovers that the majority of them have no shoes on their feet. Many of them are bare-foot and several of them have the Zanoba slippers on their feet. On the whole all of them are old men, only men. They are more or less motionless. Their mouth is wide open also their eyes, are also open.

Amr has the temptation to sit with these old people, old men. There is enough space for him and for many other retired old men to come and sit down on the edge of the pavement.

"Amr says in addressing himself "No doubt, everybody is tired. This is very normal. No doubt all of them are tired, not because of the one hour walk since the morning, but because of what they have seen and experienced in their life, their active life. No doubt, all of them suffer, not from the one hour walk but because of the life-long strife which they have so far undertaken. Therefore, it is time for me to take rest. It is really very strange how there is no arrangement at all made by the local authorities to facilitate the wish to take rest for the walking old people."

Amr remains standing for a while. He is hesitant to sit down on the edge-side of the pavement like all others who are sitting there. Although he is not so fatigued to oblige himself to sit on the pavement, he finally decides to sit down like all others.

Amr is now seated next to a very old man dressing his pajama and putting on his feet the funny slippers of Zanoba. Perhaps this man was a minister or an undersecretary or a head of a section in an important ministry. He looks to be a man who is well known and respected by all.

es/ Multistory Tree
Above artwork is by the author's son... See more!
© 1980-2024 All Rights Reserved

Amr sits next to the old man and even he seats himself just touching the waist of the old man. Amr sits down and finds sitting a little bit tiresome. In his life he never sat like this and in this position.

Tactfully and discreetly, Amr tries to have a full look at the face of his neighbor. What a surprise?! He discovers that this old man could be approaching the age of ninety years. Amr arrives at the conclusion that this old man could have been of the same age as his father if the latter had been living up to this day. The old man remains motionless even though he feels that somebody is now sitting next to him. The old man remains motionless.

Life in the main avenue of the city is becoming livelier and extremely active. The Sun is rising slowly from the east and very soon it would be in the summit of the blue shining sky. The climate is becoming warmer and warmer. It seems that all people are enjoying this kind of weather. The city of Amr has been known always for its nice and refreshing climate. So it is normal that all of these old men are really enjoying this nice climate.

"O! Uncle, would you permit me to address to you some words. I would like to talk to you for few minutes, for a short time, or for as much as you want." said Amr to his neighbor in talking in a loud voice.

The old man in retirement turns his head and looks at his neighbor and he smiles. Then he shakes his head in a slow manner for several times. He keeps looking at his neighbor, Amr, for a long time without saying anything. He smiles and shakes his head. Amr could not get any message from the old man. Perhaps, this old man knows him and knows his father. Or could he be a neighbor or a relative of his, a close or a far relative? He is not sure. Anyhow Amr comes to the conclusion that he himself knows nothing about this old man sitting next to him on the edge-side of the pavement.

"Uncle, thank you very much. You have been very nice to me. Thank you to have accepted to talk to me, at least by moving your head once or twice. You are extremely gentle, to have given me two or three smiles. Nowadays, it is very rare to see people smiling. If somebody smiles to you he thinks he should have in return either your head or the honor of your family, your daughter or your wife."

"Listen to me, uncle, people have become very mean, wicked, villain, vicious, savage, malicious, crooked and dishonest. I assure you uncle that I myself I am trying my best not to be mischievous. Yet every day I am discovering myself becoming vicious and villain. I have even the inclination of fabricating rumors about the private life of some members of my family, who are all angels. I am trying to destroy the life of one of my cousins, who is enjoying a happy life with her husband, her children and her grandchildren. I want to destroy her, just for nothing and for no reason, perhaps because I am really the Devil. Uncle, I am becoming little by little the Devil because in my work as a consul all my acquaintances have been the Devils and all the women I came in contact with in my work have been bad women. Uncle, I am becoming a devil or I am already the Devil. How can I save myself? Please tell me my uncle." said Amr to the old man sitting on the edge side of the pavement.

