On the morning of the second day, the physician came, examined the patient, and gave him an injection of camphor. Then he declared his satisfaction with the condition of his patient, who was definitely out of danger. Mahgub followed the man out of the room and caught up with him in the yard. The doctor turned toward him, realizing why he had trailed after him. “I told your father the truth. The stroke was partial; otherwise it would have been fatal. All the same, I told him just as candidly that he won’t be able to return to work. He’ll remain in bed for a few months. He should regain control of his paralyzed side. Indeed, he may even walk again.”
Mahgub stopped paying attention when he heard, “He won’t be able to return to work.” He grasped none of what was said after that. The world went dark. He returned to his father’s room, stunned. His father had a practical nature and never let a matter hang in suspense if he could say something to resolve it. So he told his son to come to his bedside and said in his slurred speech, “Listen, son. I won’t return to my position at the firm. That’s a fact. What do you think?”
Mahgub felt even more dejected. He remained silent waiting for the verdict, so the man continued, “Perhaps the company will pay me a small settlement. That will inevitably run out after a few months. Indeed, the safest assumption is that nothing will remain of it after three or four months at most. But I still have contacts who can find you work that can support all of us.”
Mahgub replied entreatingly, his eyes filled with pain and despair, “Father, the exam’s coming up soon. This is January, and it’s in May. If I take a job now, it won’t be as a university graduate. That would mean a big loss for my future.”
His father replied sorrowfully, “I know, but what alternative is there? I’m afraid we’ll be humiliated or starve.”
The young man begged fervently in a forceful, zealous voice, “Four months, just four months between me and the fruit of fifteen years of work. Give me a chance, Father. The settlement will last us till I can stand on my own two feet. We won’t go hungry. We won’t be humiliated, God willing.”
“What will become of us if your calculations are wrong? What if your effort is in vain—God forbid. Our lives are in your hands.”
Clinging desperately to hope, Mahgub responded, “You don’t know, Father, how hard I’ll work! Nothing’s going to come between me and success!”
The young man hesitated a moment before commenting, “And then there’s my mother’s relative Ahmad Bey Hamdis!”
His father raised his left hand to object and frowned disapprovingly. The young man feared that he had annoyed his father and that all his persuasion would fail. So he quickly said, “We don’t need anyone’s assistance. Matters will turn out as I hope, God willing.” He realized it had been a mistake to mention the name of their august relative, who had slighted them and scorned his tie to them ever since ascending to his lofty post. Yes, Mahgub’s father publicly boasted to strangers of the relationship but frequently criticized the man in Mahgub’s mother’s presence and normally disdained and condemned him. Mahgub regretfully realized this and added, “We don’t need anyone’s assistance. We just need to be patient and to seek reassurance from God’s mercy. Just four months and then relief!”
One pound. That’s what his room at the hostel cost. Good Lord! Yesterday the world seemed difficult when he had three pounds to spend. How would he manage tomorrow with only one pound? His father was merciless and added, “We have no alternative. The decision’s in your hands.”
Did he really have a choice? Definitely not. His father was in a tight spot. All Mahgub could do was to yield and submit.
“As you wish.”
The old man said, “As God wishes. God, who is responsible for granting you success in whatever is for the best, will deliver us from our helpless condition.”
The man suggested that his son should return to Cairo that evening to avoid losing any more time when he was most in need of it. So the young man said goodbye to his parents, kissed his father’s hand, and allowed his mother to kiss and bless him. As he started to leave the room, he heard his father say, “God be with you. Work hard and trust in God. Don’t forget: you are our only hope.”
He headed for the train station. No matter how things stood, he had been delivered from the anxiety that had consumed him on his arrival. He now knew that his hopes hung from a thread that had yet to be severed. He would figure out how to handle the ordeals the future had in store for him, no matter what the cost. He listlessly bade his hometown goodbye and took his seat in the train. He quickly forgot his house and family, thinking only of himself. As he plucked a hair from his left eyebrow, he asked why he had been born in that household. What had he inherited from his parents besides ignominy, poverty, and homeliness? Why had he been bound by those shackles before he even saw the light of day? Had he been the son of Hamdis Bey, for example, he would have had a different physique, face, and fortune. He surely would have known contentment and peace of mind. He would have acquired a car. He brooded sorrowfully about the poverty that lay in wait for him. He saw its mocking smile, which seemed to tell him, “You couldn’t fend me off when you had three pounds. How can you repel me with only one?” Where would he live? How would he eat? He shook his head in consternation without feeling any lessening or diminution of his worries. He was supremely self-assured and daring to the nth degree, although irascible and splenetic.