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Bianca

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Bianca

Bianca

A novel

Mohammed A. Aziz

Cover design: Mohammed A. Aziz

Special thanks to:canvas.com

This book is dedicated to those who are still in search for themselves, in search for their souls, their fates, their purpose in this huge cruel world ……

Original Arabic version dedication:

To whoever gets touched even if by a single word from the following,

Yes, this novel is for you only….

1

“Sarah”

Tick tock, Tick tock, Tick tock..

She stopped ticking on the table after her fingers started to hurt.. Out of all the things she hated in her life, she hated waiting the most.. Waiting for her mum to come take her back from school.. Waiting for her dad to come take her to the ballet practice.. Waiting for exam results to appear, and finally, waiting for “Magdy” to come and take her away..

The first 30 minutes passed without her even noticing.. She was so excited because she was sure he’d show up.. And more important, because someone out there cared enough for her.. But in the next 60 minutes she started to feel worried when he didn’t show up.. And even worse, didn’t return her calls..

While the hour hands were announcing she was spending her second hour in café “Bianca” without him appearing, she started to feel anxious.. Calling him for the fourth time didn’t bring any good news. Just that cold ringing on the other side without anyone answering the call.. she feared to call him again because she didn’t want to appear too childish or having nothing better to do than calling him again within 2 minutes, so she grabbed out her small mirror, looked at herself for a couple of seconds, then started to put some powder and lipstick trying to cover her miserable looks ..

She looked in discomfort at the tea cup that she hadn’t touched yet, then looked at her suitcase feeling uneasy.. This day was supposed to be a good memory in the future.. If everything went well, “Magdy” was supposed to come, Take her, and then travel together to another country where they will get married and start their new life together..

One of their main reasons to run away was her stepfather who thought that he owned her and wouldn’t allow their marriage.. Well, the old bastard will have to rethink about his authorities over her life..

Her stepfather..? That would be another story added to her (why I want to run away) list.. She remembered his filthy stares at her, and his dirty touches when her mum wasn’t around.. She recalled the bad memories and felt the pain all over again and.. Stop it..!!

She shook her head strongly, thinking that this page had ended, and a new page in her life is about to start.. Hopefully a better one.. Sure she felt a little bit scared and a little bit worried, but that was normal.. Any normal human being is supposed to feel that way when about to leave his/her whole life behind and start a new one, right..?

She remembered her dear mum, who probably wouldn’t miss her that much.. She would probably be delighted that she got rid of “Sarah” without any effort done from her.. At least “Sarah” thought that her mum won’t miss her in the times she was sober..

She grabbed the café’s menu when she saw the waiter coming near her table, because she felt guilty for sitting there for almost two hours and ordering just two drinks, and not even finishing one of them..

Her eyes ran over the names in the menu wondering what to order next, and before her eyes, lined the names in a neat writing: Frappuccino, ice mocha, or just plain Nescafe..? She felt that the first two drinks were too fancy for her right now..

- Cherry coke please…

Didn’t know why she ordered that.. She felt that maybe a cold drink would make her feel better..

- .. With a cup of ice please…

She found herself continuing fast, Cause she didn’t stand to drink from the can directly.. The waiter walked away smiling after writing down her order, leaving her alone facing a monster feeding on her soul, that was her mind..

Her boss at work “Mahmoud”..?

Mmm.. Her disappearance would probably be the best thing he had heard of for a while, as he wasn’t on her fan list unfortunately, because he didn’t like that she kept pushing him away unlike the other girls at work.. She smiled over the thought of the change happening to all these lives on just one simple change happening: “Sarah” disappearing forever. But where was her knight that will take her on his white horse..? That was the question to ask..

She looked around for a couple of seconds, thinking how weird that café was.. Even the name was weird in a charming way.

Everything in the place was old fashioned.. The curtains.. The chairs and the tables.. Those old advertisements hanging on the walls, among which was one about new French cigarettes with long filter for your health.. The next one was about a French lipstick that will make your lips ready for kisses.. That last one made her burst into laughs the moment she saw it, and finally there was that one about a cough syrup in a fancy antique bottle that made it look like wine or something, and not just an innocent medicine ..All this gave the place its old lovely identity.. That was why she wanted to come here for one last time before leaving Cairo forever..

She raised the blue silk curtains to take a look through the window, and glanced at the people passing by.. Walking.. Talking.. Smiling, or glooming, while a French song (Probably French, she didn’t know a single word in French, but the words seemed French enough for her) playing from the old record player in the corner (what was the name of that thing..?)

What she didn’t know was how much that song was a perfect match for her story. Had she known that, she would’ve made a little more effort to understand it ..

*****

Maybe someplace else

There’s a woman

With a heart overwhelmed by joy

Like me

And with a blissful gesture she lifts

The blue silk curtain

Like me

Looks down

Her love will come along

And take her in his arms

Like me

She’s waiting for her lover

The eyes of her lover

The arms of her lover

Like me…….

Edith Piaf.. comme moi

*****

She took another sip of her coke while looking at the large clock in the corner… 2.20..

She called him again (was that the fifth time..?) and again she got the same answer: no answer at all.. Just cold ringing on the other side.. she put her cell phone down and looked at the freckles of ice floating on the surface of her coke, while the song -that she didn’t understand a word from- continued..

*****

Her hand in her hair

Like me

Maybe she pins

A flower to her chest

And then looks at the clock

Like me

She thinks of her lover

Of her lover’s eyes

Of her lover’s arms

Like me

And maybe even

She will hear

Her heart beating faster and then

Like me

She will want to cry

When hearing a footstep on the stairs

Like me…

Edith Piaf.. Comme moi

*****

But unfortunately, it wasn’t him.. It was a guy in his mid-thirties, that walked towards that hot blond girl sitting near.. “Sarah” found herself thinking again about “Magdy”, while looking through the window again.. Maybe if she was as nice looking as that blond he wouldn’t have been that late on her..? She secretly looked at the blond thinking: maybe if she took care of herself and dressed nice like that girl, she would’ve appeared more attractive to him..? She felt that her brown dress was far as hell from that.. She took a look after that to the lady in the blue jacket and jeans sitting by herself in the other corner.. “Sarah” saw her before more than once at the coiffeur she used to go to.. According to her information, she was married to a handsome man and had a couple of lovely kids. A happy ideal family as far as she knew.. “Sarah” found herself thinking that, maybe, if she had a caring family like that she wouldn’t have thought of running away like this?

Maybe after all she was just too clingy or annoying for “Magdy” to stand?

Maybe she did something stupid that made him change his mind about showing up on time, or even worse, not showing at all..? She raised her eyes for a couple of seconds to look at the other customers, then decided to call him again..

Ring ring ring.. Still no answer..!!

She wouldn’t call him from a new number that he didn’t know because she didn’t want to face the possibility of him avoiding to return her calls on purpose, as that would be too much for her to stand.. Let her act like she had more important things to do than calling him again..

She put her cell phone aside, And was about to look through the window when she realized that the waiter was looking at her again, which made her feel a little uneasy.. After all, she was sitting for a long time. A lemon juice would be better this time, right..?

Waiting for her new order to come, she found her hands grabbing her cell phone again, feeling furious at “Magdy” because he put her in that situation.. She dialed his number again and:

- The cell phone you are trying to reach may be switched off or unavailable….

The cold mechanic voice answered her, so she placed the cell phone aside feeling horrified..

Maybe he got bored and decided not to come at all..?!

Or even worse: he found someone better..!!

Sexier..?!

Smarter..?!

She tried to think about something else to prevent her mind from dealing with those thoughts, So she grabbed that novel she started reading yesterday, and decided to read a couple of pages before calling him again ..But words just kept running before her eyes with no meaning at all.. Five whole minutes passed before she finally realized that she was still struggling to understand – uselessly – the first sentence. Not a single word passed through her brain..

Rereading it again and again hoping to understand it, and hopefully go to the next sentence didn’t make a difference.. Just meaningless letters lined next to each other, staring at her.. She put the novel aside after she finally realized that she wasn’t in the mood for reading.. She stared at the glass of water in front of her blankly, then at her suitcase anxiously..

When she raised her eyes to look at the people around her again, her eyes met that young girl’s eyes. The young girl smiled and waved at her, before ignoring her completely after that blonde waitress put the cup of ice cream in front of her.. The fat waiter then arrived with “Sarah’s lemon juice, before leaving to take the next table’s order. The one with two guys arguing. She took a sip from the cold refreshing drink that made her calm a little bit..

She looked at the reflection appearing in the large mirror that took a whole wall.. She stared at the corner where her reflection was supposed to be, to find it dull, almost negligible among other reflections around it.. Just like she had always been all her life.. Boring.. Dull..

How many lives have passed before this mirror? And how many of them were having their worst moments like her..?

She looked at her watch to find it 2.50.. He probably won’t appear. Not after all this time.. No need to be stupid enough to wait for him to show up now. Possible scenarios wouldn’t exceed two: either he decided to leave her, or something happened to him. Same result in both cases..

And with her normal luck, the first possibility was more to believe.. After all, He won’t be different from all those who left her through her life.. Starting with her dad who left her with a drunk mother, and ending by the bastard named “Magdy” that she’d been waiting for.. Waiting till dust and spiders covered her.. Sun rises and sets and she’d still be waiting.

The scariest point here was that she’d return to her boring life that she thought she’d escaped finally.. Waking up every day at 7.30 to catch the subway and reach her “lovely” work at exactly 9.00, For the curtains rise for every day’s play. Where she should have to stand a non-ending number of absurdities from her pretending-to-be-young old lumpish boss, and her pretending-to-be-charming stupid work mates..

No…!! Over her dead body.. She wouldn’t return to that life whatever happened.. Jumping in front of the first passing bus would be a more merciful fate..

But a huge problem was that things weren’t that easy.. She couldn’t just go back to her old boring life even if she wanted to.. Not with that dead body on the kitchen floor.. But that’s not important now. Let’s check the next table where an interesting story was happening at the same time..

****

-2 –

“Nadine”

What good use does love have?

We’re always being told

These senseless fairytales

What use does loving have?

Love can’t explain itself!

It’s just something like that!

That comes from God knows where

And takes you by the hair.

Edith Piaf.. A quoi ca sert l’amour

******

Didn’t understand any word from the song playing, but she guessed that it was probably Spanish. That café was weird indeed.. Why don’t they just play normal songs.. ? Trying to be classy or something..?

Then she found herself thinking about her case.. At least she still had her hair and body, and had the ability to listen to songs, which won’t last for two more weeks.. Her case will get worse That she won’t be able to have her body or senses in their normal shape.. She won’t even have the strength then to commit suicide.. And even worse, she wasn’t ready for the torture surrounding her in the scene of the clock’s arms running, taking from her life account.. One month.. Three weeks.. Two weeks.. Then…?

She was almost feeling the tumor feeding on her soul as much as it was feeding on her body..

She looked for a second at the laboratory results bitterly.. Theoretically and based on these results, she only had two more weeks to live from now..

- Would you like to order something miss..?

The waiter asked her smiling.. She looked at the menu as if she was still thinking about it, while she already knew what she would order.. She ordered it every time she came here..

- Hot chocolate.. With lots of milk and no sugar please..

He walked away silently leaving her to her worst enemy: her own thoughts..

Why didn’t she do it herself..? Smart question indeed.. Maybe because she wasn’t brave enough.. In the last moment before pulling the trigger or jumping off a building or cutting her wrist, she gets scared and moves her hand away, or climbs down the top of the building, but if she made a deal with a hit man like the one she was about to do now, then it won’t be her thing to control.. The bullet that will crack her skull or the car that will hit her will come Unexpectedly.. If we set aside that this thought made shivers run down her back, and that all this was total insanity, she found the whole idea a charming one.. Death will come knocking her door shortly, to take down the curtains finishing that boring play of her life.. Will there be any applauds..?

She wasn’t that afraid of death itself, as much as she was afraid of what would be coming next.. After the grave is closed on her lifeless body.. What is next..? Where will her soul or conscious or whatever that thing to be questioned about her deeds go..? Assuming it was going somewhere from the first place..

She didn’t bring the idea from nowhere.. She saw it a while ago in an old American comic story.. In a series called (shock suspenstories) .. The girl in that story had the same reasons to want to commit suicide, and like her, she asked for help.. But the girl in the story was luckier than “Nadine”.. It turned out that the results were wrong and she will live, a good luck that we couldn’t accuse “Nadine” of having.. Every time she repeated the tests she got the same results..

The weird thing was that she started feeling pity, mostly on herself.. Pity that she didn’t do everything she wished to do.. That she didn’t tell a boy that she liked him because she was afraid of looking slutty.. That she didn’t eat everything she craved because she was afraid of ending up fat like her mum.. That she didn’t treat many people like they deserved because she was afraid of looking cold hearted.

She looked towards the cafe’s door for a second when she noticed someone entering, but obviously he wasn’t the one she was waiting for, because she found him heading towards another empty table.. A handsome guy.. Mid-thirties probably..? She watched him as he took out a small notebook the moment he sat, and started writing in it right away..

She decided that she looked enough at him.. Looking more than that would be too obvious.. She looked at the TV in the corner, but it was on the news.. Something about finding the dead body of a guy in his forties.. Didn’t seem an interesting subject to her, so she looked away..

She took out her favorite biscuit from her purse, and started eating eat with the hot chocolate that finally came.. Good thought came to her head that she could still taste all this.. In a couple of weeks she won’t.. Wasn’t that a happy thing to think about..?

She took another sip of her drink, letting the soothing taste of the chocolate go through her body, trying to stop her brain from thinking.. But the bastard wouldn’t stop, just like her eyes wouldn’t stop looking at the people sitting around her.. The woman sitting with her young girl.. The lonely brown haired girl sitting next to the window.. The handsome guy who didn’t stop writing since he came.. She found herself looking again at the woman with the daughter.. She thought that, maybe , if she had someone depending on her like that little girl, she wouldn’t have made a selfish act like the one she was about to do now..?

But, on the other hand, she wasn’t ready to wait until her case gets worse like that young woman who was in the next room when “Nadine” was in that hospital (what was that woman’s name..?)

That woman’s case got worse in a no time.. Despite all the drugs.. Despite all the radiotherapy she was given, She won’t get better.. She turned in front of “Nadine’s eyes to a skinny creature with more of bones than flesh, That looked all the time at people in starring horrified eyes.. “Nadine” was so afraid of turning to something similar if her case got worse too, specially that she was the closest person to the poor young woman in her last days, and saw her closely more than anyone else..

She even noticed that the young woman’s husband (“Rania”.. Her name was” Rania”) didn’t come a lot.. Didn’t come at all to be exact.. At least “Nadine” didn’t see the bastard do, but the dying woman told her that he must be taking care of their young girl.

You couldn’t just leave a young girl alone at home to come see a dying woman, right..? She made as much excuses for him as she could..“Nadine” felt sorry for the young woman dying alone like this, the fate she won’t let happen to her.. That was the last thing she would want to face (another encouraging reason to do what she was about to do..)

That was why “Nadine” got used to spend a lot of time with the woman, in the non-visiting hours, trying to keep her accompanied.

“Rania” told her everything about her wishes and fears.. About her little girl “Nancy” who loved to sleep in her ballet dress, and about the white bed cover that she made herself for her daughter, and finally about the little girl’s bedroom that was all blue, with all those handmade dolls that she did herself because she used to love sewing.. She told “Nadine” about her wish (If she stayed alive) to travel around the world, Her wish to visit different museums around the world and give more time to painting than she used to in her original life.. About her last wish of just living to see her daughter (who was only five years old then) wearing her wedding dress.. At that last wish both of them couldn’t help but burst into tears silently in each other’s arms, which was better than any kind of sympathy words.

On the other hand, “Nadine” told her new friend all about her wish of getting rid of the tumor she had more than anything else, and her wish of finding a meaning for her life, And for sure ,Of finding the love of her life.. “Nadine” knew that she must be looking ridiculous climbing the chair next to her neighbor’s bed, covering herself with a blanket and just sit there and talk, trying not to feel embarrassed while telling all those shameful secrets.. But her neighbor was listening with concern, putting an encouraging smile on her face, and at the end she told “Nadine” she wished she could do all this and even more..

But why did all of this seem so far away now, although it was just a couple of months ago..?

“Nadine” remembered well that day, when she went to her neighbor’s room as she used to do every day, but that day she found the room empty as if no one ever slept there, and when she asked the nurse, she told her that she was gone forever, and left our world silently during the night.

But before leaving she left “Nadine” something to remember her with.. The nurse told her that while handling her that unfinished wool scarf.. Unfinished Because the one making it had to leave our world quickly before finishing it.. It was made in “Nadine’s favorite colors, which her neighbor knew from all their chattering together.. That’s why she burst into tears in that moment.. From the idea, the concern, and from her friend’s concentration with her words, while “Nadine” herself felt that she was only talking crap, “Rania” never told her of that scarf she was making for her.. Maybe that’s her way of saying goodbye..?

Wasn’t the most shocking loss she passed by in her life, but it shocked her enough.. Her whole world lately was circling around her neighbor.. Her drugs.. Her radiotherapy..

What also helped her to concentrate with her neighbor’s condition was that almost all of “Nadine’s” relatives stopped caring after finding there was no hope for her.. After all, they have more important things to do with their lives than caring for an ill woman with no chance to survive..

The most shocking part for “Nadine” was all those drugs the woman took.. All those radiotherapy sessions she was subjected to.. All the prayers she prayed hoping to get better.. All of this went with the wind.. What was the use of anything then..?

That was why “Nadine” made her choice of leaving the hospital without telling anyone, and also leaving this whole world on her terms and on the time she picks.. She won’t wait till she loses her hair and her beauty like “Rania”.. Won’t wait to see sympathy in the eyes of people around her, not to tell there won’t be a lot of them.

She startled on seeing a guy grabbing a chair to sit on her table.. He must be the one.. He knew her from the blue dress with the white scarf like she told him she would wear..

She didn’t have a clue about knowing him or how to recognize him as he didn’t agree on telling her in the emails they exchanged.. She thought that weird, but since he was supposed to be a professional, and since she was the one who needed him, she decided to follow his rules, deciding it was a clever thing to do from his point of view.. If he suspected something or found her suspicious looking he’d be free to leave without being endangered, as his job wasn’t exactly above suspicions.

- Tropical fruit tea please..

He told the waiter who stopped by their table.. Really..? Tropical fruit tea and a hit man….? That was too far from what she imagined he would be like..

While in the back, played another song that she couldn’t understand too, though it made the perfect soundtrack for her story. Had she known that, she would’ve listened more carefully..