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But the old man does not give any reaction whatsoever. He continues to move, to shake his head and nothing else. From time to time he smiles and smiles but he never utters a single word. He keeps silent and taciturn.

Of course, Amr could not tolerate this strange situation any longer. He thinks that there must be some change either from his side or from the side of the old man. But slowly, and little by little, Amr discovers that his neighbor, the old man, cannot speak. Amr starts to think that this old man of the age of ninety years can neither speak nor hear. In other words he could be deaf and dumb. Perhaps at his age it is normal to be like this man, deaf and dumb.

This is normal and one should expect a lot of things of this nature. Most of these seated old men could be suffering from severe problems of hearing and talking. This is normal and should be expected in real life especially in this avenue of the city.

Another neighbor of Amr sitting on his other side and who looks to be a little bit younger than the one he tried to talk with tries to whisper few words to his ears. However, almost all of these words are vague, confused and incomprehensible.

Anyhow, the hero of our story, that is Amr, could understand few words from his neighbor sitting on the right side. After much patience and perseverance, Amr could understand the whole story of the old man who is deaf and dumb. The neighbor who can neither hear nor speak is an old minister of Public Works of the country, perhaps since half a century when he was about forty years of age. He was then, it is said a powerful and an efficient minister of Public Works.

All what we see of roads, national routes and highways, all have been constructed during his administration. Nothing was added, improved, repaired since then. In spite of all of that all of these passers-by do not know the identity and the personality of the old man who looks nowadays like an ugly and very ancient mummy of the old Egyptian times.

Amr comes to know that two young men, most probably hired porters, bring this man here in the morning and come back to take him to his house in the quarter of the rich at the end of the day. Of course, and it is implicitly understood that this old man remains fasting for the whole day and he is not allowed at all to discharge out of his body all of the unwanted things, liquid or solid materials.

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Sometimes, one of his three sons comes to have a look on the situation of their father. It should be mentioned that very soon all of these sons would join their fathers for walking in this famous avenue of the city. It should be mentioned that the three sons of the old man, the mummy, are the most successful business men in the city. They import heavy and sophisticated machinery from the West used in the construction industry of roads, airports and bridges.

Sometimes, as part of their business activities they rent their heavy machinery to be used either in the country or in the neighboring countries. It is said that the grand-children of the old man sitting next to Amr, are going very soon to be in charge of the whole business. They want to force their fathers, the three sons of the old man to retire at an early age of less than sixty years.

Amr thinks that he has taken enough rest and that he is now better informed of the situation of the old man in retirement and who sits at the edge of the pavement daily in the main avenue of the city. Amr stands up. He intends to resume his walk in the avenue.

Amr walks and walks in the main avenue of the city. He looks at the people and the stores throughout his walk. He gets fed up with looking at people, stores and shops. But he walks and sometimes he closes his eyes for few seconds. He discovers that he can walk for few steps while closing his eyes. Amr finds this exercise interesting as well as challenging.

In his childhood he liked to walk while closing his eyes. After a lot of walking in the avenue Amr remembers that very soon it would be time for the midday meal, lunch. Then he resumes his walk. He walks and walks in the avenue without getting tired or exhausted.

He is looking in fact for a restaurant from which he could buy one or two sandwiches. All of a sudden Amr is very glad and excited. He finds a restaurant in which there are already some clients, but not many, five or six. He stops in front of this restaurant and buys sandwiched of shaworma, 'grilled meat'. He has to wait for his turn because before him three or four customers are waiting their turn. All of these people look to be simple and poor. It is certain that all of them are manual construction workers who like to feed themselves well by eating the sandwiches of shaworma.

With excitement Amr pays for the sandwich and then he waits for a short time to have his sandwich. Amr does not like to eat while standing, so he goes to the edge of the pavement and he sits there. Nobody cares for what he is doing. How could such an elegantly dressed man sit on the pavement and eat the sandwich.

