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LONG LIVE THE STORM

Photograph by Em Mahmoud, a Cairo-based photographer
Photograph by Em Mahmoud, a Cairo-based photographer

The storm descended on Cairo, bringing chaos to the urban desert. Gusting winds downed power lines and uprooted date palms. The devil rose with the dust, banishing the sun from its perch and shrouding the city in an orange haze.  

 

Local authorities told citizens to wait out the storm. Most heeded the advice, choosing to observe the strange phenomenon from the safety of their homes. A young boy peered through a window overlooking the Nile. His mother sat beside him, her eyes fixed on the television. The father was across from them, lost in the pages of a book. 

 

"Have you ever seen a storm this bad?" the mother asked, turning to her husband.

 

"Can't say for certain," the man replied. 

 

"It's the worst I can remember."  

 

"Is it?" he asked without lifting his eyes from the book.

 

"Don't you see the screen? They say the wind brought down a two-storey building! They had to deploy the army."

 

"They always say they will deploy the army. Who knows what they're really doing?"

 

Silence fell upon the family home. The boy continued to stare out the window, the mother at the television, the father his book. But nothing was as it seemed. The streets were as desolate as the surrounding desert. An eerie smog rose from an unknown point in the distant north and fell upon the city like an invading army. The boy watched this unfold before his very eyes, wondering how long it would take before he could see the steel blue colour of the Nile again, or the acacia trees with their leaves of emerald. All that remained was a storm the colour of flames. 

 

While the colours continued to drain from the world, the boy noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Motorcycles with flashing red sirens roared into view, tailed by a black SUV and a large bus. They spread out across the street in front of the boy's home, blocking a major artery leading to the heart of the city. The men stepped off their motorcycles officers, the boy guessed and surrounded the SUV. They wore dark sunglasses and carried large rifles like the ones he saw in the movies his father liked. The bus doors folded into themselves and a stream of young, dark-skinned men poured out onto the street carrying toolboxes, shovels and building supplies. Like a colony of ants working to secure their underground edifice, the men began to build at a pace the boy had never seen before. They worked alongside the storm until a stage was erected accompanied by several small billboards, all of which were then enclosed in a spacious tent to protect it from the dust. Two men painted the stage red, white and black to match the Egyptian flag while another painted a golden eagle on the makeshift podium. 

 

Their job complete, the workers scattered. A second group emerged from the bus men with microphones and cameras. They surrounded the stage and positioned their cameras on the empty podium, completely oblivious to their surroundings. As though on cue, one of the officers walked up to the SUV and opened one of the rear doors. A small, balding man in a white suit stepped out and surveyed the scene. He moved towards the stage, taking slow, careful strides across the street. He climbed onto the stage and stood behind the podium. He spoke to the sea of cameras with the Nile as his backdrop, the Egyptian flag as his platform, and the eagle as his emblem. 

 

It was over before it had even begun. The cameras stopped flashing. The reporters dispersed. When the man in the white suit returned to the SUV, it sped off down the street flanked by the motorcycles, raising more dust than the storm. The workers returned to tear down the stage, followed by the large tent. They resembled a slaughterhouse production line the boy had seen once on a school field trip. The men worked in unison, removing planks of wood with the precision of a butcher slicing cuts off a carcass. Each holding a piece of the disassembled stage under their arm, the workers boarded the bus in single file, their bare feet leaving prints across the dust-ridden street. The bus pulled away in another direction, turned the corner and disappeared from sight. 

 

The boy withdrew from the window and turned to face the living room. His mother continued to watch the television, her eyes strained from staring at the flashing screen. His father's head was still buried in his book, though he did not seem to be any further along in it. The boy walked over and took a seat beside his mother without uttering a single word. Then he saw him: the man in the white suit staring back at him through the screen hooked onto the wall. He was standing behind the podium with the bronze eagle, flanked by large posters that the boy still could not make out. 

 

"Looks like the government has taken care of the storm," the mother said, turning to her husband for the first time in hours. 

 

"Is that so?" the man replied.

 

"I'm watching the minister's announcement now."

 

"What does he intend to do?"

 

"It's not clear yet."

 

In the moment it had taken for the mother to turn her attention back to the screen, the man in the white suit had vanished, leaving behind a view of the Egyptian flag and the posters latched to the wall. One read "Long Live Egypt", the other "Destroyer of Storms".

 

The screen faded to black, leaving the family to dwell in silence. When the stillness became too much to bear, the mother once again turned to her husband and asked: "Do you think we will see another storm like this?" 

 

"Can't say for certain," the man replied, his eyes never leaving the pages of his book.

 

Contributor
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is an Egyptian journalist, creative writer, and translator with bylines at The Guardian, VOX Media, Foreign Policy, Open Democracy, ArabLit Quarterly and World Literature Today. His creative fiction focuses on Arabesque themes in his native Egypt.

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Karim Zidan is an Egyptian journalist, creative writer, and translator with bylines at <em>The Guardian</em>, <em>VOX Media</em>, <em>Foreign Policy</em>, <em>Open Democracy</em>, <em>ArabLit Quarterly</em> and <em>World Literature Today</em>. His creative fiction focuses on Arabesque themes in his native Egypt.

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