*****

Come on, milord..

And sit by my table..

It’s so cold out there..

U will feel better here..

Milord .. Edith Piaf..

*****

She watched him looking through the file she brought with her with the information needed about the victim whom he didn’t know till now.. Surprisingly She found him an ordinary guy who could pass by you any the time without you even noticing.. Nothing extra ordinary about him.. Not too handsome, too dangerous looking.. Just a normal guy who wouldn’t grab anyone’s attention.. She wouldn’t be overacting if she said that he looked like a civil servant, especially with his classic clothes and tired appearance.. His gray linen suit and brown Samsonite bag..

She put her thoughts aside, handling him half of the money in an innocent looking envelope as the deal said, then she watched him as he discovered in shock the personality of the victim.. She put the photo in the last page of the file on purpose..

- Yup.. It’s me.. You will find the rest of your money with my dead body.. I’ll start carrying the money from tomorrow.. you will have less than a week to do it, otherwise consider this deal canceled.. I’ll stop carrying the money after one week exactly.

- Why do you want to kill yourself.. ?

Typical.. She didn’t think that things would be that predictable.. Her answer came as cold as ice:

- I don’t think I’m obligated to answer, right..?

Irony was that she no longer had the patience she used to have.. Neither had the desire or strength to stand any stupid questions.. She looked at the people sitting around, trying to guess what each one of them was saying.. At least that way she would waste some good time till the man thinks about her offer..

He wouldn’t be the first to say no.. Suspicious job indeed it was.. After all, it wasn’t that ordinary for anyone to bring a hit man to kill himself..

*****

Come on, milord..

It’s so simple..

I know you’ve never seen me before,

But come enter my kingdom..

Edith Piaf.. Milord..

*****

3

“Moataz”

-cherry coke please..

I wrote down the Brunette’s order in my notebook, then walked away smiling like a robot.. I winked at “Mona” – yup.. That blonde waitress coming towards me smiling – then took out my tongue at her, and watched her innocently as she burst out laughing like she always did when I made this.. Not fake laughs like the ones everyone laughed.. It seemed like her own soul was laughing or something..

I watched her trying to grab herself together and stop before Mr.“kamel” notices, as he had warned her before.. She pushed me lightly whispering:

- One day I’m going to kill you..

- You can try honey, but if I were you, I’d disappear quickly before the old elephant notices those weird sounds you’ve made.

(Old elephant) was the nickname we both gave to Mr.“kamel”.. I mean, look at his big belly and long nose.. What other nickname suited the bastard..?

I watched her innocently laughing one of her explosive laughs again, before sneaking towards the kitchen with the few empty glasses she was carrying, before getting caught, and since I was heading towards the kitchen myself, I hurried to open the metallic door for her.. She walked through the door mumbling:

- Shit.. You won’t stop till you get us both fired..!!

I entered behind her whispering:

- Honey.. Don’t pretend like your laugh isn’t really weird.

Taking out her tongue at me, she completed her way in, while I turned to “Mustafa”, the chef, giving him the orders I took.. He wrote them on the plastic board besides him quickly, before returning to the Caramel he was preparing on the stove.. He removed it professionally..

- Lots of work today.. Eh..?

He asked, while handling me a tray with a cup of coffee, continuing:

- …. This is for table 7..

I took the tray from him answering:

- Not more than usual..

- We will go to “Ragab” café today after work right..?

He asked me while whipping some cream for some dessert he was preparing.. It was a local café that we used to go to after work.. Looking blankly at the black floor tiles, I answered:

- Mmmm.. Don’t think so man.. I’ve got few stuff to do..

Actually I was meeting “Mai”, my girlfriend.. But you don’t go through this stuff with your work mates, right..? But the smart bastard smiled sarcastically, asking:

- New chick, eh..?

- Hahaha.. I wish, but no.. Just bringing some stuff for my wife..

I watched him as he poured some cocktail juice in a glass, before putting a slice of lemon on the glass’s lip, then handing it to me on another tray continuing:

- … To table 2.. And good luck man with your stuff..

I shook my head silently while walking away with the stuff I’m carrying.. I needed all the possible luck indeed..

- The Coke is for table 3.. The Nescafé and the cheesecake are for table 1.. Hurry up a little.. Are you in a funeral or something.. ?

Mr“Kamel’s arrogant voice struck my ears.. He was shouting at two unlucky new waiters that joined us a week ago.. His good luck that I wasn’t the one he was talking to right now.. I pushed the metallic door on my way out to feel like I traveled somewhere else.. The mixture of customers voices, together with the cups and glasses dinging, and the sun light sneaking from the windows were a little different from the isolated kitchen I just came out from.. The black floor and the white walls became neat pink walls with many vintage posters or photographs on, rising over a wooden polished floor, that should be shining in the beginning and the ending of each day under Mr.” Kamel’s” supervision..

On passing by the large mirror, I felt a shiver running through my back for no reason.. After delivering all the orders I got, I looked around checking if anyone needed anything, trying to prevent myself from thinking about my lovely wife.. Why would I possibly want to remember her anyway..? For her ravishing beauty or for her sweet as honey tongue..? I remembered how she waked me up today and.. Who am I kidding..? How she always waked me actually..

- Wake up you lazy bastard to go to your dammed work on time for a change.. If you go late again that asshole will cut off from your salary as he does every month..

I’ll pretend that my lovely wife was just wishing me a nice day, just to stop myself from strangling her to death, then I’ll go get dressed as quickly as possible to run away from her..

That movie yesterday was really good and wasn’t a real helping factor on my (waking up early) list.. Who am I kidding..? Even if I went to sleep in a good timing yesterday, that won’t be a reason to wake up next day enthusiastic or something.. Why would I be anyway..? To see my gloomy boss..? Or the gloomier customers..? Anyway none of them would be worse than my wife so no need to nag about it..

For a minute I started to feel sorry for the innocent children whose luck made my wife their teacher, then I remembered that my position wasn’t exactly any better.. Anyway, if everything went today like it was supposed to, then this should be my last day in this shitty life.. Different day hopefully.. Couldn’t help but smiling on the thought of my lovely wife waiting for me like an ass till the end of the day.. Till the end of tomorrow.. Maybe after a week..? Waiting like a fool till she rots in that dammed house.. Waiting for me to come through the door till she is covered by spiders and webs.. The sun goes up and down while the fool is still waiting.. That’s the best punishment for that good for nothing cow..

I forced myself not to think more of her while I made my way towards the kitchen to take more orders, when my cellphone rang.. I looked around me just to make sure that the bogyman named “Kamel” wasn’t around, before picking up the phone to answer.. It was “Mai”, and she was screaming:

- “Moataz”.. Where the hells are you..?!!

Why was she screaming like someone is torturing her..? I told her my thoughts, and her blood-freezing answer came:

- Your crazy wife is outside, and she wants to kill me..

My wife was crazy..? I know that already, but a Killer..? That was new..

- How did she know your address..?

Stupid.. Was that really the best timing for getting shocked and ask that stupid question..? Anyway her trembling voice answered:

- How the fuck should I know..? Maybe she followed you someday.. What am I supposed to do now..?

- Where are you exactly..?

I shrieked.. I walked towards the café’s door to be able to talk freely, I passed by a woman and her daughter on my way, I stood beside the door and kept my eyes over the kitchen door to see “Kamel” whenever he walks out..

- My bedroom.. That lunatic won’t stop knocking on the door that I managed to close from the inside.. But it wouldn’t stand for long..

I noticed then the steady sounds of knocking in the background..

- How did she get in from the first place..?

- She told me u made an accident and went to the hospital, then she pushed me in and told me the truth..

Shit.. She played it well.. A good story that wouldn’t give the one in front of her the chance to think clearly..

- What should I do now..?

She was now crying.. Dammit..

I was too far now to reach them in time.. Depending upon my knowledge of my wife’s strength, I can assume that she will break through the door before me even being close to them. I should think of something else, but what..?

I waved at “Mona” that I’m coming right away when I saw her waving at me to come in because “Kamel” was looking for me.. Damn him..

- Have you got anything you can use for self-defense till I reach you..?

Silence got over for a couple of seconds, hopefully while she was looking around her for something to use.. For a couple of seconds I only heard her loud breaths and the nerve breaking sound of the steady knocks, then finally came her crying voice:

- Just the electric iron ..

- Good.. Grab it now and be ready any minute she comes through the door, and I will be on my way and…..

I stopped talking on hearing her screams as if coming from hell, there were many loud voices I couldn’t recognize.. I shrieked:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. What’s happening..?

No answer to my shouts that started to drag attention, just those sounds that got louder and louder, and then the call just ended.. I walked quickly outside the place, and I bypassed a group of men coming in, while trying to call her number again…..

- The mobile you’re trying to reach is switched off.. If you want to send a voice message press……

I ended the call then tried calling again.. Same answer.. I went back inside the café quickly and looked around for “Kamel”, to take permission off for an hour or something till I go there and Check things up, but didn’t see him anywhere.. Crowdedness and noise, but couldn’t see him..

The playing song sneaked through my ear..” Mai’s favorite song.. No word I understood from it though..

I see the city in celebration, delirious

Suffocating under the sun and joy

And I hear in the music, the screams, and the laughs

That burst and rebound around me

And lost between these people that are hustling me

Dazed and helpless, I stay here

La foule.. Edith Piaf..

*******

I walked toward the kitchen, hoping to find him there.. Pushed the metallic door aside, I saw him standing there, among others, looking at the small TV on the wall.. When I looked towards the screen I saw a news report about a building that collapsed a while ago in Madinet Nasr area.. Didn’t care much because I had enough to fill my mind, but my eyes fall over some of the buildings and shops surrounding the collapsed building and felt them kind of familiar, so, horrified, I looked at the address that was displayed in the end of the screen, to find it the last address I would want to see..

(Newsflash.. A building collapsed in Mustafa Elnahas Street….)

While the fat TV reporter with a nervous sound continued:

- And meanwhile, the rescue forces are trying to raise the ruins, in order to save any of the victims, but till now, no signs of someone alive.. Stay with us for all the updates.. That was “Miriam Nasser”.. Channel 1

And when the news was over and the TV’s comedy series returned, I heard the sound of a gunshot outside..!!

***

-4 –

“Sarah”

Her step father’s dead body..!!

The reason for being that sure..? Because she killed him when he found out that she was running away and tried to stop her..

Looking at the dark blood stain on the corner of her suit, she recalled the bloody memory in her head.. She could still see blood exploding from his head within seconds in front of her, after she fell over it with the hammer that appeared in front of her eyes suddenly..

She remembered his hand clinging to her arm strongly, the thing that scared her and made her lose her brains.. At that moment all the worst possible scenarios just popped up in her head.. What if he defeated her..? What if he dragged her inside and closed the door..? That was when fear got over her mind and didn’t feel herself except after she fell with the hammer over his head several times. She remembered his body collapsing before her silently, while she grabbed her suitcase in horror and ran from the whole house, trying to only think about “Magdy”, and how she was supposed to hurry to catch him.. If she didn’t catch him, she would be stuck in this life forever..

Looking around, she felt that her thoughts were too loud that everyone around her could actually hear them..

Then the hallucinations started, and she started feeling that everyone around knew what she did, or at least checked her suitcase suspiciously.. They knew what you did stupid.. You think yourself smart enough to commit the perfect crime..? Sorry to disappoint you, but that man looking towards you suspiciously before having some angry words with the guy sitting on his table knew.. That waiter whispering few words with the other fat waiter while looking at you knew.. Even the woman who shouted at her child when she smiled at you knew.. All of them suspect you smarty.. There won’t be a lot time before the dead body being found, and the search for the suspects among the dead man’s relatives starting.. If too much time passed on you here, it would be late and you won’t be able to leave the city on time..

Taking a look at the accelerating clock’s arms anxiously, then she looked at the TV turned on the news and….

- Miss.. Someone left you this before leaving the café..

She was startled on cutting her thoughts.. It was one of the waiters handing her a folded piece of paper.. She took it wondering whether it was “Magdy” telling her that he will be late..? But the waiter just told her that whoever left it was in the café and left.. Dammit.. Read the damn paper first, then decide what to think next.. What was written on it was one simple sentence, but it was scary enough to send shivers down her back..

Your crime wasn’t without a witness..!!

Signature: none of your business.

She set the paper aside silently.. Now she knew what she was supposed to feel for sure.. Fear..? Probably.. She looked automatically at the people sitting around, but none of them was looking towards her..

But one of them must’ve sent her that paper for sure, because it won’t send itself, right..?

But thinking more, didn’t the waiter say that the one sent it left the café..? Anyway it became far more than just a terrified girl’s hysteric thoughts.. There was a solid evidence in front of her now that someone saw her committing her crime.. And what was even worse was that he didn’t threaten her, nor did he say that he will call the cops if she didn’t turn herself in.. Obviously he was leaving it up for her to make the move..

Reasonable reaction then..?

Any human being with brains should think of running away as if running from hell, but since she was dumber than average, she left herself being eaten by her thoughts for a while.. She needed to see the next topic on the news before making a Crucial decision like the one she was about to make in few minutes..

The topic was about Finding the dead body of a guy in his forties in his flat, with smashed head by a hammer that was found next to him.. The police think that he was familiar with the killer because there were no signs of breaking in.

Not to mention that the killer was familiar to us too, but do the cops know that it was her..? That was what she thought of, but she told herself that there was no need to worry.. In no time the police would know it was her too..

Great.. No escape then.. The police knew about the dead body, and soon enough the mysterious witness will take care of informing them about the identity of the killer.. Mmm.. Where to escape then..? Probably to hell.

She stood, feeling gloomy, and started heading to the bathroom.. Her purse hanging on her shoulder, trying not to look around her, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to hold herself more, and would burst into tears..

She just looked at the ghost that appeared before her eyes, that looked like her as a child.. She left the smiling ghost to hold her hand, leading her through the tables..

The ghost tenderly held “Sarah’s hand, leading the way through the corridor ending by the bathrooms, before just disappearing in the thin air after she reached the intended room, the one with the women’s logo on its door.. She walked through the door quickly, before closing it behind her..

The reporter’s sound could still reach her, sneaking from under the door.. Just few scattered words about the cops still searching through the victim’s relatives

While the gramophone was still sending her his songs, and she still couldn’t understand a single word..

Your dreams are full of madness, Mrs. Sophie..

U had beautiful hair,

A lovely smile,

And eyes full of dreams.

The one that entered your life, Mrs. Sophie..

And told u that you were his only love?

OK.. He was lying to you, honey.

He ran away leaving you, Mrs. Sophie..

Edith Piaf.. Sophie

******

- You won’t let them catch you “Sarah”.. Right..? You aren’t that stupid.. Stupid maybe but not that much..

She heard the question from her reflection In the mirror.. She’d gone mad finally..? Probably.. She answered bitterly:

- And what would be the suitable solution since you are that smart..?

It answered:

- Look in your purse.. The small mirror.. Break it.. Pick up a small piece and…. I know it will hurt a little in the beginning, but believe me it deserves it.. I promise you the pain won’t last for long dear..

And from under the door, the song was still playing…

******

One sad rainy evening

Gave to God the desire

To take your life

Miss Sophie

Oh, Sophie, Sophie!

But what possessed you

To leave us like that

Without telling us anything?

You killed life

Edith Piaf.. Sophie

*****

She cleared her thought, thinking that the solution it gave her wasn’t that bad.. But a part of her was still afraid.. A part that was still clinging to life..

- But.. But this way I’ll go to hell..

- Oh really..? As if you aren’t in one already..?

It answered her, smiling sarcastically.. Well.. She had to say that the bastard got a point.. She sure will end up in hell, but who said she wasn’t in one already..? Maybe the hell waiting for her on the other side was better..

- At least here I can try to make things right.. But if I agreed you now, I will end up in a hell where I couldn’t change a thing..

She answered crying, while sitting on the toilet seat, but the devilish eyes of her reflection got her attention again..

- As if you made anything right when you had a chance.. If I were you I would take the risk.. What will you end up losing anyway..?

- Besides losing everything literally..? Nothing I guess..

- Until when will you be that coward..? Take the damn risk and we shall see together..

- Don’t flatter yourself.. You won’t see anything with me.. I will be the one ending up taking the whole prank..

She rested her head on the white ceramic sink’s edge crying, but her reflection didn’t give up, it shook it’s head answering:

- Nope.. We are in the same boat sweetie.. Just hold yourself together and I’m there for you…

She found herself thinking that her disappearance would probably change the lives of the people how knew her to the better.. Disgusting..? More of pathetic actually.. She raised her crying eyes to meet the caring eyes of her reflection.. The reflection extended its hand towards her..

- I know you’re afraid.. But that’s the only way if you don’t want to hang from the rope when they discover your connection with the crime.. Are you even sure of what’s waiting for you on the other side..? It might be better.. You won’t know till you give it a try.

She looked at the pieces of the broken mirror in the sink, picked one of them and..

And started cutting her wrist coldly…!!

Pain..!! Pure crazy pain starting from that point then spreading through her whole body, while watching her wrist’s skin starting to separate, revealing the veins and flesh underneath.. She was always disgusted from the sight of blood, so her eyes automatically went towards the corner of the room..

She left her body collapsing on the cold bathroom ceramic floor, while around her scattered her things and her blood..

She felt shivers running through her body, and for some reason, she found herself thinking about God..!!

Why did she..? She stopped praying for him long ago, and stopped feeling belonging to him.. Why did she think about him now..?

Did she really love him..? She never knew the answer for that question for sure.. Love or just plain fear from him..? And because she felt that she was somehow maltreated because her life went that way, she felt that he was away from her, so she just walked away too..

More important question: Did he love her from the first place..? Love her though he saw her getting lost many times as a miserable piece of chess, on her way searching for a meaning for her life..? For love..? Happiness..? A search that she lost long time ago..?

Anyway her belief in his presence or absence shouldn’t affect him that much.. Shouldn’t affect him at all.. Wouldn’t enforce or weaken him.. The most important thing, did she have enough courage to face the possibility of her being wrong about his absence..? What will he do with her then when she faces him..?

Stupid..? Wow.. That was new.. Anyway she took the first flight to hell already and won’t be able to exit before reaching her final destination..

Starting to feel the coldness of the walls sneaking to her soul as it was sneaking to her body, she started feeling shivers all over her body again..

And for some reason she remembered her stepfather again..

She remembered his disgusting touches, which made shivers running through her body even worse..

Maybe she deserved this.. Maybe there was something wrong about her.. There must be something wrong in her after all to attract all this bad luck..

