Patience, everything in due time. Life had begun to smile.
That same day, Mahgub Abd al-Da’im—as previously agreed—went to al-Ikhshidi, who accompanied him to the apartment to hand it over to him. Mahgub carried with him the valise containing his clothes and a few books. Al-Ikhshidi gave him the key to the apartment, saying, “The apartment and all its contents belong to the two of you, except for a small wardrobe in the bedroom.”
Realizing that this wardrobe was reserved for Qasim Bey Fahmi, Mahgub blushed and felt a strong desire to kick him as hard as possible.
Al-Ikhshidi observed, “It would be good if you would change the lease to your name.”
“Is it currently in Qasim Bey’s name?”
Al-Ikhshidi responded coldly, “It’s in my name.”
Mahgub felt relieved and asked, “How much is the rent?”
Smiling, Mahgub commented, “That’s about as much as my salary.”
“The bey will pay it. Likewise, he’ll pay the cook for you, and other expenses.”
They inspected the apartment together. Although it was small, it was beautifully built and elegantly furnished. Mahgub was astonished. He realized that he was seeing many pieces of furniture for the first time. He did not even know what they were called. The apartment consisted of three rooms and a sitting room. To the right of the entrance was a parlor that opened onto a hall leading into a sitting room with a radio. There were two doors on its right-hand wall, one to a bedroom and the other to a dining room. Both of these rooms opened onto a long balcony that overlooked Nagi Street. As he stood there, he quickly recalled his home in al-Qanatir, the student hostel, and his room on the roof of the apartment building on Jarkas Street. Standing there he realized that current realities surpassed in their magic and beauty his prior dreams. Actually the content of dreams is ordinarily drawn from the dreamer’s previous sensations and perceptions. He was seeing here luxury articles he had never encountered before. The difference between this house and that in al-Qanatir was as great as between Ihsan and the cigarette butt collector. Both were women, true, but how different. He forgot at that moment what he had always told himself about all women being alike so that Tahiya, Ihsan, and the butt collector were equivalent.
On saying goodbye, al-Ikhshidi told him, “Tomorrow evening you’ll find your bride waiting for you.”
He departed, followed by the youth’s sidelong look.
The next day, late in the afternoon, Mahgub set off for Giza and immediately remembered Ali Taha. Where might he be staying? He knew he was in Giza but did not know where. Had the young man remained true to his promise and retained his interest in the girl? Would his passion tempt him back to her neighborhood and had news of her marriage reached him? Would they run into him while Mahgub was holding her on his arm? He felt anxious, although nothing really fazed him. In fact, he would have liked for Ali to encounter him at that moment and learn everything. He went to Uncle Shihata Turki’s home and found the entire family—except for Ihsan—waiting for him. Then he knew for certain that al-Ikhshidi’s instructions had preceded him to his noble family. Everyone—Uncle Shihata, his wife, and the six young sons—was sporting new clothes thanks to Qasim Bey’s generosity and solicitude. They greeted each other warmly. Uncle Shihata kissed him on the forehead, and he kissed his mother-in-law’s hand. He teased the boys and kissed the youngest on both cheeks. As he sat there he glanced at all the faces looking at him and immediately admitted that his bride’s house was overflowing with good looks. Her father had handsome features, her mother was beautiful, and her brothers were a matched set of pearls. He told himself that beauty truly is an effective weapon in a poor person’s hands. Their conversation flowed nonstop, and the young man shared in it as was appropriate, although he would have liked to leave as soon as possible. Uncle Shihata talked about the hostel and the well-mannered and industrious student Mahgub Abd al-Da’im, who had not been a customer, because he did not smoke and how he—Uncle Shihata—respected students who did not smoke even though (and he laughed at this) he gained nothing from their rectitude. He explained that he was not hosting a party for his daughter’s wedding because a good bride is the real festivity and that he had not invited any relatives or family members, who were country folk, in order to spare them the difficulties of the journey. Mahgub assumed that the man was probably lying the way vainglorious people do but, remembering his own parents resentfully, said he had dispatched news of his marriage to his parents and that had his father—a prominent agriculturalist in al-Qanatir—not been ill, he would have come to give his blessing in person. Umm Ihsan spoke about her children, especially Ihsan. Mahgub recognized from his mother-in-law’s conversation and tone and from the gestures of her neck, eyebrows, and eyes, that she was a merry, feminine, cunning tease. (He knew nothing of her past on Muhammad Ali Street.) She asked about his position and offered to read his palm. She predicted worthy children and an excellent post in the government.
While Mahgub talked and listened, he kept glancing stealthily at the bedroom door, which was ajar. His eyes asked: How much longer do I have to wait? Finally Ihsan appeared—wearing a diaphanous white wedding gown. Her hair had been braided and then shaped into a turban that highlighted the braids’ gleaming blackness, making her complexion look even more luminous. She was accompanied by four women who were said to be her mother’s relatives, but he paid no attention to anyone else. Her beauty demanded his attention. He shed his customary scorn as electric sparks shot through his breast and he clenched his teeth. Their eyes met as they greeted each other, and he was filled by the magic that passed via that look. He felt inebriated. Memories of his former suffering and of the tragedies caused by his lust flowed through his mind. Despite all his scorn and daring, he could not believe she had become his—even if through shared tenancy, as you might say. This made him think of his co-tenant, who had been the first. So he felt bad and looked back at her supple body, which the white wedding dress revealed, and felt even worse. Uncle Shihata had prepared for the guests a magnificent dinner, which had cost him dearly. So he invited them to the table. They all rose, preceded by the children’s commotion. Umm Ihsan, despite her happiness, was secretly put out, because she would have wished wholeheartedly to celebrate Ihsan’s happy day by making it a day of delight for the entire neighborhood. Al-Ikhshidi, however, had told her bluntly that Mahgub did not have the funds to realize her dream, and she knew her husband had even fewer resources. So she had had to swallow this desire resentfully. Once they had eaten their fill and returned, stuffed, to their seats, there was no longer anything to detain the newlyweds. So they rose to say goodbye to all present. A taxi was summoned and the bride’s clothing was carried to it in a large valise.
Mahgub took Ihsan’s hand, escorted her through a half-circle of well-wishers and slowly descended the steps. Umm Ihsan must have run out of patience, because she released a trill that resounded throughout the area and that caused the young man’s heart to pound and his eyelids to quiver. The other women received this first ululation like a command for an army to attack and released their own trills that echoed each other, intensifying their staggered explosion, shaking the breasts of all the ladies. The taxi swallowed the bride and groom, who in the musical trills forgot themselves and smiled happily and shyly. They kept looking back at the women standing by the door till the vehicle turned past the hostel onto Rashad Pasha Street.