Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Joy The Toy

Joy was a stuffed grey bear who lived at an amusement park. She spent her days propped up on a shelve, watching the crowds walk by the booth. She shared her shelve with the other prizes. Any human capable of throwing three colored rings onto three silver bottle necks could take home any of the prizes on the shelves. Joy couldn't remember when she first joined the booth. She only knew that the shelve was her home.

Joy liked to see the children herded by the big humans. She liked the little girls with their braids and bubble gum, skipping next to their fathers. She liked the little boys with their sticky cheeks and chins, eating cotton candy and candy apples. She liked it when the children jumped and chanted "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease". Joy always wondered why they were so pleased. "They must be happy to be at the carnival", she thought. 

Every summer, for as many summers, Joy sat on her shelve and watched the humans pass by. Whenever someone walked up to the booth and handed Gus the green paper and flicked the colored rings towards the bottles, Joy prayed and prayed that they'd succeed and pick her for a prize. As time went by, summer after summer, Joy learned the habits of the humans. Families with little ones never stopped at the booth. The big humans held the hands of the little ones and hurried to the petting zoo. The big ones lured the little ones away from the booth with promises of ice cream. No one, big or small, stopped at the booth during the noon hours at all. Sometimes couples came to the booth. The males tried to fit the rings around the bottles to impress their dates. But those couples never chose Joy. They always attempted to win three times in a row, placing nine rings over nine bottles, and picked a prize from the shelves up high. Joy couldn't see the toys on the highest shelve from her shelve below. All she could see was the excitement on the face of the humans as the ninth ring landed over the silver plastic neck of the ninth bottle. Their eyes glistened as they gazed high above Joy, their hands darted left and right and a finger protruded to locate the coveted prize. Joy tried to stretch her neck and scooch to the edge of the shelve to get a look at the prizes above.But try as she may, she could never move her fiber filled body. She only saw glimpses of fluffy fur in Gus's hand as he handed the toy to the giddy human. Only then could Joy see those toys from above. "What is so special about them?" she wondered. They were big and chunky. The humans could barely carry them, nevertheless cuddle them. Joy kept count as long as she could, with each high shelve toy carried away, one by one. She counted 60 pandas, 15 Giraffes, 27 Koalas, and 9 tigers. 

The little human boys and girls were the ones who tried to win only once. When they successfully placed three rings over three bottles, Gus told them to choose any prize they wanted except for the ones up high. "You'll have to try two more times, if you want any of the toys up high", he'd say.  The children tilted their heads towards their parents and gave them inquisitive looks. The parents would shake their heads side to side, signalling the little ones to selected a prize. All the little boys chose the bags of water with a yellow fish. "Don't they know the fish will die?" Joy wondered. The little girls chose purple horses and orange kangaroos. It seemed that no human, big or small, noticed Joy at all.

Summers came and went. Dust collected on the shelve around Joy. Her nice grey coat was shinny no more. Her black button eyes still stared at the humans who walked by, until the left one came loose. It didn't fall off completely. It hung loosely from Joy's head, giving her a permanent view of the lines of silver bottles below. Each summer arrived with fresh boxes of toys. Gus placed them on the shelves, the big ones up high and the others cluttered with Joy. One day Gus opened a box of pink bears. As he clutched each puffy pink toy and extended his hand to sit it down, Joy panicked. She tried to jump. She tried to shout, "Don't do it Gus. Don't hide the crowd. How can they pick me if I'm not around?". But her mouth didn't move and her legs remain seated. Gus kept adding pinky after pinky, crowding the toys. With each addition, Joy edged to the back of the shelve until she was completely sheltered by a clump of pink fuzzy hair. Under the curve of a pink round ear, Joy's one good eye peeked out to see the humans pass by. She told herself, "One day stinky pinky will be carried away and humans will see me crammed on the shelve. Some day a human will pick me too. I hope it's a nice little boy who will hug me to sleep, or a cute little girl who will make me some tea. Boy or girl, it's all the same. It won't matter as long as they love me." 

All the stinky pinkies were carried away. Little girls and little boys held pinky's hand and twirled him around as they skipped away. Joy looked on as each prize departed the shelve. Her heart wept as she said goodbye to them. She wished she was stinky pinky. She wished she was the panda. She wished she was the koala, the tiger, the giraffe, even the yellow fish in the bag of water. She wished a little human would twirl her by her arms. Her heart cried because her button eye could not. Her heart cried because it knew that Joy was destined to spend forever on the shelve. Her heart knew that Gus would place other toys in front of her. Even if Joy wasn't hidden by the other toys, her heart knew that no human will ever choose her as a prize. "No heart, you're wrong. That cannot be. Why would I be the only toy left? Why wouldn't any human want to play with me?"

More summers passed and Joy remained unclaimed, hidden behind layers and layers of new toys. "Okay heart, you win. I admit, I shall remain on this shelve for ever. I will never know how it feels to be hugged. I will never bring Joy to anyone. Cry as much as you need Heart, I finally understand. But it won't be long. My coat is no longer shinny, nor is it grey. It's dirty and dusty. A hole in my back has let most of my filling escape and my one good eye is hanging by a thread. Hopefully some day soon, Gus will clean the booth and throw me away, then I won't have to watch the other toys get carried away".

Many summers passed with Joy sitting on the shelve. She no longer kept count. She no longer watched the humans. She just sat there waiting, passing the time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Smoking - A Cautionary Tale

Molly walked out of the office for her hourly smoke. "I should really try to quit", she thought while pulling her parka vest closed. She was recovering from a cold and didn't want to relapse. The weather was dark and gloomy. Molly could tell that it was going to rain, she could smell it in the air. She walked out to the picnic table in the parking lot. She had to stand at least fifteen feet away from the building to enjoy her imported cigarettes. The picnic table and adjacent garbage bin marked the closet spot she was allowed to be. 

She stood by the metal and plastic structures, hunched over and cupping her lighter with both hands she lit a cigarette. It was early November on Long Island, cold but not too cold. Molly stood comfortably outside, preoccupied with her phone as she raised the long thin paper cylinder from her lips . The other smoke cohorts abandoned her for the warmth of the office. "Wusses", she said under her breath. She enjoyed these daily interludes, bonding over their shared guilty pleasure and gossiping about colleagues. Blowing smoke from her nostrils and thinking about a particular snarky fellow accountant, she felt sudden moister drip onto her nose. She looked up to the cloudy overhead and drew in tobacco laced breathes with haste to beat the rain. A sudden downpour fell upon her as if the heavens were pelting water balloons onto the earth below. She rushed to the side entrance and reached for her employee ID. Her pocket was empty. She stood in the rain, squinting and frantically running her hands over her jacket, attempting to locate the access card to enter the building, but to no avail. She raised her hands over her ears and bowed in defeat as she dashed around the corner to the main entrance. She opened the first door and stood in the vestibule twisting her long locks and shaking her limbs like a dog drying itself. She tapped on the security glass at the receptionists, mirroring the urgency of the rain tramping against the roof. She gestured at the door to get the receptionist to grant her access. Kelly looked up from her computer screen, startled at Molly's appearance. She raised an eyebrow in disdain and got up from behind the desk. She walked to the door and pushed the security lash. She stuck her head out and said, "I can't let you in with that thing in your mouth." Only then did Molly realize that the extinguished damp cigarette still hung limply from her lips. She discarded it in the waste basket and sheepishly crept by Kelly, who stood in the narrow door way holding it open. "I need a smoke", thought Molly sullenly as she entered the office, leaving behind her a path of wet footsteps in the beige carpeting.

