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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

The two friends, Amr and Monkar, going together to offer their condolences to the bereaved family, are dressed up in very dark suits. For Amr, the costume he is putting on is his usual and normal suit. Amr is regularly dressed up in a complete way. It is said that he has never been seen walking outside his house and even inside the house without his dark jacket and his red neck-tie. He might be moving in his house walking in his vest but never with his white shirt. It is said that he has only the white color shirts, about fifty of them.

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It is said also that every day he changes two or three shirts, one for the morning, the second for the afternoon and the third for the evenings. The servant Abdu is quite aware of this habit, of this tradition, of the master, of using three shirts in a day. The shirts used by the master are washed and ironed on the same day in the laundry shop of the quarter.

The two friends, the consolers, arrive at the bereaved house of the family in sorrow and grief. The moment they reach there to their destination, they could see that the house is overcrowded with people. Usually every possible available space in the house is used to receive the visitors, all bedrooms, all salons, all sitting rooms, all the dining rooms, all the corridors and even all the bathrooms and the kitchens, the stores, the staircases, the veranda, the balconies and the terraces. In so many cases, it could be seen that the gardens of the house are filled with seats to receive consolers. Even, in very rare cases, the pavements around the house are used for receiving consolers and ordinary visitors.

During summer and spring seasons the roofs of the various parts of the house are also used for receiving consolers and visitors. However, in spite of the fact that a lot of places are made available in the various parts of the house, the visitors stay only for a quarter of an hour, on the average, so as to make space available for other incoming visitors.

Of course, there are exceptional cases where visitors remain in the bereaved house for hours and hours. The bereaved house would look in the evening as well as in the morning like a bee-hive. A lot of people are seen in the entrance of the house. They are either entering or going out of the house in mourning and in bereavement.

As we have said, the tradition is to stay for a short time, a maximum of one quarter of an hour. Anyhow, there are exceptional cases to this general rule. Some of the visitors, the consolers, stay for more time. Some of them may stay there for the whole allotted time in the evening. The time of the stay could extend to four hours or more than that.

This category of consolers is usually engaged in a campaign of gossiping. Here and there, in the bereaved and mourning family house small groups of consolers composed of a maximum of three to four persons begin talking to each other about the private life of so many families of the quarter of the rich, or more especially concerning the private life of the defunct.

On the main-gate of the house in mourning a line of men of all ages of the relatives of the defunct or of the members of the family of the defunct could be seen standing to receive people who are coming in or to thank people who are going out of the house.

Consoling words of condolences are said to the members of the family. For four hours there is no end for the coming and the going out, the departure, of consolers. Of course, the members of the family receiving words of condolence are individually changed every half an hour or every one hour. This change of persons in the line of the members of the bereaved family depends from one person to another in the line. But in rare cases a member of the bereaved family remains standing in the line continuously for four hours with some short interruptions between now and then.

Indeed, in some cases, as it is constantly and normally the case, any member in the line of reception could feel that he should meet a basic natural need of the human body. So he goes inside.

The house to a place he knows where and then he comes back while he is completing the closing of the open part of the trouser which he normally opens in such natural events and circumstances.

No strange and abnormal incidents and events take place in this part of the house, the entrance. Sometimes, personal enemies have to shake hands with each other in such an occasion. Sometimes, an enemy to the family would wish to every member of the family, standing in the line, death and calamity.

Both Amr and Monkar are now in the car of the latter, Although it takes only five minutes driving to be in the destination house, it took the two half an hour to be near the bereaved family house. Monkar is driving the car in a very slow way to the extent that he attracts the attention of the other cars as well as the pedestrians. Several persons are looking astonishingly at the slow driven car and several others are either laughing or talking about it.

Many pedestrians and on-lookers think that the two old men are as a matter of fact senile. They think that Monkar does not have the permit, the authorization to drive and that he is about to have an accident either with another car or with a pedestrian.

However, the driver of the car does not give attention at all to the comments of the passers-by. He even, sometimes, closes his eyes while he is driving at the speed of one mile an hour.

Amr, sitting in the back seat behind Monkar, does not care also to what the people around say about them. People might be thinking that Monkar is the private driver of Amr. Whatever, the people think, the car of the two old men in retirement rolls, moves, very slowly and all the people around them are grumbling. The drivers of the two cars that are behind Monkar's car stop their cars then come out of their vehicles and come to Monkar's car just to see what the matter is and what is going on. Nothing, he, Monkar wants just to drive slowly and nothing else at all.

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At last, the car of Monkar arrives at the surroundings of the bereaved family house. What a surprise!! What a surprise!!! Monkar looks around and he cannot come across a small space, place, anywhere for parking his own car. Nowhere could he see a possible place for parking the car. With this horrible situation of car parking, Monkar, without consulting Amr, decides to go back to his house. He drives his car this time at fifty miles per hour speed.

He arrives at his house. He orders his friend Amr to come out of the car and then, after a fifteen-minutes-walk or a little bit more, the two are in front of the bereaved family house.

The two old men in retirement shake hands with thirty persons of the bereaved family who are standing in the line before the house in the narrow path of entrance. Amr does not know any of the thirty persons standing silently, solemnly and grievously. However, Monkar discovers that he knows one or two of those standing in the entrance. It is not the tradition to stop and talk. So Monkar continues to shake hands until he reaches at the interior of the magnificent palace.

Monkar, who is the man with experience in offering condolences, guides his friend Amr inside the house. He chooses the main salon, the reception hall, to look for free places for the two, he, himself, and for his friend Amr. The moment they are in the salon, a group of five persons stand up ready to leave the salon. Monkar and Amr go hastily to be seated in the vacant seats.

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The ancient ambassador and the ancient consul are now seated in very strategic places. From their seats they could control and observe the coming and the going out of consolers, those who come to offer their sympathies and condolences to the bereaved family and those who leave.

The moment the two consolers are seated they look around and they look around. The two are interested in the behavior of people coming and of people going out of the main salon of the house.