Her body trembled again while she started feeling pity for herself.. She remembered when she was an innocent child, just like that blond little girl who was smiling at her minutes ago.. A dear child that her parents wanted nothing but her happiness.. What took her story in such a bad twist then..?

After few minutes and some lost blood, her conscious started drifting away along with her soul.. Was that what “Veronica” felt in the novel: (“veronica” decides to die) after she finished swallowing her sleeping pills box..? She shall know shortly..

Was the short period left in her life enough for her to know the meaning of her presence from the first place..? Why was she created at all..? Too much existential questions sweetie.. You don’t have enough charge in your soul battery to answer any of this unfortunately..

Anyway no need to even try because you are supposed to deliver your soul in few minutes to know the results of your test, though you know you are far as possible from the passing degree..

The thread of blood running underneath her caught her attention for few moments.. She felt no more grudge, anger, or hatred towards anybody.. She felt nothing anymore mostly.. Just a tiny feeling of sympathy towards herself..

She took another look at the thread of blood that made its way in between the Ceramic slaps as if it knew it’s direction.. She took a dizzy look at the walls around her, then listened to the voices sneaking from beneath the door..

She found herself thinking about how many idiots were passing by from outside without even knowing that someone was taking her last breaths behind that innocent looking door..?

Her eye lids dropped down and the whole world around her started to darken..

Just the buzzing voices of the café’s air conditioner, and the coldness of the ceramic against her body..

Couple of moments passed before the news reporter’s voice sneaked to her ears, telling another report in the same program..

- ….. And the young man’s body that was found in “Emad Eldin” street Was identified to be “Magdy Masood”, a local young man in his mid-twenties, and the police is still searching for the Car driver that did that hit and run..

And in the background, “Edith Piaf” was still singing..

No..never..

No.. I’ll never regret..

Not for the good things I did, nor the stupid ones..

Cause they are all the same to me now..

Non.. Rien de rien..Edith Piaf.

*****

-5 –

“ Nadine”

- No need to tell you that I want a quick method, right..? Just a clean fast method that will take me to the other side quickly please.. I don’t want to survive distorted or with permanent disability.. Can I depend on you..?

She asked him in a low voice while looking at the body that passed beside their table.. It was the lonely brunette sitting by the window.. But she didn’t seem normal to “Nadine”.. Maybe her dizzy eyes and trembling body while passing quickly like a ghost between the cafe’s tables..? She saw her disappearing in the bathroom, so she looked again at her companion..

He looked at her silently for a couple of seconds, Then he told her few words that kept ringing in her ears for so long after that..

- Yes.. You can..!!

The answer she wanted to hear a long time ago.. Why did her body shiver at that moment then..?

The death sentence was announced.. No changes or delays shall be done..

At that exact moment, she felt fear starting to eat her soul.. Stupid..? Maybe.. People around her mostly told her that she was stupid and mostly made stupid decisions.. So this time shouldn’t be exceptional.. But what would a normal human being do in such position..? She didn’t know the answer unfortunately..

She took another sip from her hot – now cold – chocolate drink, before raising her eyes to look at the people around.. The golden beam of sunlight entering from the big glass window got her attention .

She started thinking about the method that guy would choose to kill her, the time he was intending to do it, and the place she would be in at that moment.. Would she be crossing the street when an anonymous car hits her and run..?

Or would she be walking in an empty street when that guy or one of his assistants appear to her suddenly with a penknife to cut her throat..?

Would he even use a near method like the previous, or use a different method like pointing a long distance shotgun at her heart, while he hides in a near building..?

Shit.. Her body started to shiver again and she didn’t have the guts she had minutes earlier anymore.. She started feeling regret for calling him so early.. Maybe waiting for natural death wasn’t that bad after all.. At least she won’t know the exact moment of death.. But remembering the sight of “ Rania” in her final days, and how she was closer to the dead than she was to the living, made “Nadine” feel that she took the right decision.. For a couple of minutes at least..

Anyway, she was going to die in few days.. What difference would it make if she made the appointment a little earlier..? Stupid..? Oh really..? That would be a new one.. She smiled bitterly while looking at her watch to decide whether to stay for some time or leave.. She found that she hadn’t been here for long, so decided to order another hot chocolate, while passing time by guessing which way will that guy choose to kill her..

But she didn’t know that he was going to meet his death few hours later, in an attempt from a thief to rob him, while the hit man was going to buy cigarettes.. Not a complete successful job unfortunately, because it ended up by him trying to fight the attacker, which made the thief stab him with his penknife, a stab that centered through his heart right away, before the thief running away scared, leaving his victim bleeding his blood and soul in that empty alley, with no chance of being discovered before the morning..

She didn’t know that her attempt to cheat death was a failure, and the one she chose to be her angel of death shall walk away on her, leaving her alone facing death In the exact moment that suits it.. Slowly.. Painfully.. Non predictable.. But that’s unimportant to us now.. Let’s go back to the café to see what the coming moments hold for us..

****

-6 –

“Yousry”

Something was weird about that café.. “Yousry” could sense that.. The moment he entered he felt like he walked into a time machine that took him to the nineteen fifties or something..

Was it the walls covered with pink wallpaper in some places, and wood in others..? Or was it those records hanging on the walls in many places..? Or was it the old gramophone in the corner that didn’t stop playing old “Edith Piaf” – his favorite singer – songs..?

He walked through the tables without looking to anyone, and sat on the first empty table he passed by..

He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, trying to grab his nerves together, and trying to forget the murder that he just saw.. That guy's dead body lying on the floor, and the shock he saw on the blonde's - that was driving the car- face, before grabbing herself together and run away with the car before anyone noticed her, and finally the blood leaking from the guy's smashed head quickly to the street floor.. The guy who was moments ago crossing the street quickly, and was just full of life, carrying a bunch of roses that were now scattered around his lifeless body.. What drove him mad was that the killer would run away without punishment..

He didn’t get the chance to get the car’s number, or anything special about the car that could help catching her.. He took a look at the white roses around the guy’s head, that started turning red from his blood.. All he could think about was that this life wasn’t fair at all.. Why a guy full of life like that young man dies, while his murderer sneaks away enjoying her life..? The main problem in life was that you’d never know the reason of everything happing around you no matter what..There shall always be a missing piece in the puzzle that would prevent you from seeing the whole picture.. Understanding the whole picture..

Something was charming about that café.. He was sure about that..The moment he sat he felt curious about watching the people sitting around.. After all, if he didn’t do that, he wouldn’t deserve the title (author).. Maybe he could get out of here with an idea to finish the stupid short stories collection he was desperate to finish.. But which character of the surrounding was suitable to use..? The hot lonely brunette sitting by the window, who didn’t stop tapping on her table while checking her watch every now and then..? Or that blonde that kept looking at him while crooning with the songs arousing from the phonograph and.. Just a second.. That blonde looked familiar.. Where did he see her before..?

- Did you order something, sir..?

The waiter cut his thoughts for a second..

- Double espresso please..

He answered him while looking at the brunette, thinking: who was the lucky one that had such a charming girl waiting for him..? If it was him, he would’ve never let her wait for so long.. He looked at her wavy brown hair and her attractive eyes.. Looked at her lovely lips and her charming way of holding the glass of juice in front of her..

But she was tense and didn’t stop looking at the door of the café, then to her watch, then a look at the people around, her cell phone, then looked at the door all over again.. Besides she looked like she was waiting for someone already, which meant he would just get himself embarrassed if he tried to talk to her..

His eyes stopped at the blonde one sitting on the table between him and the sexy brunette.. He felt the blonde overreacting with too much makeup.. Not his favorite type at all.. But he just couldn’t stop looking at her secretly, trying to figure out where did he see her before, and when he didn’t get much success in that mission he looked at another table, located between his and the blonde’s table.. There was a woman with her little girl.. Didn’t seem interesting enough, so he went back to look at the blonde again, specially that she couldn’t see that he was watching her with that woman’s table between them..

The waiter brought his order then so he forced his thoughts to stop, because he felt his thoughts were loud enough for anyone close by to hear..

After the waiter walked away, he looked at her again thinking harder.. He took a sip of his coffee, narrowing his eyes and setting his brain loose to think freely.. Just a few moments and the scene was – slowly – appearing in his mind..

The same face of the girl sitting in front of him now, but at that moment the face was twisted in horror, because at that moment she was sitting behind the wheel of the car that hit the young man crossing the street steeling his soul for good..

He was sure it was her because she wore the same white dress with the red lines on the sleeves she was wearing now, he could see the dress through the car window clearly, although he was on the other side of the road.. He looked at her curved body in her elegant white dress, her sunglasses that were put back to hold her light blond hair, and finally the metallic keys chain she kept rolling between her fingers, before putting it down to catch the cup of water the waiter brought..

For a couple of seconds he kept thinking about the logical action to do in such situation..!!

He was considered the only witness for that murder.. Any normal human being will rise, go to the back where he will take permission from that fat guy behind the counter to use the phone, and the guy will give him permission, before returning to his newspaper..

He’ll call the police station – while looking around to make sure no one is listening – when a miserable operator will answer asking him what he wanted..

- I want to report a murder..!!

Silence will be answering him for seconds, that he’ll spend trying to imagine the reaction of the guy receiving the call.. Will he believe him..?

(They must be receiving tens of similar phone calls daily …)

- Just a second sir.. I’ll switch you to the homicide division..

Minutes of more silence will be his company, waiting for someone to pick up.. Minutes that he’ll spend biting his nails and fingers and soul.. He’ll wonder if the blonde chick is still sitting inside, or left already while he was standing here like a fool, but from his position behind the glass, he can see her still sitting in her place.. Still with the Edith Piaf song playing.. He can’t tell which song was playing, because the confident voice rose from the other side of the phone at that moment..

- Hello..This is the homicide department.. How can I help you sir..?

- I want to report a murder..!!

He’ll answer, struggling to make his voice clear..His throat is now dry like desert sands, and he wasn’t expecting to be that nervous, but the situation itself made him feel uneasy.. He’ll struggle to continue his confession, before he loses his courage.. He sees the waiters passing by him, uncaring, on their way to the kitchen to get their orders..

- … a hit and run..

The sound of the guy will start to seem interested.. He’ll ask calmly:

- Can you tell who the victim is..?

- No… I don’t know him.. I was on the other side of the road when I saw it accidentally, in Emad Eldin Street, downtown.. But I saw the driver, and she is sitting now in café Bianca near the opera house.. Hurry if you want to catch her.. She’s a thin blonde girl wearing white dress with red sleeves..

Then he’ll put the phone down nervously,

(To give them the impression of seriousness of the situation and make them move fast..)

feeling some guilt for telling on someone, but he soon tells himself that it’s not a sin, it’s just turning a killer into justice, or else the killer of that guy will go free unharmed to do it again and again.. He’ll repeat this in his head several times, taking deep breaths to get rid of his nervousness.. After that he’ll go out, thanking the smiling guy behind the counter, before returning to his table innocently, pretending he didn’t do anything to be guilty about..

And if he was just another bastard, he will go straight to the blonde, to ask her directly for the price of his silence.. Some of her money as an example, or her nice body..!!

But because he wasn’t this or that, he acted completely different…….!!

*****

The author’s instinct was controlling him too much..

That’s why he found himself cutting a piece of paper from his note, deciding to try a different punishment.. He took his pen, and on the small white paper, he tried to be as confident as possible, writing:

Your crime wasn’t without a witness..!!

Signature: None of your business……

No blackmailing.. No threats to turn herself in.. He wanted to know where will her imagination take her.. He wanted to know what effect his words will have on that attractive snake sitting in front of him, smiling and enjoying herself as if she didn’t just end the life of a human being..

But unfortunately his nervousness made his handwriting shaky, almost unreadable.. Didn’t succeed before the third try in making his words clear.. Strong, and most important, cruel..!! The black ink he used on the white piece of paper seemed cold and cruel enough.. If he was the one receiving the paper, he would probably have a heart attack..

When he looked at her again, she was watching the TV which had a silly comedy program on.. He waved at the fat waiter who was going to a near table, when the waiter came he asked him a little weird favor..

- Can you give this paper to that girl sitting alone..?

He pointed secretly to the blonde, continuing….

- And off course never think of telling her who sent you.. Tell her a guy gave it to you and left, and this to make you remember..

He gave him a 10 pounds bill, which made the waiter smile answering:

- What paper.. Did we even talk today sir..?

Good.. Not more stupid than usual and he can depend on him.. He watched the fat waiter as he carried the piece of paper, walked away, passing by the not-lonely-anymore blonde after that guy in the blue shirt came to her table and their laughs broke out loud.. He watched the waiter as he continued his way till he reached the first lonely girl in the same line, who was the brunette sitting by the window.. Shit.. !!

He saw him putting the paper in front of her, and saw the girl picking it surprised, before he could say or do anything.. “Yousry” felt at that moment as if time stood still, then started moving again too slowly.. The paper as it moved from the waiter’s hand to the girl’s hand.. The girl’s delicate fingers as they unfold the message nervously, then her frowning on reading what was written..

The problem was that he couldn’t call him stupid, because the brunette was the only lonely girl from the angle he pointed at.. He thought about going to her quickly to tell her that it was a mistake and she wasn’t the one, but seeing what happened to her face after reading his words changed his mind.. What mistake could’ve that angel done to make her that afraid from his words..? He watched her as she looked around insanely trying to guess who did this.. He pretended it wasn’t him and just kept playing with his cigarette lighter, before looking at her again to see what would she do.. She must be spending her worst time ever now as long as she was that scared from being told on..

The look in her eyes were like those in an injured lion’s eyes, surrounded by a group of Hyenas..

He saw her standing up, and walking through the tables quickly carrying her bag.. Her eyes were blood red and she seemed like she’d burst into crying at any second..

He watched her as she passed by him, trying to decide whether to follow her or not.. He saw her as she disappeared behind the door of the lady’s room.. Good.. She’d go cry a little till she calms down, then goes out again.. No big deal then..

But she never came back again..!!

So he found himself getting up nervously, and going towards the bathroom where he saw her disappearing.. He must know what did this lunatic do.. On his way he passed by a column that had a signed black and white photograph of Edith Piaf, before entering the hall which had a sign telling that the bathrooms were inside..

And in front of the only lady’s room stood a fat lady frowning and knocking on the white wooden door roughly..

- That’s inappropriate.. You’ve been inside for about 15 minutes..

She looked at “Yousry” on spotting him coming near, then turned to the door again talking to whoever was inside..

- This isn’t home if you know what I mean..

- Excuse me..? I guess the girl in there is hurt or something.. I’ll try to push the door open..

She looked at him as if he was harassing her, before realizing that she was ugly enough not to get the attention of a handsome guy like him, and that he was really trying to help.. She stood back, while “Yousry” tried to push the door as much as he could.. Once.. Twice.. Three times.. His shoulder hurt and the damn door wouldn’t move from its place..

But the noise he made got the attention of two waiters, that understood the situation quickly from the fat lady, and he quickly found three men helping him, opening the door finally revealing the tragedy inside..!!

****

7

“Nadia”

1- She’ll take the kids to the swimming lessons..

2- She'll pass by the laundry to leave some clothes to be washed there..

3- She'll pass by the grocery to pick-up few stuff for home..

If she found time after this maybe:

4- She'll go to the coiffeur to do her hair like that actress from the Turkish series.. Definitely after dying her hair to hide the signs of years.. Maybe have some nail polish too..? That way she'll feel like a woman again..

She smiled mechanically at her children as they stormed out of the car as soon as she stopped near the club, waited till they closed the door behind them, and saw them walking through the gates quickly, wearing their back bags..

She watched them holding each other’s hands in love, because they knew she was watching, as much as she knew that this love will evaporate as soon as she disappears round the corner.. She watched as they greeted the security guy at the gate, who smiled at them, then looked towards her and waved his hand, as he knew them well for being in these damn lessons for more than a year now and.. Vrooooom.. Here she goes again..

Will she find time after all these missions to:

5- Pass by the next clothes shop to try that sky blue dress that got her attention..? It's supposed to look great on her.. She hoped to catch it before anyone buys it and.. Boom..!!

Great, just what she needed.. The damn tire exploded just in the right time.. Now she can say goodbye to going to the coiffeur and the clothes shop.. This way she’ll be lucky if she just fixed her car, delivered the laundry and went to the grocery..

She called the mechanic she used to deal with, and he told her that he would come to pull her car as soon as he can, but practically she had to wait for two hours before the man he sent appeared.. A wicked guy whom she didn’t like at all, didn’t like the way he looked at her..

His alibi for being late was that the road was like hell.. She had to hold herself together, or else she would’ve killed him, but for special reasons, she preferred to stay in her car while being pulled to the mechanic, because she wasn’t sure she could trust him..

At the mechanic-shop, the guy told her almost right away after checking the car fast, that it wouldn’t take more than an hour.. But she got the message, the car wouldn’t be able to move again before tomorrow.. He advised her to go to the near café and have a cup of coffee till he finishes.. He must’ve realized she was intending to stand beside him the whole hour till he finishes.. That solution seemed appropriate, so she decided to go to drink a cup of black coffee – that suited her mood now – while eating herself as a dessert..

For the first time in many weeks she decided to do something fun for herself and that was her reward..?

She went out, and headed towards the nearby café, waited for a couple of seconds at the end of the sidewalk among few people, before one of them decided to cross the crowded street, so the rest decided to follow him, and among them was “Nadia” who pretended she didn’t hear the horns of the many cars that had to slow down till the group crossed, she felt the air playing with her hair and face as she crossed the street, before stepping over the opposite sidewalk, and passed through the café’s glass door, and made her way to the first empty table..

The waiter came, So she ordered an ice-cold coke without even looking in the menu he brought her.. She was already boiling, and drinking coffee won’t do her any good.. A cold coke would make her feel much better, especially in this hot weather..

While waiting for her order to come, “Nadia” watched the people sitting around her..

The brown haired girl sitting by the window, and looking towards the door every minute..

The mother that shouting at her girl every five minutes if she just breathed..

And finally the chick that was singing with the songs playing, while listening to her companion, and maybe answer him with a word every once in a while..

She looked at her watch again, to find that only five minutes passed..

Dammit.. The time till her car gets fixed will pass like long hours.. She thought about finishing her drink, then go look in the surrounding area to see if she finds a store where she can buy the stuff she was planning to get, to take advantage of her time here instead of sitting uselessly like this..

Her order came then, so she looked at the refreshing bubbly drink for a second, before raising the glass to her lips and taking a sip that revived her senses and made her calm a little..