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Really, Amr is very hungry, very hungry. So this shaworma sandwich disappears in few minute. Of course, some traces of the oil of the sandwich could be noticed in his two hands. So Amr cleans his hands by rubbing them on the sleeves of his white shirt. He repeats this process for several times. Amr smiles and wonders why he has forgotten to put a handkerchief in his pocket. Is it the fault of his servant Abdu not to have a handkerchief? No, it cannot be the fault of Abdu. It is his duty to remember such small tricks in his daily life.

Amr goes back to the restaurant and asks the manager to give him a glass of water. Then he asks for a second glass of water. At the end of the second glass Amr feels completely satisfied. He considers this meal as one of the nest in his life. The sandwich was so good that Amr wonders why in his life he has taken this type of sandwich only twice or three times.

After finishing his lunch, Amr resumes his walk in the most beautiful avenue of his city. All at once Amr sees in the pavement and not very far from him the friend of his childhood, Naji. What a surprise? What a surprise? What Amr is seeing now before him is exceedingly strange and totally unexpected.

The scene which Amr sees is completely amazing and astonishing. He could not believe what he is seeing. Amr thinks that he suffers some weakness in vision. Perhaps he does not see well. What is wrong with Naji? Well there and in the narrow path which is a part of the avenue, a man, a beggar stands carrying in his right hand a wooden bowl to get alms from the passers-by. But Amr could not believe his eyes at all. Is it possible that Naji, his friend of childhood, his classmate for five years, is a beggar? From a distance Amr looks at Naji and he does not believe what he sees. The beggar asks the passers-by to give him a piece of money, a small coin.

Naji repeats his word, 'money, money, money' continuously and without getting tired. Several persons stop in front of the wooden bowl and put there some kind of money. The moment the bowl is filled with pieces of money of various values he takes them in his left hand and puts them in his pocket. Thus by this way the wooden bowl becomes empty again and Naji waits for certain duration of time for filling it once again with more coins of money.

"A beggar, is it possible that Naji is a beggar? Impossible!" Amr repeats this word like a fool. He cannot believe what he sees. In seeing this strange phenomenon Amr becomes amazed, bewildered and stunned. Several passers-by come to Naji and give him some money, a coin."

Amr decides to go to Naji, just to look at him from a near distance. He would like to look at his eyes just to discover whether they are continuously closed. Is he pretending that he is blind? However, Naji does not make any reaction. He remains as a statue. Nothing moves in him. He only carries the wooden bowl in his right hand and he continues to ask the passers-by for some money.

Amr could never, never, never tolerate and put up with what he sees. Something unthinkable is going on before him in the Avenue. An unexpected event is taking place. Amr is really stupefied and astonished.

Some children come around the beggar, Naji, and start looking at him. They try to touch him. Some of them try to take all the money, the coins found in the bowl thinking that the beggar is really blind. But he is not. The children could not get a single coin from the bowl because Naji empties all the money of the bowl in his hand and then in his pocket. Of course, the children could not stay long. They leave Naji all alone in the narrow path of the famous avenue of the city.

Finally, Amr decides to leave Naji and his wooden bowl. He leaves Naji and goes directly to the bus-stop before the Rabhane Commercial Bank. From there Amr wants to take the bus so as to go back to his home. Amr goes to the bus-stop. Nobody is there. Therefore, the waiting bench is naturally vacant. Nobody is sitting there. A bus is arriving from a far distance and the waiting passenger is very glad that he will be in the bus very soon, in less than a minute. Unfortunately, the bus arrives but does not stop at all. It seems that the driver of the bus thought that nobody was waiting in the bus-stop, or he has neglected the only waiting passenger.

Of course, no other solution was available for Amr except to wait the arrival of another bus and very soon. While Amr is waiting a number of other passengers come with the intention of taking the next bus. All of these citizens waiting for the bus are in fact old men in retirement and of more than sixty five years old.