The two kept their eyes and their ears quite attentive, watchful, alert and vigilant to control what is going on in the house as a whole. Amr is more interested in the way the black coffee is served systematically to the sitting consolers, the guests. The same four empty coffee cups are being used continuously by the coffee man, the waiter, to serve all the hundreds and thousands of people who come to the bereaved house. Amr plans not to accept the cup of black coffee to be offered to him. Anyhow up to the present moment Amr could not see a single visitor who refused the cup of coffee. All of them take the cup automatically; drink its contents in one sip. This is the tradition. Then after sipping the contents of the cup, the visitor shakes the cup several times just as a sign to show the waiter offering the coffee that he does not want at all a second cup, or a second serving.

Cigarettes of various marks, either local or imported, either legally or by smuggling, are offered to all the visitors, the consolers. Of course, nowadays few of the visitors smoke, like Monkar. It is only the young who smoke in most cases, while very few old people smoke.

During all of this normal movement in the house mainly centered on the coming and the going out of consolers and others and the movement of persons offering coffee or cigarettes silence normally dominates in all the parts of the big house, or really the palace. Not a single sound or noise, talk or cry could be heard. It is a serious, solemn and formal atmosphere which most of the visitors respect.

Silence is the sovereign everywhere in the house of the defunct. Yet, yet, yet, Amr could hear some kind of whispering here and there in the salon of sorrow and elsewhere. Amr presumes that there is whispering in the other spaces of the house where consolers are sitting. Indeed, truly, Amr could see very easily that in the four corners of the salon groups of people composed of two to four persons are really talking to each other.

Though they are whispering they are actually in a state of 'conference and consultation', a serious 'parley and forum' in which false stories and rumors and lies are fabricated concerning the life of the defunct.

Amr guesses and estimates that the centre of the chatter and the gossip is the defunct and his family. Amr becomes interested, highly inquisitive and intrigued, to hear some of what these people say about the defunct and about his family.

To satisfy himself, Amr comes to the conclusion that he could not be able to hear anything if he stays in his present seat. If he wants to listen to the chatting of the visitors, the consolers, he has to change his place at once. He should look for a seat near by the seats of the four corners of the salon. Amr does not discuss his intention with his neighbor, his friend and companion, Monkar. He wants to be independent in his decision. Here, he is a free man. He looks around and wants patiently to track down a free place nearby one of the four corners of the main salon. He is sure that those who whisper to each other would not leave their seats till the end of the condolence session of the evening of today.

Still, Amr considers deeply and profoundly the critical point of the possibility of leaving his friend Monkar where he is sitting. After much consideration and hesitation, Amr decides to remain with his friend Monkar till the end of the visit of condolence.

But all of a sudden, Amr becomes surprised to know that his friend Monkar is leaving the place at once so as to have the chance of visiting another house of a bereaved family. Certainly, this is now the way of life which Monkar leads. In the afternoon or more precisely in the evening he goes from a house in bereavement to another for making his condolences visits to the families that lost either its head or one of its members.

Monkar is going to visit a home in which both the father and the mother of the family have died in very mysterious circumstances and conditions. The death of this well known couple in the quarter of the rich has caused a lot of rumors to circulate around about the exact reasons for the death of these two old persons.

"If you wish, Amr, you can accompany me to this other visit of condolence. This is a must visit which I have to carry out because I am a friend of the family, a very close friend. I know also their seven sons who are well established business men in the quarter of the rich and in the city as a whole. One or two members of this bereaved family are married to relatives of my family. Then we could go to a third family, a bereaved family. It is said that they discovered their young daughter drowned in the fountain of the inner court of the house. Nobody could understand how a young girl of thirteen years of age could face death by drowning in the water of the fountain of the house. It could be proved that not even small chicken could be drowned in the water of the fountain."

"However, it is said that this young girl has been accused of profaning the honor of the family. It is said also that she had love affair with a young man from the quarter. The rumor says that the eldest brother killed her, the victim, by drowning her or her head in the water of the fountain."

"It is also reported that there is a witness for the killing of the young girl of thirteen years of age. This witness, and old woman of the family, of fifty five years of age, has lost all capacity of speaking. Because of the shock she had in seeing the crime of the drowning of the young girl by her eldest brother, this only witness lost her capacity to talk. She is considered now a dump person. In addition, she is completely illiterate. She cannot give any written testimony." said Monkar.

"Listen to me my dear Monkar. This somewhat long list of condolence visits, only for this evening, is a surprise and a shock for me. I cannot imagine that anybody could make three condolence visits to three families in one evening. This is impossible and unworkable. Could anybody in our quarter do the same like you? Besides, you did not tell me that we would be visiting three houses and not only one. Frankly speaking, you have not told me that before coming here. I am really astonished. You should know my dear friend that I would get tired if I carried out these three visits, one after the other. If you have been accustomed to do that, I am not at all. I am an old man in retirement. You are also an old man in retirement." answered Amr.

"Look here, my dear friend Amr. I am just telling you what I am going to do. I am not obliging you to come with me, to accompany me. You have the complete liberty to come with me or not. My evening is programmed in this way as I have already explained to you. It is your choice and not mine. If you feel that you should spend more time here, then you can do it. You decide for yourself. Nobody would come to you to tell you that you are not wanted here. Look around you. Hundreds of people are coming in and hundreds are going out. So you are one of them and nobody could tell you that you have overstayed and that you should give your seat to others. Listen to me my dear. In my case, sometimes, in some days, I carry out five visits of condolences to bereaved families. I am accustomed to that. Really, I do not get tired or exhausted and I carry out all of these visits all alone. I use my car in moving from one bereaved house to another. Naturally, I let the servants in the house quire informed of my movements in the evenings. The chief of my servants knows very well my displacements by time and place."

"This is the first time I accompany somebody with me that is you. Sometimes I visit the same bereaved families once, twice or three times, each time in one of the three days of sorrow and grief declared by the family concerned. You would be greatly astonished because what I am going to tell you is not practiced at all by anybody. Sometimes, I visit the same bereaved family twice a day, at about late in the afternoon and just quarter of an hour before the end of offering condolences for the day. This phenomenon, of making two visits on the same day, is not usually noticed by anybody in the bereaved family house."

