Egyptian Poetry and Stories by Michelle Nashed 2003

A Mother’s Day

A woman rises with Ra
on a mid-life morning
and passes by the Nile,
slow as the sun bark,
to find the best for her family,
feed bodies spinning into day.
By noon the god hangs high,
and she sits in the shade of home,
the trickle-wind of the river grazing
her forearms that strain dicing
spheres of tomato small,
meticulating with knife and hand,
sharp and damp, the girth of fruit
and mother
by the light that told Eratosthenes
the circumference of the world.
She labors to the cusp of night,
working into filling
the parts of beast and field
she’s ground, salted, oiled
and rolls then folds, bit by bit,
the veined linen of the vine,
wrapping the flat-lain leaves
as full of care as Isis
tethered first the head,
then each finger, every toe,
weeping resin to hold
the pieces of her husband.
(a Hebrew mother used
pitch and bitumen glue
to hold a bulrush ark to save
her son from Pharaoh)
While the mummies boil to life
she sits to sew a sleeve,
twining the fabric of the fields
make-shift as the byblus boat
the widow-queen made, frantic
in the swallow-craze of sorrow,
the delta reeds where she split
pressing Horus out at vernal equinox,
that first green break through earth.
She treads the steps of the Holy Family
downstairs to the Hanging Church
and crosses herself on the threshold-
pause of mother, brink of barren,
the last drop she would flood
and grieve like ancient reapers
crying out to the magic goddess
whom the Virgin eclipsed.
At home, under the moon of ancient Jesus,
she builds a pyramid of the flesh she’s made
and offers, steaming live and holy, to her family.
The father sees, by the smoke of priest and tomb,
God blessing bounty.

The Third

Crying and crying in the Cairene alley,
myriad cats cannot hear the adhan;
Things blow up; the peaces cannot hold
al-jihad is loosed upon the world--
the holy strife is loosed, and everywhere
the capacity for compassion wanes;
the best negotiate, while the worst
burst with their bombs, fight stones with fire.
Surely some solution is at hand;
surely Allahu Akhbar is at hand.
Allahu Akhbar! How could He with seed bless them all
as the dust of the earth, the number of stars,
and only some with land? Somewhere in the desert
a spawn with pigeon body and the head of a ram,
a pull crazy and constant as the moon’s,
is flitting its lame wings, while all about it
alight doves spurned into belligerent hawks.
The morning strikes again, but now I know
that half a century of betrayal
was terrorized by a dual promise.
And what sleek flight, its moment mounting fast,
reels back to Jerusalem to land?

Forehead, chest, right, left-
I crossed Catholicly at Coptic[1] mass,
sat wrong, with the men,
faced God with no foulard[2]
and had not fasted.
Left shoulder is holy ghost
and right amen, I tried
to train my brain,
to kneel and stand as long as they
and pray.
I did not commune today,
but learned the body order
of father, son, and holy ghost,
[1] Egyptian orthodox
[2] headscarf; should be worn by Coptic women in church

Ramadan Vigil

Though not present
at the gibbous moon
this laylat al-qadr,
he kneeled and bent and lay,
pressed his head to the carpet to say
allahu akhbar, up and down alone
in waxing foreign light,
while Cairene mosques teemed
at midnight towards Mecca.
As women wandered through
the Gamaliya alleyways,
waddled under platters of fuul
to fill the prayers at Al-Azhar
he told the Jersey City factory:
“fasting is exam for the people”
that 27th day he did not eat.
At sunset, he broke fast in break-time,
showing that Ramadan is easier
in this kind of winter, and
“this day is better than a thousand months”
while his fathers spoke again
every word that had come down
to light the Night of Measure.

