Short story: Disappearance

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My room is at a far corner of the flat. I chose it so I can have some peace and read my books – as much peace as I can get in this damned city. There is a constant flow of sounds coming through the window; here is a fruit seller, here is a train, here is a car driver honking at the kids playing in the street, and here is someone calling at his friend who lives on the 10th floor for your peace.

She comes and sits on the bed’s edge. I was reading my book and expected her to interrupt any second. Here is how it happens: she comes in, sits quietly at the beginning, and then starts talking about anything and everything. Fuming with annoyance, I shout the usual, “I told you so many times I am not interested in conversation right now, and that is precisely why I left the living room. And did you not notice the closed door?” She bursts with laughter then stops and promises to be silent. We remain silent for about ten seconds, before she starts talking again. We perform this scenario almost unchanged every single time. She never fails to be amused, and I never fail to get exasperated.

But this time was different. She remained silent.

“I’m surprised. Did you eat something that didn’t agree with your stomach? I should ask Mum to cook it every day if it makes you shut up. Or was the guy you like in the Turkish series run over by a car and you won’t see him again?”

After a short silence she said: “Is there a god?”

“WHAT? This is deep. I’m not used to this from you.”

Her ensuing silence meant she was not in the mood for joking. So I had to believe she was serious this time, but was also ready for a trick at any moment.

“Well, I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I’m asking you. You’re my older sister. You should know better. And all these books you’re reading; don’t they tell you whether there is a god or not?”

That certainly was unexpected. I had to save the reputation of my precious books and come up with something. More seriously, I did not want to get into an awkward conversation about my own problematic relationship with believing. So, I produced a platitude.

“Well, I guess there must be ‘something’ out there responsible for the creation of the universe, but I choose to believe in doing ‘good’ regardless really. If you do good it pays back. Who pays you back, I don’t know!”

“Maybe. So why did our little brother die? I really wanted to know him. Why is dad such an idiot sometimes? Why can’t I be a movie star? Why can’t I go out with our neighbour whom I think I love? I’ve always done good, didn’t I? Or at least I didn’t do bad.”

Trying not to answer the serious questions I asked why she wanted to be a movie star. She answered; “So that I can wear what I want. You see how they dress on telly.”

* * *

A few weeks earlier mum phoned me up to say that my sister had thrown herself out of the window. I jumped out of the bus while on the phone to take a taxi home, and almost got myself killed. “It was from the first floor window”, my mum went on. “So, she’s unharmed. But your dad is furious because it caused such a big scene in the street.”

I was not sure how I was supposed to react to this, particularly because my mum went on tell me that it was very funny. She found it hilarious that my sister stood almost right after her fall and walked back up, not paying any attention to the gaping faces of people who gathered around her, most prominently between them my dad’s red face.

* * *

“Open the door, I tell you!”

“I am not opening the damn door. What do you want?”

“I brought the Sheikhs. They are going to beat the devils out of that girl.”

“Take your Sheikhs away. They’d do better trying to beat the devils out of you.”

“Now they are here I will have to pay them anyway. So, let them do their job.”

The Sheikhs left disappointed. What is more satisfying than giving a girl a good beating, getting paid for it, then probably being offered a hearty meal to regain their strength, poor souls? Next day dad came up with a different idea. One of his good for nothing cafe friends must have advised him. The Sheikhs can rid the girl of her devils remotely! He just needs to take a piece of clothes which my sister wore recently. Mum, fed up with the dad’s antics, gave him a pair of knickers claiming she did not dare take anything else without my sister noticing its disappearance. The Sheikh will have to be satisfied with the knickers. And indeed he was.

After examining the knickers, the Sheikh came out of his enclosure with a verdict. An evil aunt decided to turn the family’s life to hell by consorting with the devil to torment the daughter. Now all necessary precautions have to be taken. The daughter needs to mind her steps and watch what she is stepping over at all times. Magic spells may be in every corner. We never saw those knickers again, but apparently my sister will ‘get better’.

Photograph courtesy of Larissa, via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Faten Hussein

Faten Hussein is a current MA student at the department of Comparative Literature, King’s College London. Between 2004 and 2006 she worked as a news editor for Cairo Community Interpreters Programme at the American University in Cairo. Some of her articles were re-published in the Pan-African Pambazuka news and in Newsli magazine for sign language interpreters.

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