She looked at the dark haired girl with the scarf that was sitting alone jealously.. Maybe if “Nadia” had her beauty or body she wouldn’t have been that angry at her life..? At least that girl wasn’t responsible for taking care of three little devils who won’t leave her except by the end of the day to sleep, leaving her lifeless and unable to do a thing other than sleeping..

She took another sip from her drink then, she found her eyes going towards the blond girl.. Maybe if she took care of herself like her..?!

Then her eyes fall accidentally on the guy sitting with the blonde.. Although his face didn’t appear from her angle, his back seemed a little familiar.. The blue shirt he was wearing seemed familiar too.. Looked like her husband’s shirt that came out from under her iron just this morning..!!

It seemed like destiny was resisting her, because his face didn’t appear from her angle at all.. The only way to see his face was to stand up and go near them, and she wasn’t really sure she wanted to do that now.. She wanted to identify him first, then take her time to decide what to do.. Didn’t want to go and make sure it was him, then just stand there like a fool not knowing what to do.. She was the think-quietly type, the brain set that froze her in her place thinking over and over again, go take a look or not..?

She stood up, then she shortly sat down again.. She’d never been the courageous type who faced people.. She hated unpredictable events that took her plans and expectations down.. Like when the car’s tire exploded, and like when she saw her husband with a much more attractive woman than herself, but she couldn’t be brave enough to go and face them both.. Not with that number of witnesses, because she couldn’t face the humiliation in front of others.. She stood again thinking: on the contrary, that was exactly what the bastard deserved.. A scandal in front of people, besides he won’t have the guts to deny, because she caught him in the act, and won’t be able to say a thing, while on the other side if she waited till they are home alone, he can simply deny everything and she won’t have a proof then.. He can say it wasn’t him or any other shit to prove she was wrong and it couldn’t have been him..

Then she sat down again, afraid of the embarrassment he can do to her in front of all this number of people.. What will be his reaction if he knew that she was watching him now..?

Stood then sat..

Sat then stood..

Dammit.. He was supposed to be the deceiver here, and he was the one who deserved to be through this hell she was in..

She was completely absorbed in watching them that she wasn’t paying attention to anything happening around, until the man stood and walked towards the bathroom..

(Still his face not completely appearing to her, that didn’t help much to make her get rid of her doubts, because her mind did his part and completed the face to make it look like her husband’s face.. Same shirt and same body, and same hairstyle.. Why would he be another guy then..?)

She focused on the girl.. Watching every move and every glimpse she made, till the guy came back, and his whole face now in front of her, and she was completely sure he was her husband.. Few moments of shock passed on her when she made sure it was him, before she recovered her senses and felt everything happening around her again..

She started sensing the waiters as they passed beside her table, carrying things to and from tables, but most of her attention was with the two love birds..

She didn’t notice the screams that came from the W.C., and when she decided finally she was courage enough to face them, whatever the results would be, she heard a weird voice that sounded like a gunshot…….!!

****

8

“Kamel”

The café’s recession had been for two weeks now.. Two long weeks and things didn’t seem like they were going to get any better, so I got used to spending time watching the customers, and try to guess the story of each one of them, rather than wasting time on boring repeated news, that filled the newspapers and the TV..

Sometimes I imagine what each one of them was telling his companion to fill the gaps in the stories.. Kind of fun and helps passing time, and more important, it was free..

I took a sip from my tea, before looking from over the newspaper I had in my hands, watching..

Looked at the lonely girl on table 2 beside the window, who kept looking at her watch every now and then.. The lucky one obviously didn’t show up yet.. Her face turned over the hour and half she’d spent here between calm, wrath, then finally rage.. Maybe every now and then she took out her small mirror to take a look at herself and make sure she was still charming..

Then the blonde hottie on table 5, and her companion who wouldn’t stop talking.. Not a married couple for sure, because the girl wasn’t that type.. Probably his mistress, or at least he was trying to convince her to be.. Not the first time I saw them together because I never forget a face.. Always come at the same time.. Tuesday afternoon..

I smiled on seeing the blondie entering the place, because the lonely girl in the brown dress was sitting on the blondie’s favorite table, the one besides the window..

I watched the blondie as she frowned on seeing the girl sitting in her place, before walking to a nearby table, to sit and start playing with a weird metallic thing I couldn’t recognize from where I was sitting, then her companion showed up..

My mobile rang, so I had to put my hobby aside a little.. My dear wife was calling to tell me not to be late, because her mum was coming today to spend a couple of days with us, and certainly I should be the lucky one who will go get her from the train station, because the dear old woman didn’t trust taxi drivers these days..

- And don’t forget to bring the meat from the butcher.. I’ll make the meat loaf you love for super and bla bla bla..

I stopped listening from that moment on.. Maybe this will be the only good memory from this miserable day.. She knew how much I loved her meat loaf, and she was cooking it on purpose today to encourage me to stand the old witch and not kill her from the first day..

- Kids home yet..?

I asked her trying to change the subject.. She answered practically:

- Yeah, and they’re doing their homework now.. Don’t forget to be home before 5.. Love you.. Tick..

That was the phone going back to its place.. she’d now go to the children’s room, to make sure they were really doing their homework and not playing after I reminded her and arose her suspicions about them really studying or not..

(I smiled at the thought, because I knew that the possibility of them really studying wouldn't exceed 40 %.. They'd probably be just pretending to study, while putting their favorite comic books inside the school books like I did when I was in their age..

Then she would head to the kitchen, to start preparing the awaited meal..

But she’d shortly discover that she was out of eggs or butter or cheese or any other kitchen crap, and she’d call me then to tell me not to forget to buy it from the supermarket on my way home.. Before that thought ended, I heard my phone ringing again and..

- Don’t forget to bring a dozen of eggs because we ran out of it..

I smiled..

- OK, any other thing..?

- Thx.. Tick..

Now came my other entertainment, that was turning the lives of my subordinates to hell, so I took my last sip of tea, and walked into the kitchen lightly.. I watched as they all went quite the moment they saw me entering.. I filled my orders firmly to the two unlucky waiters that came into my way:

- The coke is for table 3.. The Nescafé and the cheesecake are for table 1.. Hurry up.. Are you in a funeral or something..?

Firmness.. The most important thing to use in leading your subordinates.. If you just treated them nicely, they wouldn’t move from their places a single step..

I watched happily as the two new waiters walked away upset, trying not to spill any of the orders they were carrying.. They probably won’t even continue this week with us.. I could almost smell fear oozing from them, which made me happy..

****

9

“Sohair”

Dammit.. Her body was still trembling from what just happened.. It was the first time she ever caused the death of someone..!! at least she was sure he was dead, she didn’t wait to make sure, and certainly she wouldn’t descend from her safe car to try her luck, besides a hit like this wouldn’t leave a living person behind..

He was probably dead then and went up to heaven, and won’t benefit a thing if she got caught and her whole future was ruined because of him.. Besides, when she was finally able to control her nerves and stop the car, she was already far from the place of the accident.. What was she supposed to do then..? Now that would be a very important moral question, but knowing that nobody saw her, the practical answer would be to get the hell away from there, then acting innocent as if she didn’t just kill someone.. Besides, she was already going to see her lover, so no need to act decently.. Since she was already a sinner, let’s continue the road to its end then to deserve the title..

Important information to prevent her from feeling guilty:

She already had enough things to worry about.. No need for another issue to be added to her list..

She continued driving till that café where she told “Sherif” they’d meet after finishing his work.. He wasn’t there when she arrived so she made her way to their usual table beside the window, but she found that tense girl sitting there, so she frowned and mumbled few words before sitting on a nearby table..

She took a deep breath to calm herself a little and stop her body from shivering, then ordered a glass of cold water to busy her mind a little from what was waiting for her, and watched the other customers sitting around.. There was a woman and her noisy little girl who wouldn’t stop running and passing beside “Sohair’s table screaming, two suspicious men who wouldn’t stop whispery nervous conversations, and a handsome young guy who wouldn’t stop looking at her..!!

(Sorry hone.. You’re really cute, but I’m afraid I’m already taken.. If you came a little early then maybe………)

And finally that damn girl that sat on her table, who wouldn’t stop calling someone on mobile, and looking completely alienated from whatever was happening around.. “Sohair” looked after that at the TV screen in the corner, and watched the news that was talking about a hit and run accident in downtown..

- …..and the police is still trying to identify the driver and the victim in the hit and run accident that killed the young man downtown..

Shit.. It got to the news already..?

But things were still in her favor, and nothing to relate her to the crime..

For some reason she found herself thinking about the guy she hit.. When she was at the situation itself she was clumsy and scared and all she could think of was herself and how to get away before being caught.. Now after sitting safe and starting to calm, she started thinking about the guy’s soul that went to heaven quickly.. Did he have a wife or a girlfriend waiting..? To whom was the bunch of flowers he was carrying and jumped from his hand on the hit..? And what’d the one waiting for him do on finding that her man wouldn’t come on their appointment..? Wouldn’t come at all..? Will she think that he was just another bastard who walked away on her without a reason other than boredom..?

She was thinking about all of this not knowing that the one waiting for him was sitting a couple of steps – literally – from her..

-I’m not late, am I..?

That was “Sherif” sitting on her table, trying to catch up his breaths.. His voice startled her, but she managed to pull herself together quickly, answering him:

- No… I’ve been here for five minutes only..

- OK.. Why aren’t you sitting on our usual table..?

- Was already occupied..

- Are you OK..?

He wondered, looking at her, before checking the menu that the blonde waitress brought him.. She lighted a cigarette answering:

- Yeah..

- Sure..? You don’t look like your usual..

- Believe me.. I’m fine..

She answered, rolling a curl of her hair between her fingers, looking totally distracted, so he didn’t insist to bother her..

He stopped the fat waiter passing by, to order a Nescafé, before turning to his companion to find her completely absorbed by her cell phone, so he stood up..

- I’ll go to the bathroom till my order comes..

- OK..

She answered him without even looking.. That bloody accident damaged her nerves and she didn’t want to talk or look at anyone..

She thought about how fragile this world was, and how it was easy to travel from it to the other world without any warning signs..

Raising her eyes, she wanted to apologize to him for being that cold, but she found him already gone.. She watched as he walked away, trying to avoid two running kids, before turning towards the bathroom.. He must be thinking now:

What the hell was wrong with her..?

She noticed the song playing, without understanding a single word in it…

Singing in their own way,

Some street songs,

She’s so blonde…

As blonde as a sunbeam.

Her curls are wandering,

And cutting in the sky…..

Edith Piaf .. Tous les Amoureux Chantent

******

Feeling the song too romantic for her taste, she took out her mp3, and placed the headphones in her ears.. She never liked Edith Piaf.. Kylie Minogue was closer to her taste.. She turned on the mp3, letting it carry her to another world, isolating her completely from what was happening around..

She didn’t hear the screams coming from the bathroom, neither did she hear the sound of the gunshot.. She didn’t realize something was wrong except when someone tapped on her shoulder roughly, asking her to join the rest..

****

10

“Omar”

- If you think I’ll go with this play forever then you’re mistaken..

I gritted my teeth in rage, trying to look tough, but the irony and confidence in his eyes didn’t seem to differ a bit.. I angrily looked away or else I’d jump on him smashing his high-in-the-sky head..

- And if you think yourself smarter than me and can get rid of me, I’m afraid to tell you that you’re the mistaken one here..

He grinned at me before taking another sip from his drink.. The damn conniver made all the possible precautions and..

- What could be possibly preventing me from getting rid of you right now..?

I was angry that I had to try the cigarette lighter twice before I could manage to light the damn cigarette.. He rolled his sunglasses between his fingers uncaring..

- Maybe because of the fact of the too many witnesses with us now..? Maybe because of the fact of the envelope I left at my lawyer’s office like I told you before..? The envelope should matter to you because it contains the whole story, which will guarantee you a nice vacation away from all troubles in jail, and you won’t have to worry then about disturbance of bastards like me and..

I threw my cup roughly on the table shrieking:

- I got your point.. Till now are you planning to continue this..?

He lit another cigarette, grinning at me..

- Mmm.. I like smart questions.. I guess till I collect enough money or till you die.. Whatever happens first..

Dammit.. I watched him having his drink all smiling, before grinning at me again while placing his cup on the table again..

Sure there was a way to get rid of him for good.. Murder wasn’t an option unfortunately.. Not because I was a nice guy or something, but rather because of that bloody envelope.. Maybe if I could find a way to get rid of the lawyer as well..? Maybe if I could manage to get him into trouble and my only condition to save him is to handle me the envelope..? Too dreamy solutions I’m afraid..

I looked at the people sitting around us, thinking.. My eyes went to the far window, trying to work my brain out till I find a solution.. I looked at the girl in the brown dress sitting by that window, and looking around her nervously.. Your situation sure wasn’t as bad as mine dear, so no need for all of this edginess..

Why was I that edgy myself..? Because that conniver had proofs I was involved in the bribery of several officials in the process of building my residential tower.. A tower that had been there for two years and didn’t get one bloody violation, then a loser like this one comes and thinks he can play smart..? Destroys everything I worked for and every penny I spent on the bloody project..?

But unfortunately the winning cards (That were the record for me with the chairman of the district, with a copy of the cheque I gave him, and God only knew how he got these..) are with him, and no way I could get them except by following his instructions, which were simple ones.. Just one million dollar transferred to an account in a Swiss bank

(Damn.. Too predictive..)

He shall give me the number and name of that account on the exact same day of the transfer..

What will happen next..?

I sure knew what would happen.. It’d be a false name that will disappear from existence together with the money in two hours at most after the transfer, and sure I couldn’t call the police or else there will be questions and investigations and I’ll be caught with them, since my business career wasn’t exactly the cleanest if you know what I mean..

Then I’ll have to wait miserably till he sends me the only copy of the documents and the records, as he promised me, hoping that it’ll be the last cooperation between us, though I doubt this last point..

- I gave you my word.. You think I’m a child or something..?

He pretended to feel insulted.. Stirring sugar in the second cup of tea I had In this bloody meeting, I answered him in boredom:

- Sure not.. You’re just a conniver sugar..

I threw another cube of sugar in the tea after I tasted it, enjoying the rage that appeared in his eyes for a second, then stirred my drink watching as the white solid cube lost its existence in the dark hot drink.. I took a sip feeling my senses coming back to me again..

I raised my head when I heard the voice of the café’s glass door opening.. A blondie wearing sunglasses and pretending to be mysterious.. She entered, holding the hand of a blonde little girl, that looked like her younger sister or something.. I watched them as they both went to the table on the opposite side of the column from us ..

- What will you do with all of this money..?

I asked him suddenly.. A million dollar.. What can a guy do with this huge amount of money..?

He’ll never be able to finish them alone.. I asked calmly.. No anger, hatred, or even grudge.. Just plain curiosity.. I really wanted to know the answer.. Will he travel abroad..? Buy a luxurious apartment..? Go everywhere..? Buy a Mercedes..? But will this really cost a million dollar..? He seemed surprised by the question.. He rolled the glass the waiter just put in front of him between his fingers for a couple of seconds, before saying in a cold tone:

- None of your business I guess…?

Didn’t feel embarrassed as I thought I would be.. I smiled as I looked at the TV screen, that was turned on the news, announcing that it was such a sad day for the country because of all the tragic accidents that happened..

The irony was in the TV reporter himself.. A flashy elegant guy who tried to look interested in the poor people’s problems and lives, while he was about to burst from his flashiness and his almost glowing teeth..

The thing that got my attention was one of the disasters they talked about..

It was about the collapsing of a building in Madinet Nasr, and the death of a great number of its residents under the debris of the shattered building..

They brought footage from the scene, where many rescue-men were trying to save anyone uselessly..

There won’t be much time before they know the name of that building owner.. And then what will they do ..?!!

****

11

“Dalia”

She looked at her reflection on the glass door for a second, before stepping in, pulling little “Leila” behind her.. She probably looked like an addict.. She could tell.. Her puffy eyes and her messy hair didn’t make it better, but she wasn’t in the mood for caring about her looks.. Not with that disaster waiting for her.. At least she knew that the sunglasses she was wearing were hiding her blood red eyes.. She passed through the elegant glass door hesitating, feeling a little dizzy from the strain she felt herself under..

She looked around to see whether “Mourad” came or not, to find that the answer was no, so she made her way towards a small table in the corner behind one of the many columns in the place, because she wanted to do her best for not to be seen.. She took off her white jacket before rubbing her simple brown dress nervously because she felt it dusted all over, then she sat down, taking off her sunglasses before putting them in her bag, while the little girl was all edgy looking around.. She knew that “Leila” always felt awesome when entering new, grown up places like this one, cause it made her felt like she was a grown up herself, which made her happy..

When the smiling blonde waitress came, she ordered an orange juice for herself, and for the little one she ordered diet strawberry ice cream.. Just like she liked it.. “Dalia” knew that this place was fancy enough to serve diet ice creams, because she came here before with “Mourad” who showed up after few minutes of waiting that seemed like eternity..

- Couldn’t you find a worse place to sit in..?

He joked as he sat on the third chair, sitting right in front of her, while looking at the little girl who looked at him curiously, before leaning on “Dalia’s ear, whispering:

- Who is he Mrs. “Dalia”..?

- A friend of mine sweetie.. Don’t worry..

She whispered back, patting on the little girl’s wavy blond hair, then looked at him silently.. Her eyes said every word she wanted, but was afraid to say..

- What’s your name young lady..?

He smiled as he took her chin between his fingers gently..

- “Leila”..

She smiled back at him, then she went back to her ice cream, ignoring both of them..

She must be wondering now who was this guy, because she never saw him or heard of him from her nanny – that was “Dalia” – before.. Why was he sitting with us and joking that way with me then..? Those were “Dalia’s thoughts when “Mourad’s voice came suddenly…

- Did you leave the message to her parents..?

He whispered, putting an eye on the girl to make sure she wasn’t listening.. “Dalia” whispered back, looking around to make sure no one was near enough to hear them:

- Yeah.. They’ll see it in two hours max when they return from the cinema.. Did you prepare the place for the girl..? Remember she is diabetic and must receive her insulin shot in time..

He took out a cigarette, answering:

- Don’t worry sugar.. You aren’t dealing with amateurs here..

He took a breath from his cigarette, before noticing her dreadful gaze, that made him put it off quickly..

- Would you like to order something sir..?

The waiter asked while taking “Dalia’s empty glass..

- Espresso.. Double.. Do you want to have something else..?

