Over The Potomac

The turbulent girl dreamt a tempting tomorrow

The county bus is here. Her freezing feet can finally seek refuge on this four wheeled morning coffin. She walked up the stairs and emerged in suffocating warmth, mummified in a black winter feather-stuffed raincoat, from neck till below her knees. Her head and hands stick out from it like a stray penguin by the shore wanting to escape from the ugly seals towering the bus seats. Passengers glued to their seats as if they were treasures. Funny as those ideas may seem, but she was tired. She detests the daily routine of a tombish silence and a draining trip to and from Loudoun.

Her eyes are scouting for a window seat at the corners of the bus. She luckily found one, next to a blond young man who appeared important or so he tries to be. Soon as she asked him to let her inside, it was as if she’d asked him to pass her his favorite peanut butter sandwich. He silently collected his belongings and gave up his aisle seat and walked away. Strange as she hadn’t studied his features quite as perfectly as she would have wanted to in her good old days. she has a ring on her finger and shouldn’t double the glance to her favorite type, now that she’s taken, lest she’d lose her grace. That’s what her religion taught her. At least that one ain’t worth one bit of her attention.

Her eyes, glued to the window, watching nature waiting to unfold underneath the glooms of a cloudy winter. In her mind thoughts hustled, what could have possibly triggered “this”? and what is this? Is it racism? So her dark skin and hair made him think she must look Pakistani, Afghani, Persian or maybe Arabic. Perhaps, her Middle Eastern  face reads terrorism, or close enough?

They crossed the Potomac! She couldn’t help but think that despite a lengthy and wealthy river the Potomac may be, it might not be as benevolent and giving as the River Nile. She was nostalgic, and anxious to live a fine spring day with friends and family by the river. After all, she was a turbulent girl that dreamt a tempting tomorrow.

(to be continued)

May Kosba

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Painting Her

I lied to her – I will never stop. Her ceaseless rejuvenating power of forgiveness entices my evilness to take over me and her virtuousness.

Now I am alone, but married to that woman long enough that I despise her and myself for being the idiot of the year, even the idiot of my time, yet to be crowned.

I met her on the street; her inability to comprehend my language never discouraged my twisted intentions to finally decide to be with the wrong woman for the third time.

It is hard to believe I cut all the miles from uncle Sam’s to the Pharaonic desert rose to fall in love with a woman and end up with another; things that divide us are more than what unite us. I still married her. It only took one night after marriage to realize all I needed was sex, when only a one night stand could have saved me from falling into a brand new fiasco.

The night’s over and all I could think of is the woman I still ache for. Looking at my wife’s face reminds me of another stupid move I made drove me away from happiness. I see her in my wife though. I kiss her and make love to her constantly. She doesn’t know but I do…she doesn’t feel but I do. And that’s enough to do.

She thinks revenge was my attempt. I let her believe so she doesn’t scorn my animality. I am too fragile and desperate for something, it’s the only thing I cannot paint nor foresee, like fate.

I look back on the days when I could call myself “happy” and as much as my heart is filled with remorse, I enjoy hunting her all over again. She’s my breath of fresh air, as well as my prey, my slave, my power, my passion, my muse, my portrait, and my only lover. I love her, endlessly and I couldn’t be more hateful.

I hate her defiance, her strength, her overwhelming love for me. She walks out of the room, I am defenseless. I stand infront of her, when our eyes meet I am electrofired. Her passion blazing eyes fray my will to resist her. Shockingly, her pride belittles me and all I see is a little boy looking up to his mother… fails to reach her resolute shoulders.

It is not fair to be the butcher and the slaughtered at once. History doesn’t forgive nor will the future, and my present atopped with the curse of sinning. I am sinful, alas, joyous. What do I need it for? I had her right in my hand…guess a clench of my fist is all it should take.

She fits well in my arms. She feels safe in my embrace, the very one that betrayed her, like my brush fails to paint her. Yes, I want to paint her. How ironic! A woman of her kind can’t flourish in my painting. Her challenging dignity impossible to conceive beneath my lines… too coarse for my brush to obey.

I want to be inside her, around her, God I want to be her. I look at her and envy God’s creation for she embodies perfection; my kind of whore and saint, at once.