"You can understand me very well that this is how I fill my time, my free time. You tell me that you will get tired if you do the same thing as I do. But in my case I do no, I do not get tired. This way of life is not difficult for me at all. Do you understand me, my dear Amr? I think that you do understand me very well. I am just explaining to you how I behave daily. Every day, early in the morning, by going through the daily newspaper, I prepare a provisional program for my daily activity of visits of condolences. I plan not more than four visits for one day. Sometimes, and especially in severe cold days of winter season when raining continues sometimes for several days and when many old persons die, more than in days of other seasons, the list of places which I have to visit daily becomes longer and longer. The daily newspaper would indicate the three days specified by the bereaved families for offering them the condolences"

"You know it happens that for some days and especially in winter season, I carry out five visits in a day to various bereaved families. The members of the servicing personnel get astonished when they notice that I am doing this hard work daily. The whole afternoon or in fact the whole evening, and for four hours or more, starting from five o'clock and ending up at ten o'clock, I am in continuous movement from one house to another, mostly in my own car, and I myself the driven. It is unjust to ask my special driver to take me from one place to another in the quarter of the rich and sometimes elsewhere."

"You know Amr, these condolence visits are sources of mental and intellectual enrichment for me. In these visits, and so often I meet very important personalities of our country. Once I met an important prince of our country. This is why I take this activity very seriously. I meet in these visits very important government high officials as well as well as the grocers and the bakers of our quarter. However, the most important aspect of this activity is that I go to all of these houses without being personally invited."

"Of course, in the daily newspaper, the bereaved family addresses a general invitation to all people in the community indicating that it would receive anybody wishing to offer condolences during the specified three days of sorrow. Men would be received in the evening and women in the morning. Therefore, we could see that for the old men in retirement the visits for offering condolences are only one option, one alternative, and one solution from among the many for filling our free time." Monkar ended calmly his discourse.

"Listen to me my dear friend Monkar. I would like to tell you that for this time I feel myself by now somewhat tired and even exhausted. I have to go back immediately to my house. I thank you very much for your explanation of your ideas and of your way of life after retirement. It would be a pleasure for me to accompany you in most of the visits which you have already explained. I would like to go with you to all the villas and palaces of the quarter of the rich. I am sure that one day a member of the family of each villa and palace would die. So on the basis of this argument I am going to visit with you all of these beautiful edifices of our quarter. We would go there, to each house, to offer our sympathy and our condolences." said Amr to his friend the ex-ambassador, Monkar.

Each of the two friends has gone to his destination, to his villa. The time is now just about to be eight o'clock. All this time in our region of the world, it is by now darkness and all the residences of the rich people of the quarter are shining with light coming out of spacious, superb and splendid windows and impressive, imposing and striking verandas.

Nevertheless, one cannot see many people living in the buildings or animating them. The sky is decorated by the twinkling stars. The moon, shining there in the middle of this strange world, is hesitating whether to smile to the people who are looking at its face or not. With shyness, the moon between now and then, smiles bashfully and timidly and is about to talk. Certainly, the moon would not talk and it has never been reported that the moon utters, even a single escaping word. The moon sees and witnesses and keeps what it sees as a secret, an immortal and a sacred secret, never to be told to anybody, never.

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The dinner is already prepared and the consul must take his evening meal as usual and in the normal way. For the last several days, the ex-consul tries to invite some of his old friends to take dinner with him. Up till now, and surprisingly enough, nobody accepted his invitation. All have claimed that they have other engagements with their wives. Even those whose wives are dead have declined the invitation of the ex-consul. Some of these old retired friends pretended and claimed that they are going to travel abroad for the visit of their children living overseas or they are frankly speaking bed-ridden or about to die.

Indeed, Amr is very hungry because of the activities he has undertaken in the afternoon and more so in the evening. From a distance, Abdu, the faithful servant, watching, with interest and curiosity, his master eating everything offered to him. He eats with avidity, eagerness and greed. However, Abdu keeps himself nearby ready to answer any question which his master might ask.

From a far distance, the old maid servant watched also her master. She is really worried about the pale face of the master and his uneasiness and exhaustion. The maid wants to come near to Abdu just to ask him about the health of their master who is at this moment continuing to eat avidly everything on the table.

Amr after taking dinner prepares himself to go to sleep in his bedroom. He does not want to do anything whatsoever. He does not want even to take his usual cup of tea which he takes usually after dinner. Amr puts on his pajama and drags himself to his bed. He put off the light, lays down on his bed, closes his eyes, and at once he could be considered sleeping. Amr sleeps the whole night.

He gets up the next day a little bit late than usual. When he opens his eyes he tries to convince himself that he is in a good health and that nothing is wrong with him as a result of the activities which he has undertaken yesterday afternoon and all through the evening.

Anyhow, Amr is surprised to discover himself fatigued and exhausted and maybe he is sick, ailing, indisposed. It is not abnormal at all to feel tired and that he could be unwell. Since so many years, may be more than twenty years, Amr has been incessantly reminding himself that he is a mortal and that one day comes when he would be considered dead.

Actually, since a long time, he unceasingly reminds himself that he would die, naturally or by a fatal sickness and that he would be buried in his tomb and that very soon, after that, he would be forgotten as if he has never been born and has never existed in life.

Amr puts the palm of his right hand on his forehead. He discovers, or perhaps, he imagines that he has a fever, a high fever and that he really breathes with some difficulty. Even, the ex-consul imagines that he perspires and that the sweat covers abundantly all parts of his body, especially his chest. He stays shivering where he is on his spacious bed without trying to make any movement whatsoever.

In finding himself in such a situation he becomes worried and very pre-occupied for not knowing what to do. Amr, in his bedroom, finds himself isolated from the whole world as if he is living on an isolated island in the middle of a furious ocean. If something happens to him he does not think that somebody would come to his aid, to his help and his rescue and salvation.

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Abdu, the faithful servant enters into the bedroom of his master after knocking on the door. He notices that his master, who has the habit of getting early in the morning, is still not awake. Still he is in bed and he does not ask for his morning cup of coffee and for his morning daily newspaper.

On the next day, early in the morning, Amr is having his morning cup of coffee without which he cannot live or survive for two days. At the same time, Amr is going through and in quick way, the local newspaper. Amr remarks that the number of people who are dying is really increasing in an accelerated way. At this moment, the ex-consul remembers at once how his friend, the ex-ambassador. Mr. Monkar fills his time efficiently, effectively and skillfully every day in carrying out several condolence visits to various houses of bereaved families.

There in the daily newspaper one could see and read the names of well known persons who died during the various days of last week. At any page of the paper there are names of well known persons who died since three, two, or one day.