He asked his adult companion who shook her head refusing silently, before looking at the TV that had the news on.. There was a report about a hit and run accident, and the police’s efforts to catch the driver.. Will their story find its way to the news too..? Or will the two rich fellas pay the ransom silently to have their only daughter back..? She wouldn’t know the answer now unfortunately.. Not before their story reaches its middle at least.. But now it was barely the beginning.. Prequel would be a better description.. She looked at her companion to find him adding sugar to his espresso, then she looked at the big mirror that wasn’t too far.. She looked at her reflection, and stopped at its eyes..!! Was “Jehovah” carrying that much guilt in his eyes in the last supper painting..?

- “Dalia”..!! Wohooo..!!

She noticed his waving at her..

- What..? Were you saying something..?

- Yeah.. I was asking your highness if you want to leave now..

She looked at his empty cup of coffee.. Had she been inattentive all that time..?

Didn’t know why, but she was afraid to say yes.. As being here in a public place gave them the chance to change their minds and cancel the silly plan.. They could still return the girl to her parents and tear the ransom message, that she left beside the large vase in the hall of their mansion, in a way that makes them see it the minute they walk through the door.. She could still return to her previous life as if nothing happened, and the girl herself didn’t even notice anything.. Today would be just like a nice picnic to her..

She looked at her watch, to find that she still had time.. They’d been out for just an hour….

But if she went along with him in this plan and went with the girl to his place, nothing would stay the same.. The police will come after them instantly because of her rich powerful parents, and they would quickly become two running rats with no place to hide.. She whispered her thoughts to her companion, and he completely understood her point of view..

- Dammit.. Not after all this planning.. Are you stupid or something..?

He gritted his teeth, looking around him, continuing:

- Perfect plan.. Perfect place to hide.. You remember that you need the money as much I do, right..? Do I have to remind you of your father..?

Not finding a word to say, she frowned, looking at the little girl, and her mind drifted to the past couple of months.. She remembered her father’s debts.. Remembered that the deadline was within one month and they couldn’t find any other way to bring money.. If the debts weren’t paid in time the bank would take over their house, just like his lawyer office was sold to pay some of the debts.. That was when her fiancé “Mourad” told her his genius plan of kidnapping the daughter of the rich fellas she worked for, and ask for a large ransom to give her back in one piece.. A ransom that would be enough to release her father from his debts, and still have enough money for them to start their lives in another country.. She watched little “Leila” who finished her ice cream, and started looking at them both curiously.. The child didn’t know what she’d got her involved in.. “Dalia” put herself in the young girl’s shoes, and tried to imagine what would she be thinking now.. Let’s assume that….

- “Dalia”.. It’s not exactly the best time to reevaluate your life.. Come on..

She came to her senses on his touch, while asking the waiter for the check.. She looked around to find that absolutely no one was watching.. Everyone was completely involved in his or her own drama, that no one noticed a young diabetic girl who was about to be kidnapped..

The check came, so he left enough money for the bill and suitable tips, before he stood up.. She took out her sunglasses and put them on while standing..

- I’ll take you both to watch something cool kid.. Deal..?

“Mourad” gave the child his hand smiling, to help her stand up.. She whispered to “Dalia” who was now wearing her jacket:

- Where will we go Mrs” Dalia”..? Mum will be worried if we’re late..

- Don’t worry honey.. We won’t be late..

She tried to smile while holding the little girl’s hand.. Through her black sunglasses she could see worry in her innocent face.. She was still a child who wasn’t ready for any of this.. She would probably freeze from fear in the bloody place even if no one hurt her, and maybe her heart will actually stop causing a disaster..

- “Mourad”.. Time isn’t too late.. We can still back away..

She whispered to him, while keeping an eye on the girl who went to chase a colored butterfly that sneaked to the place.. He didn’t even look at her while standing up:

- Sorry.. The young lady will rest for few days at my place till her parents pay the bloody money, then she’ll return to them safe and sound, and we shall be rich enough to get a fresh new start, which is considered to be a happy ending for everyone.. So can you stop playing the role of the pessimistic character for a minute..? What can possibly go wrong..?

Not knowing what to say, she decided to shut up.. Maybe if she just stayed quiet and stopped her brain – which took her to hell – from working for a while, things can actually go fine and the story ends with a happy ending like he was saying..?

That was when she heard the gun shots..!!

****

12

“Kareem”

- Got it or I’ve got to tell you the whole thing again..?

The “boss” asked while crossing the street towards that old fashioned café.. I felt the summer’s hot air tickling my face, while we were crossing, trying to avoid the speeding cars.. I did my best to be in the front to hear the “Boss” if he said something.. I looked at him, his face almost completely hidden behind a Ray ban black sunglasses, stepping confidently across the road, thanks to the green lights.. I revised the plan in my head quickly.. The café’s income was supposed to be high, and their safe would be full of money.. We chose the timing carefully.. 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday..

The café would be crowded, besides, they transfer their weekly income to the bank on Wednesday afternoon as we knew after careful spying, which meant that today would be the biggest possible income.. Choosing a crowded hour too was in the plan, so that the owner and the workers of the place wouldn’t risk the lives of the customers, or their own lives, so they probably would handle us the money quietly after seeing our weapons and noticing our seriousness..

- No “Boss”.. We’re ready..

We all said, before splitting as the plan said, to avoid arousing suspicions, we would enter separately, before spreading in the whole place as ordinary customers.. We won’t announce our presence before covering every corner of the café, in order not to give anyone the chance to think of fighting us..

We’ll surround them like a bracelet did to a wrist, and they won’t be able to escape except by following our instructions, and then – maybe – we could let the go..

I was the third one to enter, so I waited round the corner, because the rules were to wait for three minutes between each one entering and the next..

I lit a cigarette, trying to pass time till my entry time comes.. A blonde girl in white and brown dress passed by, and her attracting smell caught my nose, while her ponytail hair was flying behind her in a charming way, a young girl was walking beside her, and they were heading towards the café, so I ignored them although she was my favorite type.. The young girl was probably her daughter, besides we were here on business, so no time for these stuff, otherwise the whole mission will fail, which was the last thing I would want to happen.. A look at my stopwatch told me that I had to come in after two minutes.. I noticed a guy passing beside me, to enter the crowded café from which a man in an old fashioned grey suit just came out.. My time came, so I set my thoughts aside while putting off my cigarette in a hurry, before stepping nervously through the fancy glass door, seeing a waiter passing beside me while screaming in his mobile..

If you didn’t finish your phone call quickly honey you’re going to miss the big show that’ll start in few minutes.. I made my way to the inside smiling, and walked to the spot I was told to stay in, that was beside the cashier.. The first thing I felt was the lovely coldness of the air conditioner, which was something nice in this hot weather, and helped me to calm a little after the stove I’ve been in outside for nearly ten minutes.. I started looking at the place around me to find it fancy just like I expected it to be..

The old songs that came from the corner helped to fix that impression.. I saw the blonde sitting on a small table together with the little one, who was completely taken by the cup of ice cream in front of her.. When I raised my eyes I saw one of our men sitting on a table beside the TV, and talking to the waitress in an enviable confidence..

I watched the rest of the café’s customers, and all I could think about was: If they knew what was going to happen now, they wouldn’t have been sitting that comfortable and relaxing.. I gloomily watched that guy joining the blonde, and sitting to her table smiling, which said a lot about how much they already knew each other, anyway I wasn’t going to talk to her, besides, my life was a total mess right now and I wasn’t in the mood to get to know someone, so let’s not pretend to be disappointed.. Let’s get to work then.. Looking at my watch anxiously, I realized that time was running towards the starting of the plan, not more than few seconds left..!!

I saw “Sameer” walking towards the café’s door confidently, doing his part of the plan, which demanded closing the door and preventing anyone from entering, after hanging a sign on the outer side of the door that said:

Renovation.. Will be opening shortly..

That way no one would try, or be able to come in and the place would be completely ours..

On the other hand two other men of our team made their way towards the few windows in the place, either to close them, or to ask firmly from the cafe’s customers sitting beside them to do.. That step was to prevent anyone from outside seeing what was about to happen, and to prevent anyone from inside trying to call anyone from outside for help..

I watched surprise or confusion appearing on some of the people sitting on interrupting their talking.. The idiots didn’t know that this was just the start.. They had no idea of what was about to happen to them..

Starting to get dark because of pulling down the curtains, “Sameer” switched on the lights.. White quite lights that spread through the place, changing the fun atmosphere that was in the air just a couple of seconds ago, and along came silence, except for the classical songs that were playing ever since we came in..

People starred curiously at "Sameer", who didn't look like the rest of the café's stuff.. I watched the “Boss" as he did the third step of the plan, that was to fire a gunshot towards the ceiling to get everyone's attention.. They started to put the picture together and understand what was happening around them.. Few broken pieces of the ceiling -where the bullet hit - fall in front of my eyes on the wooden floor with a loud sound, while the rest of our team took their guns out, and pointed them to every corner of the place professionally..

Complete uninterrupted silence took over, except for the nervous breaths from the people who were still trying to figure the whole thing, and the sound of the songs coming from somewhere, and then came our “Boss’s confident voice:

- I shall be quick.. Any silly attempt to be a hero won’t give any of you anything except for a bullet in the head.. We’ll take your money and precious belongings quietly then go away fast.. Just a few minutes if you cooperate with us, and everything will be over I promise.. All of us want to go home one piece after all, clear..?

Meanwhile, two of us went to the kitchen to do another part of the plan, that was to drag the café’s stuff out to join the rest, who were shaking in front of us, while another one went to the café’s safe to get what was inside..

The people rose up slowly from their places under our threats, and they all headed to sit down on the floor along the large mirror that took a whole wall.. That way no one will have the guts to do something stupid because it’d be too obvious in their reflections.. I looked around checking the place, to see an old poster of (psycho) movie, where “Hitchcock” was pointing at us to be silent, the thing that made me smile..

I saw the café’s stuff as they appeared from the kitchen, not completely understanding what was going on.. One of them tried to object, so he received a hit in the jaw from the back of a gun, which kept him quiet.. A fat guy with huge nose told the rest nervously to follow our instructions and not to fight.. I like this type of victims, that help us without even asking them..

Hiding behind my dark glasses, I watched them as they joined the rest who were sitting with their hands raised above their heads, and fear was just in every move they made and every breath they took.. Plain uncontrollable fear.. They starred at us with wide eyes that kept tracing every move any of us made..

I leaned on the main door of the place, studying them, trying to evaluate them.. Will any of them try to fight, or will it be a quick easy and go..? The horror in their eyes showed that they didn’t want anything other than going out of this place alive..

In such stressful moments, people almost only think of how fragile life is, and how easily it can be taken from them in just a second.. A second after which they only become a memory in the minds of their loved ones.. A memory that can stay with them for a few hours.. Days.. Even years..!! Then end up forgotten, covered by dust and life just drags the people who once couldn’t live without them in its daily race that’s more than enough to make people forget anything..

Tears started to appear in some eyes.. are they wondering what will we do to them after we get what we wanted..? will we leave them alive..? will we kill them anyway..?

I saw the blond girl as she was padding nervously on her little girl’s hair, while whispering in her ears.. Was she trying to comfort her by telling her if she stayed quiet everything will be okay..?

I saw my partners as they passed between the hostages to collect their belongings, some were co-operative and took their things out quickly, while others weren’t.. Anyone looked suspicious enough was forced to come out and searched carefully for any valuable things.. Those whose turn didn’t come yet watched our (cleaning guys) coming towards them in horror, or our (watching guys) like me in nervous silence..

Did they think about the possibility of them going out alive, to tell about this painful experience to their friends and families..? And if they were lucky and lived long enough, to their grandchildren too..? In the winter cold nights, while drinking their tea.. Maybe some of them would even add more incidents to what happened and over describe his braveness in fighting the losers who attacked the place (that would be us) ..?

Maybe others will add crap like us being a part of a religious or a terrorist group, to use the incident to their own interest, just like TV reporters do already to be sure that their report about the incident would be attractive enough for their viewers.. I mean, what would be attractive in an ordinary theft..? It happens every day..

What would make the report more attractive was us belonging to a terrorist group that terrorized innocent civilians for sure..

For some reason I found myself thinking about my life few months ago.. I was a successful guy, and my life was going good, and had all the successful future ahead of me..

When did things start to fall then..? Difficult to decide precisely.. I guess after my wife “Rania” died at that hospital after spending a long time receiving chemotherapy, that wasn’t exactly successful in her case.. Since then I tried to forget all my issues by gambling..

Not wanting to go back home except for sleeping, as every corner in the house kept reminding me of her.. The classical furniture that she chose herself.. The wallpaper that she insisted on buying.. Briefly, I saw her in every statue and every chair and every corner of the house, and now, this only brought me grief..

The only thing that I wanted now was to watch the ball as it rolled, stopped, hopefully making me win.. Things were good at the start and I couldn’t deny it, especially that I was winning at the beginning, which encouraged me on diving more and more, but soon things started to exacerbate.. Debts kept piling up, and no matter how many times I played trying to make up for my loss, I ended up losing more.. I remembered that night in the casino I used to go to every several days.. I remembered the ball running and running.. Remembered the smoke in the air and the sweaty faces watching the ball in its hectic round..

The faint light and the jazz music coming from everywhere.. Greedy eyes following the ball eagerly, before the critical moment came and the ball stopped at number (2), which was the last number I wanted to see it stop at.. Carrying my glass of wine, I stood up, all staggered, walking away, while the eyes were now on me, some in pity and some in gloat..

Walking towards the large balcony, to take a look at the moon and the surrounding clouds..

- New loss.. Eh..?

The voice of “Khalid”, the café’s old owner startled me, he was standing there with his wily voice and gaze and inside as if the devil himself was standing next to me..

He was putting his hand on my shoulder in an exacerbating familiarity..

- The usual..

I replied coldly while looking ahead of me.. He watched me as I took another sip from my glass, before laughing…

- Hehe.. We both know it’s not like every time dear.. Do you even know how much your debts became..?

He grinned at me, taking my hand, leading me outside the balcony, and through the dark hall and the adjacent bodies.. I left my glass with a waiter that appeared from somewhere, while I tried to concentrate.. The wine I’ve been drinking the whole night left me too dizzy and thirsty.. I stepped, feeling a bit groggy on the large red carpet covering the floor.. I remembered glasses clanging, naked shoulders and lewd laughs passing by us.. Round tables moving aside, as if to clear our way.. I remembered scenes changing quickly around me, as I walked behind him without any will of my own.. “Rania” died.. What else mattered..? I didn’t even care enough for my daughter who must be sleeping now in her bluish bedroom with her teddy bear.. Even caring for her was a load for me that I left to my sister.. We ended up in his office..

He entered, leaving me at the door till he switched on the lights..

On the quite white light that spread through the room, I saw him walking to the dark curtains, before pulling them aside.. I sneak peeked around me, to what looked like a principal’s office for me and don’t ask me why..

If we excluded the parrot that kept looking at us curiously since we entered, I could say that the whole place was a lot staid than what I was expecting to see.. Starting from the heavy wooden desk in the middle of the room, passing by the fancy Iranian rug that sneaked from under the desk till it reached the two comfortable armchairs at the end of the room, where he told me to sit, till we reach the small fridge beside the desk, and in a corner of the room there was a bunch of small TV screens that showed him what was happening in the whole place..

He closed the door to prevent any unwanted distractions, then walked to his desk where he lighted a cigarette for himself, without caring to offer one for me.. He made his offer that was direct to the point.. My debts became intolerable, and no use of depending on my luck to pay them.. The casino’s management wasn’t exactly happy with my way of dealing with the debts that just kept piling up, rather than trying to really pay them.. That was why they were going to give me a simple mission.. If I was to complete it successfully, my debts will be something from the past, and then we can have a new start if I’m willing to still have that damn hobby of mine.. “Khalid” went towards the iron cage beside the window, and gave the green creature inside some food..

- You should know that it’s not personal, but we can’t leave deferred payments.. Not exactly the best reputation we would like for the place.. Don’t you think so..?

I remember my head rolling, while I did my best to keep my eyes on the fat old man.. I remembered that all I managed to get out of my mouth then was:

- What kind of mission..?

- MISSION.. MISSION..!!

The parrot shouted my last two words while jumping inside his cage.. The old man smiled answering my question:

- Too simple.. Just helping us with collecting cash from another debtor.. The only thing is that the way of collecting is a little different than usual.. You’ll go with a bunch of trustful men to collect the money yourselves from his safe..

- HIS SAFE.. HIS SAFE..!!

The parrot was still acting like an echo machine, while dizziness started losing its control on my head from the surprise.. I shrieked:

- Theft..? Don’t think so..

He smiled at me, before turning to his parrot and give it something to chew..

- As you like.. Just wanted to help.. Anyway I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you soon when you change your mind..

- YOUR MIND.. YOUR MIND.. CHANGE YOUR MIND.. !!

The damn parrot kept repeating his last words while jumping in his place as if it had gone nuts, while I tried to realize what to do now.. The chat was over before it even began.. Leave..? That easy..?

I leaned on the hand of my armchair, trying to pull myself together.. “Khalid” went to open the door silently, which explained that I should be going now just like I thought..

He didn’t try to stop me, neither did any of his gorilla-like assistants like they used to do before…no one even tried harassing me .. They just stood there watching me as I left..

And when I went back home I found that little “Nancy” was gone, and there was a short notice saying that I know what to do if I wanted to see her again..

That’s why you see me here carrying that pistol that I’m not even good at using, pretending to be dangerous, pretending to be a professional gangster, just to finish the bloody job and set my only child free from the claws of the villains who took her.. Had to do so because all the attempts I made to find their hiding place were useless, and my sister didn’t see anyone around the house that night, and didn’t even realize what happened till I came back.. We stood for few seconds looking stupidly at the empty small bed.. Couldn’t find anything they left behind to use to follow them, and there wasn’t enough time from the first place.. They just gave me one day to give them a final answer..!! Either yes, and have my daughter back in one piece after the theft is over, or no, and receive her back in many pieces..

When my sister asked me whether I knew where the girl was, and what did that note mean, I didn’t know what to say, things were complicated enough without her in, so I told her it was a sick joke from my pals, and left the house quickly promising her to return with the girl as soon as possible..

But I obviously overestimated myself, because I couldn’t find a clue to lead me to their place, so I didn’t have another solution.. I had to accept their bloody deal.. My eyes went quickly on the people sitting silently, horrified, or broken-down in front of us, trying not to think of how much we must be assholes to them..