“A Brief Talk about History”
History, what is history?                                 Was it Menes or the Nile that linked the
lotus and papyrus, put the body to the head?
Past events,                                                      A perfect pyramid marked the order of man,
the measure of the god in Cheops, how the eye to the northern star can be keener than the compass.
a record of the past,                                          Herodotus on the gift of the Nile
people,                                                             farmers flooded out of the fields from
August to September toiling up the ramps, building to the sky, for twenty years
people that make events.                                   Akhenaton worshipped only one- the disk of
the rising sun, until the priests of Thebes erased him; Alexander came and conquered. 
It is continuous, a continuous process,               Greece flowed into Egypt…
like a stream that flows through time                  the Nile fed Rome;
and goes back to ancient times              Thutmose tombed first in the rock of
before any written record.                                 the valley. 
Does history stop?                                            Rome killed the cults;  papyrus is extinct.
No,                                                                  Mark lit Egypt with Christ
what happened yesterday                                  Rome martyred the church.
is important for today,                           The Arabs made crescents out of crosses
and what happens today                                   and Egypt Al-Qahira, another swell
is important for tomorrow                                 of empire the Turks would turn to Constantinople.
History is collecting facts                                   Napoleon came through to civilize, describe
and left a hole for ‘Ali to fill with pasha, massacre the Mamluks, give the obelisks away, modernize with soldiers, schools, cotton, and no fuel.  
First of all, we’re dealing with collectivity           the pigeon cry at Denshiway
and the individuals, important persons    the call of Saad Zaghloul
who have affected collectivity.                           and Nasser made it so 
History is part of the universal process
of which we are                                                hope in heroes
which we live                                                    when he fell they cried  
It is part of a genetic process                             Abraham to Isaac and Ishmael,
Jews and Arabs 
Why did the revolution happen?                        The Brits had the canal; Faruq and the foreigners didn’t share the wealth; the poor were hungry.  . 
How was the revolution?                                   Gradualist, socialist, nationalist 
Who came after?                                              Sadat 
History is not just collecting static facts              the annals of Arabia
 but getting into this genetic process                   In the 2700 years of Pharaoh the Suez was the land of Goshen, where Israel dwelled and multiplied…The new king of Egypt  thought they were too many and too mighty…The Lord came down in a burning bush to deliver them  to a land flowing with milk and honey…hardened Pharaoh’s heart…smote at midnight…led   people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea, gave the law on the lobe of Egypt, buffer to the head, trickle in the desert that could meet the artery, feed the people on what may be welled below;
 the heel of a promise: the land from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates, made jugular (close as God) by war. 
It involves individuals and collectivity                 Nasser spoke the “voice of the Arabs”,  and they listened.
actions                                                              He closed the Straits of Tiran; Sadat stormed across the Suez on Yom Kippur; OPEC held  the oil.
and reactions                                                    Israel raided breakfast air; Sharon crossed back, close enough to hit Cairo
that affect relations                                           the Superpowers ceased fire, sent more weapons to both sides…that agreed to disengage in ’75, signed the Sinai II, and Israel withdrew
nations                                                             Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and no Palestine 
It involves psychology                                      displaced, disappointed, disillusioned, activated, terrorized, terrorists
political science                                                Sadat’s liberalization: “revolution for rectification”
economics                                                       al-infitah, the opening that didn’t work,
sociology                                                         poverty, discontent, mobilization, radicalization, mad masses: riot rage over bread and rice, sugar and tea; urban alienation; no good jobs
religion                                                            Gush Emunim; Takfirwa al-Hijra, al-Jihad
philosophy                                                       Muslims must kill jamiliyya governments and restore shari’a.
how?                                                               assassinate Sadat
why?                                                               He betrayed Islam.
History is a science because we ask questions.         Did they leave by choice or force?
And                                                                             Is the iron fist the only way?
we try to find answers by the comparative
method: looking for the common factor in
primary                                                                       Torah, Bible, Qur’an
and secondary sources                                                mandates, white papers, resolutions and we get to the truth. 
-Professor Abdel Wahab, American University in Cairo

Dialogues of Vengeance
Sadat promised aaysh wa al-hamish[1]
and gave what no one could buy,
no care for bodies and,
playing pasha, called
the crossing al-jihad[2].
One October memorial day
that holy war fired his salute,
purged Egypt again of Faruq[3].
Aliya[4] made an exodus that Egypt held at Gaza
in shacks of cans, tents of a people dispossessed,
refugees turned guerillas whom Nasser had failed
to deliver, and Jordan killed in Black September[5].
April is the cruelest month[6]
when “death and life are the same[7]”:
mortar fire wounds a child,
and back, the soldiers shell;
a bullet kills a baby in Hebron
and blinds a girl in Bethlehem;
fire opens Rachel’s tomb.
[1] bread with something in which to dip it
[2] holy striving
[3] the last king of Egypt, who was overthrown by a group of officers including Nasser and Sadat
[4] the “rising up” of Jews to Israel
[5] a massacre of Palestinian refugees in Jordan
[6] T.S. Eliot, from The Wasteland
[7] statement of a Palestinian militant