Fortunately, another bus arrives. Not like the previous one; this bus stops because the driver sees a number of old men are waiting to take the bus. All of the waiting passengers are men. They rush but with discipline into the bus. Each one of them chooses the seat which suits him. Most of them rush to seats near the windows of the bus. Amr himself also chooses a seat nearby a window in the front of the bus.

The bus resumes its journey in the streets of the city. But it goes first of all to the quarter of the rich located on the top of one of the seven hills of the city. Of course, the bus, as usual, makes several stops in the way. People go out of the bus or come in to the bus. This is a very normal process which could be observed everywhere in the world.

The driver of the bus is highly experienced, middle aged, with a moustache and has not yet decided to have a beard. He is married to his cousin and with thirteen children so far. Ten of his offspring are males; this is why he looks always happy. Because of his large family he drives the bus in a very careful and prudent way. He rarely smiles and he does not talk to anybody while he is behind the wheel of the bus. He practically knows most of his passengers and he knows the details of the stories of the family life of each. Of course, he is clever and he can read the life stories of each passenger is his eyes and in between the wrinkles of his face and of his neck.

The driver knows where to stop, where to stop, where to drive slowly and which streets and paths are more crowded than the others. He knows almost all the passengers since many years by name.

It is not yet the evening. The shining and twinkling rays of the sun are there everywhere decorating the whole environment. However, shades of immense sizes could be seen here and there announcing the approaching arrival of the evening and of the darkness of the night.

Birds could be seen flying in the sky near by the places where they are accustomed to spend the night. Cats could also be seen running in the narrow paths of the quarter trying to finds the suitable refuge for spending the night in it. Few dogs which belong to nobody also roam about in the quarter in places in which they are accustomed daily to find their food and their daily refuge.

es/ An Undercover Peeking Through A Comic Book Cover
Above artwork is by the author's son... See more!
© 1980-2024 All Rights Reserved

However, at this time of the day, the absolute silence dominates everywhere. Usually, at anytime, noise of any kind could hardly be heard. Most of the inhabitants, the old and the retired, stay inside their homes. They are not visible at all in the gardens, or in the verandas and the balconies of the house.

When the bus passes by a big and a gigantic villa, Amr remarks that this house, residence, is extremely full of people, mostly men, or, in fact, primarily men who either enter into the house or come out of it either individually or in groups.

He notices that most of the people coming out or entering the house have signs of sadness on their faces. At the same time Amr observes that many cars of various sizes and of famous and luxurious marks are parking nearby the villa or in the neighboring narrow streets, alleys and paths. The number of these cars could exceed the one hundred.

Yet the most prominent aspect of this phenomenon is the presence of a line of persons in front of the house who shake hands with men entering or coming out of the house in question. Amr notices that most of the persons standing in line on the front of the house have white handkerchiefs wiping out tears coming out of their eyes.

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No doubt Amr thinks that the occupant of this house, the rich old man, died in the morning and has been buried at noon and the family is receiving condolences of men in the evening.

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The bus in which Amr is a passenger with many others, stops for several times to let some passengers come out of it and then to let few others to come into it. It could not be known how many times the bus has so far made its regular scheduled stops.

Since leaving the main avenue from the bus-stop nearby the Rabhane Commercial Bank, the bus has stopped almost eight times. It seems that this is a very active line and perhaps several other buses operate on it. Yet, it should be noticed that the majority of the passengers, most of them, are old and probably in retirement, meaning there by old government civil servants. Also, some of them could be old ministers or general commanders of the national army.

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Nobody could estimate how many passengers leave the bus and how many join the bus. Yet it could be said that this line is very busy, busier than all the other bus lines of the city.