If I just handled things wisely.. If I wasn’t stupid enough to plunge myself that much in that bloody world.. But I guess it was a little bit late for those thoughts now.. The trigger was pushed and the bullet was already fired, and the best ending for that nightmare is to end neatly without victims from both sides, so that I could get my daughter back..

If that bastard named “Khalid” tried stalling after this I’ll eat him alive.. I wouldn’t have then anything to lose.. A dead guy walking was a good description.. I’m already one ever since “Rania” died so let’s not deceive ourselves..

Just soulless body walking.. “Nancy” who didn’t do anything wrong to be involved in this was the reason I’m here.. It wasn’t her fault that her dad was a drunkard idiot who pushed his life to the complete mess that ended with her being kidnapped.. She was just six, and she deserved better than that..

My eyes stopped on a little girl trembling from fear in her mother’s hands, the mum was that blonde who got my attention earlier while walking into the place.. The little girl’s eyes reminded me of my daughter’s, but my daughter had a darker hair.. Was she trembling like this kid in the gang’s lair..?

Was she crying like her..? How were they treating her..?

Did she eat anything since the day she was taken..? For I knew that she never ate with someone strange, especially if she was scared.. I knew I haven’t been exactly spending much time with her, but I knew her enough to be sure of that.. I set my thoughts aside, to find that everything was just the same, so I returned to my Hell again..

I walked through the place for a couple of steps, So that no one might think I wasn’t paying attention, to find myself ending up next to the glass door that had a blue curtain pulled down on.. I leaned on the door thinking: was she still wearing the ballet dress she always slept in..? How came no one saw her with “Khalid’s men and suspect her being kidnapped..?

Was she injured..? What did they tell her when she asked where she was..? How did they answer her when she asked who were they, and where was her dad and her aunt..?

Did she realize that she was kidnapped, and that daddy was stealing now to set her free..? I recalled a memory.. The one when we went to the circus together..

- Daddy.. What is theft..?

Was one of the few days we spent together recently.. I wondered, trying to gain some time to make up an answer:

- Where did you hear that word..?

She took a bite from her candy before answering:

- In a story.. Do they really go to hell..?

- Yes.. A thief is a bad person sweetie because he takes Something that doesn’t belong to him.. Don’t you think so..?

Well.. I must say that I didn’t really much like the idea of being a preacher, but I was her dad and I was entitled in the role unfortunately..

- mmm.. I guess..

She answered, before turning to the cotton candy she was carrying with all of her attention..

I patted on her smooth brown hair, before taking her from her hand to change the dark subject.. There was a small booth where they played aiming games, where you shoot an arrow at a moving toy to win a prize, and although I was never accused of having a good sight, I managed to hit the target from the second try, and the prize was that teddy bear that “Nancy” chose from the trophies.. The look in her eyes when she hugged the brown fuzzy toy was priceless, and when we were back home, she kept holding it as if she was the winner, and on her bed, she took it to keep her a company since then.. That was after my wife had just died, and I was trying to be a normal dad then, before ruining everything and realize that it wasn’t for me, and that I couldn’t take care of her alone.. My sister realized that too so she decided to come live with us since she wasn’t married, and since she adored “Nancy”, while I was dragged by “Khalid” and his dark world, that ended with me being here..

****

A guy looked suspicious enough for me, for being confused more than the others, and when he was passing by “Sameer” and me he whispered to us:

- You need to know something..

- Don’t think so.. Go sit with the rest..

“Sameer” pointed his gun at the guy, but I noticed then the blood that was covering the ends of his pants.. When I told “Sameer”, he grabbed the guy’s hand, asking him roughly:

- Whose blood is that bro..?

- A girl.. She committed suicide in the bathroom before you arrived with few minutes, an ambulance is on its way, and probably the police too because they know about the suicide thing..

We looked at each other unable to react.. Dammit.. We couldn’t be more lucky.. Breaking into a café just minutes before the police comes.. Dammit..!!

- Calm down bro..

“Sameer” grabbed me to a corner and looked me in the eye, trying to make me stop shivering.. I shouted crazily:

- Don’t tell me to calm down..!! There wasn’t supposed to be any killing..

He placed his hand on my mouth, whispering coldly:

- Did anyone of us kill her stupid..? The bitch committed suicide.. Now shut up before anyone hears you..

The hostages started looking at us already..

- Say that to the police that will come soon to kick our asses..

I removed his hand angrily, before pulling myself together.. It already happened and nothing can be done to change it..

I didn’t care about any of this.. All my thinking was about “Nancy”, and for the first time in a while, I started thinking about God, and whether he really exited or not..? And if he did, will he look after my daughter that had nothing to do with any of this..?

****

13

“Nadia”

Looking on her right, she found the girl with the scarf looking in front of her, uncaring of what was happening.. What could be possibly making a beautiful girl like her apathetic about death, unlike the rest..? But “Nadia” didn’t have the guts to open her mouth and try talking to the girl, because she no longer had enough emotional strength, besides she was afraid that anyone of the people threatening them would see her and think they were putting a plan to escape, so she kept looking in front of her silently, before leaning on her legs with both of her arms, waiting to see what would happen..

She heard someone in the front line sobbing, and heard the men’s confident footsteps while passing between the people in the front row to pick up their money.. She was in the third row so these miserable moments of waiting would last for a while, before her turn comes… She found herself thinking: what would happen next..?

Would they set them free that simple after they’d seen their faces and identified them..? If they had the least amount of intelligence, which she knew they had judging this clever plan and this professional implementation, the logical answer would be: no..

Anyone of the people around her could identify many of them if they were to be confronted in the police station.. Since they decided to show them their bare faces, then there must be some kind of a twist in the tale waiting, and probably a lethal one.. But she decided to keep her thoughts to herself in order not to frighten any of the people around, causing a riot, and the attackers lose their minds and kill someone of them as a threat to the rest.. Let’s stay calm and see where would that go.. She found herself looking at the pulled down curtains.. Didn’t anyone passing by notice there was something wrong happening inside..? Didn’t they wonder about pulling down the curtains in the middle of the day..? Will anyone of the people outside be smart enough to suspect that something fishy was happening..? Will anyone call the cops..? Will the cops ever come to rescue them, or they’d just be imprisoned here till those men decide their fates..?

A look on the front row showed her “Sherif” sitting next to that bloody blonde woman.. He knew that she saw him, but didn’t open his mouth.. Even worse, he looked like he didn’t see her from the first place.. He just looked in her way for a moment while they were all heading to sit beside the wall like the armed men ordered, but his face didn’t even change as if she was someone strange.. Was it the shock..? The tension they were in prevented him from realizing that the woman looking at him was his wife..? She didn’t get a chance since then to try to talk to him or get his attention…

- You think they’re going to kill us..?

The whispering soft voice coming from her right startled her.. She guessed it was the girl with the scarf – that she’d shortly know her name was “Nadine” – without looking..

- I really don’t know, but I hope they don’t..

“Nadia” whispered back without removing her eyes from the fat guy with the strange nose sitting in front of her, trying not to open her mouth too much, so that none of those Haines watching them notice..

But the moment she spoke the words, she realized how silly they must’ve sounded.. She hoped..? Were those really the best words she got to say..? But the girl next to her whispered again:

- They murdered a girl already..

A shiver ran through “Nadia’s spine.. That was a new piece of information.. Just suspecting that they’d kill them was a thing, and having already murdered one of them was another thing.. She thought this might end in a clean way without anyone murdered; a part of her stayed hoping that all of her doubts were just because she was paranoid, but when did they kill that girl, and more important question:

- Who..?

She whispered back nervously, preventing herself hardly from looking at “Nadine”.. She tried to keep her eyes on the backs of the people in front of her, and at that moment she started to think about one thing: what was the story of each one of them, and who was waiting for each one back home..? A wife.. A mistress.. Children.. A mum..? Will those armed men murder them all ending this bunch of lives at once..?

Would she and the people around her become just a report on the news like those awful reports they’d seen earlier..? Her whole body trembled as she prayed for God to make the whole thing come to an end..

Finding her heart beats fastened, and cold sweat running over her back, she found herself asking God to end this difficult situation quickly, she prayed it finishes anyway.. If these men wanted to kill then go ahead.. This waiting was just inhuman..

- Whom did they kill..?

That whisper came from the blonde waitress on her left, who heard a part of their chat.. “Nadia” saw the waitress leaning towards them slightly to hear better.. “Nadine” whispered in her soft voice, while moving her leg that stiffened from sitting on the floor for a long time:

- A girl was murdered, and they disposed the body in the bathroom so that no one sees it..

“Nadia” felt the waitress’s body shivering, and mumbling in a low voice that she only got from:

- ….. don’t wanna die …..

The girl mumbled the words crying, which made“Nadia” feel sorry for her, but she was afraid to make any move to comfort the girl, and one of their watchers see her, so she just patted on the girl’s hand silently, as if trying to make her feel she wasn’t alone.. She knew that this for sure wasn’t enough, but that was the only thing she could think of at that moment.. She felt the girl’s hand as cold as ice against her hand.. She was no longer a blonde attractive woman that “Nadia” envied for her looks, but rather a miserable frightened girl that didn’t differ from her a bit..

Sensing the girl looking towards her, “Nadia” gave her an encouraging smile, while still looking in front of her.. She tried to put as much confidence in her smile as she could to calm the poor girl sitting next to her, and maybe manage to calm herself too.. She felt the girl’s fingers pressing on hers thankfully, before whispering again:

- Why us..?

- Because they need the money.. I guess they don’t know another way to get it if you look at the subject from their point of view..

“Nadia” smiled bitterly answering the girl in a low voice, while moving her eyes around to see where the men were looking to make sure they weren’t noticing them.. She found the girl shaking her head slowly saying:

- Didn’t mean that.. I meant why did it have to be us who pass through this.. There are millions of people in this country.. Why us..?

Feeling tons of grudge with the girl’s last words, and not knowing how to answer, “Nadia” stayed silent.. She thought about the same thing a while ago, and she answered herself then by the same answer she’s going to tell the girl, that was:

- No point of these questions now dear..

The waitress didn’t seem to even hear her, while her eyes kept wondering around, then the girl on her left entered the conversation answering:

- She’s kinda right if you ask me..

The waitress mumbled frowning:

- Like this is gonna make any difference..

“Nadia” kept looking at the men nervously, wishing the two of them would just shut up for a minute, or else someone would notice the three of them, as all this talking became of no use except damaging their nerves more and more.. She heard “Nadine’s voice answering..

- Hone.. If you’re waiting to hear something like all this is an ordeal and a test for our patience, then I’m afraid you came to the wrong person.. All I got to say is that all of us have just one life, and for all the people here, being in this café at these bloody moments is a must stop that most of us didn’t choose..

Now you got two choices, either choosing to believe in a larger entity that can take you out of this, which at least can help you by making you feel a little safe, knowing that up in the skies, there is someone watching over you.. Sometimes he puts you in difficult situations that you wish you never passed, put you try to put your trust in him hoping he can get you out of this safely.. The other choice is to think about a way that gets you out of this bloody place.. There is no other logical thing to do if you want my opinion..

The coarse confident sound interrupted her:

- I thought we told you to stay quite woman..

The three of them looked horrified at the one speaking, to see the gangster who was at the beginning of their row, looking at them boldly.. They closed their mouths right away and looked in front of them silently..

“Nadia” felt that the girl said this to comfort her own self more than to comfort the waitress.. The girl might’ve thought that putting her thoughts in the form of words might make them have stronger effect on calming her than they do while being just adrift thoughts inside her brain..

But all of this didn’t matter now.. She saw the man coming frowning, so she looked in front of her innocently, but their time almost came.. The guy was now taking the belongings of a woman just four persons away, and that evaporated all the comforting thoughts from her brain.. All that was left in her mind now was plain monstrous fear.. She felt warm tears running down her eyes for the first time since all of this started, and then she heard the ambulance’s siren coming clearly from outside..!!

****

14

“Sameer”

Things didn’t go out well for us at all, specially that girl who killed herself before we came, and that ambulance which was on its way, probably along with the police.. I looked at the “Boss“to see what would he do.. I saw him smiling calmly at the people sitting helplessly in front of us, before saying:

- I guess this is a good reason to make you hurry up to give us your things so that we could leave as soon as possible, right..?

Good that he took it that way.. If I were him, I would’ve probably lost my temper and acted stupid..

I looked at the rest of the team to find them speeding up, to collect as much money as they could before we leave.. I saw “Kareem” leaning on one of the many columns in the place, and completely unaware with what was happening around him, though he tried pretending to be tough and attentive..

Good kid.. I guess I would’ve liked his company if we got to know each other in a different way.. But unfortunately each one of us will only remember the other one with these bloody moments, though we knew that both of us were blackmail victims of “Khalid’s gang.. Didn’t know the whole story, but I knew that he was forced just like me to do this, but his story was totally different from mine, because there was no one as stupid as me.. You want the details..? They weren’t much I’m afraid..

Short story it was, that ended before even starting.. I was called to “Khalid’s office someday.. I thought it was about that Mexican old lady that I just had a fight with two hours ago, as I worked in his casino.. My holy mission was to exchange the customers dollars for playing chips..

Consuming job and the worst part in it was dealing with customers and money, especially if they were drunk, like almost all of them..

All I could think of when I knew he wanted to see me was that the old witch went to him to complain my (attitude) like she threatened me she would..

(As if her threat was supposed to make me afraid and apologize.. Kiss my ass old witch..)

So I went to his office and all I could think of was how she drove me nuts about the damned chips I gave her, and how I miscalculated and gave her less than her money’s value..

Dear.. You are supposed to be dead at least five years ago.. Count well before you come bugging me.. I told her directly my thoughts so she went mad and I didn’t know why, and didn’t leave except when I called the security..

I stepped over the red carpet that covered the long hall leading to his office, passing on my way by the grey walls with their pretending-to-be-original oil paintings while I was sure they were just cheap copies from the originals.. Wasn’t used to coming here often, because I wasn’t the called-to-the-manager’s-office type..

I started preparing my defense to be ready when I enter.. I prepared and revised every word to be said..

Should I tell him about her being a pain in the ass..? About her looking like an old witch..? About her too much make-up that didn’t go with her age at all and made her even more provocative, besides her rude way of talking that made me completely mad..?

Knocked on the door, then waited till I heard his voice coming from the inside telling me to come in.. I took a deep breath as I reached for the handle and turned the knob, getting ready for the next part of the play..

My feet sank in the fancy rug.. He was standing near the surveillance screens that showed him everything in different parts of the casino.. Gamblers, drunkards, people watching the running ball nervously, wishing it would stop at the number they chose to take them to rich people rows, While others put their hands in their pockets furiously, in a desperate attempt to try their luck again, wishing they would win this time, while sweat ran heavily on their foreheads, fearing loss again, and finally those who collect the money they just won happily..

“Khalid” wasn’t as angry as I thought he’d be.. He just stood there, starring silently at the many screens in the corner of the office, while having a cigarette.. When he heard my steps he left what he was doing and turned to me.. In a small ashtray he buried his cigarette, then gave me a quick smile..

- How is everything going..?

- Good.. I guess..

That wasn’t exactly the beginning of the conversation I was expecting.. I watched him as he walked away from the screens, headed towards his desk, then sat down on the comfortable leather chair behind it, pointing at me to go sit on one of the two chairs in front of his desk..

I tried to remember my prepared defense as I headed to the small leather chair, then sat silently waiting for him to start the conversation, passing time by looking at patterns covering the huge rug that occupied the whole distance between the desk and the door.. I raised my eyes to him as I heard him asking:

- Do you know why I wanted to see you..?

I shook my head refusing..Let’s play dumb till I know what he was up to..

- It’s about that old woman and her chips, right..?

I changed my mind.. Let’s get through with this so each one of us can go on his way.. He smiled before lighting another cigarette answering:

- No…

- I don’t know then..!!

I answered directly.. Why wouldn’t he just say what he wanted instead of these childish plays that weren’t fit to his age..?

He looked at his cigarette for a second, then told me calmly that he knew about the money I’ve been taking secretly from the safe.. He didn’t know how I did it because it was complicated enough, but he told me he knew I did it, which wasn’t exactly far from the truth..

Yes.. I did it..!!

Depending on some of the gamblers being drunk, and depending on the continuous change in the price of the dollar, and finally some luck I thought I had, I used to keep some money for myself.. When the first time went undiscovered and nobody even noticed it, I got used to do it every day, but obviously I wasn’t as smart as I thought.. He told me that he knew for some time, but he wanted to give me the chance to stop (And maybe I would regret it and come tell him myself) according to his words.. I sat there without emotion on my face or words in my mouth, like some kind of a bad boy waiting for punishment, while he kept talking.. A long bloody poem about the importance of honesty and all this crap.. Who was he trying to fool..? Both of us were thieves, and maybe he was even worse than me.. I heard him talking about some evidences he got and the cameras that filmed what happened, but I was sure he was bluffing at least about the cameras, for I knew well that the safe I was responsible for was in a place with no cameras in, cause I wasn’t a fool..

(Good God.. Unless the old bastard placed secret cameras – other than the ones I discovered – that I didn’t know about, which made sense, since he didn’t trust anyone.. )

He told me that he didn’t know exactly how much I took, but he knew that it was a big amount of cash, the thing that made me shiver, as he didn’t pretend to be smart or pretended he knew everything.. Didn’t fake or exaggerate about his information..

I cleared my throat, thinking that he just told me what really happened and what he really knew, which meant that the cameras and the evidences were probably true too..

He said a lot of crap about us being one family and he not wanting to ruin my future, then he finished his speech by saying he was ready to forget what happened and have a fresh new start, if I made him a favor, and since I wasn’t exactly in a situation that could give me the power to negotiate, I had to say yes even before knowing what the favor was, and when I knew, it was too late to escape..

He could finish my whole life just like he said if his evidences went to the police.. I knew his work wasn’t exactly clean, but at least he was able to cover his dirty laundry so far, and even if I managed to expose some of his dirty secrets, he’d be able to bribe enough people to forget it, then he’d turn on me, which wouldn’t be exactly in my favor..

My guess was that the rest of the gang too were here for similar reasons, except maybe that guy we call the “Boss” who seemed professional..

Little weird gang that was, that’s why they didn’t care if we showed our bare faces to the victims, because they had no care of what would happen to us after that.. I looked towards the windows and the pulled down curtains when I thought I heard something.. Was that the ambulance they talked about, or did I finally go crazy and started imagining stuff..? Few seconds passed and nothing happened, which made me realize I was really imagining.. Dammit.. My nerves were really starting to break down.. But at least that meant it wasn’t over yet.. Still some fun waiting for us.. But would it be a happy ending for everyone..? For anyone.. ? I doubt that..

