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A short story translated by Wiam el-Tamami
During the revolution, three young men
decided to start their own special project. Each of the young men had a name
and each name began with the term ‘Macho’. There was Macho Zakariya, Macho
Sayed and Macho Louai and their grand scheme was born at a café in Korba.
Amidst the curling smoke of canteloupe-flavoured shisha, they decided together
to pursue their old dream.
The three machos bore massive physiques that befit their names, but, as is often the case with human beings, their characters were a different matter altogether. Macho Louai was the most sensitive of the machos. His speech began with the self and ended with the world:
“To be honest, my dear machos, I’m an emotional wreck. After a love story for the ages – she left me! I don’t understand women.” Macho Sayed tried to sum up the tragedy: “True, very true. Women are a mystery.”
Macho Zakariya opened his mouth, revealing his dirty teeth. He said sarcastically:
“She destroyed me . . . because . . . I once . . . loved her!”
Macho Louai had the distinct impression that he’d spotted a pair of elephant tusks in Macho Zakariya’s mouth. He wanted to point this out, so he said: “Excuse me, my dear Macho Zakariya, but it seems to me you have a pair elephant tusks growing between your teeth.”
Macho Zakariya was surprised. “Really? What do they look like?”
“Just like a pair of elephant tusks.”
“I see what you’re saying, my friend. I haven’t brushed my teeth in three days.”
“But that wouldn’t make elephant tusks grow in your mouth!”
“If what you’re saying is true, then it is strange. I’ll go and see a dentist soon.”
Macho Louai went back to telling his tale of woe. “I sacrificed everything for her. I did (he tried to find a different way to phrase this, but failed) . . . everything for her.”
Macho Zakariya repeated his earlier line with the same rhythm: “She destroyed me . . . because . . . I once . . . loved her!”
Macho Louai seethed in silence. He decided that, once he was done with his mission, he would kill Macho Zakariya.
Macho Sayed was the largest of the three dinosaurs from whose nostrils smoke now rose. He was thus considered the leader of the pack. The chief contemplated the faces of the two machos sitting by his side, then spoke.
“Let’s get back on topic: our old dream, the dream of our college years. (Macho Zakariya heaved a wistful sigh, expelling two huge clumps of smoke from his mouth; Macho Louai moaned and a gargling burp escaped instead, following the string of cokes he had just consumed.) Do you remember our old dream – the dream of nailing every girl in the world? Ohhh, boys. (A moment of silence.) Listen – the girls of Heliopolis all deserve to be nailed. This is a difficult mission. I suggest we start from Roxy. Roxy is a good entry point into the rest of Heliopolis – from there we can spread out into the smaller neighbourhoods.”
Raising his finger in Macho Sayed’s face, Macho Louai said: “What about Gesr el-Suez?”
It seemed to Macho Sayed that Macho Louai was speaking from his finger. His voice started off thick and rough, then got stuck in the last finger-joint and came out squeaky.
“Your voice is weird, Macho!” Macho Sayed said.
“That’s nothing unusual. My voice is hoarse from crying over her.”
“It’s not hoarse. It’s squeaky.”
“Really! Well! Okay. Maybe. I don’t know the difference.”
“The difference is that it seems to be coming out of your finger, not your mouth.”
Macho Zakariya intervened to correct Macho Sayed’s information. “That’s not very logical, Macho. You know that fingers don’t produce sounds, only the mouth and throat.”
Macho Sayed faced Macho Zakariya to correct the corrected information. “I’m sorry, my dear Macho Zakariya, but I disagree with you completely – as always. If you decide to snap your fingers, it will most certainly produce a sound.” To furnish his theory with scientific evidence, he snapped his fingers. And before Macho Zakariya’s astonished eyes, there came the sound of snapping.
After this victory, Macho Sayed went back to his original topic of conversation. “Okay, I suggest we split ourselves into four teams.”
In a move that smacked of vengeance, Macho Zakariya interrupted him. “We can’t. There’s only three of us.”
“I’ll take on the role of two teams,” Macho Sayed said decisively. “Any objections?”
When he found no objections, he called the waiter over to settle the bill. In spite of everything, Macho Sayed was exceedingly generous: he did not go anywhere without treating everyone with him. This time he paid for fifteen canteloupe-flavoured coals, two yogurt smoothies with fruit, two yogurt smoothies without fruit, ten cans of pepsi and eighteen cappuccinos.
