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  A Conversation from the Third Floor

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by Mohamed El-Bisatie


She came to the place for the second time. The policeman stared down at her from his horse.

The time was afternoon. The yellow-coloured wall was stretched right along the road. Inside the wall was a large rectangular three- storey building; its small identical windows looked more like dark apertures. The woman stood a few paces away from the horse. The policeman looked behind him at the windows, then at the woman. He placed both hands on the pommel of the saddle and closed his-eyes. After a while the horse moved. It was standing halfway down the street. Then, a moment later, it made a half-turn and once again stood itself at the top of the street.

The woman came two steps forward. The horse bent one of its forelegs, then gently lowered it.

“Sergeant, please, just let me say two words to him.”

His eyes remained closed, his hands motionless on the pommel. Above the wall stretched a fencing of barbed wire at the end of which was a wooden tower. Inside there stood an armed soldier.

The woman took another step forward.

“ You see, he’s been transferred ...”

The sun had passed beyond the central point in the sky. Despite this the weather was still hot. A narrow patch of shade lay at the bottom of the wall.

The woman transferred the child to her shoulder.

When she again looked at the policeman’s face, she noticed two thin lines of sweat on his forehead.

Quietly she moved away from in front of the horse and walked beside the wall. About halfway along it she sat down on a heap of stones opposite the building.

The prisoners’ washing, hung by the arms and legs, could be seen.

She took the child between her hands and lifted him above her head.

She noticed his arms suddenly being withdrawn inside and his hands gripping the iron bars of the window. Then his face disappeared from view. For a while she searched for him among the faces that looked down. She lowered her arms a little and heard shouts of laughter from the window. She spotted his arm once again stretching outwards, then his face appeared clearly in the middle.

“Up, Aziza. Up. Face him towards the sun so I can see him.” She lowered her arms for a moment, then raised him up again, turning his face towards the sun. The child closed his eyes and burst out crying.

“He’s crying.”

He turned round, laughing.

“The boy’s crying! The little so-and-so! Aziza, woman, keep him crying!”

He cupped his hand round his mouth and shouted, “Let him cry!”

Again he laughed. A few shouts went up around him. She heard their words and shouting. Then she saw his large nose poking out through the bars,

“Woman! Don’t be silly, that’s enough! Cover tile boy- he’ll get sunstroke!”

She hugged the child to her chest and saw the soldier withdrawing inside the tower,

“Did you prune the two date palms?”

She shook her head.

“Why not? Why don’t you talk? I’m being transferred. Pass by Abu Ismail and tell him I send him my best wishes. He’ll do it as a favour and prune the trees, then you can bring along a few dates. Did you bring the cigarettes?”

She made a sign with her hand.

“Talk. What are you saying?”

“You’ve got ‘em,”

“Louder, woman.”

“You’ve got ‘em, I sent them to you.”


“Just Now.”

Her face was against the sun. She shifted her head-veil slightly from her head.

“They took a couple of packets. Never mind, Aziza. Never mind.”

He laughed. His voice had become calm. The other faces disappeared from above him, only a single face remaining alongside his.

“Did you build the wall?”

“Not yet.”

“Why not?”

“When Uncle Ahmed lights the furnace, I’ll get some bricks from him.”

“All right. Be careful on the tram. Look after the boy.”

She remained standing.

“Anything you want?”


She gazed at his face, his large nose, his bare arms. She smiled. The face next to him smiled back.

Suddenly be shouted. “Did you get the letter? I’m being transferred.”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know.”


“You see, they’re pulling down the prison.”

“Where will you go?”

“God knows-anywhere. No one knows.”


“In two or three days. Don’t come here again. I’ll let you know when I’m transferred. Has the boy gone to sleep?”

“No, he’s awake.”

He stared back for a while in silence.

“Aziza !”

Again there was silence. The face alongside his smiled, then slowly slid back inside and disappeared. Her husband remained silent, his arms around the bars.

Suddenly he glanced behind him and quickly drew in his arms. He signalled to her to move away, then disappeared from the window.

She stepped back, though she remained standing looking up at the window.   

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