Therefore, many bereaved families be identified that are opening their houses for three consecutive days for receiving the condolences and the sympathy of all of those who come to their houses for expressing their deepest sympathy, their compassion and their condolences.

Amr while reading the newspaper gets ideas on how he could fill his free time in this phase of his life in retirement. He is sure that this activity which he is going to undertake, the offer of condolences, would add a great deal to his final chances for joining, in the final analysis, the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals.

Amr stands up, takes his newspaper under his arm and starts going to his office near the sitting room of his residence. Amr quickly and hastily spreads the daily paper on the pace available for him in the office. Amr of course finds it better to take his seat near the window. He starts to look at each page of the daily newspaper. He finds a wide variety of information about Death in the quarter of the rich and in the whole community. After going through the paper Amr becomes in a position to prepare a provisional program of visits of houses of bereaved families.

This program could be prepared in advance to cover activities of three days. Then Amr decides to prepare a program covering one week or six days. Amr takes the decision to begin this new phase of his daily life as soon as it is possible. He likes to commence an active life of retirement and nothing else.

"Instead of remaining idle in his house throughout the whole day he would be active in the afternoon and in the evening every day. He would be an active member of his society starting either from four or six o'clock and ending up at eight or ten o'clock during late in the evening. His life would be engaged in carrying condolences activities. This type of activity is really appreciated by the members of the community as a whole. All adults, both men and women are engaged every day in the condolence activities, women in the morning and men in the evenings. But to Amr, the most important aspect of carrying out the condolences visits is the fact that such visits would increase the chances of Amr to become a member of the Circle of the Retired Intellectuals."

In the afternoon of the next day Amr is fully prepared for the visit of condolence to the house of a bereaved family in the quarter of the rich. The house is not very far, yet it is not within a walking distance from Amr's house. The car should be used to be there in the house to be visited.

This is the house of Abu Kamel which lives its days of mourning and grief. This rich and well known and prestigious family lost two of its members, the head, and the master of the family in addition to the only son, the heir of the glory, the fortune and the affluence of the family.

The two, the father and the only son died in a horrible and a horrific car accident when the two were in their way to one of the outskirts of the city for attending an important meeting with somebody of a high government position.

The head and the chief of the family was fifty five years old and his son and heir was twenty years old. Their blue color car of the most famous and luxurious and the most beautiful model, which was driven by the unfortunate son, who had little or no experience in car driving, came in a fatal and deadly collision with an old truck the driver of which was seriously injured and was taken to the hospital.

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The preliminary, the judiciary and the medical investigation undertaken by the various responsible authorities including the local police force indicate that it is the unforgivable mistake and fault of the son who was driving the family car in an unimaginable speed. Various eye witnesses confirm these findings and observations.

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

In recent years, many fatal car accidents have taken place, especially in the quarter of the rich and in high ways, in which unqualified young men and even girls, all adolescents, have been driving the cars before getting their car driving permit.

Sometimes, practically all the members of the family, or families, have been killed in such disastrous car accidents. The traffic police force is not very strict in the application of traffic rules and regulations. Even it is said that this traffic police is even corrupt, bribable and dishonest in the field of car driving in general. Sons and daughters of well known and influential families are not controlled at all. On the contrary, the traffic control police man presents his apologies and his excuses if he discovers that the culprit is the son of an important father of a well known family.

Things concerning car accidents are getting worse day after day. In some cases it is discovered that the accident is either because of a very high speed or because of having taken abundantly alcoholic drinks.

As it is the tradition and the custom in the community, the residence of the victim's bereaved family would be kept open and ready to receive consolers and sympathizers for three consecutive days. In the morning, and starting from ten o'clock till noon, or twelve o'clock, women visitors and consolers come to the bereaved family house. The evening is given to men visitors and consolers. Usually, the time of visit extends from five in the afternoon till ten o'clock in the late evening.

Amr is highly excited and stimulated because he is going to offer his condolence to a bereaved family. Such a condolence visit, undertaken by him only is a new and a serious experience in his life as an old man in retirement.

He has been for long years, as a consul in the diplomatic corps of his country, far from such occasions and events of death, condolences, visiting bereaved families or attending the burial of the defunct or participating in the prayer of the dead.

He almost does not remember how one should behave in the bereaved family house. Of course, he is thankful and grateful to his friend the ex-ambassador, Monkar, to have taken him yesterday to the house of the family in sorrow for offering his condolences and his deep sympathy.

Still he does not know why he fell ill after that historical visit the day before yesterday in company with Monkar. He really suffered a lot. But the doctor could not discover and explain the reason for his sudden illness. For one full day he stayed in his bed nearly unconscious of anything around him.

Amr thinks that he is better prepared than he was when he accompanied Monkar to the condolence visit. Maybe, when he is all alone in the forthcoming condolence visit he would certainly be at ease, more in tranquility, more relaxed, in serenity and less inclined to fall sick without any warning or alert.

Indeed, after his experience of the first visit with Monkar, he thinks that he should a weekly program like that of his friend, the ex-ambassador, which cannot be at any case similar to that of Monkar. Therefore, he should implement his program all alone independent of the program of visits of Monkar.

In carrying out this daily program of activities outside of his house, nothing would change in his daily life, because he would be taking his three meals at the normal time and with the constant present of his ephebe, his servant Abdu, in the dining room. He would continue to enjoy his life in his house in the morning. Here, in his villa, he would continue to have his morning cup of coffee in the presence of his servant Abdu and he would continue, and without interruption have a look at all the pages of the daily newspaper.

The main and the principal advantage of his program of daily activities of condolences visits is the fact that he remains completely free for the whole morning and for the major part of the afternoon. He expects that this program would not be tiresome for his health.

No doubt, he discusses the matter with his faithful servant Abdu who is in agreement with him. But still, Abdu requests his master to avoid getting tired and exhausted. On the other hand, the maid servant, the cook, already knows the new change to be included in the life of her master. When she sees her master by chance in the morning, she only smiles for him as a sign, a gesture, of her agreement, her appreciation, of what he is going to undertake of a new and innovative activity.

Really, the maid-servant, the cook, was wondering in the few previous days, since the return of her master from Chilnega, why he does not visit the houses of bereaved families for offering his condolences.