Down the Desert Road
from people living off of figs,
the figs living on little water,
a painter feasts on a geometry
of watercolored forms:
a colonnade of beige arcing solar blue,
rafters beaming black, skewed stripes
pouring down the ledge,
cream cement popping out from periwinkle,
pyramid poking through, pointing red to Ra[1],
light and shade edging, cutting perfect lines
until sea meets sky like a blending blunder
of his acrylic days (cobalt, aquamarine, cerulean
conspiring to replicate a hue; hog’s hair strands-
round and liner and fan);
it would be an easy scape to paint
if his hands weren’t shaking with age,
if fire didn’t flare in his fingers,
if he were ancient in a tomb
smearing incongruous bodies-
lining almond eyes with khol[2],
squaring shoulders on profile forms,
distorting heroes out of dying men,
showing in ochre and henna
their days of fowling and fishing,
offering, reaping, and mourning,
so they could do the same after life.
He leaves the roads, the desert, the villas,
praying that feyrouz[3] too is in heaven,
and wades, in the blur of late life,
to the foot of the sea,
where waves rush and retreat,
a magentine stroke washes purple
right up to the last strip of day,
milky-way water breaks black;
horizon is the last line
as time draws it all into night-
a star, then stars, and stars,
too many, too bright,
too dark to paint.
[1] the ancient Egyptian sun god
[2] a black substance used as eye make-up
[3] a brilliant turquoise

Alexandria, 2001
                                                            Mina’s Funeral