The Wind

After checking website upon website, downloading MTA maps, and cluttering my phone with what-to-do-in-NYC apps, my vacation plan was complete. A neatly arranged spreadsheet organized my daily agenda. I simply had to wait for the weekend to arrive to start exploring the city. Little did I know that the capricious New York weather had a detour in store. The wind was insane that Friday. It blew in all directions. I had to wrestle with my hood to firmly secure it in place. My head hung low, cutting a path against the wrath of the elements on my way to the train station that morning. The surrounding buildings were shielding me from the worst. Approaching a major intersection, I saw that the street signs and traffic lights hung skewed to the west and rain visibly fell sideways as if Earth had been tilted onto its side. By the time I got to the platform it felt like I’d been through a few cycles in the washing machine. I was damp, dazed, and disheveled. Before reaching the elevator nook to seek shelter, a strong gust of wind bashed into me. It almost picked me up and carried me away. Thankfully, a bench broke my fall. I collapsed over the frigid metal frame. When I stood up in an attempt to restore some of my dignity, a bruise was forming underneath my jeans. This unexpected injury was going to derail my plans. How could I possibly walk up a storm in NYC for ten days, when I could barely make it up a flight of stairs without grimacing in pain? My mind was churning. If I didn’t mitigate this drawback, I risked wasting my time nursing an injury. The answer lied in Patrick. 

Patrick frequently participated in Ironman races and marathons. Thus, I assumed he’d be well versed in managing muscle pain. Once at the office, I darted to his desk and asked for advice, “What kind of ointment can I use to heal a bruise?” He simply stared at me without uttering a word. Perhaps he was surprised; I did just barge into his office, offering no hello or good morning. I explained my predicament. To my dismay, he stated that there were massage cream for muscle aches, Ibuprofen pills for pain, and cold presses for swelling, but no bruise-away medication. I panicked in fear of having to eliminate a large portion of my activities. As I limped over to the break area for my morning coffee, I bumped into Imke. Originally from Waldenbuch, Germany – home of Ritter Sport Chocolate, Imke has been living in the US for fifteen years. She looked at me and asked,”What’s with the sourpuss, aren’t you going on vacation? You should be glad that the week is almost over.” I told her about my dilemma. She gave me her signature smile and said not to worry, she had a magical cure. In Germany, she had access to various homeopathic remedies. Whenever she visited, she’d bring back ample supplies, especially a certain herbal cream for bruises and muscle pain as her sons frequently suffered from sports related injuries. She went to her car and came back with a tube of the miracle cream. She ordered me to apply it immediately. And magic it was. By the end of the day, the dark purple coloration on my upper thigh began to fade. Some pain and tenderness persisted, but it was bearable. Furthermore, the toe-numbing cold of December weather had a soothing effect on my bruise. I took this as an omen that my ten-day adventure would proceed uninterrupted.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Humdrum of Gravity

I wasn't very eager to see Gravity. Boredom was a guaranteed companion, coupled with the annoyance of donning the bulky plastic 3D glasses over my prescription ones did not sweeten the deal. Nevertheless, the film was playing at a near by theater and I had a free Sunday afternoon to spare. I pushed my skepticism aside and went to an 11:00 showing. Although the local AMC I frequent quite frequently cannot compete with the modern facilities of its Manhattan counterparts, I always have a good time at its early shows due to the mature clientele of respectable town residents. Even when the theater is packed, the morning movie goers are always polite and courteous to others.

I sat through the previews, both 3D and flat, with deflated enthusiasm and  I braced myself for the onset of nausea promised by most of the reviews I read prior. I am happy to report that Gravity was a 90 minute nausea free affair for me. Since I suffer from frequent bouts of motion sickness and always get dizzy at planetariums, I am led to believe the nausea rumors were merely a Hollywood ploy in an attempt to authenticate the outer space experience of the movie. As a nausea expert, I find it hard to believe that Dr. Ryan could have performed her duties while disposed. Moreover, the lack of perspiration and heavy breathing are counter to my motion sickness experiences. With these first few scenes my conviction dimensioned even further.

I understand that gravity is a movie about outer space and in that respect the cosmic imagery is truly amazing. I was transported and thoroughly moved upon the site of George Clooney and Sandara Bullock aimlessly floating around with earth in the background centered on the illuminated outlines of the Red Sea and river Nile as George asked, "Where's home?" (I'm from Egypt). There were a couple of head jerking moments successfully employing 3D gimmickry. Yet, had Gravity stayed true to it's original purpose as a movie about space, I wouldn't have deplored it as much. However the invisible intrusion of Hollywood is blatantly apparent with the film's feeble attempts to create a plot and characters that defy reason and stretch the realms of physical possibility. 

I must say that the best thing about Gravity is it's brevity. I believe the film makers would have been better off in keeping the story simply about astronauts doing what astronauts do. So if you want to gaze into outer space, then by all means see Gravity (preferably in imax). If you are looking for adventure I believe you'd be better off with Prisoners or Captain Philips.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Everything Good Must Come to an End

Those of you who follow my blog (who are you by the way? Do you actually exist or are you a figment of my imagination?) will know that I harbor a school girl crush on James Franco. It started innocently enough at the end of 2012 when Mr. Franco showed me much kindness at a time I was low on any positive sentiment and has flourished through a yearful of Franco shit. In the beginning I secretly followed his artistic fortes, writing about my Franco induced adventures in my journal, until a colleague at work started to mercilessly tease me, shouting Your boyfriend was on Howard Stern or Letterman or whatever as he passed me in the corridor. As long as I was being ridiculed for this crush, I might as well shifted it into high gear. I vowed to experience as much of Franco's art as I could. 2013 has been a busy year for James Franco and thus it has been quite easy to work on my Year of The Franco project, in which I have,
  • Read 4 of his books. With the 5th "Actors Anonymous" at the top of my to read pile
  • Watched 7 of his old movies, 6 of his new releases, and 3 on my to see list
  • Attended his performance art show at MOMA PS1 titled Bird Shit
  • Attended 3 of his book signings in NYC - I even got to ask him a question in the Q&A section of one of the events
Not to mention a long list of books I have read because of him. A detailed description of this odyssey will be posted on my blog on Dec 29 2013, if God is willing. It has been quite the ride. I have enjoyed every bit of it. But now it's time for me to crawl out of my head and back into reality.

