He woke shortly before noon the next day—Friday—and at once memories of the previous night assailed him, bringing their sorrows with them. He got out of bed with ambitious vigor, bathed in cold water to restore body and soul, and entered the living room where he found his wife. She asked him tenderly, “How are you?”

Smiling in confused embarrassment, he mumbled, “Great … thanks to you.”

He dressed and went out, making his way to Soult Parlour’s garden café, where he met some fellow government officials. He drank a glass of lemonade, spent an hour chatting, left there, and allowed his feet to lead him from street to street, yielding to the pleasure of walking. Remembering the previous night, he frowned, appalled by the pain and despair he had felt and by the black thoughts and weak, submissive notions these had inspired. He was embarrassed by the mental and spiritual languor afflicting him and told himself: Up to now, I’ve triumphed thanks to my free intellect, forceful volition, and my lofty motto: tuzz. So I mustn’t squander any of my hard-won treasure. Right, there were his high-ranking position, ambition and prestige, wine, women, good food and opulence—how could he allow a paralyzed father, morbid thoughts, and insane jealousy to spoil all these pleasures? He quickly recovered his energy and vitality as well as his ironic, heartless mentality. He greeted life once more with his customary audacity and boundless ambition. Everything seemed to be on track, as though life would continue to obey his logic forever. One Saturday, halfway through September, however, events showed him that even if he could control himself, he was incapable of controlling them.

Saturday was Qasim Bey Fahmi’s time, and Mahgub was going to leave the apartment at seven p.m. sharp to afford his boss privacy, but the doorbell rang at six. The young man was not expecting anyone at that hour. He sauntered to the foyer to see who was there. The cook had opened the door, allowing him to see the visitor. He could not believe his eyes and began to stare with crazed confusion. He saw his father … his very own father, in the flesh. The man was standing at the threshold, leaning on a stick, casting a fixed, sullen look at him. Each of them stood nailed in place, their eyes rigid, not moving at all. Mahgub at that dreadful moment was overcome by fear, desperation, and an unprecedented sense of defeat. His father shattered the painful silence by saying in a voice that was weak but still capable of evincing his pain and fiery sarcasm, “Don’t you recognize me anymore? Why don’t you rush to welcome me?”

The young man shook off his daze and approached his father with shaky steps. He proffered his hand, which his father ignored. Mahgub said apprehensively and hesitantly, “Come in, Father. Come in.”

Leaning on his stick, the man entered, proceeding with heavy steps. His back was bent and his physique ruined. He began to examine the furniture and walls with an eye filled with ironic admiration. He said, “God! God! How intensely you must suffer from bitter misery and poverty, son.”

Mahgub’s apprehension increased and he felt devastated, for he could not utter a word. Here his father was terrorizing the apartment shortly before Qasim Bey arrived. These two facts he found to be irreconcilable. All the same, they were necessarily both facts, even if he hated to think of their consequences. How would he remember this fateful day on the morrow? Would he recall it as a dreadful crisis from which he had miraculously escaped or as a black day when all his dreams imploded? In his first rush of emotion, he could not think straight or devise any plan. The bedroom door opened just then, and Ihsan emerged. Perhaps the unfamiliar voice and commotion had prompted her to come out. She was amazed to find an elderly stranger there and cast a disparaging glance at his shabby appearance. Abd al-Da’im Effendi turned his head toward her, and a sad smile appeared on his lips. Turning matter-of-factly toward his son, he asked, “Your wife?” Then turning his head back toward her, he said, “Greetings to my son’s wife. I’m your father-in-law, bride.”

Ihsan stared at her husband’s face and was distressed by his rigidity, anxiety, and despair. She observed in his eyes a hopeless look she had never seen before. All this confirmed for her the truth of the old man’s claim. She knew nothing about the relationship between the two men or what her husband’s position was but rallied to act appropriately. She approached the visitor and extended her hand to him respectfully, inviting him to sit down. Mahgub observed what was happening in front of him with dazed eyes, although he was progressing from negative befuddlement to positive bewilderment. He began to appeal to his willpower and intellect to extricate him from this predicament. As he started to awake from the impact of the surprise, he felt uncomfortable that his wife was present and gestured unobtrusively for her to withdraw. She retired graciously at once. He worked furiously to collect all his force to gain control of the situation and to recover his mind and volition. The peril that threatened him, drawing ever nearer with the minister’s rendezvous, helped him focus. Yes, he would have to hide his father soon from the visitor’s eyes and to deal with him in calm seclusion. The man was his father no matter what, not a devil or fate or destiny. In a gentle, tender voice, he said, “Come with me, father.”