‘Adel arrived in the middle of the first night of loneliness* after his sister Mina died.  The old apartment was black and bare: the beds and couches had been removed, the carpets reversed, the mirrors and pictures turned to the walls.  Though he had been away for over a decade, the men in the living room barely stirred to greet him.  They were sitting quietly, smoking and sipping Turkish coffee from black cups with no sugar while their women wailed from Mina’s bedroom; not even the joy of homecoming should disrupt the vigil.  ‘Adel walked through solemnly, touched the hand of his older brother Saad, and sank down to the ottoman beside him.  Friends and relatives had flocked from all over Egypt to grieve with them.  There were cousins who had grown up, uncles who had balded, the boab who’d been guarding that building for decades, and a host of other familiar faces.  They, like the government, had expected him to return after finishing medical school in London.  He was supposed to come back immediately and serve in the military.  But ‘Adel had stayed away.  From London he crossed the Atlantic on a red carpet to Philadelphia.  In the thick of Vietnam, America needed doctors.  This was his first time home.  His Egyptian passport had expired; he was safe, American.
When Amin, who was one of the long lost faces mourning with the family, realized who had entered he couldn’t restrain himself and called, “ahlan wa sahlan, Doctor ‘Adel!” from across the room, initiating a solemn chorus of “maalaysh, ya doctor” among the others.  As a child, he used to serve ‘Adel and his siblings Parisian style pastries and creamed British tea in their villa in Asyut during the final years of Faruq.  Their father died before the revolution, and the headless family moved to the delta, leaving both the man and the boy in the last Christian village of the country.  While the boys grew into doctors and the girls into teachers, he fathered six children and widowed a wife.  ‘Adel didn’t recognize him that day, but he could tell from his accent that he was a saidy.   “Ahlan, ya oustaz,” he said, acknowledging him with a nod of the head, and the old man gleamed with gratitude.
‘Adel found this spontaneous display of excitement far less offensive than the shrill zagreet of lamentation with which the female guests would announce themselves at the door, inciting rounds of shrieks from the women in the back.  He was glad he had missed the first outburst of grief at the moment of death, when even the men were to show their pain.  He remembered how terrible it was when his mother died.  His sisters and aunts ran about her bed like chickens being slaughtered, wailing and screaming, “ya mama! ya okhty!” to get her to rise and see what sorrow she had caused.  He hated to see them crazy like that, and to have to cry out loud in public.  He was relieved when he and his brother could retreat into the living room while their sisters washed and dressed the body. 
Saad had been in medical school at the time, and ‘Adel was following in his footsteps at the University of Alexandria.  Despite their orphanage and age, the men had little privacy or freedom.  Mina, the oldest of the siblings, succeeded her mother as the matriarch of the family, and she was more tyrannical than any father could have been.  They were a good Coptic family, and they had to maintain their dignified name.  She had no problems with her younger sister, who was incapable of vanity or defiance.  Mary didn’t paint her face or cinch her waist with the leather left from Europe to walk by the boys at the cinema with theless respectable girls.  Most of the time she was in the home cooking and cleaning up after her brothers, leaving only to shop and go to church, where she taught the children the about the saints.  She had had a couple of suitors, but she could not engage until her older sister married, and Mina had rejected the few proposals she had received.  She fancied herself the last pillar of the family: Saad was too immature and selfish to take control, Mary too meek and fragile, and ‘Adel was the baby. 
As the youngest in the family ‘Adel had always been the most adored and the most pampered.  He didn’t attend school until the age of twelve because of his severe asthma, and the sisters would wait on him as if he were a little king.  Even after he grew up they smothered him with attention and affection, and he bore the burden of being the preferred brother. 
Saad had no patience for their meddling and doting.  Soon after his mother died  Mina found out that he’d having an affair with a pharmacist.  He couldn’t be carousing around with a young woman to whom he wasn’t engaged, and she was not suitable for marriage.  She was from a Protestant family of shopkeepers; she smoked in public like a man.  Saad denied that he was involved with her and continued seeing her in secret.  Saad was also drinking a lot- Scotch he’d been getting off of the black market. ‘Adel was worried, but he wouldn’t interfere.  Egypt was suffocating both of them, and every little freedom was precious when Nasser was aligned with the Soviets, when people would disappear in the night and never be heard from again.  He would let his brother have his woman and his whisky, and he would find his own liberation. 