I always, always feel very awkward at James Franco events - refer to my post about Bird Shit for details. One phrase comes to mind as I stand in the line of very young - mostly artistic - creative minds,"I'm too old for this shit!" With every event I am overwhelmed with a dread of absurdity and pathetic notions and swear to never return again, yet all is forgotten as he dispenses a dedicated smile, reducing me to a giggly blushing twelve year old. That has always been a huge part of the allure. For all of you out there doubting that Mr. Franco is great and powerful, let me confirm his magical smile as it has the ability to shave decades off a woman's age, rendering her to a silly preteen. It never ceased to amaze me that I - a well composed, eloquent, forceful, mature woman of 37 - could be reduced to a babbling fool by the cheer whimsy of a kind sincere smile. Experiencing the antithesis of Amira (at least who I am expected to be) was intoxicating. I indulged in my Franco habit in hopes of sustaining the euphoric bliss. Our serendipitous chance and planned encounters miraculously aligned with either holidays I was celebrating alone in NYC or receiving dispiriting news from back home. I hung onto the feeble moments of juvenile joy to hide away from my bleak reality. I allowed myself to regale in these events as long as they made me happy, that is until the last book signing at The Strand - Quel Cauchemar !

I stumbled across this event in the comments section of one of Franco's Instragrams with a remark of "See you at The Strand". Curiosity lead me to the event page of www.strandbooks.com. Tucked snuggle in the October calendar was James Franco's book signing for the release of his novel "Actors Anonymous". I immediately reached for my credit card and purchased admissions a month in advance. I won't state the obvious and call this an impulse purchase - as it definitely was, but I was also motivated by two factors,
  1. The first signing I attended for Mr. Franco was in July - also at The Strand - for his book "A California Childhood". The book was released in March, thus I already owned a copy and really didn't need a second one. I opted for the gift card option (which I used to buy his chap book "Strongest of The Litter") to gain access to the event. An interesting discussion led by Frank Bidart preceded the signing. I even got to ask James a question, but I didn't get a signed copy of the book. At the time I didn't think much about having a signed copy
  2. Early September, I attended another signing for his art book "Moving Pictures / Moving Sculptures" at the PACE Gallery in Chelsea. I stood before him as he sat at a table and signed his name with a doddle of a decrepit smilie face ( BTW James what's up with those smilie faces. They're not even smilie faces. They have a coned shaped nose, so that makes them more of a snowman. Therefore there's a headless snowman somewhere. Moreover, why do they have stubble? any way). We engaged in small talk and I got a dedicated  smile, all for me, just for me. 
As a result I really really wanted a signed copy of Actors Anonymous, in hopes of getting another smile. So without hesitation I purchased admission and resolved to be at The Strand on October 13 at 7:00 pm.

On the day of , I arrived at 5:20 pm, almost three hours before the event, as it was pushed to 8:00 pm, only to find that a queue had already started. I took my place inline. Equipped with a book, I was ready for the wait. While the staff handed out the wristbands, they informed us that the books will be signed but not personalized (i.e. no meeting James and thus no individual smiles will be dispensed upon us like pixie dust).  Dismayed at the news, I debated leaving then and there but I wanted my already paid-for book. At 7:00 pm we were ushered into the loft to discover that it was standing room only. My initial reaction was, "I'm too old for this shit!" I had a coveted spot near the roped off area. As more people joined the herd, they elbowed their way nearer to the podium thus crowding the space further with each human addition. My claustrophobia kicked in and I couldn't breath. I retreated to the far side of the loft. At the very end there was a dusty crate with two inhabitants on the top. I asked their permission to join them and they obliged (they were a nice couple). Since I had a good vantage point of the podium from my seated position, but not for long, I really shouldn't complain but I'm afraid it just got worse from this point onwards. Franco didn't show up until 8:30 pm (bless the heart of those who kept standing around the podium for him, some of them were in heels for crying at loud!). By then the loft was half full and I couldn't see James atop the podium from any angle, nor could I hear him well. The only remedy would have been to stand on top of the crate with the others, but neither my knees nor my ego would permit this. The place was just insanely crazy. As Franco embarked on step number five of Actors Anonymous, I decided to leave. I limped down five flights of stairs and claimed my pre-signed copy at the exit. I rushed to Union Square and took the R train back to Herald Square, then I ran to Penn Station to catch the 8:55 LIRR train. Next morning I woke up to an array of aches and pains traversing my body, reminding me yet again that I'm too old for this shit and apparently too short to handle the Franco pandemonium.

I don't blame James for the atrocious time I had. I blame The Strand. Needless to say, I will not be attending any of their future events. But I also owe them a debt of gratitude for making me retire my Franco colored glasses and revert back to a normal admirer of his art.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our National Identity

Last week I was in Manhattan to renew my Egyptian ID. It was a Tuesday and I made the assumption that the entire day would be consumed in the process. Although the website stated that appointments would be from 10:00 to 18:00, I decided to arrive at the consulate as early as possible and simply wait for my turn. To my surprise, they'd started that day at 9:00, no worries I was the twenty second person in line. To my surprise further, the process proceeded quite smoothly and in a very organized fashion. Of course there were the naysayers, those Egyptians who have been living away from Egypt for so long they have forgotten how to gauge their expectations. They complained that the new IDs weren't going to be delivered on the same day, that the process was taking too long (OMG - three whole hours), or that they were missing certain documents that halted the process. Oh, the horrors.

I suppose some context is in order. A special committee of government officials (police officers and what not) where visiting NYC for four days to allow as many people as possible to apply for an Egyptian ID since there has been an increase in demand as ID were required to vote in upcoming elections. So, when I say it took me three hours and the whole thing was very organized, it's important to keep in mind that the consulate was servicing 150 - 200 applicants each day. The employees were very helpful and accommodating. During those three hours, I was transported back home. Surrounded by nothing but Egyptians, clutching my Arabic application and documents, and listening to Egyptian chatter with Om Kalthoum in the background, I forgot that I was in the US, only to be hit with the reality as I stepped back on to 2nd Ave. 

All sorts of Egyptians were gathered at the consulate that day, people with expired passports and old paper IDs with black and white photographs, Egyptians who couldn't speak Arabic, Egyptians who haven't been back to Egypt in ages, Egyptians who were born abroad and have never lived in Egypt. As I sit at my desk typing this blog and listening to Aida Al Aiyoubi's Ala Baly and of course singing along quite poorly, I wonder why all these Egyptians were clamoring to apply for an Egyptian National ID. Was it due to their patriotic zeal or sense of entitlement.


