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Nagwa Shaaban
A Piece inspired by Nagwa Shaaban's novel "the Karm Gale"



The news first leaked from a synagogue in Damietta. Careful study of the numerology of the Old Testament had unveiled a cataclysm that would strike before the week was over, probably on Saturday. Damietta's priests and sheikhs concurred, and the prophecy was sealed.

As word of the impending doom spread, Layl Basal remained steadfast and went on with her daily chores. Her sister, Sanania, was on the other hand, overcome by fear and passion and was captivated by the quickly approaching fateful day. Her anxiety was fueled by a recurrent dream of strange people with changing features pulling her to a dance floor. An old woman interpreted the dream saying, "my little girl, you will face great danger, but will be rescued from your plight." 

Covering their shoulders in long scarves, Sanania and her friends joined the crowd heading for the northern ruins. Tonight, they intended to have fun, to allow their laughter to flow and their bodies to sway to the music. As they made their way to the ruins, they could see rats and cats running around in panic amidst a cacophony of barking, mewing, grunting and neighing. Snakes sprang from the bottom of the earth and crawled their way into nearby fields and orchards. After all, weren't these the expected signs?

Sensual Scorpio merged with loving Venus, fuelling people's passions and earthly desires. In the full moon of that Saturday night, with a soft melancholic melody playing, the dancer known as "Kitty" showed up, naked except for a long transparent scarf. With her right arm twisted into the shape of an Egyptian cobra, the belly dancer's slim body swayed to a spontaneous tide, her scarf gliding over its every rise and ebb. 

The crowds stretched their arms begging to touch her body, or at least, to touch the air in her vicinity. Kitty summoned all the girls to join her. In the moonlight, they were all transformed into houri nymphs. The men tied up their turbans and sprung into the wild dance of Dervishes.

The Gypsies took advantage of this golden opportunity to sell opium, hashish, local liquor and Salonika wine. One Gypsy woman asked, "what use will the money we collect now be to us. Isn't Doomsday at hand?"

"For the first and last time," her fellows responded, "we will enjoy money for its own comfort and warmth, not for the commodities it may purchase."

In a humanly cynical moment, a number of deformed figures emerged out of nowhere. Each showed off his physical impairment; a hump, a paunch, a wide toothless mouth or a shiny bald head. Together, they produced and an assortment of diabolical sounds coming from every crevice in their bodies. They gained acceptance, admiration and the appreciation of the crowd, so they accepted themselves in the knowledge that they were bestowed individual and unique bodies. In the revelation that they were a special constituent of the body of the universe together with the earth, rivers, trees and other people.

Among the ruins, people abandoned their reserve and social decency, not knowing if they were liberating themselves of their inhibitions for a few hours, only to later restore their composure and regain their ordinary lives, or if this was indeed, the last scene.

Then, the crowd fell silent as Kitty reappeared in a short gown covering huge buttocks despite her slim body. She walked across the stage in a trained poise. People started laughing after each of her elegant steps, infected by the vibrations and waves of joy that reverberated through her body.

A woman with a frown on her masculine features went up to Kitty and presented her with a beaver fur, the Sultan's robe of honor, thus mocking the Sultan himself and decrying his injustice. In the prevailing jovial spirit a man mockingly asked the woman: 

"Brother! Where did you get that fur?"

Without responding, the woman removed her present from the dancer's shoulders and replaced the beaver fur with a heavy crown of lighted candles, which she carefully balanced on Kitty's head. 

Kitty performed a new dance with astonishing poise. As molten wax dropped from the candles onto her huge buttocks, she jumped in acrobatic moves. The audience drunkenly applauded her when she plunged her arm behind her dancing dress and pulled away her artificial buttocks.

On the other side of the ruins, witches held rituals in front of a number of sheep before butchering them, for the last and most delicious roast in the world.

Everyone engaged to enjoy themselves to the full, wishing that the sky would rain pretty women.

At Basil's home Ghaith Eldin was reading from the Quran, and his twin brother Layth Eldin was proclaiming to God his repentance, solemnly vowing to abandon piracy in the Roman Sea. It would have been safe, however, to predict that this would not happen.

As Kitty's performance of a variety of dances came to an end, a moment of stillness passed before the eruption of church bells. The crowds around the ruins were taken by surprise. Everyone was aware that the Sultan had forbidden the ringing of bells. Maybe they rang them today because there is no sultan on Doomsday!!

Then, the earth shook and the houses twisted. Was this the earthquake of Doomsday? 
Those who got tired of waiting for the day to end, and chose to stay at home, will never know what happened in the ruins because they slept forever. Only the houses in the poor narrow lanes were spared and remained intact as they clung to each other.

As the aftershocks followed, the earth around the ruins subsided and water gushed up from the bowels of the earth. From now on, children would call this spot the 'Arabian Jasmine Island'.

A paradoxical feeling of ecstasy, fear and comfort spread among the people at the ruins. They were safe.

The ceramist, a wanderer just arrived from the south, at this moment, gave up his loneliness and cold heart. Intuitively, he gazed into the darkness, searching for the source of a voice, not a soft one, but a deep voice betraying sensuality and the pure desire of Eros. The voice rang out again, but it was frightened this time. Briskly, he came to face her. His body a dam, prevented her from slipping away like a fish.

Sanania, paralyzed, surrendered to him.

Meanwhile, the Sufi women said their prayers and discussed the secrets of God's love as depicted in the biographies of the great Sufi women.

Having finished her prayers, Layl sat down in the back yard of her family house and tended to the okra cooking in the earthen pot. She thought to herself that even as the hour of Doomsday approached, the body had pressing needs to satisfy; eating, drinking and urinating. This simple woman dismissed with a casual wave of her little hand the specter of distress; thinking that succumbing to fear can never be an amulet against catastrophe.

Overnight, underneath the feverish lovers' bodies, hundreds of Arabian Jasmines were blooming, their dizzying scent spreading out for miles.

The sun finally arose on the first day after Doomsday. The people at the ruins woke up satisfied, but after a while they felt ashamed of what they had engaged in, the very orgy they had longed for.

The Nile waters surrounding the area were shallow, allowing the group to wade across with caution. Only Sanania crawled on all four, pulling behind her the genius artist with whom she had made love all night. 

It had been a sterile night which bred silence, alienation, sleeplessness and the scent of Arabian jasmine which wafted around Damietta for a whole lunar month.

Before the next full moon, Sanania and the ceramist were married. The water around Arabian Jasmine Island became deeper and deeper. Adults ignored the spot and children forgot it. With the years' passing and a flood following another, the Nile finally submerged the Arabian Jasmine Island and it has since, disappeared forever. 

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