He had a lover in America, where he could look at a woman and like it.  He’d met Laura in the operating room.  She was a nurse and beautiful.  She had looked back, her green eyes gleaming, like no Egyptian woman would.  It was simple: there were no secret rendez-vous, no mothers putting their heads together, making matches. 
On the balcony stood a woman and a girl, both wearing shabby indigo robes, on a break from their frenzy. The tall, strong girl looked wild- her frizzy brown mane flailing in the Mediterranean breeze, her skin splotched red from having hit herself.  She was Amin’s oldest daughter, and though she had never met Mina, she was grieving hard like she’d learned when her mother died deep down in the valley.  The little woman was gripping her hand, as if she needed the savage to hold her up.  Her straight black hair hung in disheveled streams down her meager torso, though she usually kept it tied in a tight bun.  ‘Adel recognized that humble hunching body as his sister.  He stepped out with dread to greet her.  “ ‘Adel!” she screamed when she saw him, shrill as her grieving, and threw her feeble arms around his waist.  “Al-hamdulilla, habibti, il-hamdulilla!” she said, crying into the barrel of his chest. 
“Ahlan, ya okhty,” he said calmly patting her back.
“You look sick,” she said, still clutching him, “there is no one to take care of you over there.”
But there was.  He was practically living with Laura.  “I’m fine, ya okhty,” he said.  “I think I’m going to buy ahouse.”  He’d be making more money when he went into a private practice.
“Shh!” she reprimanded with stern, superstitious eyes.  “Don’t speak like that out here,” she said, looking down on the street, “il atrah!” reminding him of the evil someone with an envious heart could cast through the eye, and he was infuriated.  The superstition was based on a Biblical story about a child and a stone- ‘Adel couldn’t remember the details, and he didn’t want to.  He hated the fact that his sister believed in it.  She even attributed Mina’s death to the evil eye.  She suspected Sousan, the butcher’s wife.  Her husband had sold Mina bad meat, and she had gone to get her money back.  Sousan refused, and the two women argued.  Mina vowed that she would never buy from them again.  The next morning she didn’t wake from sleep.  Mary burst into tears again when she finished whispering the story.  ‘Adel couldn’t bring himself to comfort her.  It was tooridiculous.  She was a diabetic! he thought, though the cause of death could not be confirmed.  The church would not permit any cutting of the body; it would have to be buried as soon as possible.  That’s why he had had to rush home on the day of death.  He had to drop everything in America to come endure this crazy night, to grieve before the body decayed.  She had nothing to envy! he thought, still seething.  But he didn’t argue.  It would be in vain. 
The priests arrived in the morning to walk the body out of the house. They followed six policemen in the procession to the church wearing black stoles and chanting the Three Holies: “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou has come to Thy kingdom”.  After them were the deacons and the acolytes in white and then the carpet of mercy, carried at the corners by four distinguished women.  Finally, ‘Adel, Saad, and two of Saad’s best friends carried the coffin before the rest of the entourage. 
On this solemn walk along the Corniche from Azarita to Sporting, ‘Adel finally saw Alexandria again.  To one side the city looked as it always had- its ancient arm, loaded with the structures of civilization, curved out to the old fort that marked in the distance what neither the Arabs nor the Allies had torn down.  The sea was shimmering the high August light, splashing up sides of ships and the rocky shore, beating baptism into steel and stone.  The street side was changed.  When ‘Adel had left, it bore the ruins of Faruq- shiny signs that read Italian and Greek, naming vacant cafés, bright striped awnings shading the ghosts of the wealthy and the foreign savoring smooth, strong coffee, pulp of guava and mango, apricots dried in Syrian sun, sheer leaves of philo, feta, olive, the pastry art of Paris.  He returned to find it littered with the venders and the beggars that the open market was starving, the souls Egypt had lost with the Sinai. 
‘Adel relieved himself of the load of Mina’s body on the front threshold of the St. George church in Sporting and sat with the men on the left side of the sanctuary.  Most of them matched the dresses of the women with black ties and sunglasses.  In the center, a portrait of Mina was mounted on a wooden cross, obstructing a painting of the Virgin.  Abouna Girgius recited the prayer of thanksgiving and then the cantor chanted the prayer for the dead.  The blind man held the vowels, quivering on the soul of language as if he would never let go.  ‘Adel had never learned Coptic- it was ancient, useless, and yet he felt the prayer in his heart.  It was patience, devotion- the sound of the martyred church, and the low, solemn tones that only memory could hold took him took him back to the temples the monks lit after Mark.  They had made their own tongue from what was there and what had come and kept it all the way from Aigyptos to Copt, through Europe and the Arabs .