The road which the bus is using now is very wide and it could accommodate two cars at the same time going in the opposite directions. It could allow also on one of its two sides cars to be parked there permanently. Yet this road is never considered to be crowded or overcrowded. It is always moderately used by cars in spite of the fact that each family of the quarter of the rich has on the average three cars that are parked mostly in the garage inside the villa's limits and walls.

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At last, the bus reaches the bus-stop which is nearby the residence of Amr. The bus reaches its next stops. There, the bus stops and about four passengers come out of it. Amongst these old, very old passengers is Amr. He is the last to leave the bus. Nobody knows why Amr comes out last in spite of the fact that he is seated in the middle of the bus. It seems that Amr prefers to leave the bus last so that he could observe the behavior of the old men coming out of the bus.

The bus does not stop exactly in front of the villa of Amr. The bus is not a taxi that could stop at whatever place the passenger chooses. Therefore, he makes his descent from the bus few meters from his villa, or its entrance. The moment he comes out of the bus, Amr looks around him so as to see if there is any change in his part, section, of the quarter of the rich.

Then he walks slowly, prudently, carefully. Nobody knows why Amr walks the few meters that separate him from his house in this strange way.

In few instants, Amr arrives finally at the door-steps of his magnificent house. He remarks easily that already some light comes out of his residence. Nevertheless, he notices that several parts of the house are not yet lit. However, these parts are still full of the light of the disappearing Sun. The house is welcoming the return of its master, of its owner, Amr, with a complete silence that dominates at present all its surroundings.

The servants, the excited young man, Abdu, hurries up to welcome his master who has been absent from the house for about six hours since the morning. He is really glad to see his master safe and sound coming back to the house. Abdu says to his master 'Good evening'.

His master, hesitantly, raises his head and just looks at his servant so as to indicate to him that he is back to his home alive and in good health. The master looks at the smiling face of the ephebe as if he is looking for something which he missed down there in the pavements of the avenue of the city and in the wrinkled faces of the old men walking in the avenue.

The servant of the house notices that his master is a little bit bothered and worried. But the servant can in no case guess why his master looks to be a little bit annoyed, vexed and molested. It seems that the day there down in the main avenue of the city might not have passed as Amr has expected.

The servant is somewhat bewildered of the general disposition of his master. Yet Abdu prefers to keep silent and not to show any reaction on his part. He should wait and see how things, the events, develop concerning the walking of his master for one full day in the famous avenue of the city.

After the entry of Amr inside his sumptuous villa, Abdu closes the main gate of the residence. Abdu thinks that his master is now completely safe and secure inside of his fortress. Immediately after that, the servant disappears somewhere inside the huge edifice. Actually, the master of the house looks to be somewhat tired and exhausted. Consequently and without any hesitation he walks towards the main salon of the villa.

There in the salon, he chooses a sofa and he throws himself on it with excitement and joy. It seems that he is very anxious to take rest in one of his luxurious seats. No doubt, he has been exhausted at the end of the torturing and the horrible day down in the famous avenue of the city. The moment he is completely seated he starts to review the images of the events of the day. He comes to the main conclusion that his experiences there in the avenue are not satisfactory and gratifying.

In remembering all what he saw and experienced in the main avenue of the city, he arrives to the conclusion that he felt himself there to be completely a stranger. He feels now that he does not belong at all to this avenue. In fact, he remembers that he was lost there and nothing else.

On the other hand he thinks that the old men in retirement who come there for spending the whole day in walking in the avenue look to be completely as creatures that come from another planet. They do not belong to our planet, the Earth.

Amr is really convinced that he does not need any more to go down to the main avenue to spend the whole day there. He thinks that it would be a waste of time in addition to the fact that he would continue to see very tragic scenes in which a retired old man is or has been the center of suffering. He does not look positively at all on what he has seen down there in the avenue. He is afraid that if he repeats this experience he will be seeing more and more horrifying scenes and tragic events.