Friday, August 30, 2013

My Favorite Poems - more to come

Shakespeare's SONNET 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee. 

****************************************************

Daffodils By: William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

****************************************************

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Carnivores Odyssey

I have been eating meat for as long as I can remember. My forte into flesh consumption started with the ever so ominous Happy Meals. I devoured the puck like hamburgers with such vigor to ensure that I got the toy. My mom would keep it hostage until I finished my meal. My affinity for potato sides dishes also has its roots in those Happy Meal days. As I grew older and my palate became more sophisticated, but not by much, I graduated from hamburgers with french fires on the side to Parmesan mash accompanying my well done steak. Nevertheless, I still get a bit nostalgic upon passing a McDonald's. I smile at the thought of my nephews and niece experiencing the same joy from the cardboard happiness of Happy Meals.

Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, my daily school lunch was a cheese and egg sandwich. My mother made it for me every morning, that is until I started middle school and was thus informed to wake up earlier and make my own lunch. I decided to skip a mid-day grub in return for a few extra minutes of morning snooze. Nevertheless, on the rare occasion we had cold cuts and cheddar cheese, I'd brown bag it that day. Always opting for smoked turkey slices. We couldn't afford to buy such delicacies on regular bases. It was always a treat when the parchment wrapped packages of deli sliced meat and cheese appeared in the fridge. I'd make my infamous Amira Wraps, spreading cream cheese directly on the turkey meat, placing peeled slices of cucumber in the center, and rolling it up. I'd imagine that I was a refined socialite eating hors d'oeuvres at a soiree.

I continued to eat meat, a medley of beef and chicken, never warming up to lamb or mutton.   I enjoyed cooking with meat, incorporating a variety of spice blends to transform the cuts. I had a strong preference for chicken and turkey. Every special occasion was celebrated with a meaty center piece. Ramadan feasts were always infested with an array of meat dishes from Kofta, bread encrusted cutlets, fired chicken, to mince meat laced pasta, as if the only sustenance to combat our daily fast was meat.  Again, I enjoyed these dishes immensely. However, the older I got, the more difficult it became for me to digest meat, literary. It all started with McMeals. Yes, at the very ripe age of 37, I still enjoy the occasional Big Mac. After consuming a McBurger, my body would revolt. My forehead broke out in sweat, heart beat raced, and digestive system expanded with the strain of breaking down the alien ingredients. I wrote it off as post McDonald's stress. I noticed that these symptoms reoccurred, yet on a smaller scale, upon eating beef. I'd always follow my meat meals with a digestive aid of green tea, not sure if the relief was real or placebo. With every bite, it became harder and harder to ingest beef. I turned to chicken and fish for solace, chalking it up to old age.

In December 2011, I moved to Long Island, New York. With Brooklyn and Queens in the vicinity and a diverse Muslim community, there is an abundance of halal meat (as a Muslim, I can only eat meat that has been butchered and prepared in a certain manner). However, access to halal meat vendors is conditioned to owning a car. Having failed to obtain a US driver's license, I opted to become a vegetarian instead of commuting 2+ hours by train and bus to procure meat. Yet, on special occasions, I allowed myself to indulge as I recited Besemel Allah El Rahman El Raheem (in the name of God the merciful and compassionate) before scarfing down the sinful meat. One of such occasions was the Feast Holiday, celebrating the end of Ramadan. After a month of fasting, I decided to reward myself with a big juicy burger. I selected a local restaurant near my apartment in Rockville Center. I called in my order while at work to guarantee that it'll be ready for pickup on my way home. After two weeks have passed, I can finally bring myself to write about the traumatizing experience. The beef paddy was bland, tasteless and over cooked. The delectable onion rings, as described on the menu, turned out to be soggy thinly sliced fried onions. I spent the entire meal wondering what the white paste like sauce was, until the metallic aftertaste reminded me that the burger was promised to be dressed with a creamy horse radish condiment. The side fries were salty and stale. I was too hungry, with an empty fridge, to forgo this poor offering. Two hours later, indigestion set in. Had I not known better, I could have been fooled in assuming that I suffered a heart attack. A warm cup of ginger tea could have remedied my misery, but I was too disposed to make it. Fearing I was suffering from food poisoning and wouldn't be able to attend a book signing the next day, I tried to purge my body of the atrocious burger, but to no avail.  I woke up the next day feeling a bit better, yet I was cautious with what I ate. I had planned to go to the Shake Shack for lunch. I had grilled halibut instead. It is on that day that I decided to become a full time vegetarian, relegating my meat eating days of yonder to the memories of my wasted youth.

The Plight of a Mundane Life

Suit & Tie
Breakfast, Goodbye
Coffee on train
Commute, insane

Office, Chair
Computer, Despair
Meeting
Meeting
Meeting
Life fleeting
Hope depleting

Lunch
Grind
Boredom
Sublime

Home, to bed
Hope is dead
Reset to play
Again next day

The Myth of Hope

V2.0 Date: 28 Aug 2013

Kernel of Hope in a sea of despair
Breaks your heart apart, 
half Love, half Sorrow
Holding both within, side by side

Hope is cruel
Hope is harsh
Hope is gone

Darkness of lonely nights remains
Skies twinkle with memories past
Northern stars guiding the way
Follow blindly, what else to do?
Over a ledge, up a mountain
Same memories, different journeys
Never get what we hope for
Always get what we hope not
Accept who we are. Take life as it is
Death's the only truth, all else is chance

Hope is fake
Hope is wrong
Hope is gone

False hope of memories to come
A nightmare of lies concoct
To raise our fall up so high
We fall from hope, hope'll die
No hopes. No dreams.
No wants. No Needs
Hours, Days, Breaths, Beats
Till we breathe no more
Till we pump no blood

Hope to die
Hope to death
Hope's a lie

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V1.0 Date: 21 Aug 2013

A Kernel of Hope dropped in a sea of despair
Breaks your heart in two, half love, half sorrow
You carry both within you, side by side

Hope is gone, the darkness of lonely nights remains
Skies shine bright with smiles of memories you had
Northern stars guiding you through the dark forrest
You follow blindly. What else can you do? 
They'll lead your over a ledge or up a mountain
Same memories, different journeys
Darkness never leaves, happiness never comes

They keep you on track, despite you
Is it a betrayal? 
False hope of more memories
We continue but nothing comes

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Egypt: Our Cinematic Heritage

When buying Egyptian gifts for foreigners, I prefer to stay clear of the usual pharaonic souvenirs. It seems unfair to narrow the many facets of Egypt down to one specific era. I have more than often opted for cotton t-shirts and unique wood art or silver accessories. I like the items to be visibly Egyptian, perhaps through design, color, or subject matter, but show casing a different side such as our sense of humor or Arabic roots.

