The little Suzuki car took the road between Benha and Cairo in magnificent speed. I always thought that this car ran only on small the inner street in Benha but I was surprised at its capability of running on the freeway, too. This was the first time I had been to the airport, old or new. I hadn’t received anybody or seen anybody off. This was the first time of my life that I got near the airport.
We arrived around 11:00 at night. When I got closer to the building entrance there was an ex-ray machine for the bags. We didn’t know whether my friends could enter with me or not, so we stood outside in front of the door exchanging some goodbye words. Words between us were very poor in their meaning, even if full of feeling. Wael was the one among us who knew what to do. He had had friends who had left the country before. He himself had traveled to Jordan one summer to work there before. Maybe this was not the first time he had come to the airport. And he had been thinking about the journey, too. We had talked about the idea before until he had told me that he couldn’t do it for lack of money.
I was worried. Maybe my passport, which had been issued a few months ago registered on a black list or a red list or a brown list for any reason. I hugged my friends and said, they didn’t have to wait I will go in to finish the process. And Wael said, “We will wait outside here for 20 minutes. If you don’t need anything from us we will leave.” I took my bag and I stood in a short line which moved very fast. I put my bag on the conveyer belt to go through the machine to see what was in the bag. It went through very fast, without alarm.
Inside the hall I went to the Spanish airline, Iberia. There was no Egyptian or Arabic airline to Ecuador. I checked my bag and I went to the Departures gate holding my first passport in my life in my hand. The line moved slowly to the window. My hand handed the passport to the officer who opened it and looked to the picture, looked to my face and raised his hand and lowered it onto the passport, stamping it and permitting me to leave. The whole thing took only 5 minutes. Oh my God, five minutes. If I’d known that I was going to stand talking to my friends longer before I left. I had an hour and a half now before the plan would leave. What would I do in this time?
I went upstairs to the upper floor, in the waiting area. The shops were clean and flashy for the foreigners. In this building the European and western airlines arrived and left. Maybe it was everywhere in the airport. I didn’t know. I hadn’t traveled before. I heard Om Kalsoum’s voice singing Abrahim Nagi’s poem, and the music of Riad Al-Sunbahti in the last part of the ruined song, Al-atlahl. With the feeling of a villager who was leaving the home for the first time, I began to feel that everything normal around me that I had never given attention to became important and necessary. My feet took me to the worker inside one of the shops where Om Kalsoum’s voice was coming out. I came closer to him and I said, “I’m leaving Egypt tonight. I don’t know when I will come back. Can Om Kalsoum’s voice be the last thing I say goodbye to Egypt with? He looked at me and smiled. And he said, “As you like.” And Om Kalsoum’s voice began after the music introduction. Oh my heart, don’t ask where love is. It was a tower of imagination which fell. Give me a drink and have a drink. And it’s ruined. And tell about me as the tears told before.
When I was waiting and listening I saw a young man, a bit tall, wide chest, dark skin. He had a lot of gel in his hair, making it shiny as if it were dripping onto his shoulders. He was almost my age, carrying a small bag on his shoulder. He sat nearby me. We exchanged a look and after saying, “hello” he introduced himself. His name was Mohammed. I asked him, “Mohammed, where are you going?” His answer was, “I’m going to Ecuador.”
The words stung my ears. Was it possible that Mohammed was from my town and was my age and I didn’t know him? Impossible! At least I would know his face. The whole thing couldn’t be just by chance.
Are there people who know the route of sneaking into America outside our town? I said, “Where are your from Mohammed?” His answer was, “from Benha Province.” After finding out that Mohammed was from a small town nearby us I was less surprised. We fell into laughter when we knew we were from neighboring towns and maybe it was the feeling that you had a surprise companion on your journey that had come out coincidentally.
Mohammed was from a small village called Kafr, nearby our town and there were marriage relationships between the two towns at the same time, a hierarchical relationship. My town was closer to the city and the level of education was higher; the kafr was named after a big landowner’s family before the July Regime. The people in my town were laughing when the kafr tried to change its name to Kafr of the Free. And there was always conflict every year in the big celebration in the kafr and especially the admiration of the kafr people for the singer Shir Shattuf who sang every year in their celebration. The loved him so much.
Om Kalsoum’s voice rose up. And it said, “Does love see drunk people like us?” Two young men entered from the entrance and to the surprise of Mohammed and me, they came toward us. “I know them.” Adnan, he’s one year younger than me. I didn’t complete his education. He left primary school and worked as a farmer in his family’s land. And he was raising cattle and selling them. He’s medium height, medium weight. He has foxy eyes. The other is Rashid. He was 17 years old, very tall, skinny. He’s from my extended family and was Adnan’s nephew. And they are on their way to Ecuador, too. The funny thing was that after breaking the fast Mohammed had gone to his friend’s house to say goodbye to him and that he was leaving for America Especially, as Adnan had two brothers and cousins in America. But Adnan hadn’t told Mohammed that he was leaving too. And now, here they were, meeting each other in the airport.
Mohammed asked him, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were leaving too?” Adnan laughed and told him, “Oh, I thought you were leaving on the Italian airline. And I had a lot on my mind at this time, so I forgot.” Is it the eternal conflict between the town and the kafr? Or that Mohammed needed to take Adnan’s brother’s phone number in America? Maybe he would need him to help him with money or information in his journey?
Adnan was very confident because his brother and consin would pay and follow his and his nephew’s journey. Mohammed has no brother in America. But he was beginning to be proud that he had a brother in Saudi Arabia who was will to pay everything. I had a relationship with neither Adnan nor Rashid. We weren’t friends one day. But that’s a traveling group, gathered in a waiting hour in a Cairo airport without airport without planning. Om Kalsoum’s voice rose singing the last part of The Ruin “and each one of us went his way, not saying we wanted it, but luck wants it.”
The announcer announced that our flight was delayed 15 minutes. We walked to the gate and onto the plane. It was different that what showed on Arabic movies. Every time in the movies there were stairs going up to the plane or a bus. How dare the Arabic movies not prepare us for changes in life? I always assumed I would do the same thing that happened in the movies at the airport.
The airplane was small. My seat came beside a young Egyptian man. His name was Assad. He was going directly to the United States, not to Ecuador. He worked in the United States and was on a visit to his family in Egypt. I felt very jealous of him. I wished my trip were direct like his. I felt that I was going to a world I wasn’t prepared for.
The airplane began to move. I did everything Assad did. A few minutes and the airplane began to run down the new Cairo airport runway. As it began to take off I felt shaking and as if my soul were being taken away. The plane going away from the surface of the earth and the light of the runway going far away and Cairo’s light shiny, the Spanish airplane was taking us far away from our fiends, family and home to dark way. So I heard Om Kalsoum’s voice, “Don’t say we want it. Luck wants it.”
Illegal Immigrant (2) BY GAMAL OMAR2 05 2010