[shortlisted- African Writing Prize for Flash Fiction 2011]
The day wound up its mound of tangled rope.
Abdou pulled on the last of the threads, his palms raw on the worn leather steering wheel.
One more fare and he could pile this day up on his bed and lie on it as he usually did, fettered and grudging.
At the corner of Abbaas El-Akkad and Mustafa an-Nahas, he pushed down on the taxi’s window. Hot air sank in, coating Abdou in a fresh wash of wet.
He reached over the dashboard to retrieve a tired handkerchief that would offer him no real respite.
It was not so much the directive that took him by surprise but the way he heard the voice; from right inside his head; strongly composing itself through the Cairene cacophony of horns and people
She was a tall woman dressed in white robes.
It was an odd garb to Abdou’s eyes and stranger than her dress, was the fact that no one else in the thronged street seemed to think anything of it.
“Yes, I can go to Tahrir Square.”
The voice rang between his ears.
It was close to dusk that Thursday night and Abdou was surprised at how the traffic parted itself for him. He kept looking at the rear view mirror, hoping to garner more clues about this woman, but she was a wall.
“Where in Tahrir Square Madame?”
“Here is fine.”
She pushed her money at him and folded out of the taxi. Abdou scanned the crowd but it was as if she had melted into the ground.
He wiped a finger over the blue ornament dangling from his mirror; a protection against Al-Ain*. He bought it because he liked the colour, but now he hoped that there really was something to it.
It was Thursday again and the heat sat in Abdou’s pores.
He stopped at a red traffic light and prayed the police officer wouldn’t look too closely at his cab and conclude that the car was indeed held together solely by the Will of God. July had not been a good month for fares, and the fine would undo him.
“Take me to Al-Hussein Square.”
The voice bounced against the walls of his mind.
Stupefied Abdou, if he did not hear the springs in his back seat compressing, he would have thought her an apparition.
She was dressed in the same white cloak as before.
This was truly something.
He wanted to ask her who she was and where she was from but the will stuck in his throat like a rag ball.
“You’ll soon know.”
She must be a witch.
“Don’t be stupid. That’s insulting and before you think to say it, I can read your mind. Well not so much read it, as listen to it. You think very loud!
“AllahuAkbar! What creature are you!” Abdou shouted, almost falling sideways through the taxi’s door.
“Be quiet you Himaar**, do you want all of Cairo to think you are mad? No one else but you can see me.”
Abdou started reading Ayatul Kursi. His mother had once said it was a powerful protection against evil.
“What good is that going to do Abdou? God’s own revelation and I am His own creation. Hardly evil, though some may think me so. Now stop your blabbering, I am going to tell you what I am. I am Death.”
Abdou could not determine the source of his fear; was it because of this apparition or the knowledge of a nascent insanity?
He managed to break open his frozen lips to ask, ‘But, but how can you be Death? You are a woman.”
“Why should Death not be a woman Ya Abdou? We are more than capable. But I am not here to fret with close-minded chauvinism. I am here to tell you how to live. For too long most of you pathetic creatures have gone on rather vapidly. It’s become such a bore to reap your kind off of this plain.”
“It’s hard to live when you have to work all day for very little money. If I was the president, I could really live,” Abdou said.
“I can make that happen, but you must promise to live, before I come and claim you.”
With that, she vanished.
Abdou sat in his taxi, riveted to the tar despite the insistent ushering of hooters and epithets.
She’d come once he’d lived.
President, ha! Abdou shook his head, re-started the taxi and searched for his next fare.
*the evil eye
**Arabic word for donkey
hey Saaleha stumbled across your name on the African Writing flash fiction website and wanted to read the story. What a great one it is! hope all is going well with the MA, I’m rather sad the course is over but time for new things now. Your blog is great by the way, inspiring me to start my own!
Hi Isabel:) Thank you! What are you busy with this year? We have just a few months to go now. I look forward to reading you soon!
was trolling through your various blogs, n boy am I in awe…
i wanna be just like you when i grow up 🙂
A lovely read, Saaleha. The sentence breaks are especially effective. Next, The Book, iA 🙂
While the story is nice enough, the descriptions make it work. They’re simple enough to stick as quickly as you read the next line. Textured. I like