Amr closes his eyes so as he would be in a better position to see better all the scenes he tries to remember and which he has seen today in the avenue of the city. As a matter of fact, the old men in retirement whom he saw there in the avenue of the city, are not but nightmarish, hideous, ugly, frightful, shocking and abominable and wretched phantoms. He could not see in them traces of their belonging to the human race. They are more related to monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, or even real gorillas.

The avenue of the city looks to him more like a jungle or a zoo rather than an avenue or street. At last Amr comes to the conclusion that he must look for other options, other alternatives, and other solutions to his main problem; how to fill his free time with constructive and interesting activities. He thinks that there must be other means to fill his time.

Abdu is clever enough to know what would please his master and overcome his depressive mood. A cup of coffee with a lot of cardamom and a little bit of sugar would be the best solution. The servant knows perfectly well that his master, like all the inhabitants of the quarter of the rich, adores a cup of coffee when he is not in a good mood.

Abdu surprises his master when he comes to him to the main salon carrying for him in his hand the cup of coffee. Amr knows at that moment that his servant is bringing to him his preferred drink, a cup of coffee with a lot of cardamom. From a distance, starting from the kitchen, the aroma, the scent, the refreshing smell of coffee is coming to him. Amr prepared himself to receive the tray in which is placed the cup of coffee. Abdu presents the cup of coffee to his master and precipitately he leaves his master all alone with his worries and his coffee.

Amr starts to take his coffee in s slow manner. Every time he puts the edge of the cup between his two lips he tries to have a small sip as if he is kissing something very dear to him. Amr continues sipping the coffee gently, slowly, amicably and tenderly until he comes to the bottom to the cup. He realizes that the last drop of the coffee is already digested in his stomach and is taking its route to the various parts of his body. The aroma, the flavor and the fragrance of the coffee and its cardamom has already intoxicated Amr. He is already submerged in an ecstasy, rapture, a friendliness and total happiness. Amr could not overcome the temptation of having another cup of coffee.

The master of the house becomes completely amazed to discover the second cup of coffee in front of him offered by his servant, Abdu, who seems to him at this moment like the giant who comes out of the marvelous lamp of Aladdin of the Thousand and One Night. He consumes the coffee of the second cup in a somewhat quick manner that looked strange to Abdu.

Amr now takes hold of the daily newspaper of the three hundred pages. He starts reading the pages on life and death in the country and in the quarter of the rich. The daily newspaper is so voluminous that Amr does not know where to start. He opens the paper on the section of 'obituaries', 'obituary' which consists of about two hundred eighty pages. It is well known that only few pages are allotted for national and international news.

Amr discovers after having a glimpse of many pages of the paper that a lot of people have died and most of them are old and in retirement. Also, the list of dead contains the names of young women of the age of thirty years or less till the age of twelve or even eleven or ten years. Most of these young women and girls have been murdered and even slaughtered and sacrificed because they have been accused of tarnishing the honor of the family and the community.

While he examines several pages of the paper, he is struck by an announcement of one full page declaring the death of a very important person of ninety years old. Then on a page inside the daily paper he finds an important announcement with the following main text. At last Amr reads this title in a loud voice. "The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals announces with sadness, grief, affliction and distress the death of one of its highly distinguished member at the age of seventy two years."

After finishing reading the details of this news item Amr puts the daily newspaper aside on the low table found just beside him. He wants, as usually he does, to think, to contemplate and to reflect. He wants to think over of what he has just read, not only concerning the Circling of the Retired Intellectuals but also regarding the whole contents of the paper.

Really every time he reads the paper he becomes in a depressive mood and in a mental confusion. He has been traveling and living as a diplomat in several countries in the world. Yet he could not find anywhere else something similar to what he finds here concerning death and the resulting complications in the life of the family after the death of one of its members.

Whatever is the case; Amr remains confused as a result of his reading of this daily newspaper. He finds in it, sometimes, some subjects, some titles, some items, and some comments which all seem to him strange and challenging. Every day, and since his arrival three weeks ago, Amr finds every day new things in the paper, things which he never expects to find in such a paper.