Few minutes before four o'clock in the afternoon, Amr goes to the garage and puts himself, with some difficulty, inside his white BMW car behind the steering wheel. Indeed, he feels wholly at ease because he has been driving cars for the last forty five years. He considers himself a good and an experienced driver of all kinds of cars. Above all he drives slowly and with care and cautiousness. Above all, he does not drink, at all, any kind of alcoholic drinks.

Amr smiles when he touches the steering of the car. He repeats his smile several times but nobody sees him. He is by himself in the car and in the garage. Above all, most people at this time, in the afternoon, are inside their homes doing something indoors, perhaps for adults, preparing themselves for a forthcoming evening social reception somewhere in the quarter of the rich. Nobody goes to the house garden which is left to the gardener and to the guard of the house. If there are children for the family they are prevented by the guard to go to the garden to play there with their friends.

Amr begins to drive his white car towards his destination. Of course, he takes all the necessary information concerning the shortest way to arrive at the house in sorrow and bereavement in the shortest possible time.

At last, he arrives at his destination, and he parks his car a little bit far from the house of Abu-Kamel. Already, there are many cars, maybe hundreds of them. All the neighboring paths and the narrow alleys and even the pavements of far streets are used for parking. Some cars leave the place and come others take the vacant place. Everything is in order. Everybody is accustomed how to park his car. All people are extremely cooperative and all the cars are in their proper place.

Amr does not find any difficulty to park his own beautiful car. On the contrary, professional drivers who are there nearby their cars are offering their help to Amr. The consoler has to walk for a considerable distance so as to be nearby the destination, the house of the bereaved family.

In front of the main-gate of the bereaved family house and on one side of the path some members, probably fifteen, stand there to receive and welcome the visitors and the consolers.

Amr has to shake hands with each member of the family standing there. Amr whispers something whenever he shakes hand with one of the bereaved members of the family. Of course, everybody in the society knows very well what should be said in such occasions and circumstances.

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

Amr finishes this first step of the visit and finds himself, by now, and with many others like him, standing inside the spacious residence of the defunct, Abu-Kamel. Inside, Amr is lost because everywhere he finds human beings of the male sex only.

This session of the evening for offering condolences and expressing sympathy is totally masculine. Nowhere, absolutely nowhere could be seen the face or the presence of a female. The evening session of mourning and grief and of remembering the dead is only for men, the grown up adults. Not even the face or the presence of a small girl could be noticed or tolerated anywhere.

According to traditions, customs and habits of the community, no woman could show her face in such occasions in the afternoons and in the evenings. Perhaps, members of the female sex of the bereaved family are all sequestered in a certain section of the house. Or perhaps they, the female members, have been sent somewhere in the quarter, with a relative or close neighbor, to stay there till the end of the evening ceremony of condolences.

But the thing which attracts the attention of Amr is the availability of all kinds of spaces full of various kinds of seats and furniture. Every space in the house is utilized, is occupied. Even, the tree inner swimming pools have been emptied of their water and instead of water, seats have been provided there for visitors who want to sit there.

Of course, and after explanation and observation, Amr chooses the main salon of the house which could seat more than two hundred visitors. Amr sees that quite a number of consolers are leaving their seats and an equal number take their seats.

It seems that when Amr is found in the salon all seats are occupied. Amr shows patience and some restraint. Since he wants to be seated here, then he has to wait for few instants. A group of young consolers, five, stand up and prepare themselves to leave the salon. Amr prepares himself to rush hastily to occupy any seat before the arrival of others who would occupy all the seats. Amr is satisfied and relieved.

Amr cannot at all smile as he usually does, from time to time, when he remembers a certain funny incident in his life which happened either in the country, his home-land, or abroad. At this moment Amr is about to smile when he remembers a funny incident which happened to him once in his life. Amr does not smile because he remembers that he is now in the midst of a bereaved family house.

The moment he finds himself comfortable and conveniently seated and the moment he can have on his face some expressions of sorrow and sadness, he starts looking at his left and at his right. He wants to know who his neighbors on both sides of his seat are.

On both sides, he sees only two consolers, younger than him, or it could be said that they are middle aged and both of them are better dressed than him. As expected they are not brothers. One of them is of a dark color skin as if he has an African mother, and the other is completely blond as if he has a Scandinavian or a Caucasian mother, or even a father. Both of his neighbors have a dejected face as part of their effort to show their sorrow. Both neighbors have their hands reposed on their knees as a sign of complete respect for the dead, the father and the son.

All the time and continuously and without any interruption, men enter into the salon, as well as in all other spaces in the house, and men leave the salon. Amr observes this entire phenomenon with fascination and bewilderment. Men of all ages could be found there inside the house of the defunct, perhaps starting by seventeen years old young men up to old men who are as old as having an age of more than ninety years.

Amr discovers that his age to be nearer to be the old consolers rather than nearer to the middle aged. He realizes that this observation on his part as something of no significance at all. However, it is important to notice and observe that each visitor, each consoler of all ages, tries his best to put on his face a grim grimace as real expression and a gesture on his part for his feeling of sorrow and sadness.

All visitors pass by the members of the family of the defunct standing at the entrance of the bereaved house. They shake hands with the members of the family of the dead persons and then they enter into the various rooms and the salons and halls available for seating persons.

After the end of the condolence visit, the consolers leave the house by shaking hands again with the members of the bereaved family who are standing outside the main-gate. The visitors, who leave the house of the bereaved family, walk for a while and still they behave as they have done when they were inside the family house. After a certain limit of the distance separating them from the house of sorrow, the consolers begin to behave in a normal way to the extent that they tell each other jokes and they feel free to laugh even in a loud, noisy and sometimes, deafening voice.

The groups of consolers, who go out of the house, after finishing offering their condolences, commence, in a magic way, to gossip and to tell fantastic stories on persons who are still there inside the salon. They even gossip and tell many bad stories about the private life of the members of the defunct family, about all the sons and the daughters, about those who are married and those who are not yet.

However, Amr is still sitting in his seat and in fact he could feel the inner joy and the satisfaction for being a consoler. Even, he could not hide his inner contentment to be shown and visibly expressed on his face. He feels comfort and gratification in looking at the faces of people who are sitting before him in their seats.

