Summaya and Ahmed
This is a short story inspired by Cairo, aiming to be a metaphor for the difficulties of navigating individual lives against an oppressive and rigid government.
Summaya appreciated Ahmed most for his honesty. If there was no food to be eaten that day, he would tell her straightforward. He was strong enough to completely accept their reality, and this was what made life bearable for Summaya. That, and having a companion to roam unfriendly streets among neighbors who hissed at them.
She was considering her good fortune in finding this good man as she watched him sleep. Whenever he slept he seemed awake, grinning at the high sun overhead and rolling around under their tree with a satisfaction too complete for his unconscious state. But it was time to go now, so Summaya prepared herself to wake up her love. She hated this part of day most. Ahmed was a grouch when he woke up, and most times he pushed Summaya out of the way before rising with a free stretch. As he surrendered the last dregs of his dream he groomed his messy hair and looked up at the sky. Nothing wakes you up like looking at the sun.
Slowly they made their way down the neighborhood, holding their breath as the groggy scents of lit cigarettes wafted through the air before them. More and more people were smoking these days, it seemed. Times were not good. A year ago they could rest the fate of their bellies on scraps of food offered by the kinder neighbors. Now they really had to fend for themselves. It was time to meet Joseph at the park; he was organizing a hunting party. Sumayya and Ahmed’s stomachs turned with delight at the thought of the succulent meat promised to them from rabbits and pigeons in the forest on the outskirts of town.
Joseph was waiting for them under a bench in the park. He wasn’t asleep, he rarely slept, but enjoyed resting in the shade. He liked to sit next to people listening to music; the beats and harmonies were a balm to his tedious, tepid life. One eye slid open as Sumayya and Ahmed came near, and within a second Joseph was up to greet them in his polite traditional manner.
“Hello my friends. I have just had the strangest dream.”
They could never remember their dreams, but only the feeling within them; usually one of discomfort or alienation, feelings they had become comfortable with after years on the street.
Back when they were younger and restless their dreams inspired them; perhaps because they did not need them so much. Tales of comfort and surrender intertwined with passions to leave them elated when they woke, feeling like the heroes of their own lives. Now life had become a force steadily pressing down on them, pushing and pushing until they felt like mere animals, prodded along by instinct alone. Even when they succeeded in catching a choicey piece of food to hold up their hunger for a few hours or days, it did not bring real joy. Perhaps because they needed it so much.
This was why Summaya took such bounty, necessary delight in her love for Ahmed. They did not need each other; many others in their situation were perfectly and totally alone, meandering through their narrow slices of fate with meager satisfaction, if not content. But the two of them had chosen to stay with each other, interested as they were in their own desires to feel truly alive. During those few moments of the day when they exchanged a word, or a look, or sometimes an embrace, some small lonely thing inside them felt right and in place.
Joseph was their only friend. Now he walked a few steps in front of them, strutting in a peculiar way that implied he wasn’t quite aware of himself. Groups of people like them made others suspicious; they always had to be careful. Such constant vigilancy wore and tore at them, sanding down their nerves to wires. They were incessantly anxious at their surroundings that could never quite be their own.
Summaya often thought of her afterlife. Would she be sent to wherever it is the dead go alone or with Ahmed? To a strange new world or one just as incessant in its reality as her current one?
A humble shove from Ahmed nudged her back into the weight of the current moment. It was time to split up. The weaker two—Summaya and Joseph—would forage ahead into the brush, tan with the passing of fall. The inevitability of a cold winter indifferent to their needs frightened the girl, as it did every year. Ahmed would remain a few paces behind, and catch the hunt at Summaya and Joseph’s signal.
The day wore on, and there was no animal to be found. Summaya and Joseph would go hungry and possibly starve this winter. Ahmed was attacked by a wild wolf that was wandering about where he shouldn’t be. He died amidst the searing gaze of his two companions, frivolous with horror as they watched him bleed out. Their short lives continued until their bodies could no longer sustain them, and they died without feeling much differently than they had when Ahmed was alive. No one noticed when they were gone, or wept for them. After all, they were only cats.