I was fortunate enough to be in Cairo between June 22 and July 5 in 2013, during the ouster of The Brotherhood. My initial instinct was to gift my American friends a small replica of our Egyptian flag, the very same variety millions of Egyptians proudly carried during the marches. Having participated in the presidential palace stand ins, I must confess that my patriotic sense was in over drive. I finally settled on an assortment of items to demonstrate Egypt's diversity. The inevitable t-shirts found their way into an array of almond stuffed dates and hand crafted items, ensuring that I cater to the individual preferences of each recipient. Due to the political events, I only had a few hours on the very last day of the trip to complete my shopping. I made due with City Stars shopping mall in Heliopolis area. On the most part I was successful in my shopping spree  with the exception of one gift.

A US colleague of mine enjoys old black and white movies, with an affinity for musicals. I wanted to get him a DVD of one of the old Egyptian movies we used to watch on TV. I remember that the majority of those films, if not all, had both English and French subtitles. It would have been amazing to gift him the opportunity to experience the marvelous music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab or the powerful voice of Abdel Haleem Hafez, subtlety exhibiting the refined sophisticated beauty of the not-so-ancient Egyptian culture through the muted tones of the black and white footage, and disparaging the notion that we are rural hooligans roaming the desert on camel back in our third world country. I could only think of one place in City Stars to purchase such a DVD, Virgin Mega Store. Upon entering the establishment, I realized that it isn't so "Mega", with my favorite section in the store diminished to a corridor lined on one side with a measly collection of books. Nevertheless, I ventured to the inner most area where the CDs and DVDs are located. I was miserably disappointed with the selection of Egyptian films on display, a humble assortment of modern (i.e. colored) movies from the 70s and 80s, most of which were produced and distributed by Al Sobky, thus including no subtitles, or so I was informed by the shop assistant. I had to make due with a Lute medley of famous songs such as Ben Shateen wa Meyia.

Like the pyramids and other monuments, motions pictures and music have and will continue to shape our culture as a nation. Movies chronicle the history of the country in a much more vivid manner than written media. What are we doing to preserve these national treasures? For many years, there's been talk about a music museum named after Abdel Wahab and individual attempts to restore old movie negatives. I haven't been back to Bibliotheca Alexandrina since my first visit in 2002, yet shouldn't such establishments have cinematic and musical archives. Maybe The Cairo Opera House has already embarked on such efforts. However, I call on all Egyptian intellectuals to embrace this cause. I call on the ministry of culture to establish a cinema curation committee to work on the preservation of our national cinematic archives, a treasure trove of cultural gems such as Naguib Mahfouz's Trilogy, Al Bostagy (The Postman), Al Ard (The Land), and Bab El Hadid, to name a few. When The Cairo Film Festival is revived (I believe it should be, in due time), we should dedicate a section to the Egyptian and Arabic film heritage, juxtaposing the grace and beauty of those films with the coarse realities of current events and current movies. 

I am aware that Egypt, namely the government, has far more pressing issues with the frail economy and more than half the population living in poverty, but neglecting our cinematic artifacts will lead to the erosion of our cultural identity. Egyptian film legends such as Ismail Yassin and Youssef Chahine are as immortal and majestic as the Sphinx and thus deserve a similar place in our cultural repertoire.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I'm coming home

Been away for an eternity
365 days 
Been back for a few seconds
308 hours
Back for a visit, to stay I decline
Old and weary, my childhood home
cracks all over, the paint is gone
Ghost of the past lurk in the dark
Memories every where against the stark
No future. No hope.

A new addition has been appended
Walls splashed with red
Carpeted with bodies dead
My heart sinks as I step in
Offended with the stench of sin
I look at the red designs to realize
Not paint but blood of the fight
Brother fighting brother
Both to dominate 
Their voices rise above
To destruct. To hate.

We tape the cracks, hope they'll stand
We sweep the debris, collect the sand
At the addition, confused what to do
We build, they demolish
Our freedom, they abolish 
No where is sacred
No one is safe
We brace ourselves
We carry our pails
We step steadily into the room
Lift the corpse of life and doom
Wash away the blood, to see
Walls of glass that bleed

We scrub and pray the brothers unit

We scrub and pray they stop the fight
Rays of hope to come through glass
Enlighting the hallways and the paths
Usher in the future, recall the past
a Hope, a Dream
We pray to come true
a Hope, a Dream
Power of me and you

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

This is The End vs. Bridesmaids

Despite having much to do this past weekend between packing for my two-week trip back home to my beloved Egypt, laundry, cleaning, and last minute gift shopping, I carved out two hours on Saturday to see "This is The End". I confess that I had planned to see the apocalypse flick the moment I saw a teaser last December. Even with "The Man of Steel" being released on the same weekend, it was no contest. Seth Rogen and clan won hands down. Although much was left undone, I am happy that I chose to see This is The End. I was in need of a good laugh. The movie delivers on the comedy with a side of nostalgia (at least for me).

On Sunday, as I was sitting on a park bench, sipping my coffee and contemplating nothing, I realized that This is The End is Bridesmaids on testosterone. I don't suppose Rogen and Goldberg - who co-wrote and directed This is The End - realized the parallels between the two films. If they did, I guess they didn't expect any audience crossover. Maybe I simply envisioned these similarities, nevertheless below is my rational, and beware they include spoilers for both flicks: 
  • This is The End is marketed as an apocalypse action comedy, yet the foundation of conflict is based on Seth and Jay's deteriorating relationship due to Seth's ascension into the Hollywood crowd while Jay remains in their Canadian homeland. At the end their friendship is reshaped and reinstated by the apocalyptic events. Similarly, Bridesmaids was marketed as a raunchy female driven comedy in which Kristen Wiig's relationship with her childhood best-friend Maya Rudolph is crumbling as Maya's status is upgraded to engaged/ married woman while Kristen remains in the slums of singlehood. The relationship is further strained then strengthen during the planning of an apocalyptic wedding. 
  • Further driving a wedge between the two friends is a pretentious 3rd party trying to encroach themselves onto the more affluent friend and edging out the other. At the end, this fraud is led to show their true colors and face an ill fated doom. The ever delectable James Franco is the pretentious artsy completely useless actor in This is The End. He keeps a food stash and monopolizes a Milky Way bar. At the end, Franco's soul is not redeemed but left to be ravished by Danny Mcbride and Channing Tatum. In Bridesmaids, Rose Byrne imposes on Maya's wedding preparations, pushing Wiig to the sidelines, only to fail in keeping the bride happy. At the end she resorts to Wiig to bring stability to the wedding. Coincidentally, Franco and Byrne co-stared together in "Dead Girl"
  • At the beginning of This is the End, Seth and Jay bond over their favorite pass time, smoking weed. While Maya and Wiig engage in pastry consumption, as carbohydrates is women's weed. We love indulging in carbs although we know that no good can come of this gratification. Let's face it, Gluten is bad for you !
  • Jonah Hill and Ellie Kemper are the too goody two shoes with something sinister simmering under the lid. Danny Mcbride and Wendi Mclendon-Covery are the foul mouths we love to hate. Craig Robinson and Melissa McCarthy are the misunderstood sweet hearts who hide a gooey center under a hard-shell facade, not unlike a Milky Way.
  • Bathroom humor in Bridesmaids vs. Male Masturbation humor in This is The End.
  • A wedding gone wrong is a female version of an apocalypse. A wedding done right is a female version of heaven.
  • Both movies end with a scenic dance and sing along to a 90s hit with guest appearances from the bands. Perfectly aligned, the all girl band Wilson Philips belt out "Hold On" in Bridesmaids, while boy band Backstreet Boys are summoned to heaven with a Everybody prelude in This is The End. Sadly, I know the lyric to both songs, and thus the nostalgia. (Why did it say NKOTB rule on the chalk board ?)

