He felt calmer when he awoke the next day. The fantasies that his visit to the Hamdis family had aroused had died away. Thus he returned to his senses and decided that he should seek out Hamdis Bey at the ministry and present his request, even though this meant sacrificing his friendship with Tahiya and Fadil. He felt obliged to skip class and ate no breakfast so he would have enough money to ride the tram both ways. He set off at once, reaching the Ministry of Works at exactly ten a.m. He learned the way to his relative’s secretary, whom he found to be a man in his forties. He greeted him politely and told him, “I wish to see His Excellency the Bey.”

“Who are you?”

“One of the bey’s relatives—Mahgub Abd al-Da’im.”

The man asked him to wait a moment and disappeared. Mahgub brooded about what he might say to the bey and how he should phrase his statement in the most moving fashion. The man returned shortly, sat down at his desk, and said, “The bey is chairing the Advisory Council; so it would be best for you to return another day.”

This answer caught him off guard and upset him. He felt he had received a direct blow to the head. He implored the man, “But I want him for a very important matter.”

“No doubt about that, but, God willing, some other day.”

“I can wait an hour or two.”

Then the man said in a tone that made it clear he wanted to extricate himself and move to something else, “Come in the evening if you want.”

He left there enraged and infuriated. Should he let the tram gobble up his remaining money? No—to hell with the bey and his advisory council! He realized immediately that to save the cost of transportation he ought to wait down-town till afternoon if he wanted to see the bey. Since he could no longer resist the hunger that was wringing his stomach, he went to al-Azhar Square to search for a beanery. He took the food, on which he had subsisted for three weeks, and hurried to Qasr al-Nil Street to cool his heels in its gardens while he waited. The weather was cold and the sky overcast. He walked along with his head bowed, repeating resentfully and angrily, “The criminal humiliated me. The criminal humiliated me!” Nevertheless, he would need to chase after the man again. He was an enemy who must be befriended. The bey was simply another pain the world was using to test him. He passed his fingers over his fiery forehead and declared, “I won’t cry … I’ll keep a stiff upper lip. No matter how hungry I get, I won’t scream like the cowards who call out, ‘O Lord!’ ” His feet finally carried him to the garden where he began to split his time between sitting and walking in annoyed disgust. His limbs were cold and his stomach felt tired. In frightened alarm, he asked himself, “Isn’t it possible that these black days will leave permanent scars?” His pale face frowned while sorrowful anxiety showed in his eyes. After waiting for half an hour, while he was walking on the road beside the Nile, not knowing where he would find the patience to wait for the appointment, he saw near the back gate of the Andalusian Garden two smiling girls, who were heading his way while chatting. Glancing casually at them he recognized that one of them was none other than Tahiya Hamdis. She did not notice him since her attention was focused on her companion. Coming upon her unexpectedly, however, had an overwhelming impact on Mahgub. His former train of thought was interrupted. He forgot her father and the advisory council. He turned a blind eye to his pains and hunger, because his attention was focused on one thing: meeting her. He could care less about his appearance and the presence of the girl he did not know. He kept his eyes on Tahiya, whose gray overcoat was draped around her with aristocratic elegance. Perhaps she sensed his gaze, because she glanced toward him when a few meters away. He stood right in front of her, bowing to greet her. Her face showed her astonishment and then she blushed. She glanced quickly at him and then offered him her hand. She introduced her friend, and then the three stood there somewhat awkwardly. He had been so keen to carry out his plan that he could think of nothing to say now and fell back on conventions of conversation, asking, “How is your family?”

She replied with natural grace, “They’re fine, thanks.”

Then his mind rescued him from his quandary, reminding him of the excavations. Delighted to have hit upon a conversation topic, he said, “This happy occasion gives me a chance to remind you that a free person keeps his promises.”

Frowning in bewilderment, she said, “I don’t understand.”

In a censorious tone, he replied, “The excavations, the university’s excavations.”

“Oh … of course I haven’t forgotten.”



“Yes, let’s be practical. What do you think about next Friday afternoon?”

She hesitated momentarily and then—since she liked the suggestion—said, “Fine.”

“How about Fadil Bey?”

“I’ll tell him.”

“Let’s set a time.”

“We don’t want to inconvenience you. So you name the time.”

“Four p.m., in front of the bus station in Giza Square.”

They said goodbye and parted. He continued on his way. This was a dazzling victory that surpassed all his expectations. The dream had turned into a date. Yes, he had noticed that her companion had scrutinized his appearance, but looks did not matter. Wasn’t the most contemptible man one caught between two women? What if that man was Mahgub Abd al-Da’im! Probably their relationship would become stronger. This was no small affair, because Tahiya represented luck’s compassionate arms that could raise lucky fellows on high. Moreover, she herself was precious and to be cherished. Who could say? All the same he realized that it was no longer possible for him to beg from Hamdis Bey. It simply did not make sense to beg from the father one day and have an affectionate and respectful meeting with his daughter the next. If he did that, the man would refuse to allow his daughter to accompany such a despicable young man, and out of self-respect she herself would refuse to go. The choice was between begging and meeting. But there was no longer any room for choice, or put another way he had already chosen without realizing it. That door had closed in his face. He found himself, after all the effort expended, wondering anxiously what he should do. “How can I get the cash?” He hurried along, perplexed and worried, his mind spinning ceaselessly. Then he remembered Mr. Salim al-Ikhshidi. His bulging eyes suddenly lit up. Yes, this former neighbor, who wasn’t Ma’mun Radwan or Ali Taha—he wouldn’t feel too embarrassed to ask him for assistance. Why shouldn’t he look him up? What an idea! And the day was barely half over. The distance between him and the ministry would take half an hour at the most on foot. He should go there without any delay. So off he set.

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