The holy father opened the casket and put aside the lid that had been strewn with flowers and sprinkled with rose water.  He then scattered dust on the body, making Mina’s blue silk dress as dingy as the grieving robes, covering the jewels her sister had packed in, and saying, “from dust, and unto dust shalt thou return”.  Finally, the deacons carried the coffin three times around the church while the choir chanted the Three Holies.  The cantor beat the rhythm on his knee with one hand and showed them the melody with the other.  Some of the singers cupped their ears, straining to hear.
The congregation rose to touch the hands of Saad, ‘Adel, and Mary.  They were the chief mourners, and the brothers were almost through.  Soon Saad would resume his busy life at the clinic, and ‘Adel would return to America.  But Mary would mourn for a year.  She would wear black and no jewelry, go only to the cemetery on feast days, and wail with women on everyholiday.  For the first forty days she would not leave the house, but stay in and sing her sorrow, long and low and slow, to the streets.  With her sister gone and grieved she would be free to marry.  But she was too tired, and ‘Adel knew it.  Saad would have to stay with her.
            At the cemetery the last legs of the family stood among the holy men and their dearest friends.  Abouna Girgius sealed the coffin, saying a final blessing.  The brothers lifted Mina to the family vault and slid her in next to their mother.  There were inscriptions also for the father who was laid in Asyut below his parents, his brothers and sisters, and the infant corpse of his first son. 
            Those who were left returned to the apartment in Azarita to eat for the first time since the death.  ‘Adel found his brother smoking his pipe alone on the balcony.  “Izzayak, ya huya?” he said as he stepped out to join him.  It was their first chance to talk. 
            “Ana taban,” said Saad, looking out at the sea. 
            “Wa ana kamen,” ‘Adel replied, looking down to the broken sidewalk, the debris that seemed to be seeping from the earth, filthy cats skulking in the trash, as if they had reign over the land. 
“What happened?” he asked.  ‘Adel had left with the last Europeans, after the High Dam lit the valley, calmed the flood, when the people finally had land and nothing to buy.  He’d read Nasser in Al-Ahram, heard him on the radio saying he would throw Israel into the Dead Sea.  He’d seen the empty rockets rolling in the streets of Cairo, pointing north, the people dancing, the march across the Sinai.  Five days later he heard the fire, hours after salat, over Egypt eating ful medammas.  The women wailed the loss, and later the sad, sudden heart attack. “I thought we were progressing, liberalizing.”  Sadat had kicked the Soviets out and opened Egypt to the West.  There was trade again, and he let anyone have a passport. 
“It’s not working.”   The people couldn’t afford the foreign goods; the university graduates couldn’t find jobs. “And they’re taking revenge,” he whispered, pointing to the minaret of the Ibrahimiya mosque, with the gleam of prophecy.  Veils were spreading like ivy from face to face; al-jihad was afoot.
“I thought…”
“You’ve been watching from America!  Sure, he’s flying to Jerusalem talking peace…”  ‘Adel was relieved that Sadat had the good sense to end the war.  It was going to ruin Egypt. “…but he’s making it a nightmare for us here,” said Saad, wiping his hands with one another over the iron railing.  ‘Adel didn’t understand.  “He’s trying to please them, to show them how much he believes- did you know he put Abouna Shenouda in jail?”
            ‘Adel gasped inside.  “Walla?”
            “But that wasn’t enough,” he said.  “They’re still killing us.”  The women had resumed their shrieking in the back room, and ‘Adel felt the shrill pierce of fear.  He had seen the rage.  They had been only boys bullying him in the bathroom.  He was bigger than they, and better- he knew it, and yet he was afraid when he felt their crazed hatred, spitting him in the face, calling him kafir.   He wanted to save his brother.  “Why don’t you follow me back?” he asked.
Saad seemed surprised by the proposal and yet solemn in his response, as if he’d already deliberated over it.  “Mary can’t live in America,” he said.  “She can’t speak English or drive.  There is no kinesa for her.  She would be miserable.”  He was right, and ‘Adel knew that Saad couldn’t leave her, especially not then.  “And besides,” he continued, “I am a king here.  I get the freshest fish, the choicest fruits, the best patch of beach at Ma’moura, because I am Dr. Saad.  I have nothing in America.”
“Yes,” said ‘Adel, relieved that Saad hadn’t taken his rash offer.  He wouldn’t have been able to stand his sister watching over him.  He couldn’t live like that anymore.  “And here you are king of the trash.”
“And the sea,” he said, looking out again, still proud of his city.  “I’m just looking for a queen.”  But he had ruined himself with that pharmacist.  He stayed with her for eight years, until he couldn’t stand it, and all the good Coptic girls were married.    
           “Yalla, brothers,” summoned Mary as she burst out onto the balcony, interrupting their tête-a-tête to tell them that the food was ready.
            “Taib!” snapped Saad, irritated by her abrupt urgency.
            “You see how he treats me?” she said, appealing to ‘Adel.