For example, Amr never heard of the 'the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals'. He never heard of it so far in his life here in country or while he was a diplomat abroad. He never heard of this Circle throughout his life. Yet this Circle has been functioning and actively since fifteen years.

This Circle has been created by a young author when he was twenty nine years old. This young author was well known not only in this country but also in the whole region. He writes in prose and in verse and he has thousands of reader of his literary work all over the region.

Unfortunately, this young literary figure has committed suicide by shooting himself in the bath tub of the bath-room of the house of his family. This literary figure that created 'the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals' fifteen years ago was not married.

Amr becomes more and more interested in the rules and regulations of the internal system and the structure of the Circle. The more he knows about it the more he becomes anxious and curious to know more and more about it.

The most important, terrifying and frightening rule of the Circle is concerning the maximum number of members, which is fifty, and which in no case could be exceeded. On the other hand, the second rule of the charter of the Circle states that every month a new member would join the Circle and that at the end of each month an existing actual member of the Circle should disappear so that the total number of the members of the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals would not exceed the fifty members.

The disappearance of an active member should take place because of natural, or because of an act of suicide. Furthermore, and as the name of the Circle indicates all applicants should already have been retired or in other words they should already be sixty years of age.

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Amr stops reading the daily paper so as to take some rest. He is more or less confused a lot because of the nature of this Circle. He thinks that he should have some deep reflection concerning the nature of this association, of this Circle, and the conditions to be fulfilled in order to be consider as a candidate and at last an active member of the Circle.

The most important aspect of this Circle is the way in which a new member is chosen and selected. It is by lottery. Every month is accumulated the names of hundreds of applicants, new applicants and old applicants who were refused in the previous months. On the other hand, every month one of the existing active and actual fifty members of the Circle is chosen by lottery to put an end to his life in case no existing member of the Circle dies because of natural and normal reasons, sickness, heart attacks and natural deaths.

The member of the Circle chosen by lottery to put an end to his life, that is, to commit suicide, is given always one week so as to prepare himself and find solutions in advance to all his family problems that would arise after his suicide. During the seven days given to the member selected to kill himself by suicide, all the members, the forty nine, of the Circle, wait to receive the news that this member has either killed himself by hanging himself or by shooting himself in the mount, or in some very exceptional cases by throwing himself from the tenth floor of the highest building in the main avenue which is the Rabhane Commercial Bank.

The Circle provides the candidate to die a list buildings in the city from which he can choose one for throwing himself. If the candidate chooses a building other than those recommended by the Circle, then he should ask the permission before throwing himself from any other building than those that have been already recommended by the Circle.

Sometimes, if the candidate insists that he wants to die by using a revolver and by killing himself by a bullet in the mouth, then, in case he does not have a revolver he would be lent a revolver by the Circle to shoot himself. By the way, this revolver lent by the Circle is used by several other candidates who chose to die by the revolver.

For the last ten years, this revolver has been used fifty times because most of these candidates who committed suicide during the last ten years have chosen the revolver as a means of suicide. Nevertheless, the number of those who choose to die by throwing themselves from the high building and those who choose to die by hanging themselves has been recently increasing.

Every month a new candidate is accepted to join the Circle as a new member. Therefore it is obvious that every year twelve new candidates become new members of the Circle and twelve old members stop to be members of the Circle. Therefore since ten years one hundred and twenty new members joined the Circle and the same number of members has disappeared. Since ten years, ten retired old men died because of natural death, old age, sickness, all the rest have been chosen by lottery so as to die, or in fact, to commit suicide, or exactly one hundred twenty old retired men.

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In spite of all of these distressing and horrible facts, it is reported that every month the number of those who aspire to join the Circle increases in a very accelerate way. The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals is becoming the main subject, the main theme of topics discussed by people of the high class families. Nothing is more interesting, exciting and stimulating for ladies of the quarter of the rich families than to listen to the recent news of retire men who committed suicide or who were lucky to become members of the Circle.