She has the gift of timing, never too loose- never too tight. She likes to dance between the lines, my type of dancer. Yet moves too fast for my pace, supernaturally, I cannot catch her. Maybe after all she’s not earthly.

I think I’m drowning in the realm of her forgiveness, and more of my self. The memory of fighting which I’m lacking has no reason to retrieve. I enjoy being the clown, play the two faces of a character, mocked by some and feared by others.

I’m her Satan of that I’m aware, yet the answer to her unfulfilled prayers. She carries me in her heart and keeps dripping bitterness. It’s the remnants of all hope I savaged in her.

This wound won’t heal – do we want it to heal? I know she can’t and I don’t want it to be healed. If I’m her cut – she’s my cactus. Mistakenly grew a flower in a desert soil and all I have is cactus. Fed by thoughts full of her, my solace, midst the heat of the perfect loneliness I’ve come to banish myself into, and my thriving wish to finish her.

 

The Early Grey Season

By: May Kosba

Call me a street child, dead hopes, victim of capitalism and let your imagination flow and take you wherever your conscience lands. Your vivid imagination would not unplant the fear dwelling within me of the living shadows of the dead in my cemetery. Yes, cemetery. Call it a cemetery, a graveyard, the final destination, land of desertion, but never say a garden, it is far from it, never say home it is far from it . Do I care to develop a description? I don’t think it matters. Yet, I see it another landful of dust in the capital of dust, only a carnival of bones and corpses possess the underground would make it a different site. Certainly not a touristic site, nor the elites kind of place. It is the place for the dead for the entertainment of those above the dead. We’re not poor, perhaps below poor but not dead, yet. If you search for where our richness is lurking you may not find it on earth, I trust it is deposited for us in the heavens. A little pondering on that my doubts might kill the thought. That doesn’t matter, for we’ll die too soon or maybe dead already.

My friends at school laugh their hearts out every time I have to remind myself or be reminded that my father is an undertaker. I am clueless on whose fault is this, and what is this. Is it him being an undertaker, or us living with the dead, or us being poor, or us not complaining. My father’s job doesn’t shame me. I have to believe scavengers must exist for the survival of the universe. If the earth worm is man’s scavenger then someone has to make it ready. If it’s not someone else’s destiny then it should be my father’s. That too doesn’t matter.

People have always thought I speak bigger than my tiny size and wise beyond my young years. I say if you see what I see, and hear what I hear, your forehead wouldn’t part your knees your whole life. You see, like anybody you wake up in the morning wishing today passes without any troubles; you wake up to a funeral march, our visitors wear only black or white, too many voices entwine; some weep, some hiss with gossips, some drift, some complain of the dirt, some are too busy with life, some remember the hereafter with a few verses of the least they memorize of the Quran, all through the Sheikh’s recital continues to reign over the Capital of Silence, the cemetery. That too doesn’t matter.

Sometimes animals scream, sometimes shadows move, sometimes people come back from the dead, and sometimes the night is so dark and frightening, and my toys are possessed. That too doesn’t matter.

The other day there was a cars festival. The rainbow wore black; I could not differentiate between my black and white eyesight and reality. Guess I am accustomed to weeps and screams and anything equals gloominess, but this time was different. From the distance, I saw the shroud wraps a tiny body. The closer it gets I shiver. Now I see it and it can’t be more real. The moment I questioned secretly how old is this little creature, heard his mother say “Oh God, he’s just a baby. Next month he was going to be one year old.” I felt the earth withdraws underneath me, the earth slams against me. I hurried back to my room just to hide my head beneath my thighs and wished I’d blackout. I did, I woke up and looked in the mirror to see for the first time snow, it slid my auburn curls like ghosts of the dead in the dark.  Thinking of the hero baby makes me think I must have lived longer than I should have, or if he could die at barely one no wonder I go grey at twelve.

A tribute to Amr El Liethy’s “One of  the People” (Wa7ed men Elnas) TV Show about children living in graveyards coverage and in the loving memory of my cousin Ali Abdel Baky (November 15, 2009)

What Meets the Eye

By: May Kosba

She arrived seven minutes before the session starts at ten in the morning. None of her colleagues showed up yet. Can’t complain, the only reason she made it that early is coincidently living about five minutes away from where the training is taking place. After all she can’t avoid the last minute attitude engraved in her genes like most Egyptians. The clock finally ticks 10:00 am, it seems that trainees, trainers, training staff are here including herself ready to ignite the week long training roller coaster.