* * *
Macho Zakariya went home. As he turned on
his daily porn film and grabbed the soap, he was struck by a sad thought: how
had Macho Sayed won that challenge in front of everyone, managing to produce a
sound with his fingers, when it was a well-known fact that only the throat and
the organs connected to it produce sound? Macho Zakariya was a unique sort of
intellectual, so you can only imagine the depth of his disappointment upon
discovering that, for the thousandth time, he had lost a battle of wits to
Macho Sayed. If it hadn’t been for this failure, he would have been able to
convince Macho Sayed to give him the role of two teams. He had lost face. And
now he found himself unable to climax: the fluid was trapped in his penis and
refused to come out.
That wasn’t all. Macho Zakariya was also in shock because of the elephant tusks Macho Louai had said he’d seen coming out of his mouth. How had that happened and how can it be fixed? Can tusks be clipped? In a fit of rage he stormed into the bathroom, grabbed the toothpaste and hurled it out of the window overlooking the inner courtyard. He was filled with frustration at Macho Louai and Macho Sayed and his teeth and the world. He turned into a ball of blind, burning hatred.
* * *
In other news, Macho Louai was – as our
macho friends explained earlier – going through an emotional crisis. At times
like these he turned into a machine of sex and violence. He logged onto
Facebook and added three new girls: ‘The Queen of Coy’, ‘Spoilt Chick’ and
‘Cutie Petutie’. He went on a Facebook page called ‘How to Make a Molotov
Cocktail to Defend Yourself from Central Security Forces’ and recorded the
instructions on his mobile phone. His mind was spinning with dark thoughts. He
was bursting with rage at everyone, at the girl, at the world, at Macho
Zakariya who was growing elephant tusks between his teeth. The only one who
escaped his wrath was Macho Sayed. He reflected on the immense wisdom of the
Macho who had put together the brilliant scheme of nailing every girl in
Heliopolis and he made a silent promise to be Macho Sayed’s most faithful
This was on Thursday, by the way – Thursday the 27th of January, 2011.
* * *
The following morning, Heliopolis was all
but deserted. In front of the cinema at Roxy, the three machos met. They shook
hands quickly then went their separate ways. Macho Sayed headed in the
direction of Korba Street and Thawra Street, Macho Louai towards Hegaz Street
and Macho Zakariya set off for Gesr el-Suez.
Let us follow Macho Louai for the moment, the sensitive one, in Hegaz Street. He walked just a few metres before he spotted a girl near the wall of Merryland Park, trying to stop a taxi. She had a lighter in her right hand.
He got closer. He lit a cigarette and stood next to her. He asked: “Cigarette?” She didn’t reply. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and waved it around in front of her face. She didn’t understand whether he was offering her a cigarette, flirting with her, or taunting her with the fact that he had a cigarette and she didn’t. She moved a few steps away and suddenly he screamed: “You bitch!” He grabbed her arm, yelling: “Why are you running away from me? You dirty, nasty, low-life bitch!”
The girl tried to run but he tightened his grip and, with the other hand, started unzipping his trousers. He clutched where his penis lay underneath the red boxers covered in roses and teddy bears. “Don’t you want it? You want to bet you don’t want it?” Quite simply, she used the lighter in her right hand. She lit the flame and brought it close to his crotch. Macho Louai stood dumbfounded. He let her go and she ran far away, screaming. As for the smell of burning fabric, along with an underlying scent of roast penis flesh, it rose and filled the whole of Hegaz Street. The boxers were worth thirty pounds, the penis flesh a little more. Macho Louai sat down heavily on the pavement and buried his face in his hands, wailing: “Why do they do that? Why do they do that?”
* * *
Macho Zakariya, on the other hand, had only
one thought on his mind and that was revenge on Gigi – the girl who had refused
his great love in high school fifteen years ago. He decided that day to smash
her head in with a giant hammer, to twist her eyeballs out of their sockets and
crush them under his shoes. He would hang her up on a dartboard and use her for
target practice with white-hot iron nails, then he would soak her body in
concentrated sulphuric acid. Concentrated sulphuric acid played the starring
role in Macho Zakariya’s fantasies, no contest. A massive tub, deep, endless, a
tub like a lake, filled with concentrated sulphuric acid. The girls would line
up all around it and Macho Zakariya would take aim at them with a gun. One by
one, they would fall into the depths of the lake and their bodies would
dissolve into nothing.
But because this lake was not on hand in this miserable life of ours in the land of Egypt, Macho Zakariya decided to make do with the available means. He went out to Gesr el-Suez Street with two pistols, one in each palm, his arms outrstretched, like a hero in a Western. He opened fire – bang bang bang – in two parallel directions. Five girls fell to the pavement in pools of their own blood, along with two older women. It was epic. The most epic of all the epics.
