Meta fiction

Tourab Amsheer

from Athanasius Kircher's, Sphinx Mystagoga

from Athanasius Kircher’s, Sphinx Mystagoga

…with Slideshare entreating me to post another story, I succumb.

and, even though not one of those gentle readers has asked for this, probably as they found Night of Nights too grotesque for words, too meta, too much random time shifting, too wrapped up in its own opaque and inconclusive insecurities, yet I feel their anguish and frustration at not being able to read the full version of Darwish’s Scream, published by Mizna in 2005, given that only an excerpt floats in the Webosphere, the best part of it, yes, but only an excerpt, and I say to myself, why not, why not give the ravenous hyenas what they crave, why not scan and upload to Slideshare my only, yellowing copy, yes why not?

the thing is said, the thing is done

but i cant leave it like that, hafi as they say in Cairo, like bare bread without hummus, because i have to explain it i have to update it i have to give the scribe a back story i have to show that things have happened since it came out that the scribe (not I, you have my assurances) is still up on current events, still relevant, still plugged in, still aware most of all of my own inconsequentiality, or is it in fact his own, wrestling as he does on and on trying to do it one more time but it’s no use his Muse never lingers

and so i thought of the scribe again i thought of him as an even older man now too stunned as to how it all turned out after the latest revolution or coup or restoration or whatever you want to call it

he’s walking down Kasr El Eini street and being nonplussed at having to step past the rubble of the Jan 25 dreams almost being hit by toc tocs and motorcycles whizzing as he solemnly walks every day while remembering briefly the glory days when trams used to run on this once magnificent street, but now only potholes and broken glass

to get to Tahrir he has to pass through a hole in a concrete wall erected by the army to stem the tides of demonstrations but the scribe must get to Tahrir Square, as the world knows it, but to him it is still and will always be Midan Ismail, not that monstrosity with the red granite monolith, thankfully now long removed, yes Midan Ismail, ever so elegant it was, Ismail the rightful name of Midan el Tahrir before it was taken over and renamed by a fraud if ever there was one

sad but the scribe has spent that last few decades since his one glorious moment, which he no longer remembers except vaguely, something to do with a reworked version of the story of Keiss and Laila, but he has forgotten writing it, he has even forgotten where it is in his library, his own book, and so wanders about his large mother’s apartment in Garden City looking for something but does not realize it’s the book he once wrote

and so he goes on, sleeping in the very bed his mother died in, looking out the same balcony window (which she referred to as the balkone, in that charmingly old-fashioned Ottoman way of hers), where she saw him carted off to prison in ’67 by Nasser’s goons, because he dared to say that something which he can’t remember now in his favorite beer parlor and the Secret Police overheard it

but all that was long ago and now he mostly wakes up at 4am and shuffles between his various fridges, obsessed with moving unneeded kilos of once fresh spinach, still with dirty roots, and wrapped securely in plastic bags, from one fridge to the another, not to mention all his other foods, which he boils regularly late at night, and which have been so long in the fridges that they are quite difficult to identify

and now a soldier lets him through the hole in the wall and now he is walking to Tahrir in order to get to Bab el Louk and sit down in Café El Horreya as he has always done yes this is his custom

he tried recently, always trying, helpless, to make sense of the animated mural of aegyptianess before him, the roving bands of thugs, the prostitution and drug selling in tahrir, the boys who attacked him in front of the same French Lyçée where he studied long ago

but not being able to do so, not being able to say anything coherent, except bizarre meta ruminations that no one can understand or relate to: he has become the fraudulent anti-hero of that story never written by Borges the one about Athanasius Kircher, the eccentric charlatan, who in the 17th century famously claimed he could interpret Egyptian hieroglyphics, having never actually seen them in person

the scribe is beginning to worry that his time is rapidly slipping away, as he remains holed up in his hermetic apartment, the elevator of course broken, the apartment he has lived in how for almost all of his 81 years, except for that garçonnière he once kept in a posh part of town just before the ’67 war, when he still drank whisky and had an affair with a famous belly dancer at the Auberge nightclub by the Pyramids who liked to put henna on his prick

ah those were the days

and then later after ’67 for him always the marking point he put aside the whisky which was always Johnny Walker Black and began smoking hashish and commiserating with all the other intellectuals, most now long since dead and then he made that careless remark and was sent to Tora where they beat him and stuck batons up his rectum

but that was all long ago and now he ambles with understandable difficulty every afternoon past Tahrir to the same Café el Horreya in the afternoon, usually there promptly at 1pm, when the place opens

and he sits in his favorite wicker chair, chain-smoking his Cleopatra cigarettes, and only able now to drink two or three bottles of Stellas in the afternoon — at ten LE apiece, still a bargain! — and reading, always the reading, not that baladi dentist’s stuff, but instead a second-hand copy of last year’s vibrant new novel by mubarak’s ex personal photgrapher…

and he is stunned at the knowing sophistication of this work, the ease in which it seems to be written, the lack of sensitivity toward how things were when things were better, and he ponders interminably if that image he tried to use in Darwish’s Scream was the right tone, was it said the right way, did he use the right words, was it confusing in some way to read, was the alternation between points of view too much, was the sound of his own voice too intrusive?

… and so still he drinks Stellas at the ahwa, every afternoon, like always, until one day a young foreigner sits next to him and he thinks this young American is sitting next to him because he realizes who he is, but the American does not seem to be aware of him at all.

It is sometime in February 2014 and Cairo is again filled with dust from the desert so thick you cannot see the revolution anymore and the young foreigner turns to him.

“Isn’t it too early for the Khamseen?”
“Yes.”
“What month is it in Arabic?”
“Amsheer, in Coptic.”
“Amsheer?”
“Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
The foreigner is grinning. He is obviously studying Arabic at the nearby AUC and is pleased at his own cleverness. The scribes finds him insolent.
“Yes, I’m sure,” he replies with some finality. “The dust you see is called Tourab Amsheer.”

Egyptian retro beer ad

photo taken off an old issue of Le Progèrs Egyptien, on Feb 2013, in Cairo’s Dar El Kuttub

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