She sits among trainees, not quite aware if its out of a modest behavior or only trying to convince herself she takes the know-how after her boss. He’s talented; he knows how to keep the show running for as long as it takes, yet interesting. Looking at him talk and move is just too confusing and crippling. She’s not an MIT, its just how the show goes. She always had a distaste for comparisons and tests. She likes to be spontaneous and expects her spontaneity is greeted with both appreciation and respect. After all, spontaneity cannot be deemed effortless. When she talks anyone can see her aura filled with passion and gentleness.

The icebreaking process is something that she and her colleagues should take part carrying out with the trainees, but this time is different, the old man seeks bedazzling the kids. Look at how they gaze at him, charmed, as if a magician with endless tricks in his pocket waiting to come out like fireworks to change their life forever. This image slowly poisons her mood as the countdown brings her show near to the starting moment. What seems to be confusing is the nature of her team’s cause; is it educating them with “development” and what comes with it, or how to perfectly play gimmicks and what comes with it.

 

 

It is time that she takes the reign of “development” and herself. The outset was a little rough, she knew it would be. As always, never ceased her promise to herself to acknowledge where she stands compared to her boss; experience and knowledge wise by saying her infamous line “It’s always difficult to do after Dr. Thabet” and doesn’t seem to care less about how it is perceived by the trainees, she knows by only standing there and the way she looks and speaks will never be casted among them. She knows deep in her heart, she’s of a different kind.

Wearing the trainer’s hat feels completely different from the trainee’s hat. It felt a bit heavy in the beginning. There she stands looking at young boys and girls and a few oldies thinking of how to make a good long lasting impression. She began pulling out tricks of her making to make her points clear and help them change the face of the future in their communities, that’s what her job is about.

The more she talks and moves, the more they gaze back, intensely. For some reason the men’s aura doesn’t tell they grasped much about community development, however, something like “sexual desires development” or something of a very nasty nature. Doesn’t take a genius to tell what’s going on in their heads. Their eyes are the most suitable interpreter. She wished they looked her in the eye, or her hands. It’s amazing how they are not affected by her enthusiasm and effort like the girls, they had their eyes fixed on her breasts and above her thighs instead.

She felt naked, humiliated, and endangered. Their piercing gazes made her feel like a Ghazeya but who dances at twelve at noon except a frustrated development trainer, in a training classroom surrounded by sexually oppressed creatures. Aren’t we all oppressed married or not? She thought.

Young lines of sweat found their way on her cringing skin. In her head, pacing back and forth, thoughts unfold in her mind; she knows the mind can’t hold two conflicting thoughts, what atbout dozen revengeful ones?! Her anger Bears can’t wait to monster those smelly ugly looking mad dogs.

She’s the trainer and this is another test of the survival of feminine strength. She has to win this game. This one single positive thought struggling to dominate her strife. For a moment, her exhausted glances drifted towards a dove looking from outside the window. A silly wish of her a dove, the best you can admire about is how beautiful creature she is not how cylindrical.

She’s always been good at what she deos and she’ll keep doing what she’s doing hoping someday she’ll have their eyes meet hers.

Cleopatra is Victorious

By: May Kosba

March 12, 2006

Aswan, Egypt

They marched under the torrid rays of the African sun of Southern Egypt, by the bank of the ever sparkling sapphire vein of life cracking the desert’s dominion in the most magical form. They walked, shoulder to shoulder, backpacked, endlessly. From the outside they appear to be the most perfect couple. They fit together; however, catching their hands entwined could be marked among the Seven Wonders of the World. Silence is often their third trustworthy companion on this trip, and a savior at a time of battling over a point of difference; could be as trivial as a micro-bug or heavy as a giant fossil dinosaur, it doesn’t matter, because these two can stick out enormously.