I watched nervously as they were collecting the people’s money and precious stuff, while the people were completely silent and obedient.. Hurry up you bastards or else we’ll go to jail for at least 10 years.. I looked at the old photographs hanging on the walls, and all I could think about was how breaking into all those foreigners lives was making me feel sorry.. Somehow, I always tried not to hurt anyone deliberately, physically or emotionally..

(Except for the little-borrowing-money-from-my-safe incidents..)

Maybe because of the community mask you got to put on your face, and maybe because I didn’t want to risk the idea of the Karma coming back to haunt me or my family one way or another.. But now I’ve deliberately broken that rule.. knowing we haven’t hurt anyone here physically or killed anyone of them didn’t make it any better, as those moments of horror and tension and tears they were living because of us won’t be forgotten easily..

****

15

“Sherif”

And since my car was out of service and was being fixed since yesterday, I had to take the subway, to be able to catch up with “Sohair”.. I hurried to the closest subway station to my office, which was (Elshohadaa station).. I knew it would be like hell now since it was the middle of the day, but it was the only way to save time after I left the office late, as soon as I passed the inner gate I saw the crowds, but it was predictable so let’s not pretend to be shocked.. I stood between the crowd, ready for action, and the moment the subway stopped and its doors slid open I got ready to jump, but the damned door wasn’t fully opened, so pressure on entering through the small opening was the double.. Did I mention hell a while ago..? I guess I wasn’t overreacting..

Jumping into the train in the last moment, I heard the doors sliding behind me.. The train started moving, so I grabbed the back of the chair next to me, and along the way, I remembered the last chat I had with my work partners.. They thought I didn’t have much time, and should finish my mission with that beauty fast because it took too much time, and they didn’t like the way things were going.. The idiots thought I was in love with her, which was the thing that worried them about the whole case, while she wasn’t my favorite type at all.. All what I was doing was pretending to be civilized, at least till I get what I wanted.. Maybe she thought too I was in love with her, which would hopefully give me more points, and maybe I could manage to convince her to testify against my customers’ work-competitor, but if she thought I was intending to leave my wife, then she was completely wrong..

Not out of faithfulness.. At least not faithfulness only.. She was a good wife that I couldn’t possibly manage to find another one that can stand me.. There was the kids and the idea of the family waiting for you no matter how much you traveled or got busy at work.. You might name it familiarity.. You might name it whatever you like.. What was important was that “Sohair’s subject wasn’t romantic at all.. Not from my point of view at least..

I was late for her today because I had many cases at the office, and had to do many paper work before leaving, and many witnesses I had to make a list with their names to turn to them when needed to get my clients out of trouble..

I must say that I’m a good lawyer.. Too good actually and that wasn’t out of boasting as you guys might think.. I never leave something to coincidence, and no part of any case that comes under my nose goes without good study.. That was how I managed to win almost every case I got since I joined that office, and that was how I was intending to keep things..

Why “Sohair “ in particular..? Because she was the mistress of “Khalid Sabry”, the emperor of the underworld of Cairo.. His growing power started to worry my clients, which was considered to be bad luck for him because it made me go after him.. After many investigations and help and money and secret detectives, we managed to know that “Sohair” was almost his only point of weakness, so I managed to break into her life, in a way that appeared accidentally, to her at least….

I waited beside the elevator of her building in the darkness, and when she appeared on her usual time, I came out pretending to be late, and jumped in the elevator on seeing her alone.. We’d been watching her for few days and made that plan.. I knew she was claustrophobic, which meant that being with a strange guy in a closed elevator was bad enough for her, which appeared in her nervous gaze at me..

But the elevator doors already closed and there was no way out.. Anyway there was no need to worry, the worst part didn’t come yet, as my partner in the plan damaged certain parts in the elevator system to make it stop between floors, as we agreed he would do when I gave him that missed call.. I watched horror as it took control over her, because it looked like the whole building was out of power.. She looked like she was going to faint..

Still elevator + a strange man who could be anything + no electricity = Typical claustrophobic person’s Hell..

The worst part was she couldn’t see anything around her, couldn’t even see that person with her.. Maybe he was another lunatic that might kill her.. For a second I almost felt sorry for her and was about to tell her the truth, but not knowing what might happen then and what would be her reaction prevented me, I switched on my Mobile lights, talking to her:

- Don’t worry.. They will fix that shortly..

She made no response, but her frozen features together with the shadows on her face made her look like she was dead two weeks ago.. She mumbled few words that I didn’t hear, while her shaking body moved to the corner of the cabin, looking at my lights nervously.. Her body collapsed on the floor, with her legs bent beneath her, and hugging her bag as if to protect herself by it.. Shit.. Didn’t know her case was that bad, and according to the plan, my partner won’t set the elevator back to work again except after two bloody minutes that would pass like we were waiting for the day of judgment, and the girl’s heart would probably stop beating until then.. So I found myself moving to sit next to her on the floor, and took her in my arms.. Her attractive feminine perfume sneaked to my nose, while her smooth hair was tickling my face.. She was completely helpless and showed no signs of resisting.. I whispered comforting words in her ear as I felt her body shaking against mine, but couldn’t feel much difference my words did.. The elevator lights came back to work after the time was over, and I saw tears all over her face.. Starting to hold herself together, as the elevator got back to work too.. I stood up and helped her standing, and returned the elevator to the ground floor while she was picking up her things and dress and dignity..

As we walked out of the elevator, I invited her for a cup of coffee or something to calm her down.. She agreed, as I turned out not to be another jerk taking advantage of her..

(Not yet at least…..)

The nearest place was that café, so we got used to meet their every now and then..

The first time we met she told me about her life.. About “Khalid” whom she hated, but had to stay with because he took her out of her need, and because he was the one paying for the treatment of her sick mother, and that final information almost changed my opinion about “Khalid”, and made me start wondering whether he deserved what we were planning for him, while she was completing her story to make me change my mind again about him, as she told me how she was afraid to leave him, for not knowing what would be his reaction.. He’d probably go nuts and try to hurt her.. The subway reached my stop then, so I went out feeling relieved for reaching my destination while still alive.. Taking a deep breath finally without smelling sweat and other unknown smells.. The moment the doors slid open I stormed out of the train leaving the rest fighting behind me about who’ll go out first..

I jumped on the stairs outside still thinking about “Sohair”.. I guess what I felt for her was a weird mixture that I couldn’t – and didn’t even try to – understand of pity, confusion, with a little bit of repulsion, and some admiration..

Anyway, the mission was supposed to end within few weeks, if I got to know from her the information I needed to destroy “Khalid”, which I tried to know slowly without arousing her suspicions..

After meeting “Sohair” I was supposed to go to a young widow, that the insurance company doubted her husband had committed suicide deliberately to make his widow receive the insurance money, and they wanted me to go meet her and investigate, so I was racing against time to get over with “Sohair” quickly..

Passed through the door, then made my way towards our usual table, but I found someone else sitting there, while my date was sitting on a nearby table.. I sat trying to catch up my breaths, asking her:

-I’m not late.. Am I..?

- No… I’ve been here for five minutes only..

She answered firmly, while her hand was busy playing with her funny looking keychain.. Something was wrong.. I loosened my tie that I barely stood wearing outside the office, especially in this weather.. I studied her face, asking:

- OK.. Why aren’t you sitting on our usual table..?

- Was already occupied..

- Are you OK..?

I asked her directly, while studying the café’s menu.. She wasn’t her usual self and I could sense that.. She lit a cigarette answering:

- Yeah..

- Sure..? You don’t look like your usual..

I let go of the menu and looked at her again confused.. Not used to her that serious and silent..

- Believe me, I’m fine..

Her firm cold answer came so I didn’t ask more.. It wasn’t like I was going to die if I didn’t know what was bothering her after all.. I asked the waiter who stopped by our table for a cup of heavy Nescafe.. I was feeling sleepy, and tiredness was killing me.. If I didn’t have Some caffeine right now I’d fall asleep in less than five minutes.. Maybe if I washed my face with cold water I’d wake up a little..?

- I’ll go to the bathroom till the order comes..

I rose as I told her that, and without waiting for her answer, I headed across the tables towards the bathroom..

- OK..

Her faint answer came, while I was avoiding two young boys racing, doing my best not to shout at them.. I hate kids at this damn age..

Inside the bathroom, all I could think of was how to convince her to talk to me about “Khalid’s work and how to get rid of him, without being too obvious..

I knew that getting rid of him was in her favor as well, to be able to live freely, but I didn’t guarantee What’d be her reaction, as he was her almost only source of income, which made me unsure of her point of view.. I’d prefer to know what she’d got without telling her my reasons..

Washing my face made me feel a little better.. Looking at my tired face in the mirror, I realized that I looked like someone who just got out of jail, and that was when I heard screams outside the bathroom..

I went out quickly to find a young man shouting beside one of ladies room, and beside him was a fat old woman, and several people arguing together.. On the floor there was a thread of blood sneaking from the room to outside.. From few scattered words I heard, I knew that the story was about a girl who closed the room and killed herself.. Didn’t find that my standing would be of any help since the girl’s story was over and she got a final rest from this life and its conflicts, so I decided to pass across this gathering, but a guy stopped me..

- Excuse me..? Can you call an ambulance..? The café’s phone is dead..

A silly thought of answering coldly: (Why don’t you use your own phone) crossed my mind, but the tense situation was in no need for this, so I got my phone out and called the number, and after a minute a depressed guy who probably hated his life and wife and all humanity answered me..

I told him in quick words that the girl was dying and we needed serious quick help, to make it sound dangerous enough for him to send someone quickly..

We decided to close the door of the room so that no one gets scared from the scene, if someone happened to pass beside it, and because I felt that death had its sanctity.. Her body shouldn’t be a show for the people passing by.. Not being able to protect her body from nosy eyes anymore didn’t mean we shouldn’t do it..

All I thought about at that point was a simple question: what made a beautiful young woman like her jump from the edge of life with such a violent method..?

Wasn’t the first suicide case I passed by, but every time I saw one I felt the same shock.. Shock from that operation that took a human being who was moments ago moving between us, smiling, walking, laughing and frowning just like us, to another world that had nothing to do with the one we were in..

I leaned on the wall beside the bathroom, then lit a cigarette to empty my nervousness in, while wondering about how much courage that girl managed to have to do this.. Was the right description even courage or despair..? Despair from her life ever getting better.. We’d never know, That was when I saw that guy pointing his gun at us to get out..

****

16

“Dalia”

Looking at her right, “Dalia” saw the blonde waitress who was smiling all the time, only she wasn’t smiling now.. Her face was filled with terror, and her eyes kept wandering everywhere around her.. Her make-up fall all over her cheeks changing her from the confident quite creature she was earlier to another poor shivering one..

“Dalia” felt as if horror was contagious and got to her, and her breaths started fastening, so she looked in front of her trying to take her attention of her neighbor for a while..

She padded on “Leila’s hair nervously, while whispering in the most confident tone she could words about how they were going to get out of here safely.. The little girl didn’t reply which made “Dalia” get scared thinking that her heart stopped from fear.. But she found her breathing normally and crying while cuddling herself, so she decided to leave her alone to calm down.. Shit.. If anything wrong happened to that girl “Dalia“would be history.. She felt “Mourad’s hand patting on her left hand trying to calm her a little just like she was trying unsuccessfully with the child, but his attempt had the same fate as hers.. Not having enough courage to look at him, she shook her head silently, while taking a deep breath, and return her head to the back leaning on the mirror behind her since they were in the last row.. If she looked at him or talked to him, she would burst out crying, and she didn’t want that now or “Leila” would get even more scared than she already was.. She couldn’t put the whole blame on him because it wasn’t that easy.. she led the girl herself willingly to this place, So they shared the guilt equally..

She couldn’t say she hated him, because she agreed from the start on the stupid plan, but we could say that she hated herself a lot for letting it happen.. If she hadn’t been stupid enough to agree from the first place, none of this would’ve happened.. But it was too late to regret now.. What was important to think of now was what would happen next..? Would they still be alive till tomorrow comes..? Or the death of all the people here will be just another report in the evening news, announced by that fat reporter..?

She looked at the pulled down curtains that’d cut all the relation they had with the outside world, as if the whole world disappeared and no one was left except for them.. Along came the sounds of cars, horns, or the sounds of people in the street.. Many uncaring sounds passing by from outside and disappear at the corner, as if the world didn’t care for them at all, and their presence or absence wouldn’t make a tiny difference..

Then she noticed the French songs still playing.. The sound started to grow louder as if it’d noticed the tense moments they were living.. The loud melodies made her even more tens, before the singer’s voice started, without “Dalia” understating a single word said..

Padam Padam Padam

It follows, running behind me..

Padam Padam Padam

It’s a tune, which like an accusing finger,

Haunts me like a weird mistake,

This tune that knows all by heart..

Padam Padam ..” Edith Piaf”

******

A weird idea passed through her mind, so she decided to try it, since she’d got nothing to lose..

- The little girl wants to go to the bathroom..

She pointed at one of the gang’s men who was passing by the next row, but she soon felt embarrassed because all the people started looking at her.. She felt it was too weak excuse and no one could possibly buy it.. She felt more people around starting to look at her, so her embarrassment rose more and more.. Some were looking at her in silence.. Some in sarcasm.. Some she felt looking at her in understanding mixed with pity.. Were her thoughts that obvious..? Or was she stupid because it was a failed too childish attempt from the first place..?

No problem.. It wasn’t for her sake, it was to save the innocent girl.. She wished that “Leila” wouldn’t say a word that would ruin her on-going-plan..

- She’s diabetic and won’t be able to hold herself for long..

She begged again.. The guy looked at their boss waiting for his decision.. The man looked at the little girl for a couple of seconds trying to discover whether “Dalia” was telling him the truth or not, and those moments passed like hell, before his final answer came:

- In less than five minutes you’ll be back or else you’ll see, and you, go stand by the door of the bathroom till they come out..

The second part was directed to a thin guy who was standing by the cashier.. The guy turned to “Dalia” who already stood up with the child and headed towards the bathroom.. She entered the room next to the closed one that had the other girl’s dead body inside. She heard the thin guy’s threat to her before she closed the door..

- You’ve got five minutes only..

- OK..

He watched her impatiently as she closed the door, then he leaned on the opposite wall and lit a cigarette to pass time..

****

The moment she closed the door She looked around the room, while “Leila” stood there puzzled..

- Why did you tell him that while I don’t want to..?

- So that I could get you out of here sweetie..

“Dalia” whispered in a low voice so that the thin guy wouldn’t hear, before opening the small window over the toilet, thinking that maybe she could manage to get the little girl out of it if she insisted a little..?

She closed the cover of the toilet seat, and gave the girl her hand to help her step over the toilet.. “Leila” obeyed her whispering in a crying voice:

- But what will happen to you..?

- I’ll depend on you to run quickly and ask the first person you see to call the cops to come get us out..

She whispered back encouraging her while she was opening the window to the max, but all she could think about was how dreamy that sounded.. The police would never come in time, and if they did, “Dalia” probably would be already gone, but convincing the child with this was the only way to make her obey her without resisting, which she saw her doing.. She watched the child as she stood over the toilet and did her best to pass through the tiny window, with“Dalia’s help.. Her tiny body half passed through the small window after suffering, but the ambulance’s siren that she heard suddenly startled her, and made the man standing outside lose his patience and knock on the door strongly announcing that her time was over..

****

She opened the door preparing herself for the worst.. For the bullet that would penetrate her head, for the punch she’d get.. She knew the punishment would be strong enough to match her deed.. Pulling the door lock aside, She nervously opened the door feeling her whole body shaking.. What would the guy do to her..? She set that thought aside as the door slid open, to find the guy’s intruding eyes waiting for her.. Frowning on seeing her coming out alone, he asked:

- Where’s the child..?

Taking a deep breath while standing out of the room, her legs were shaking and she almost fall down, she managed to speak finally in a trembling voice:

- She’s gone….

He hit her hard on her head, parking at her:

- You bitch.. I knew something like this would happen..

Being smacked real bad, she felt intense pain starting from that point to all over her face, along with the distinctive taste of blood..

But thinking that “Leila” already escaped and not facing danger (Not like the danger she was facing right now at least.. Let’s hope that the one who finds her is a normal person who would help and not some kind of perverted psychopath who kidnaps children and rapes then kills them..) Made her stand the pain, another punch returned her to our world.. She felt him pulling her hair hard.. She could smell his stinky breaths, his yellow teeth passing before her eyes, that scar on his left cheek, and his sweaty smell..

- Bitch.. I could read you from the start..

He gave her another kick continuing:

- ….. I’ll show you now what we do to liars slut..

She raised her eyes to find his hand going up, pointing his gun at her.. She felt her breathing almost stopping along with her heart, while his fingers going for the trigger.. Will her soul be heavier than “Leila’s soul in God’s scale..? Or the world’s..? Will the earth’s balance readjust itself, making the world a better place after she leaves it..?

Will her attempt to get the child out be enough to erase the disaster she was about to make..? Those were her last thoughts as she saw his fingers touching the trigger.. She closed her eyes as she felt her body letting her down to fall to the floor..

She imagined the fingers pulling the trigger.. Imagined the bullet going off in slow motion.. Imagined it penetrating flesh, bone and soul…. But none of this happened, all she heard was loud weird sounds, then she felt nothing at all..

******

17

“Mahmoud”

The roads were too crowded.. It took me about an hour to reach that café we got the call from about a girl who tried to commit suicide.. She must be already dead by now and her soul being taken to the other side..

Even turning on the siren of the ambulance I was driving didn’t make much of a difference.. People seemed to be too cold or stupid to give me space, and that was more than enough to delay me.. After a while I knew there’d been an accident.. A hit and run at “Emad Eldin” Street, and they were still trying to move the body, but those meddlesome creatures also delayed that…

( As if the roads would’ve been clear if there wasn’t an accident..)

Seeing this, I started my horn, hoping this would help, but no use.. Every passing car had to slow down and take a look, and maybe the driver went out to ask what happened, so I decided to take a side road, and turned on the speaker, which made me a pain in the ass to those around me, and they’d to take a side to let me pass to get rid of me, I took the first empty Street I passed by trying to cut the road short, which made me arrive a little quicker than I expected.. But when I got there, I found the place closed and the curtains pulled down and the whole place looked deserted, and on the door there was a sign of:

Renovation.. Will be opening shortly..

What did that mean..? Was it some kind of a joke..? After driving all this time in the sun..?

Did I take a wrong address from the centre..?