In summation, This is The End is nothing more than a male version of Bridesmaids. That being said, I must confess that I prefer Seth Rogen over Kristen Wiig. I paid to watch This is The End, yet opted to catch Bridesmaids on cable. I laughed harder and thoroughly enjoyed This is The End. Not sure if this speaks more to the quality of both movies or my skewed personality. However, when the end is here, whether doomsday or wedding day, I wouldn't mind having James Franco by my side for either.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Man to Lead, Woman to Follow - I think Not

Last weekend I reflected on the logic employed by some bigoted Muslim pseudo-clerics to justify the persecution of women. These so called men believe that women should cover up in what appears to be constructed tents, not only covering our God given figures but all evidence that we are in fact human. They justify this belief by claiming such attire will eliminate sexual allure and attraction. Apparently it is women's fault that men are sexual aroused by any moving feminine object. We must cover every inch of our bodies because man has all sorts of perversities. In the dead heat of summer, we jail our toes in socks and shoe prisons because of scaly heel fetishes. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants. We can't alter man's behavior. Thus, women are sequestered behind closed doors to combat sexual harassment in the work place and schools. In some countries, woman are not allowed to drive as the government - a.k.a Big Brother (not sister) - believes driving is too complicated and rough for the feeble delicate nature of woman. Yet we can endure pregnancy, labor, and man's idiocy.

In all these justifications, men are the troubled culprits, yet women are the ones being punished. However, doesn't it make more sense to lock men in homes not women. Allowing them brief moments of public leisure, conditioned that they are accompanied by a female companion (with man preferably on a leash). Harassment will vanish by virtue of removing man from the equation. Moreover, women make better religious/moral police. We are more equipped to judge female appropriate behavior. Once men are not allowed to watch films or access the internet, to keep them safe from sexual allure, media will be cleansed, leaving only wholesome entertainment. Because lets face it, no woman likes porn. As women will be in charge of households, advertisers will not need to resort to sex to sell their products since women don't make decisions with their penises, it's a physiological impossibility. As a result, women will be able to walk around freely and safely, regardless of what they wear. And men will be safe from female sexual traps. More righteous societies will endure under the rule of women. Better yet, we can eliminate all sub-par male specimens and harvest the sperm of the remaining superior pedigree for breeding purposes. In case you are wondering about the sub-par females, they'll be used as incubators.

Despite all the irrefutable evidence to the enhanced state of female-lead humanity, women know better than to implement such notions. We have the insights to understand that God created Adam and Eve equally human, yet uniquely different, to complete each other not dominate over one another. Rationality is not a prominent feature of man, we women know it is our role to bring cosmic balance to the universe. Thus we believe that no one should lead and no one should follow. Only together, as equals, man and woman can prevail.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Short Story - Dog Resurrected


“The dog is dead! The dog is dead!” mumbled Mostafa as he rushed into ESCO’s Alexandria office. He hastily slammed the door with a loud thud, waking the other employees from their mid-day slump. He power walked through the labyrinth of desks, cabinets, and files to the farthest north door. The employees looked on in amazement as Mostafa silently blazed by without offering his customary beaming smile and Al Salam Alaykoum greeting. They were astounded with this unlikely behavior. Yet, when he paused at the office of the Customs Clearance Director, they knew there was a problem with one of his shipments. They shrugged and returned to sipping mud like Turkish coffee. Mostafa peeped through the glass panel in the door and saw Mrs. Hoda occupied with work. Managing the customs clearance department of an Egyptian freight forwarding company was taxing. Hoda was constantly on the edge of her nerves. This was 2006. President Mubarak’s five year prosperity plan was in high gear after stagnating for a quarter century. Prosperity was long overdue. The plan had been extended, or as the government worded it, renewed five consecutive times with the promise of fortunes to come. Two years prior, Ahmed Nazif took over as Prime Minister and rumored economic growth slowly surfaced from the shadows of haphazard development. Technology sectors and call centers boomed over night with three mobile carries competing in the already saturated market. Factories emerged in industrial parks east and north of Cairo. Riches were steadily, yet slowly, dripping down Egypt’s chin. Freight forwarders benefited enormously from this period of economic steroids. Raw materials originated from Asia and the Mediterranean, while finished goods departed to every realm of the globe. Textile and cotton garments went to the US and England. Potatoes and citrus flew to Germany. PVC pipes shuttled to Nigeria. Marble floated down the Red Sea en route to China. As Egypt’s GDP blossomed, local shippers accumulated enough experience to deal with temperamental customs authorities and tumultuous supply chains. The Egyptian Shipping Company – ESCO was one of the early adopters.


Hoda was on the phone with an irritating and irritated client who demanded specific attention, always following up on shipments and flirting with female employees. Every so often, Hoda came to the rescue and handled his calls herself. Her patience was wavering as Mostafa hovered at the door. She beckoned him to enter. Too nervous to sit, Moustafa stood before Hoda’s desk with his hands clasped together, intently examining his shoes and repeating the mantra, “The dog is dead.” From the grim look on his sweat drenched face, Hoda knew that Mostafa was harboring bad news. She regarded the stout man and silently debated whether her nerves could handle more trouble. She delayed addressing Mostafa, prolonging the phone conversation. She finally stowed away the handset. Mostafa’s lips parted to explain his quandary. Hoda raised a palm in a stop motion bringing him to a halt as she finished recording the issue. She laid down the pen, slid back into her chair, crossed her legs, took a long calming breath, smiled, gestured to Mostafa to sit , and said,

“Yes Mostafa. Tell me, what’s the matter?” 