There were many cases recorded that day of murder, rape and sexual harassment of girls and multiple reports filed at police stations, but the police had other things to do. The police were being defeated by crowds of protesters in streets all over Egypt.
* * *
Once again, the three machos sat around at
the café in Korba: Macho Sayed, Macho Zakariya and Macho Louai.
Macho Sayed reported that he’d slept with around ten girls today. He went in there, all oohs and aahs, sweet nothings and tall tales and they fell for him straightaway. He then broke his SIM card and bought himself a new mobile phone number.
Macho Louai and Macho Zakariya stared at him, mouths open in astonishment. What Macho Sayed had said was true greatness – it deserved bowing before. Macho Zakariya wanted to make sure he’d heard the number correctly.
“Ten times, Macho?”
“Ten times, Macho,” he said with a smile that oozed confidence.
Macho Louai, who had decided to be Macho Sayed’s lifelong disciple, now found himself unable to hide his resentment at his master.
“I’m sorry, my dear Macho Sayed, but that’s cheating.”
“Cheating? What do you mean, cheating?”
“Cheating. Cheating. Cheating means cheating.”
Macho Sayed did not respond.
“Look, Macho Sayed. You told us we have to nail all the girls. You didn’t say we have to sleep with them.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference! The difference. I don’t know what the difference is. I, for example, whipped out my dick and they screamed and ran away.”
“Okay, so you’re saying I’m better than you.”
“No, not exactly. Nailing the way I did is nailing as I understand it.”
Macho Zakariya pursed his lips and entered the conversation. “Nailing is a flexible term.”
“No, it’s not flexible.”
“Yes, it is flexible.”
“Macho Zakariya, what did you do?”
“I killed them.”
“Killed them! You mean killed them?”
“Exactly. I killed them then tossed their bodies into a lake filled with concentrated sulphuric acid.”
“But Egypt doesn’t have a lake filled with concentrated sulphuric acid.”
“Okay, then I’m better than you. I invented a lake filled with concentrated sulphuric acid.”
“But that’s all in your imagination, my dear Macho Zakariya.”
(Angry and stubborn): “No, it’s not my imagination. It’s nailing as I understand it. Note that nailing is a flexible term.”
Macho Sayed was taken aback by the spiteful attack on him. Suddenly he noticed a big buldge in Macho Louai’s trousers. “Excuse me, my dear Macho Louai, but it looks to me like your balls have really grown!”
Macho Louai looked down between his legs. “I don’t know. Okay, I’ll let you in on a secret. The girl I whipped my dick out for – she tried to touch my balls.”
“But that wouldn’t make them grow that big. They look like the balls of a bullock, my dear Macho Louai.”
“Really.” (Nervous laugh.) “I do eat a lot of meat.”
Macho Sayed took the joke seriously. “Well, you need to cut down on your meat intake then. Otherwise your balls will balloon and fill this whole room!”
Macho Louai sank into a deep depression. He was, to be perfectly frank, contemplating his life to come and he couldn’t imagine it without meat. No burgers, no shawerma, no hunks of fatty beef or lamb, no meat pizza from the street. He paled at the thought.
As soon as he declared victory on the Macho Louai front, Macho Sayed turned to face down Macho Zakariya. He told him that his voice was still squeaky and clearly still coming from his fingers. That, he said, was the biggest proof that he hadn’t nailed a single girl that day.
Macho Zakariya: “What a strange thing to say, Macho. What does that have to do with anything?”
Macho Sayed: “The link is quite clear. The performance of the sexual organs has a direct effect on the finger joints and vocal chords.”
Macho Zakariya (nonchalant): “I nailed them my own way. I killed them and threw them in a lake.”
“That’s not nailing.”
“You didn’t make the meaning of the word ‘nailing’ clear.”
“Well then, you don’t understand Arabic.”
“No, you’re speaking another language.”
The fight in the café began with a bottle of pepsi smashed on Macho Sayed’s head and a shisha on Macho Louai’s back. Three shirts were ripped, sixteen buttons scattered. A wooden plank was raised high in the air and came crashing down.
Suddenly everyone in the café was distracted by the breaking news on the television. The police had withdrawn from the streets of Cairo and the army had moved in; a curfew was declared. The fight stopped. The three machos looked at each other, ashamed. Everyone in the country was preoccupied with a great dream and here they were fighting over the meaning of a word!
They calmed down and took their seats once more. In a single breath, they decided that the protesters were no better than them. They – like the protesters – had big dreams too. The three machos decided to begin straightaway on round two of their project to nail every girl in Heliopolis.
First published in Banipal 43 – Celebrating Denys Johnson-Davies