            “Like a sheikh’s wife,” he said, poking fun, “a dog.”
            “Ekhs alayk!” she scolded.  “And I thought I had my sweet brother back.”
            “Only until the night of peace**,” he said.
            “Eh  da!?” she said, both incredulous and outraged.  “You must stay until the fortieth day.”  There would be another service for Mina.  It would end the first period of mourning. 
            “I can’t stay away from my practice for forty days,” he said, beginning to lose his temper.  She didn’t understand- he had a life in America.  He had a woman and a practice.  He was making it on his own; he had gotten out.
            “Not for your oldest sister?” she said, beginning to cry again.
            “Mary, khalas!” yelled Saad, and she obeyed.
            The next day ‘Adel went to Abouna Girgius to confess his sins so that he could take communion on the night of peace, the night he would flee Egypt again.  He faced the father for the first time since he was just barely a man and confessed the usual: “I have been jealous and proud; I have looked at a woman with lust.”  He did not tell that he had slept with a her.  It was different in America; abouna wouldn’t understand.
Abouna Girgius sat solemn, his eyes cast down, his ear full of sins.  This was the part ‘Adel hated most- the moment of judgment, the feigned shame, the thick silence in which he was to repent.  He didn’t feel bad.  Any man who didn’t want a woman, money, and prestige would be sick.  He was human.
Finally, the father spoke.  “The bond of a lustful eye ties the soul to the bottom of the grave,” he said.  “When your eye is evil, your body is also full of darkness.”  This evil eye again! thought ‘Adel, nodding obediently.  Even Abouna!  “The lamp of the body is the eye, therefore if your eye us good, your whole body will be full of light.”(Matthew, 6:22-23)  The priest delivered this prescription with the zeal of revelation.  ‘Adel was exasperated.
On the afternoon of the third day the priests came to send the soul away.  They blessed the dining table and the bread that was to be offered as alms to the poor and sprinkled all the rooms, now reconstituted with furniture and decorations, with holy water.  They prayed low and softly to soothe the suffering, and by this solemn holy magic, the family was slowly freed of Mina.  ‘Adel felt his spirit rise.  The shrieking had subsided, and he would leave before the saddest part- the seventh day, when the women would gather again to sing their sorrow.  He’d heard it when his mother died.  After a week of peace, they were no longer demented by death.  The grief had set in.  Their souls were sobbing, and that he couldn’t stand.  It was the sound that broke his heart.
The evening mass was hard.  After America, ‘Adel’s body was no longer accustomed to fasting, nor fit to stand so long- through the preparation of the elements, the prayers of thanksgiving, absolution, supplication, the sermon, the creed, the kiss of peace.  By the time the water and wine was unveiled he had decided: he would marry.  And the congregation cried: “Kyrie Eleison!”  He would run back to America and propose to Laura.  The instant the holy bread hit the wine the flesh took the blood.  He would buy a home; she wouldn’t have to nurse anymore.  And the priest professed: “This is in truth the Body and the Blood of Emmanuel our God.”  ‘Adel joined the people’s response, saying “Amen.  I believe.”     The choir praised the Lord with Te Deum Laudamus and cymbals of joy.  The priest prayed silently and partook of the third part of the bread.  He paused for a moment, thinking hard on the holy Sacrament, then raised the chalice, crossed the air, and spooned the wine into his mouth, marrying the blood to the flesh.  He stopped and thought again, then turned to the congregation.  They all kneeled and cried, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!”  And ‘Adel went.  He would commune.  Fasting and confession had prepared him for it.  He circled the altar and received the bread from the fingers of the father.  He would begin his family!  He touched the spoon of wine with his tongue.  He would not wither waiting.  In a miracle flash the texture of the bread and the taste of the wine became one in his mouth.  As he savored the Son of man he anticipated the night of peace.  He would announce the marriage, and the women would rejoice with a clap of ululation.  The weight of grief would reel into the trill of joy.    
 *Copts refer to the night after someone dies as the night of loneliness
**the seventh night after someone dies, which in Coptic tradition constitutes a break from the grievous mourning rituals
Glossary of Terms
abouna father, title for a Coptic priest
ahlan wa sahlan welcome
Aigyptos the Greek word for Egyptian
al-atrah the evil eye
boab a doorman
corniche a boardwalk         
ekhs alayk shame on you
ful medammus a fava bean dish eaten for breakfast
habibi dear, love, sweetheart
al-Hamdullilah thank God
huya brother
kafir  an unbeliever
kaman also
khalas the end; stop; enough
kinesa church
maalaysh it doesn’t matter
okhty sister
oustaz title of respect for a man
saidy a man from Upper Egypt
salaam peace
sheriya street
taban tired
taib yes; ok
walla really!
zagreet an utterance of grief

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