Mostafa was too apprehensive to reply. His intestines expanded with nervous gas. He contracted his buttocks to trap the odorous gasp of air. Sweat leaked through his shirt. He was thankful to his navy blue polo for concealing the perspiration. He had a cramp in his left calf and a twitch under his right eye. He took off his glasses, wiped the invisible dust and placed them back on his face. Mostafa, too, wanted to delay the discussion. This wasn’t like any of the numerous problems he encountered during his seven year tenure. This was a dead dog stewing in the humid summer heat. Temperatures were in the high thirties, thirty eight degree Celsius to be exact, the hottest of the season. Mostafa positioned himself in one of the faux leather chairs opposite Hoda’s desk. He chose the one to her right, he wanted to be on her good side, the side of the Angels.

“I’m waiting Mostafa. The sooner you tell me, the sooner we can deal with it.”

“The dog is dead!” He exclaimed.

Hoda stared in confusion, “What are you talking about?”

“The dog is dead! The dog we are shipping to Manchester. It is dead. The dog that belongs to Mr. Mohamed’s friend, is dead. It is dead! What can I do?”

Hoda blinked nervously as she recalled the shipment details. Mohamed El Nazir, a managing partner, oversaw port authorities and customs relations. Although a wealthy educated man from an upper middle class family, when angered his good breeding evaporated as he’d burst into fits of fury and fling curse words. A week prior, he approached Hoda about a shipment. His friend, an English expat, wanted to send his dog back to the UK. Mr. Mohamed asked her to personally handle the request. Hoda found this odd since she managed the customs clearance process and had no experience in exports. Mr. Mohamed explained that the shipment demanded specific paper work and handling. He believed she was better suited to deal with the government red tape. Pleased with the acknowledgement, Hoda accepted the task without hesitation. She contacted the client and arrange for the dog, Alfred, to be transported to ESCO’s premises. Hoda amused at the client insistence that she take extra care of Alfred and make sure he was treated well. She couldn’t believe he referred to the dog as “he”. Foreigners relocating to Egypt spared their pets no expense. They spent thousands of pounds transporting cats and dogs. Alfred in particular had been to Singapore, Dubai, Lagos, and now Alexandria, while Hoda had never been outside of Egypt. The proud pet owners happily incurred enormous amounts of money for their furry friends’ upkeep. Imported pet paraphernalia stocked supermarkets shelves across Alexandria. These domesticated dogs lived better than half the Egyptian population. Hoda ensured the client that Alfred would be safe with ESCO. She assigned her best broker, Mostafa, to take care of the dog. And now Mostafa stood before her claiming “The dog is dead!”


***

“Tell me what happened. I want you to give me all the details. How did the dog die?”

“Mrs. Hoda, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t kill the dog. Please tell Mr. Mohamed that it’s not my fault, please. I can’t lose my job. My children, Mrs. Hoda, how will I feed my children with no job.”

“Mostafa! Relax. No one’s going to lose their job. Take a deep breath and tell me how the dog died.”

“Well, Mrs. Hoda, I sent Ragab, the driver, to the address you gave me, the villa in San Stefano, to collect the dog. He swears by Allah that the dog was alive when he put the crate in the van. Ragab was very careful driving back to the warehouse. He avoided speed bumps so he wouldn’t disturb the dog. We carried the crate into the building. I prepared a nice place for the dog to stay. The customs clerk even agreed to come to complete the inspections at the office. The dog was sleeping, so we left it in the crate. But after two hours, I got worried. I opened the crate and looked inside. The dog…”

“Alfred”

“I’m sorry?”

“The dog is called Alfred”

Bewildered by this statement but not wanting to contradict his manager, Mostafa corrected, “the dog, Alfred, was just laying there, covered with a blanket. I tried to nudge him awake, but nothing worked. He was stiff and cold. I immediately knew he was dead. I locked the carcass in the warehouse refrigerated area and came directly to you. What are we going to do Mrs. Hoda? Please, I cannot lose my job. I need my salary to feed my children. Please Mrs. Hoda, you must help me.”

“Wait a minute. Did you say that Ragab picked up Alfred in the van?”

“Yes.”

“But Mostafa I deliberately told you to use the company car for transporting the dog because it is air conditioned. Why did you use the van?”

“Well, Mrs. Hoda you see, when I called to confirm the pickup time, the house keeper informed me that the dog, I’m sorry, I mean Alfred will be inside his crate. It is too big to fit on the back seat. Besides Mrs. Hoda, Alexandria is full the stray dogs and cats, they don’t need air conditioning, so why is this dog any different? Was it sick Mrs. Hoda? Because, if the dog was sick then it is not our fault. He must have died of sickness. Yes, Mrs. Hoda, Alfred the dog died of sickness.”


Hoda stood up and walked to the window. She needed time to think. She gazed out onto the vast Mediterranean sea. The office was located in a residential building along Alexandria’s main street, El Cournish. A huge sign with luminous red letters spelling ESCO over looked the wide asphalt lanes traversing along the Egyptian northern shore. Every window in the building exposed the tranquil azure waterscape. The prominent location aimed to impress customers and intimidate competitors. Hoda considered the view from her office a privilege, a sign that she had achieved excellence. She liked her job, she liked her office, and wasn’t going to allow a dog to cost her either. After a moment of reflection, Hoda turned to Mostafa and said,

“Don’t worry Mostafa. Everything’s going to be fine. Take me to see the dead dog.”

“You mean Alfred”, Mostafa corrected.


***

Hoda and Mostafa stood over the dog’s corpse, privately wishing for a miracle. There was no doubt in Hoda’s mind that Alfred was indeed dead. She was relieved to see that it was a Boxer Mix and not some exotic bread like Chihuahua or Shih Tzu

“Who else knows about the dog?”

“Just Ragab.”

“Have it properly disposed. Call a veterinarian and make the necessary arrangements.”

She took several photographs of Alfred. Mostafa found this quite peculiar. They frequently photographed damaged cargo for insurance claims. But Alfred wasn’t shipped yet. None of the paper work had been issued, least of all shipping insurance. So, why was Mrs. Hoda documenting the dead cargo? Mostafa knew better than to question the judgment of his superior. He simply looked on as she circled Alfred with phone in hand, zooming in and flashing away. She knelt down and removed the dog’s tags and leash, then turned to Mostafa and commanded,

“Guard the dog until the vet arrives. This is my personal phone number. Call me if anything happens.” She handed Mostafa a business cards with a number scribbled on the back as she aimed for the door.

“Where are you going Mrs. Hoda?” Mostafa frantically inquired. He feared she was abandoning him to suffer all the blame.

Hoda flung a pair of Persol sunglasses on her face and said, “I’m going to see a man about a dog.”


