They were tired when they returned to the yacht and their voices were hoarse. The yacht set sail shortly before midnight. When Ihsan asked for her husband, Ahmad Asim said he was sleeping in a cabin. He offered to take her there, but Iffat volunteered instead. So, the two descended into the yacht’s belly, where he preceded her down a side corridor to a cabin, opened the door, and stepped aside to make way for her. She entered, and he followed right behind her and closed the door. She found the cabin empty except for Ali Iffat’s portrait on a table. She turned and saw the portrait’s subject leering at her from the door with eyes that sang of passion and conquest. She realized that he had tricked her into his own cabin. Filled with fear, she asked, pretending she did not understand his designs, “Where’s Mahgub?”
Smirking, with eyes red from drink, he suggested, “We’ll go to him after a short rest.”
In a grave voice she asked, “Why have you brought me here?”
His self-confidence was limitless. So he responded by kneeling before her, putting his arms around her legs, and embracing her. Looking up at her, he said, “Don’t ask, Ihsan. You know everything. In my condition, words would be a pointless repetition. Hasn’t my heart been speaking since we first met? Hasn’t it cried out so loudly tonight that I was afraid its pleas would reach the ears of our companions?”
Her face glowered with anger and she frowned. Witnessing her earnestness and aversion, he blushed with shame, allowed his arms to slacken, rose glumly without saying a word, and opened the door to allow her to leave the cabin. Then he showed her to her husband and withdrew. She found Mahgub sleeping or dozing. He was exhausted and his face was extremely pale.
The yacht docked at Qasr al-Nil around two a.m. The couple returned to the Schleicher Building in Ahmad Asim’s car. Mahgub’s head had cleared a little, but he was still tired and weak. The harm done to his spirit and psyche, however, was even more calamitous and bitter. His hangover had affected his spirit, leaving him depressed. Once his intoxication subsided, his soul was troubled, and he perceived the world with an invalid’s senses. Ihsan disappeared briefly and returned with a cup of coffee for him. She sat facing him on the chaise longue and said, “You drank too much.”
He acquiesced by bowing his head, although he recalled the other reasons that had troubled his peace of mind. He said irritably, “I never wanted to go on this excursion.”
In defense of the trip, she replied, “What was the matter with it? It was an excellent, scenic excursion.”
He snapped, “Mr. Iffat Bey’s certainly a cad!”
Ihsan smiled and, after some hesitation, stammered, “It’s over. I put a stop to it.”
He leveled bulging, feeble red eyes at her inquisitively. So she summarized what had happened. He insisted, however, on her telling him everything, no matter how trivial. Then she narrated the incident in minute detail. Finally he exploded, “Cad … scoundrel! But you handled it magnificently. What a vile bunch they all are.”
His eyes flared, although he was wondering what right he had to criticize anyone in the world when he thought and acted the way he did. As if to answer himself, he remarked, “We can make fools of other people if we want but should never allow anyone to make a fool of us.”
As she considered this remark, an enigmatic smile flitted across her lips. He began to think about his parents. His plan to lend them a helping hand in the interests of shaking any vexing shadow from his life was a sound one. He marveled at how a minor change in his body could deprive the world of its sparkle in the wink of an eye, transforming its pleasure and purity to such revolting pain and turbidity. Ihsan suggested that he should get some sleep, but he preferred to relax a little in the chair while she slipped into bed. He began to wonder again what he would do if this change persisted and he continued to see the world through a peevish convalescent’s eyes. He trembled. He could find only one answer: suicide. That was how a devoted egoist would terminate his life. Even so, there were people in the world who preferred fatigue and torments over security—like his former friend Ali Taha. He had to admit they found some pleasure that was peculiar to them in their struggles, but what sort of pleasure was it? Was there really a pleasure associated with altruism and could it compare to egoism’s? He admired that pleasure while also despising it. He could see Ali Taha’s handsome face and recalled his zealous enthusiasm. He remembered his days in the hostel and Ma’mun Radwan. Then his head turned as if of its own volition toward the bed, and his eyes gazed at Ihsan, who was sound asleep. His memories were framed by astonishment and dreams.