 He’s the compass of this trip and all that she can do is ride the needle. Surprisingly, he seems to know the pathway to every site like he knows the back of his hand. Impressive, yet shameful. His overwhelming knowledge of her land and history leaves her with too little input. She’s his interpreter.

Amidst the thoughtful noise filling the temporary peace pact they keep renewing to make this trip a success, for him indeed, a different type of noise forces itself on the situation. It seems that the people of Aswan are parading. She smiles, happy she can add a tip “Oh yes, today is the remembrance of Prophet Muhammad’s birth (PBUH),” and a firm in shock “Aha” is what comes out of the proud Italian’s mouth. The shock is not the product of the news, it’s the product of how the road had been enthralled and transformed into a river of chariots with some fine Arab horses, men in cotton Galabeyas dancing with their wood sticks and bizarre moves, and the olive green flags waving freely with Arabic alphabets glorifying the creator. This time his eyes could feel all the lines on each waving cloth “There’s no god but Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) is the Prophet and Slave of Allah”. Nadia’s translation was the only way he knows what was written; the main reason her presence is of importance; she is perfect at converting thoughts from one form to the other, and it’s what he needs.

They continued walking beholding a scene to be replayed only in their memories. As he captured his precious photographs, they conversed for a while and without cause the talk landed on Cleopatra; the infamous queen of ancient Egypt. How liberating it was for Nadia to keep affirming “Cleopatra is not authentically Egyptian, and even if she was, she’s a disgrace,” “she screwed up big time.” Mesmerized by her confidence, with a sly smile, Alberto replied in a broken accent “She might have been mistaken, but how come she’s not Egyptian?!” She sought the perfect response to unveil one of the most crucial historical pitfalls which most people fall into, meanwhile, feeling victorious in correcting a piece of information for the man who thinks he knows it all. “Cleopatra is a descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty, who were descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Ptolemaics spoke Greek and refused to speak Egyptian or even learn. How arrogant! Check it out on Wikipedia. Thus she is not Egyptian. I consider her a horny invader and a colonialist, and I loathe her.” she said stubbornly. With a piercing gaze into Nadia’s eyes he affirmed “Yet she’s beautiful and powerful. I see her in you.” Albert’s quote came unsheathed like a sword railed upon her scar, bleeding droplets of stunned longing to revive a memory of her first cut, ironically, his name was Albert too. Opposite to her promising victory, she defeatedly uttered “Thank You”, then decided to be as equally playful and added “Anthony” with a broken smile.

To their right lay a large parameter of serious social activity. It is hard to tell what this place is, the flying dust and scattered litter are overwhelming, but the rusted swings are enough mark to translate the massive scene into a children’s park. The photojournalist blood in his veins, banged and rushed to hold the camera, ventured around to find the perfect image kissed by his lens and a press of his lucky finger.

He surfed the river of dust and she followed, without a word, struggling to comprehend under which state of chaos this ugly scene could fall. This park simply embodied poverty and its cruel associates; dirt, chaos, deteriorated aesthetics and absence of awareness of rights and duties. All lived by a culture that no longer enjoys the merits of its giant civilized heritage when the people know those merits only existed in the temples of the city. She felt chained and in pain watching all the tourists who instead of capturing images of Egyptians celebrating, aimed their pistols, firing bullets of mockery for the world to see the perfect comedy; outweighing virgin laughs at Charlie Chaplin’s clumsiness, without a sound. The truth lost on them that some Egyptians bravely entertain a long history of marginalization, exclusion and rigidness of the desert and continue to stick it out.

Alberto, on the other hand, embarked on a photo hunting trip in this perfect oriental circumstance from the perspective of his western eye. His body language conveyed a meticulous search for the perfect angles, his moves invaded the covered women’s circles, zooming in and pointing his camera to the top of women’s heads, navigating from one circle to the other, skipping one important detail which Nadia thought couldn’t be missed; one thing is respect for those we think are of a lower class, if they are. She angrily interrogated in her fluent self-taught American accent, a proud feature as she’s always considered herself a global citizen and proper English is one tool “What are you doing, Alberto?” – “you can’t take photos of these people, not like that, it’s inhuman.” And humanity was another. He looked away, swearing in Italian and she could hear the F word shoot through her ears completing the perfectly polluted picture, impossible to undo. He searched for a communication blocking line, then promptly shot back at her sharply “Listen, if you’re embarrassed, then get out of here, I don’t need you.”

