Five Stories That Are Almost True, But Not Quite
A PECULIAR ARRANGEMENT
RETURN TO EGYPT
The airliner was over Cairo at about a quarter past ten. I looked eagerly out of
the window trying to pick out familiar landmarks but could not distinguish much in
the darkness despite the city lights. The emotions of my return were varied and
confused but there was little doubt at that moment that I was heading back home. A
peculiar home, this Egypt, where I both belonged and not. Which I both loved and
not. In which I felt both welcome and not and where I felt that at some point in my
life I would abandon. Leave it, because it would no longer tolerate me: me the foreign
implant. The intolerance increasingly reciprocal.
I was born and raised in Egypt at a time when the romance of the country was
being steadily eroded by revolution, nationalism, industrialization, an exploding birth
rate and later on, an Islamic renaissance with its attendant religious radicalism and
fanaticism. One must be clear: this romance was for the few. Mainly tourists,
foreigners, novelists and the native moneyed class. Not much romance for the lower
classes; servants, workers, farm laborers and villagers living in squalor and iniquity.
With the nationalization of foreign companies and businesses and the departure of the
foreign “colonies” from Egypt, the charming cosmopolitan atmosphere of the two
main cities Cairo and Alexandria was lost. Socialism was the order of the day and
those who experienced it learned the inevitable lesson early on: it does not work.
Perhaps in Egypt it had its usefulness. In the few decades before capitalism was
reinstated, it liberated from virtual feudalism large sections of the agrarian society and
instituted labor legislation, which however, the government controlled with an iron
hand through puppet labor unions.
The shrinkage of the Greek community, although slower than other foreign
ones, was inexorable. A very special and prosperous section of expatriate Hellenism
was returning to the motherland after a century and a half of residence in Egypt to
become diluted and anonymous. A sense of superiority characterized the Greeks of
Egypt. They had produced poets, novelists and artists of international renown, scores
of philanthropists that endowed their fortunes to build schools, hospitals and stadiums
both in Egypt and Greece. They were proud of their cosmopolitanism, of their
mastery of foreign tongues, of their refinement and good manners.
I would see my mother in a few minutes. I had been so infatuated with Lisa
that for days she did not cross my mind. I felt guilty for this disloyalty. She was
younger than my father by some ten years, with an attractive face on the borderline of
the truly beautiful with light chestnut hair, which gave a reddish hue in the sunshine.
Of fair complexion and milky white skin, she had a slim, athletic body for she was an
outstanding athlete in her youth. She was one of those women, which within limits, as
they age become even more attractive.
She looked as young and pretty as ever as I emerged from customs and smiled
happily. We kissed long and tenderly. Then I looked at my father. My mother had
warned me that his health was deteriorating and it was evident in his appearance. He
walked slowly towards me and kissed me too and I felt his disappointment at the
abrupt termination of my studies in the US. My involvement with Lisa caused me to
slacken in college. The failure that followed was inevitable.