He offered his arm to the man, who did not refuse it, understanding that he wanted to speak to him in private. He rose with his son’s assistance, and Mahgub took him to the parlor to the right of the entrance. Then he closed the door. His mind kept wondering how his father had found his dwelling. Why had he come? Was it entirely a coincidence that he had arrived on the minister’s day and shortly before his appointed time? He smelled a rotten conspiracy, and al-Ikhshidi’s ghostly image, with his triangular face and round eyes, appeared to his mind’s eye. A tremor shot through his body, and his soul was filled with rancor and hatred. Do you suppose he had told him the whole secret? Good Lord, what catastrophe was stalking him? But no, his father didn’t know the fateful secret. Otherwise—being the rural, fiery fellow he was—he would not have been able to stay calm. The vile wretch had produced him at a fitting moment so he could discover the truth himself. That way the shock would be more atrocious. His forehead was dripping with cold sweat.

The man directed a fiery look at him and asked, “Why are you standing in front of me that way. Why don’t you welcome me? Why don’t you congratulate me on my recovery?”

The angry man fell silent to catch his breath. Then he continued in a harsh, ironic tone, “I’ve been so distressed by what I understood to be your poverty, misery, and futile efforts to get a job that I was moved to leave your mother by herself in al-Qanatir to come in person to console you. May God come to your aid, you poor darling.”

Feeling somewhat reassured after closing the door, Mahgub was able to say, “Father, don’t make fun of me. I know I deserve your wrath, but let me explain what may seem confusing. Then you be the judge.”

“Is there any need to explain, son? Just by looking around I can see the penury of your existence.”

Mahgub bit his lip and said, “By God, father, I’ve never forgotten you. By God, no opportunity to assist you has arisen that I have neglected. Despite these deceptive appearances, I’ve gone through some rough times. That’s why I haven’t been able to rest till I was reassured about you and my mother.”

The scowl on the old man’s face grew grimmer, and he snapped resentfully, “Rough times, dutiful son? What have you been waiting for in order to give us a couple of pounds? Are you waiting on a cabinet post? I’m amazed that you’ve been able to enjoy life while knowing that your parents are ravaged by want, hunger, and eviction. I begged you to help with tears in my eye, but now I know I was addressing a dead conscience. You left us to infirmity and poverty so that we’ve had to sell our household furniture, and here you are enjoying a high position, a large salary, and a cushy residence, but all you find in that is ‘rough times’ that won’t allow you to rescue us from having to beg. Isn’t that so, generous son?”

Mahgub’s face was so pale it resembled a dead man’s. He felt like a person strangling who vainly shudders and struggles to take a single breath. His father’s words had not moved his heart but had confused and distressed him, placing him in a quandary. So he said, “Your words hurt me deeply, father. Listen to me. I’ll tell you the truth and atone for my error. I’ll lay to rest your charges that I haven’t been sufficiently dutiful. God knows I was going to tell you about my success and provide you with assistance the first of next month. I was given my position two months ago. Although penniless, I had to present a suitable façade, otherwise I would have lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, I borrowed a large sum of money that I still haven’t paid off. That’s how I won the position while still suffering from embarrassment and want. That’s the truth.”

The man shook his head skeptically and resentfully. “You’re too preoccupied by presenting an appropriate appearance, having an elegant residence, and fancy banquets.”

Mahgub realized that al-Ikhshidi had spared no effort in defaming him. Struggling to contain his rancor and anger, he said, “These appearances, even if they seem luxuries, are prerequisites for my position.”

“Was leaving us to writhe in hunger a prerequisite for this glorious position?”

Exerting a death-defying effort to mask his anger and resentment, the young man said, “Of course not, father. I’ve clearly stated my good intentions. So don’t hinder my effort with your grudges or deny me my chance at success.”

“I assume that won’t be achieved till you slay us.”

“No, it will be achieved in a way that will make all of us happy.”

Abd al-Da’im Effendi was silent for a time, staring at his son with skepticism and suspicion. Then he asked, “If that’s how things are with you, how could you get married? Why didn’t you postpone the marriage till you had some money? And how could you get married without telling us, not to mention asking our opinion?”

Mahgub felt relieved by this question from his father, since it showed that he did not know the fateful secret. In a soft voice, he said, “The marriage was the price of the position, as so often happens these days. I married into a respected family that’s related to the minister, and the marriage was one of the reasons for my financial problems. Perhaps you’ve grasped now the difficult circumstances that have governed my life during the last two months.”

Although the father was not satisfied and although the son’s state of nervous tension and discontent had only intensified, each was planning to say something when the doorbell rang suddenly. The door opened and then closed. They heard heavy footsteps in the foyer, and Mahgub recognized them easily.

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