His words raided her cloudy skies and forced her into a battle, made her cause resemble William Wallace’s in a spur of a moment. She hasted to cease his reckless photographic uproar and shouted “You listen, these are unusually poor Egyptians celebrating, besides you haven’t asked these women’s permission to see if they’d like to be on your camera, its impolite and unethical.” You might be a successful professional Italian photojournalist who perfectly knows how to hold both a camera and women; I still have no clue who you are, what agenda you’re on. Your intentions might be purer than milk but if you post a photo like that and leave it to the Universe’s common sense to figure it out, it would still say this is how Egyptians celebrate, definitely and despite your intentions. This I cannot allow, not on my watch.” As the last word came out of her mouth, the seemingly eternal unrest began to unwind. She remained still in her place like a nail, while he went, his turn of struggle took over him as he held his camera, defying her will…when he was evidently biding his pieces of torn pride to return to him.

She turned to the neighboring Nile and the skies, gazing in hope that he would retrieve his conscience. A few moments later the short wait was ended by his invitation to leave the site.

From A Yank’s Perspective (to be continued)

It’s Ramadan 2nd 2008, Mike’s airplane clouded the hoary skies of aging Thebes before it finally captured its land. Out of all destinations, he tolerated the longest of distances in search for a different meaning of peacefulness. His red freckled foot hits the dark soil with ample ambition to conquer every possibility in this ancient city. He takes a deep breath, like magnets, attracted, with all his might, the magic which resided million years beneath the stones buried under these biblical sands, consumed all the beauty in one breath, left his will dire for divine assistance. As soon as he cowboyed his way out of Cairo’s airport, unaware of Nadia, his beloved, who waited outside to bid him a very Egyptian warm welcome, anxiety framed his smile, if she was a monster, would have eaten his fear alive from the furthest distance. He began apologizing for how he mistreated her in the past few months, promising her as always, this time we’re going to make it right. Representatives from the school, to where he will be sent to teach art, came to take him to Ismailia. They departed, she could smell his fright, and how helpless she is. He’s going to be far from her, yet she’s the one who helped him land the job. They have to be far so that they are together again, she hopes. On her way back to the car, his words echoed in her head “I am going to show you this time, I am not a bad person.” Oh, what an enormous responsibility he’s accountable to live up to.

A few hours later in the night, he calls her up on the phone, for the first time in her life, she hears a man crying for help, “Come and take me right now” he asserted. A deep well of helplessness dug itself underneath her and she fell deep  in it. “What happened?” she wondered. He answered “I don’t like the school, nor the people, they are scary” “It’s so dark here, I believe I’m the only one on the campus, and the people are offering me women, even the British old man must be the 15 year old Egyptian kid’s partner, if you know what I mean.” As much as she couldn’t believe a word he said, out of her sense of responsibility being the only person he should trust in the city, raced against time and tradition to find one good reason she should drive all the way from Cairo to Ismailia on a Ramadan night, at 1:00 am, to be at his rescue. She convinced her family, wasn’t too difficult, its become a mission. They flew through the night to rescue the “terrorized Texan”… They arrived at the school premise, found him waiting at the gate with his luggage sitting on the sidewalk. He looked as if a victim of a flood attack. He jumped in her car, not believing, he’s woken up from the nightmare.

In Cairo, the big city, where the good and bad melt together and form a new way of living, they arrived, to start a whole new chapter in their tormenting story. Every dying day she hears him say “I like this country less each day, and you’re becoming the only one I like in this city”, by the end of the month, she celebrates the Eid, trying the hardest to forget the humiliation she had lived, which manifested in cheating on her, his ultimate ingratitude, and hate to her country. Post an argument about their future, the consequence was a letter to his family, in which he poured many sickening lies, as if bullets of hatred fired away from the tips of his paint brush. She can’t erase the way he described her country and people when he said “Egyptians and Muslims are warped, brainwashed, and filthy. The other day a Christian got killed for preaching. Long live America. The separation of state and religion is a perfect thing. Thank God I’m American”. A few months later he marries an Egyptian woman, converts to Islam, calls himself Yahya, and writes Nadia a letter informing her about his convert and his Egyptian traditional marriage. She thought the girl must have it all, to her surprise, his response came demeaning to all values of humanity. “Oh by the way, she has no education, she speaks no English, and she’s poor as dirt” he replied. Shocking but it’s only one Yank’s perspective.