In all the cocktail parties, the social dinners, the evening parties which are usually held in the houses of rich families, the main subject of amusement and discussion is the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals. In the higher educational institutions and in the secondary schools of the quarter of the rich people, the topic of the Circle is always discussed in the classrooms, lecture halls, the auditoriums and the amphitheatres. All students are interested in the topic of the Circle and all of them wish they are as old as the members of the famous Circle so as to have the chance of being a possible member of the Circle.

Publicity and advertisement could be seen everywhere on the walls of buildings of the quarter of the rich. Special publicity and information films about the Circle have been produced so that all people could see them in the famous cinema halls. But nothing is mentioned about the internal life and activities inside the main center of the Circle.

For these reasons, the number of candidates for new members to join the Circle is increasing from one month to another. It is said that it is expected that the cumulative number of candidates each month could be reaching soon some astronomical figures and dimensions. People in charge of the circle do not know in fact what to do to meet this increasing demand for joining the Circle.

It is possible to increase the number of monthly newly accepted members from one to two within the maximum frozen ceiling of a total number of fifty? Would it be then, necessary to require that two members of the Circle should disappear either by natural death of by suicide?

A lot of new ideas are proposed for the continuous renewal of the spirit and the principles of the Circle. On the other hand, some people raise the question about the possibility of not limiting the membership to retired old people only. They require that membership be expanded to persons of less than sixty years old, may be till the age of forty or forty five years old.

On the other hand, and furthermore, some people raise questions concerning the absolute necessity of limiting the membership of the Circle to old men. Why not to have a circle of old women who might not be all intellectuals?

After finishing reading quickly but with interest several pages of the daily newspaper, and after having a look in all the pages and reading in details several sections, and after some reflection, thinking and contemplation, Amr has the feeling, the desire to join the Circle and to be an active member of it. He could not see any objection to his joining the Circle.

Amr does not have any objection to any of the basic principles for the membership of the Circle. He keeps himself seated in the sofa and wants to rest and relax for at least half an hour.

What he has seen down there in the main avenue of the city has really made him a victim of depression and distress. Down there in the main avenue he has seen tragic and shocking scenes. He recalls all what happens to the retired men in the avenue.

He wants really to join the circle so as to be given the chance of participating in all its intellectual activities of which he knows nothing at all now. It is the policy of the Circle not to reveal anything of its activities especially those of the intellectual type. Members of the Circle are not allowed at all to speak about the intellectual activities undertaken and carried out in the Circle by the members. The real nature of the activities remains a secret which no member of the Circle is allowed to disclose or to reveal.

Amr actually does not know exactly why he wants to join the Circle. He feels that his desire and his inclinations are nothing but a wish with no foundations or justifications. It is only like having a dream and then having the wish that this dream should be realized. How could dreams he realized?

Amr is now in complete confusion and he really needs the help of somebody so as he could take the right decision to join the Circle or not to join the Circle. Unfortunately he finds himself nowadays living in an island. He is in the middle of an island surrounded by an ocean and a group of sharks which are ready to devour all his flesh and not to leave out of him except the skeleton.

He also believes that all his friends of his past are now mostly his enemies. Most of them pretend that they do not know him. If they see him anywhere they change the position of their head in pretending that they are looking for something that lies behind them.

But all of a sudden, he remembers his cousin who is also at the same time his neighbor. He wants to consult his cousin although Sari might pretend that he does not have time because he is busy nowadays in the building, the construction and the design of tombs, mausoleums and gigantic sepulchers.

Anyhow, he would try his chance with his cousins. Perhaps, he would have some time to see him and to give him advice concerning becoming a member of the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals. But, he is really still amazed why his cousin Sari does not see him, or does not come to see him in his house.

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The Circle of the Retired Intellectuals

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