He left his room that afternoon after donning his suit carefully and trying hard to look elegant and nicely turned out. He headed to the road to al-Munira, to al-Ikhshidi’s residence. Throughout the day he had been brooding, and his reflections had been punctuated by expressions of wonderment. He would tell himself incredulously: I’m getting married today. The paper on which he had jotted down the main points of his article on the charity event of the Society for Blind Women was still on his desk. How could things have progressed so far? The doors to government service had sprung open, and here he was marching off to pay the price. Marriage? He shouldn’t let the word scare him. It was only a word. Frequently what we think of as facts or values are really just words. It was a social custom. In some countries people were polyandrous and in others polygynous. Adultery might be permitted in one country and free love was the law in some societies. There was no absolute law for marriage. So he should deck himself out with his customary courage and daring. He was telling himself such things en route when he remembered his parents and then felt depressed in spite of himself. He was dismayed. His brow dripped with sweat. In his mind’s eye he could see his mother, who believed he would never do anything wrong. He could see his rural father, who was eminently good, pious, and jealous. He was getting married without informing them. He did not know when they would hear about it. Was it possible that they would ever learn the truth? Neither his philosophy nor his nerves could help him confront such a challenge. The memory of his parents was a frightening specter that must be expelled from his imagination. How badly he needed to be clear-headed now, as well as quick-witted and self-possessed. Wasn’t his bride awaiting him? This fact seemed much more like an imaginary fantasy. Who might his bride be? What would she look like? Who was her family? What were her manners and circumstances? His heart told him she was beautiful; otherwise she would not have attracted someone like Qasim Bey. Likewise, she was doubtless poor. His selection as her bridegroom suggested that, and a rich girl would have no trouble finding a husband. Only the poor are handicapped by honor. What would his conjugal life be like? How would she feel about him? What was the true nature of the tie that would bind them together? How would he receive the bey if he came to visit? What a life! What an experiment! Tomorrow his philosophy and strength would be tested. He would proceed toward his goal, allowing nothing to distract him. His mind could find no solution then for all these problems that the future had tucked away for him. If he confronted them head on, he would know how to overcome them and would emerge victorious as he always had in the past. He felt confident, vain, and conceited. His two feet were striking the pavement resolutely by the time he reached al-Ikhshidi’s dwelling. The man opened the door himself. Escorting him to his bedroom, he asked, “Are you ready?”
Mahgub, who smiled to reassure himself, replied, “As you can see, bey.”
He glanced at al-Ikhshidi and detected nothing to justify his previous veneration for him. Deep inside, he felt a desire to challenge and demean the man.
“An Islamic marriage clerk!” Mahgub smiled incredulously.
Al-Ikhshidi, who was smiling too, said, “My friend, you’re entering a different world. Now allow me to introduce you to the bride and her parents.” With a pounding heart, he followed al-Ikhshidi, an inquisitive look of embarrassment and hesitation in his eyes. He kept appealing to his daring and insolence as his eyes flashed ahead to catch sight of his future. Al-Ikhshidi preceded him into the room, saying, “Here’s a new member for your honorable family.”
He entered next. His eyes fell on an unexpected face, for he saw Ihsan Shihata, Ihsan Shihata Turki herself, not anyone else. Their eyes turned away.