Two years later she meets John, a numbers man with unfading smiles. Knowledge was one weapon and tolerance was another to erase all the barriers of cultural differences the artist had mounted in her. She tiptoed into his world, afraid she might awaken the dragon of differences whose burning fire had always frayed her butterfly wings. This time was vehemently different and unique. Chances for summer rain on this soil are more likely to happen than a long term relationship, however, not the goal. His ship had sailed across the globe, and this biblical land was to be embraced never disgraced. A lesson learned through years of sailing and embracing the beauty of difference the universe has to offer. Her memory constantly glorifies his quote “Remember life is a garden…so dig it!” He certainly dug the best out and departed with a long lasting memory of Cairo as the best destination he’s ever traced.

A rough streak of bewilderness struck her immensely, she could write hundreds of books about how differences could in one minute kill all hope in tolerance, and in the same exact minute faith could be revived…She questioned how can two people who belong to the same culture see things differently…Egypt ‘s smothered in too much beauty and ugliness, two faces of an old rusted golden coin, awaiting to be unpolished. Only coins collectors could value what its worth, and only time has shown her enough evidence that every man is held truthful about his perception, for everyone saw it with his heart. Good begets good, and evil begets evil!

 

In The Garden Of Lure

 
 
In the forest where none may pass but me, lured by the eyes of a man who claims to be my swain for the season. My unfriendliest feeling of solitude unshaken by the presence of attention slowly quenching the torment caused along years of abandonment. Now I am seated on the back seat in the taxi. For the first time in so long I am not filling the driver’s seat…allowed to enjoy a temporary moment of dependence, only think of myself as riding the chariot like a pharaoh queen roaming the capital, proud to be next to her king who sadly isn’t at my side. I left him standing by the taxi, bidding me farewell before his plane carries him back to his distant lands. Flashes of our short story flood into my memory, astounded by splashes of delight tickling my cheeks. I remember the mosque, the church, the restaurant, the feluka, the Nile, the tower, and the hotel, to where we walked and talked.
 
I had planned to leave earlier than his recommendation to stay. I swear I could feel his wish to wrap me in ribbons and carry me wherever he may roam. Flattering and promising! Haven’t I always dreaded promises and expectations?! I am astounded by my easily taking the invitation. I assume he’s becoming irresistible or perhaps I am only intentionally demolishing the barriers, to what extent, might not have the slightest clue. I hear my conscience persuading me to live this moment to the fullest and see how it will play out! Led him to the “tea garden” as called; this is not the first time my feet had walked this ground. Looked for a table for two, landed a table for five, we sat close to each other, the nearness lifted my soul high and convinced me I have been in this for years. Felt the eyes of two older couple brushing their way back and forth between us, meticulously watching my navigation between my Arabic and his language.
 
We had decided to experience smoking “Shisha pipe”, I was his mentor, not because I am a smoker, only because I had experienced it before him. Out of his way, we ordered one shisha pipe. Do you know what it means?! My will to change his request is paralyzed, or have I forgotten that I’d demolished all the barriers?! The Shisha has arrived, the “Shisha boy” placed it between us, I picked up the hose and inhaled first, from this moment on the poor hose remained an aimless traveler between us. What my mind couldn’t overcome was how it feels when I catch my lips touched where his lips had kissed. Wait a minute! I no longer see smoke blown out of his mouth. I think I am ambushed. I could hear him say “In my forest where none may pass but you”, to be honest I meant it even more than him. Yet, what kills me the most is my protestation to smoke after him has retired. How many times have I protested to eat or drink after anyone, even if it was my own mother, and now my persnicketic appetite surrenders to him?! What a hypocrite, I must be! The needles of the clock must have worn wings, they flew faster than eagles. Innocently re-adjusting to my curfew, desperately retrieving my previous solitude condition, and slowly disappearing from the night like Cinderella.