***

With keys in the ignition, Hoda immediately reached for her mobile. “Hi Samir. This is Hoda…. I’m doing fine. I need a favor. I need to buy a dog. I’ll send you a picture.” She texted Alfred’s photographs while simultaneously navigating the congested narrow roads on her way back to the office.  Samir Wasif, Hoda’s bother in law, was a street smart Alexandrian. He owned a chain of striving coffee shops. To replenish menu items, Samir got the best deals on meat, lobster, Belgium chocolate or saffron. If it was legal, he had a supplier for it. His establishments were notorious for their hookah pipes, shisha. They served an assortment of tobacco selections displayed in dessert menus. A variety of strawberry cheesecake, apple strudel, and pina colada flavored tobacco appealed to the growing upper-class female clientele of shisha smokers. Hoda was confident that Samir would hunt down an Alfred look-a-like. He didn’t ask any questions and simply replied, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Hoda busied herself with work while waiting for Samir’s call. It was easy to get distracted. There were always incidents and issues regarding customs clearance, delayed shipments, and missing documentation. Port officials overestimated tariff amounts to intimidate under the table payments. ESCO implemented a strict no kickback rule and thus custom clerks placed every obstacle in their path. The timely release of shipments with reasonable tariff costs was Hoda’s responsibility.  It took her fifteen years to learn the ins and outs of the shipping industry. She would be damned to let a dog cost her the job she has earned with endless days of hard diligent work. She texted Samir, “Any news on the dog situation?” He didn’t reply. She called him but he didn’t answer. Samir’s number flashed on her phone seventy five minutes later.

“Okay, there’s guy who has a few Boxers. I’ll send you the address. I wasn’t sure about the size or weight, so you’ll have to select one that fits the description. It’s going to cost fifteen hundred pounds. You’ll have to pay him in cash.”

“Thanks Samir. I owe you big time.”

“Don’t worry you will pay me back. I’ll meet you there.” 

Hoda had an uneasy feeling that she’d just sold her soul to the devil. Maybe this was the dog’s revenge. The first traces of regret manifested into her conscience. She wondered if she was making a terrible situation worse. She could incriminate Mostafa and Ragab, but the dog’s fate was ultimately her responsibility. With mortgage payments and two young daughters in private school, Hoda needed her salary which was double that of her college professor husband. No household in Egypt survived on a single income. All hesitation disappeared upon realizing that her family’s salvation lied in Alfred’s resurrection. She grabbed her purse and heeded out to buy a dog. Too nervous to wait for the elevator, she climbed down the stairs. Descending the marble slabs, Hoda breathed in a medley of dinners. Her stomach grumbled to the aroma of baked fish sayadeyia, fried garlic taeleyia, and stuffed cabbage leafs. She hadn’t eaten all day. No time to eat when you need to bring back the dead. She texted her husband to inform him that she would not be home for dinner.


***

Assisted with a vet report of Alfred’s specification, Hoda selected a close enough proxy. Happy with her purchase, she packed the animal into her car. She secured the tags and leash around the dog’s neck and took to calling it Alfred. It didn’t respond to the name. She worried that this little detail would unravel the entire plot. Since Alfred II would not come into contact with his owner until arriving at Manchester, Hoda decided not to worry. She smiled for the first time that day as she arrived at the warehouse. Waiting in the court yard, Mostafa was surprised to see Alfred’s reflection, afraid the dog’s ghost would haunt him for life. He thanked God when pseudo-Alfred barked as Hoda coaxed him out of the car. She didn’t need to explain the scheme, Mostafa knew what to do.

“Take care of this one. Get him on the first flight out. I don’t want to ever see that dog again. Do you understand?”

Mostafa nodded.

“Oh, by the way, you owe me five hundred pounds. That’s your share. You can give me the money at the end of the month when you get paid.”

Hoda didn’t wait for a response. She turned around, got in her car, and drove away, leaving the dog in Mostafa’s custody. In a moment of synchronized serendipity, both Hoda and Mostafa sighed a breath of relief.


***

Hoda had a restless night, unable to relax until the canine nightmare arrived at its final destination. She arranged for a guardian, Mai Elshazly, to accompany Alfred. There was nothing Hoda could do to make the time pass swiftly. She could only wait.

A number flashed on Hoda’s phone. She immediately answered to Mai’s panicked voice,

“Mrs. Hoda, the client refused to collect the dog. He’s saying that this isn’t his dog.”

“Put him on the phone, I’ll talk to him.”

“He left. He got very angry and shouted ‘Where’s my Alfred?’ and just left. What am I supposed to do with the dog, Mrs. Hoda?”

“Don’t worry Mai. I’ll take care of everything.”

Hoda frantically stifled through her contacts, trying to locate the customer’s number. Mr. Mohamed was approaching her. Her heart sunk. She was about to lose her job and her dignity in front of the entire staff. Mr. Mohamed opened the door and stepped into her office, he was smiling. 

Mohamed took his time addressing the situation, elated to see the concern in Hoda’s raised brows and wrinkled forehead. He didn’t particularly like her. She was one of those tough women who spoke their minds and didn’t tolerate condescension for anyone, least of all from him. He wasn’t happy when Hoda first joined the customs clearance department. Women belonged in the kitchen not a sea port. A woman couldn’t deal with rough customs brokers and crude port officials. Hoda proved him wrong and eventually earned his respect. Yet, he still liked annoying her whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was warranted. It was pay back to every woman who belittled him. He intended to excruciatingly torture Hoda over the dog debacle. He silently sat across the desk from her, took out a cigarette, lit it, dragged a breath, exhaled the smoke out of his nostrils and calmly asked,

“Where’s the dog?”

“The dog? What dog?”

“Alfred. The dog you were supposed to ship to Manchester. Where is it?”

Hoda stared back at Mr. Mohamed, stalling for time, her confidence not wavering. Mohamed admired her tenacity. ‘Big pair of balls on this one’, he thought. She rummaged through her files and picked up a random piece of paper. She looked Mr. Mohamed in the eyes and stated in a matter-of-fact manner,

“Flight MS 830 landed at MAN airport at exactly 8:00 am Cairo local time. The dog has been safely cleared through customs. At the time of this report, Mai was on her way to the hotel. She will send an e-mail with a signed copy of the delivery order once the dog is collected. So, we can safely assume that the dog is at the hotel with Mai.”

“The customer called. He claims the dog isn’t his.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Mohamed but I don’t understand. What does he mean the dog isn’t his? We shipped the dog that was collected from the address stated in the file. How can the dog not be his?”

“Hoda, I think the guy can tell his dog apart from others. He’s saying that the dog with Mai isn’t Alfred.”

“Why does he say that? What’s different about this dog?”

“This one’s alive!”

Hoda’s calm and collective demeanor melted away. She went pale, her mouth hung ajar and she blinked frantically as she struggled to comprehend what was happening. How could the client possibly know that Alfred suffocated in the hot van? 

Gloating with a smile of sheer delight in Hoda’s predicament, Mohamed decided to put her out of her misery, “It was quite a sock when my friend saw the ghost of his dog in the hotel lobby because Alfred died a week ago. He was shipped to Manchester to be buried.”