Amr looks at the faces of the visitors with curiosity and with interest and concern. He continues to stare at the faces of the consolers all the time because he does not have anything else to do. He tries to lean and incline his head and thus sees nothing at the entire strange scene in front of him. His two neighbors are still bending their heads and they are staring at their knees. Actually, they are not seeing, and they do not want to see, what is going on in the main salon of the bereaved family house.

Amr, like all the visitors, endeavors to draw on his face a grimace, a scowl of grief and of sorrow, as most serious consolers are doing. In his case, he cannot claim that he is engulfed by woe and distress. If he does this, then he will be in fact lying, not saying the truth. Nevertheless, Amr continues to be seated in the salon and he is in his spirit and in his soul very happy because he is witnessing at present a festival of hypocrisy, duplicity and deception. What he is seeing now in this house of bereavement and condolences is a unique and bizarre phenomenon.

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Amr remembers at once and recalls that this act of hypocrisy continues here and without interruption from four till ten o'clock in the late evening and for three consecutive days. This festival, by its end on the evening of the third day, would have been attended by thousands and thousands of people, consolers, who know or who do not know at all the dead father or his son.

Amr takes a very important decision in his life as an old man in complete retirement. This decision would change his normal, usual and customary way of life and even his outlook to life.

He looks at his watch discreetly as if it is not proper and normal to look at watched to know the exact time. Time in such occasions is neutral. Amr does not want others to see that he got fed up and that he is anxious to leave the house of sorrows as soon as possible.

es/ Fallen Were The Underwear
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No, in reality Amr just wants to see the time. That is all, and nothing else. It is a normal and ordinary behavior in life if someone looks at his watch between now and then. A look at a watch means a lot of things to the owner of the watch. A watch that stops all of a sudden causes a great deal of annoyance and worry to the owner of the watch. Is the watch sick or what?

Amr just wants to see the time. That is all. He wants to see the time in order that he could plan and estimate a stay here in this house of sorrow for more time. Perhaps, he wants to stay for more time. Maybe he would stay here till the end of the time for the men's evening session, that is, till ten o'clock. At the same time, people, consolers continue to enter and at the same time others continue to go out of the house. Amr, at last decides to stay till the end of the evening session of condolence. Amr looks around. He witnesses all of this festival and ceremony of grief and sadness with an inner, never disclosed, revealed and confessed excitement, passion and thrill.

The more and more Amr stays in the salon the more he gets interested in his present activity for passing his free-time. The continuous presence of Amr in the main salon of the house of sorrow and sadness attracts the attention of the members of the family of the defunct. Probably, Amr is the only visitor, consoler who has been in the house of sorrow since the beginning of the condolence ceremony in the afternoon up to this late time of the evening.

es/ Baby Plant On Table E
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"O!! This is the son of Ahmed of the great tribe of Al-Urban. He is now in retirement from the diplomatic service of the Government." said one of the members of the bereaved family.

es/ My Open Window Sight Before The Satellite
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"Really, I am wondering since more than an hour why he is behaving in the strange and extraordinary manner. I mean he exaggerates in showing his sorrow and grief towards what has happened to our family. He does not know us very well and yet he has been staying for the whole evening and in the same place, to express for us his sympathy for our family." said another member of the family, a far relative of the two dead persons.

"Look at him; it is very strange how much he is sad. He is engulfed by his sadness and sorrow. He constantly put on his face this grimace which shows his suffering. I am sure this man exaggerates. He is more concerned with our calamity than the members of the family and our relatives. I am wondering what he wants, this man who keeps his private life in his house as a top secret. He lives as a bachelor in his villa with his young servant and a very old maid. Nobody knows what goes on in his house. He does not receive anybody and keeps himself in isolation from the monitoring eyes of the outside world." comments another member of the family of the victims of the car accident.

"It seems to me that he has come here all alone. He has come without the company of anybody. Look at him, and examine his total physical condition. I do not think that he feels exhausted, fatigued, in spite of the fact that he has been sitting there for the last three or four hours. Until now, and since his arrival, he has been sitting in the same seat without moving himself from it at all. I have noticed that he does not smoke. Somebody told me that he smokes in very rare occasions, few times in a year. He has been offered cigarettes by the servants, the waiters for several times. Anyhow, he continuously refuses to smoke. On the contrary, it seems to me that he is suffering from the dense smoke that floats and hovers now in the whole house."

"Also, I have noticed that this visitor, who could be sitting here till the end of the time of visiting us, likes coffee, the black coffee without sugar. Yet, the thing which surprises me in the behavior of this retired consoler in his interest to observe, control and monitor people who come in and who go out. He perpetually looks around him to see people who are visiting us. He is constantly examining all people who are in the main salon of the house in sorrow. Mind you! He is also examining us. At present he stares and gazes at us. Perhaps, he noticed that we are talking about him all the time." said another member of the family of the victims of the car accident.

"I think that this man would not be leaving his place, his seat, before ten o'clock. It seems that he is a close and dear friend of the head of our family, although I never saw him in company with our father, the head of the family." said one of the members of the family in sorrow.

"Listen to me all of you. I want to assure you that I have never seen this old man in our house, never, never, never. I remember very well that our chief never mentioned his name, not even once. Let me ask you who of you, have seen this man in our house or outside for the last ten years." asked the eldest member of the group.

"Listen to me all of you. We have to stop the funny analyses of men who come to our house to express their sympathy for the death of our chief and our brother. Our house is open to all. Anybody could come here and stay as long as he wants, one hour, two hours or for the whole evening. You should know that we cannot ask any visitor to leave our house. This is now an open house and for three days. In the morning, any woman can come to offer her condolences. In the evening any man of whatever age, of whatever class and of whatever social background, can come to offer us condolences. This is an open house not only for certain specified families but for all." said a member of the family in addressing his words severely and nervously to the other members of the group.

es/ Takeoff D
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Naturally, Amr remarks that the members of the family are really talking about him. He is the subject of their conversation and discussion. However, this perpetual gossiping about Amr by the members of the family does not discourage Amr at all to carry on and keep up expressing his sympathy, concern and compassion for the death of the father and his only son.

Amr knows that those who talk about him could not be directly concerned by the death of the father and his only son, the unique son. Those who talk about Amr are the relatives of the defunct, nephews and cousins, sons-in-law. Etc.

Amr continues sitting in his seat. He constantly accepts the cup of coffee offered to him by the waiter. He still insists to have another serving of the black coffee in the same cup. Indeed, during the three hours that he so far passed in this house of sorrow, Amr has the chance of being served black coffee for eight times. As a result of the amount of coffee which he has so far taken, Amr feels that he is somewhat tired and that he cannot concentrate or think properly.

After having been served a lot of coffee, Amr discovers himself obliged to ask for help. One of the brothers of the defunct comes to Amr to offer for him the necessary help.

"Tell me if you please, do you suffer from something. I could see your face to be pale. You look to be tired. It seems that you have some difficulty in breathing. It is very clear from your face that you are suffering from some pain. You look to be in distress and agony. I might be exaggerating and I cannot tell you anything further because I am not a doctor. I am telling you only on the basis of simple observation and nothing else. I think you are sick, you are suffering from something."

"Of course, you have been taking a lot of coffee, black coffee without sugar. This might be poisonous to many ordinary people. O!!! all of us have been observing you. I don't know why. You have not been smoking. This is something of good news although you look to be a smoker. Many people nowadays die because they have been smoking cigarettes very heavily. Perhaps, such people smoke one hundred cigarettes in a day. Still the more people die of smoking the more you see people smoking cigarettes. Nobody is discouraged."

"Nevertheless, we have not heard, so far, that people die because of the over consumption of coffee. My friend; if you die now you would be the first man in our quarter that dies because of consuming too much coffee. You will be considered as a victim of coffee. Isn't it so? Let me repeat to you I am not a doctor, a man of medicine. Now, let me ask you if you need any help, anything. Would you like to have a glass of water? We have cold water available if you want. Or do you need anything else? You just tell me what do you have in your mind." said a brother of the defunct to Amr.

"Really, my friend, I do not know what is happening to me. Really I do not know. I do not think that it is only because of the over consumption of the black coffee without sugar. I have been throughout of my adult life a heavy drinker of coffee. May be it is something else. I am really a sick man. I am sorry to cause to you this trouble. Really I am sick. I think I have to go back to my house. Listen to me; I am about to faint, to lose my conscience. I might fall down on the ground. Take care. I cannot concentrate in my thinking. I am very sorry to have caused to you this confusion in the salon. I have a car parked outside. I do not live far from your house. Thanks to God, Al-Mighty, I live nearby your house. Yet I think that some water would help me. Yes, some water. If you please, bring me some water if you please." said Amr in a voice which could be hardly heard by the member of the bereaved family.

"Listen to me, if you please. Be calm and do not worry. I do not think that you would faint here and lose conscience. It is not as bad as you think. No! No! You are just imagining. I think that you are now in a good health condition. There is nothing to worry about. All the members of my family thank you for this visit. You have really behaved this evening as if you are the brother of the defunct, the head of our family. I do not think that anybody could stay for four hours as you are doing this evening."

"Thank you very much for your visit of sympathy. All of us, the members of the family of the two victims are thankful for your visit. It is preferable that you go to your house as soon as possible. Certainly, I think you are sick and that you would need the help of a doctor who should be invited to come to your house. Isn't it so?" said the brother of the defunct.

"You know, my friend, I was sick few days ago, I was in a condolence visit, like this one. In that visit I was accompanying a friend of mine. I was not alone, like in this visit. After coming back from that visit to my house I fell sick. We called a doctor and he said that I was not suffering from anything serious. He said that I was suffering from fatigue and exhaustion. Perhaps I am sick. I should be suffering from something serious, from something serious." Amr was repeating the last word in whispering and in a hysteric manner.

Finally, the scene being described here becomes full of confusion and some puzzlement. All the consolers in the salon as well as in the other parts and wings of the villa are looking now at what is happening to the old, visitor, the master consoler, Amr.

Nobody of the bewildered visitors is trying to interfere. In such strange circumstances and precarious situations, it is better all the time to keep away, afar, from the source of trouble and mystery. Visitors are leaving the salon somewhat hastily thinking that something catastrophic is about to take place. Others who nothing of what is happening inside the house of sorrow and sadness are coming in.

Amr is now in a serious, embarrassing and confused situation. The sick visitor is about to be fully losing his consciousness. In spite of everything and the attempts of the members of the bereaved family to be in control of the situation, the confusion and the perplexity are increasingly spreading without control in the salon.

The hosts, the bereaved and the afflicted persons, do not know what to do. Really, it is very rare to hear of such an accident happening, that a consoler is about to faint, or have happened in other houses receiving consolers.

Those consolers who initially thought that nothing serious is taking place, all of them are thinking that one of the visitors has died because of a heart attack. All, at once, four young men, probably of the bereaved family, come to the place where Amr is seated. Amr, the center and the star of attraction, is still living. He is not dead as some of the visitors think. He is aware of what is going on around him. The four young men carry Amr, perhaps in spite of him. The four, the sick visitor and the three young men, leave the salon precipitately.

All the visitors, the astonished and the stunned, in the salon are wondering what is going on in the house of the bereaved family. All of them are surprised because they have not seen such an accident in their consolation and condolence visits to many other bereaved families.

It should be mentioned and emphasized that, actually, Amr, is still alive and he is not a very serious situation. Amr asks the three young men to let him and to aid him to walk. The four young men refuse categorically the request of the sick man. The three young men continue to carry him, and in a funny way as if he has been grievously and seriously wounded in a savage fight in the battlefield and was hit in his chest by the fire of the enemy.

All at once, the three young men are out and they do not know where to go. Hundreds of cars of various colors, models and marks are parked everywhere around the bereaved house. Where is the car of the sick man, or the man in trouble? While the young men are talking to each other, Amr, the presumed sick man, tries his best to communicate a message to the persons who are carrying him. With difficulty, Amr succeeds to guide the porters to locate, to track down, his car.

Unfortunately, the car has been parked very far from the bereaved house. So, the three young men decide to let the sick man walk instead of being carried. Now Amr walks with the aid of the young men. At last, they arrive at the place where Amr's car is parked. One of the young men proposes to Amr to let one of them drive the car up to his house.

In such circumstances, there is nothing better than to let one of the young men drive the car of the sick man. In this way, Amr arrives to his house in a very short time. The young man has been driving the car in a very high speed.

The moment Amr comes down of his car he is helped by his servant Abdu who is waiting his master at the gate of the house. Of course Abdu does not ask his master any question while he leads him to the bedroom. After being seated in a sofa, Amr feels some difficulty to explain to his ephebe all what happened to him in the family of the bereaved house. The master of the house could not go into the details of the incident. Abdu commences to help his master to take off his clothes and to put on his pajama. Amr expresses his thanks to his servant who keeps in silence in looking at his master moving with a lot of difficulty. Abdu continues to keep silent but he looks at the face of his master just to know more about his health. Amr, between now and then, stares at his servant.

The darkness of the night has not yet made its full appearance in the bedroom of the ex-consul, Amr. Still there is some light, or the remnants of the light of a disappearing sun. The master of the house has been brought back of his house after the incident before the full sunset. Probably in a very short time the sun would disappear behind the horizon.

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Amr likes to watch how the sun vanishes behind the horizon and fades away behind the veils of time. He likes to see the completely red burning disk plunging into a blue sea of the sky. Amr realizes that the weather is very fine and refreshing. He likes this time of sunset and enjoys it. When he sees the sun fading away he becomes sure that this sun would be sleeping soon and would be taking rest. It would get awake at the end of the night. Amr wishes to sleep like the sun.

After the complete withdrawal of the vanishing of the sun, Amr decides to go to his bed to lay down there and try to relax first, in his bed. He does not try to sleep. He tries to keep his eyes open and he looks at the outside scene through the open window. He likes to see the invisible strife and animosity that takes place daily between light and darkness.

But at the same time Amr recalls what happened to him during his last visit of condolence and consolation. Amr recalls all what took place to him in the bereaved family house which has ended in a tragic and a funny conclusion.

He also recalls, and in details, what happened to him and how he was about to faint and to fall down on the ground at the end. He also remembers very well the confusion that took place in the bereaved family house and how the visitors who happened to be there did not know what was going on.

He also remembers how the three young men of the family carried him to the exterior of the house and brought him in his car to his house. Amr realizes that it is very late to call doctor so that he might come to the house and examine him. Amr thinks that he consumed a lot of black coffee. He really drank too much black coffee.

es/ Enigma Chair
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While Amr is recalling and remembering what took place to him today in the condolence visit, he hears the ringing of the bell coming from the main-gate. Instantaneously, Abdu opens the door. Sari, the cousin of Amr, is there at the door. After crossing the door-steps, he stands for a while inside of the house.

Sari looks around and around, but he does not detect a trace for his cousin Amr. The visitor smiles for a while. This smile, which visibly appears on the face, is always more sarcastic than a neutral and a simple smile. Nobody knows, until now, why Sari usually smiles sarcastically. This is very strange, It is a riddle.

Yet, when this sarcastic smile disappears, vanishes from the face of Sari, expressions of anxiety, inquietude and apprehension make their appearance on his face. He remembers what he has been told in his last visit of condolence this evening about the fainting of Amr.

Sari visited the same house, in which his cousin was about to lose conscience and to fall on the ground, after the departure of Amr carried by the four young men. For a while, Sari remains standing in his place in spite of the fact that Abdu asks him to advance, to move, to accompany him. The absence of Amr in the entrance does not surprise him. He immediately recalls the story of the fainting of Amr in the bereaved family house.

Sari walks without saying a single word to Abdu until he reaches the bedroom where his cousin is laying in his bed. The moment he discovers that his cousin is bed ridden he becomes certain of the fainting of his cousin in the house of the bereaved family. Sari could not know what to say and what to do. At last Sari said.

"You know my dear cousin Amr. I was in the house of the bereaved family of Abu Kamel to express my sympathy and my condolences for the death of the head of the family and his only son in a car accident. There, my dear cousin, in the house of the victims I was surprised to find out that all the visitors were talking about you and how you have fainted all of a sudden and how you were carried by three young men. They think that you are now dead. They think that you have a heart attack. All the time, after your departure and my arrival, you were the exciting topic and of talk and discussion. All the consolers there and without any exception were in agreement that you have taken a lot of coffee. Perhaps, you were continuously asking for the black coffee without being conscious that you were doing so and that you were harming yourself. Of course, I was in that house of Abu-Kamel extremely embarrassed in discovering that my cousin is the main subject of their conversation, of their gossiping and of their small talk and tittle-tattle."

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"Very few of the visitors knew that we are related, that we are cousins. Also very few of them could believe that you are an old man in retirement. One of the visitors told me that he saw you breathing with difficulty and that you died in the salon and that you were carried by three young men of the bereaved family. This is why, as soon as I finished my visit to the house of the bereaved family, I came directly to your house just to see what is happening to you in your house."

"Saba would be extremely surprised when I would tell her the story of your sudden fainting. She without exceptions tells me that you have a good health and that you should thank God, the Almighty for that. But your sudden fainting would be a surprise for her. Isn't it so? Look here, I am very glad to see you still alive. You are not only still alive but also you seem to me to be in a good health. You know, my cousin Amr, one should be moderate in everything especially in drinking coffee." said Sari the cousin of Amr.

"You are right, quite right. I was not suffering from symptoms of a heart attack. I was only suffering from a malaise, from an indisposition, a discomfort. The reason for this malaise is the excessive drinking of black coffee without sugar in the bereaved house of Abu-Kamel. You know, I can remember that I took fifteen cups of the black coffee. I used to swallow the whole contents of one cup of coffee in a single sip. I never shake the cup as a sign of being satisfied and that I do not want another serving of coffee in the same cup. After serving me for the third time, the waiter used to leave me and to go to others to serve them the coffee."

"You know all of a sudden I fainted and I think I fell on the ground. Some people rushed to me to help me. I gained my conscience in a very short time. Somebody brought me some water. As you already know I was carried out of the house to my car by three young men. One of them drove my car and brought me back to my house. Abdu was there in the house ready to help me in the house. He helped me carefully and in a gentle way, to go to my bedroom. He assisted me to take off my clothes, the pair of shoes, and the white shirt and of course my dark colored costume. He also helped to put on my pajama that was there waiting for me on my bed. The old maid, the cook, was watching me from a distance with some feeling of worry and inquietude. This old maid servant was ready to offer me any help I asked for." said Amr who was speaking with difficulty while he was looking as the face of his cousin Sari who was listening to him attentively.

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