It happened before a lot, because people in many times tend to mistake in any of the details of the address when they are in tough situations like this, or the operator hears a wrong word among the address which leads to changing it completely, wasn’t the first time, so I decided to make a final try before leaving.. I called “Emad”, the one working with me in that shift, on his cell phone, and asked him to make sure I got the right address.. He disappeared for a minute, before his coarse-from-cigarettes voice came back:

- The address is correct.. Why..?

Trying – without much success – to see through the glass door that was completely covered by a curtain I answered:

- Because the whole place is closed for renovation and..

I stopped talking because I thought I heard something inside..

- Mmm.. I don’t know, but according to the information I’ve got, the address is completely right.. Did you try knocking on the door..?

So smart.. As if I didn’t do that already and.. Shit.. I really didn’t..!!

I rubbed my nose embarrassed, answering him:

- OK.. I’ll try knocking again and if nothing happens I’ll be leaving.. Bye..

- Bye sugar..

Before I could manage to find an appropriate answer I found that he had already closed, so I returned my cell phone to my pocket then walked along the place carefully, and knocked on the door several times but no answer.. Maybe I just imagined those sounds I heard..? I pushed the door but no use.. It was obviously closed firmly from the inside.. Walking around the place to check things out, I saw a young girl running towards me as fast as she could.. As she came closer, I noticed her clothes were all dusted.. I waved at her to slow down, but she just grabbed my hand, taking me from where she came, yelling frightened:

- Please.. There are bad guys inside..

Bad guys..? That’s interesting.. I stopped her asking:

- And where are those bad guys sweetie..?

She pointed at the closed café, trying to catch her breath, continuing:

- Inside.. They are locking Mrs “Dalia” and lots of people inside..

If we ignored that Mrs “Dalia” who I didn’t know who the hell she was, this seemed big.. Or was it just a child’s imagination..?

- And how did you manage to get out..?

Because I knew the kids these days.. Maybe it was just a prank she was doing to her friends, but she answered in quick confused words that I hardly understood, while she took my hand and led me to round the corner..

- From the bathroom window.. Hurry to catch the bad men before they hurt them.. Mrs “Dalia” got me out of the window and told me to go get help from the first person I see..

Too complicated story for a child to make up, I guessed, besides, getting out of the bathroom window part went along with the fact that I saw her coming from the back alley in dirty clothes, which meant she was probably saying the truth.. But why was the café’s main door closed..? And another important question: what would be the right thing to do now..? No time to call the police because by the time they come the people inside would probably be dead already and went to heaven, and the worst part was that I didn’t know the number of those armed men.. I followed the girl to an opened tiny bathroom window.. With some imagination I could say that this tiny window was probably really enough to get a child of her size out of..

(Another point in the favor of buying her story..)

Then I walked away with her quickly, because if the story was really true, then the armed men would soon come to the room the girl escaped from..

I looked around the place, checking every inch, trying to find a weak point to sneak in through..

I found a back door beside which stood few trash cans.. Guessing that this was the kitchen’s door didn’t need a genius.. Was closed as I saw it few minutes ago, but now I had the motive to look more..

I told the girl to stand back beside the car, while I stepped toward the door.. Not out of courage, but guilt would eat me alive if I went away to get help and things went really bad meanwhile.. The courage of the woman who took that risk to get the girl out of the place gave me a push, especially that thinking about what would happen to that “Dalia” who made the girl reach this place alive made me realize that whatever I’d do now wouldn’t even reach half her courage..

I took out a thin tool from my pocket that I used often to open closed doors, and inserted it in the key opening and started working..

Wasn’t the first time to be called to a place where a locked up person needed to be saved, so opening closed doors wasn’t that difficult for me, meanwhile I called “Emad” again, and told him in low voice to call the police and tell them to come to the same address, and they’d better come quickly..

- What have you got over there sugar..? Some hottie harassing you..?

He asked me in his usual cold as ice tone..

- Hurry up you idiot because it’s serious.. I’ll explain everything when I come back..

I whispered nervously before I ended the call to make him realize it was serious.. I was whispering because I was afraid that those people would be smart enough to leave one of them as a guard behind the kitchen door, The thought that proved to be wrong when I opened the door easily without anyone noticing me or try fighting.. Shit.. I didn’t have any weapon, and I didn’t know how well were they prepared while I was sneaking stupidly to the inside like this..

I felt a shiver along my back while the door was opening in front of me, and as I sneaked into the empty kitchen, I heard the sound of a gunshot coming from the inside..!!

****

18

“Waheed”

I closed the bathroom door behind me, before putting down the toilet cover and sit on it, then stayed for two minutes in my place listening to see whether anyone was waiting for me to come out to enter after me or something.. Didn’t want to start taking out my things, then find someone knocking on me because he wanted to take a leak.. The detergent’s smell they use here sneaked to my nose, while I started relaxing in my place upon finding that no one noticed me entering..

I took out of my pocket a small plastic bag, and just stayed there starring at the white powder inside, then spilled a little amount on my hand, before sniffing them in.. My hands were trembling, as I didn’t have a shot the whole morning because I’d been in the office and didn’t get the chance to be alone long enough to do it.. I felt my body longing and my blood boiling.. Few shots were enough to retain me to my normal state of mind..

Passing footsteps in both directions were in the background, then I heard knocking on the door that made me froze.. I coughed loudly to make the one outside understand that I’d be here for some time, then I heard his knocks on the next male bathroom, where similar coughs aroused, making the guy outside mumble few angry words before walking away as his footsteps showed, so I continued what I’d been doing.. I took two other shots, finishing the stuff I had, before throwing the empty bag in the toilet and flushing water over it to cover my crime totally..

Looking at my pale reflection made me realize how tired I was because of that long bloody work day.. I took off my glasses and watched in the small mirror my puffy eyes and those black circles lying under them.. Thinking that some cold water would be refreshing and make me look human again, I turned the cold water on and immersed my head under it for a whole minute, before removing my head and drying myself..

Having washed my face and put my glasses back on, I looked at myself in the mirror again to find it slightly better, then I heard loud knocking on a near door (probably the next bathroom) and screams and fight.. I walked out of my room after I made sure everything looked normal, to find several people arguing in front one of the lady’s rooms.. Few men together with a fat lady were engaged in a furious talk, and a guy was calling an ambulance.. Someone passed out I guess, and since I was the only one with a medical experience due to the first-aid class I had at the beginning of the year, I decided to offer my help..

- Is anyone injured..? I can help..?

- A girl tried to kill herself.. Are you a doctor..?

The woman looked at me suspiciously..

- Not exactly, but maybe I could do something..

I answered her coldly while making my way into the room, liking that I embarrassed her, because I’ve always loved embarrassing this kind of pretending-to-be-important people.. The few guys standing took a side slowly letting me in, and the room’s contents started to appear before me.. There was a girl’s still body lying in the corner of the room, around which had been a pool of blood that wouldn’t stop growing, and all around the place where her scattered belongings and purse and soul, and in the sink there were signs of blood.. Wasn’t the first time for me to see a dead body, but the state itself made me shiver..

Death and blood and pure overwhelming silence, except for the scattered continuous furious talking between the people standing at the door.. Idiots.. If you wasted half that effort in helping the girl when she was alive she wouldn’t be dead now, but all you were good at was talking and judging her being a sinner and whether she would enter heaven or not.. At that moment my eyes dropped on her left hand and saw the cuts in it which made it obvious that she left our world completely, anyhow I decided to do anything since I’m already here, so I measured her pulse from the other arm, but we were too late.. I stood up again feeling guilty as if I was the cause of this..

Then a horrible thought crossed my mind.. While I was having my dose in the other room, all soaked up in my self-drama, that poor girl was spending her last moments on that earth.. Was she feeling lonely..? Feeling that no one loved her..? That things could never be better..?

I looked at the guy standing by the door who was watching me silently, and when he saw me standing he asked:

- Is there any hope..?

- Unfortunately no.. She lost too much blood, and there’s no pulse at all..

Leaning on the door while still inside the room, I found that guy pointing at me secretly to stay inside, before looking towards the end of the corridor that led to the main hall, and before leaving he whispered:

- call the cops..

And from outside I heard a man’s coarse voice:

- Come outside..

Not understanding a thing, I watched him and the other man walking away, then I heard a loud weird voice that I didn’t recognize..

I looked towards the girl’s dead body that left all this drama behind and went away, thinking: what was happening outside..? Something told me not to go out for my own good.. That guy’s pointing at me and whispering secretly, and those loud voices I heard..

A couple of seconds passed before I heard the quite voice that gave me the answer to all of my questions:

- I shall be quick.. Any silly attempts to be a hero won’t give any of you anything except for a bullet in the head.. We’ll take…..

An armed robbery attempt..!!

That’s why the guy asked me to stay inside.. I partially closed the door in order not to appear if someone walked beside the room.. Didn’t want to close it completely fearing it’d make a sound and someone hears it..

Leaning on the wall beside the door, I looked at the dead body.. Did her leg just move..? No… Probably I’m just a little hysterical.. Shit.. I could almost feel those white ceramic walls getting nearer and nearer, preventing me from breathing..

As if death was still flying in the air, waiting for his chance to reap my soul too.. Will washing my face with some cold water calm me down..? Worth a shot..

So I walked carefully trying not to step on the blood, and turned the tap on, when I had a blood-freezing thought:

What would happen if any of the people outside heard me..? They’d certainly hear the sound of water since the door wasn’t fully closed, so I closed the tap again cursing my bad luck.. But on thinking, my luck was certainly not worse than the luck of the people outside, or was it..? I asked my reflection in the small mirror over the sink, in a failed attempt to make myself feel less lonely, and then imagined it answering me with its serious quite voice:

- Both positions are worse than each other.. Believe me..

I sighed nervously while walking away from the mirror, then turned to the door, trying to listen to any voices outside, but none reached me now because the bathrooms were at the end of the hall, even after the kitchen that was at the beginning of it, so the sound needed be too loud to reach me.. Thinking that this concept applied both ways, I decided to test this fact practically, and pushed the door slowly till I closed it..

I sat back again on the covered toilet, took out my cell phone, and called the cops asking them to come as soon as possible because there was an armed robbery taking place.. I knew I probably sounded nuts with that low voice and hanging out quickly, but was there more that I could do..?

Finishing the call, I looked at the door, waiting for some surprise visitor to show up any second, but there was no sign of any human being near me.. Just the sound of my heavy breathing, and the sound of my heart beats that felt loud like drumbeats in my ears..

Seeing that my companion was still lying lifeless in the corner of the room, I started looking around trying to find something else to take my attention of the dead body that was just few steps from me, but the damn room was too small for that, so I sat their feeling the presence of the dead body suffocating me..

The walls felt cold and even worse, like they were closing on me.. Did the room just shrink a little or I started hallucinating finally..? No sounds outside but I couldn’t go out now unfortunately.. If it was safe to go out, then someone would’ve come to tell me.. Things must’ve became serious now.. Did they kill them..? The thought froze the blood in my veins.. How would I know if they did..? I’ll just be forgotten here till the day of judgment.. I looked at my cell phone’s watch to find that I’ve been here for less than 15 minutes.. Shit.. Time was too slow here as if it was the doomsday..

Why didn’t the bloody police come till now..? I went to the door again and tried to catch any sounds coming from outside but no use.. Couldn’t risk opening the door due to security-related reasons.. Maybe on my bad luck that guy with the coarse voice hears the sound of opening the door or sees it opened, and they end up discovering my presence, and I end up a dead body with a hole in its forehead.. Maybe just a small opening that I could sneak peek through to see what was happening..?

Can they hear my loud heartbeats..? Did the body move its leg again..? And weren’t her eyes closed..? Why were they opened now..? I forced myself to take few deep breaths to calm down.. Calm down you idiot.. Her eyes must’ve been opened from the start.. You’re just too damn nervous.. Your sick imagination found its best time for working, and you would be the victim if you just went along with it.. It must be the effect of that adulterated stuff you just had.. Forcing myself to look away from the body, I didn’t find something else to look at except the ceiling.. Looked at the fluorescent bright lights above me just bedimmed my eyes, so I moved my eyes again to fell on the sink this time with its blood remains and the pieces of the broken mirror that the poor girl used to kill herself with..

(Did any of the people out there notice the lights here..? And more important, did anything move inside the mirror or was it just another work from my sick imagination..?)

Dammit.. Never thought my nerves were that weak..

Then I heard some sounds.. I adhered to the door listening.. Someone was coming..!! Ones and not just one if I was hearing the steps right, and they were coming closer, closer..

(Did that classy guy or the waiter say anything about me..?)

- You’ve got only five minutes..

The coarse ordering voice struck my ears, followed by a female voice answering:

- OK ..

I froze in my place, while the sequel of sounds kept sneaking from under my door: the sound of closing a nearby door, then the sound of a lock, followed by the sound of footsteps coming and going, then finally came the siren of the ambulance that startled me ( that guy called them a long time ago.. It just arrived now..? ) would that mean a good twist in the events in our favor..? I wished that really, otherwise we would become another report in the evening news..

- .. You bitch.. I knew something like this would happen..

The tense angry voice suddenly hit my ears, followed by sounds of a quarrel.. Screams..

- Bitch.. I could read you from the start..

More hitting sounds.. Couldn’t help but sliding the door’s lock slowly to the right, being careful not to make the tiniest sound, before opening the door and watching the shocking scene ahead of me.. The guy – whose back was facing me – was pointing his gun at a dark blond girl who froze in her place, starring frightened at the guy’s hand that carried the weapon

- … I’ll show you now what we do to liars slut..

The guy’s last sentence made me freak out, thinking that I was about to see another dead body falling in front of me.. I watched his fingers as they went towards the trigger, then I returned to inside the room quickly, already decided what I would do, as every second had its value..

In the first moment I removed the heavy ceramic toilet flush-cover..

In the second and the third, I was hurrying back outside..

The fourth..? I was lifting the heavy cover as much as I could..

In the fifth I dropped it as hard as I could on the guy’s head, at the same moment his bullet went out to miss the frozen-closed-eyes girl and hit the wall behind her.. I watched the guy as he fall to the ground without a word, while the girl opened her eyes slowly and looked at me in complete shock.. Thinking that the rest of the gang must’ve heard those sounds and would come shortly to check things up made me take the girl from her hand quickly, and to the room with the dead girl we entered, while closing the door I heard footsteps coming quickly to where we were a couple of seconds ago..

- Bloody Hell..!! What happened..?

A guy shouted at the end of the hall.. Good.. They were still in the shock phase.. I closed the door quietly and slowly so that they wouldn’t notice us, I found myself putting my hand automatically on the girl’s mouth, in fear of her losing her nerves or think that I wanted to hurt her ( which would certainly be an idiot thought regarding what I just did to save her) and make a sound.. I felt her heavy breathing, and her trembling body.. Moments passed slowly and nerve breaking, while the guys outside walked through the corridor.. Their shadows passed in front of our door..

- Who did this to him..?

- Don’t ask me, and BTW, where is that damn blonde piece of cake that went with him..?

I saw her horrified eyes turning to look at me.. Could they guess that we were hiding here..?

Tensely, I approached the door, waiting for their next move and…….

****

19

The “boss”

Smoking my favorite cigarette, I watched what was happening from behind my large sunglasses that hid about half of my face.. Things were going according to the plane till now, except for that dead woman and the help that would probably come within minutes.. Anyway the mission would end soon enough, and we’d be able to leave before they even reach the beginning of the street, and won’t get caught.. Everyone would stay alive, creating a happy ending for everyone.. Oops.. I meant almost everyone, as it certainly wouldn’t be happy for that babe called “Sohair”.. !!

“Khalid” had been suspecting her for a while.. The guy was as attentive as a hawk all the time, or else he wouldn’t deserve his position or staying in it for this long..

He noticed her not as interested in him as she used to, so he hired me to spy on her for sometime till I find something interesting.. I knew about that young lawyer she’d been meeting.. Not meeting except in public places didn’t make their position any better.. We didn’t see them go to hotel rooms or some apartment together to suspect something dirty, but not telling “Khalid” about the lawyer was suspicious enough, at least “Khalid” thought so.. Didn’t know whether we were doing the right thing or not, but my work didn’t include thinking in the job description.. “Khalid’s orders weren’t to be discussed.. Whoever be stupid enough to do so, ends as a rotten lifeless body in the nearest alley, so I had to listen to his plan..

I was supposed to kill her during the mess on our walking out of the place, so she would be considered a victim of the robbery..” Khalid” made me the leader of this miserable group, because each one of them had a debt to pay for him, so he didn’t trust them much..” Sameer “ who stole money from “Khalid’s casino, “Kareem” who had piles of debts all over his shoulders for the same casino,“Fawzi” who tried to rob “Khalid’s office safe, and finally stupid “Foad” who thought he could spy on “Khalid“and sell his secrets to enemies.. At least those were the ones I knew their stories.. Probably I was the only one in this miserable group that he trusted, assuming he really trusted me..

That way “Khalid” Would revenge from the café’s owner “Youssef Elemam”, one of his business-competitors who stole many deals from him..

(Among which was opening that bloody café, while “Khalid” wanted to buy the place and turn it to a restaurant..)

And at the same time he would get all his debts back from those losers.. This way he could terminate many unfinished works in just one step.. That was when I heard the siren..!!

The ambulance finally came.. How would its driver react..? Would he leave on finding that the place was completely closed..? Would he try sneaking inside..? Did he call the cops..?

Finding hope starting to appear in many of the hostages’ eyes, I starred at them as cruel as I could, playing with my pistol to let them know that we were still in charge, So that they wouldn’t get their hopes too high and think that the ambulance coming was a good twist in their favor.. Knocks were heard again, and “Fawzi” who was standing near looked at me cautiously to see what would I do.. I pointed at him to stay where he was..

- If anyone moves or tries to get someone’s attention you know what I will do.. Right..?

The hope that was just starting to look in their eyes evaporated quickly.. Idiots.. Did they really think we would let them go easily..? I heard three knocks on the main door.. Must be the paramedic.. I winked at our hostages, as the knocks stopped, obviously the closed for renovations sign did its job good, but we should be hurrying before things get bad.. I knew there was a back door in the kitchen that led to the back Street..

I told “Kareem” and “Sameer” to go after that idiot “Foad” who didn’t return.. I just asked him for a simple damn job.. Just to go keep an eye on that woman and her daughter who went to the bathroom.. Why didn’t any of them return till now..? Taking all the money wasn’t that important anymore.. what should count now was to leave quickly before we get caught..!!

****

20

“Mahmoud”

Looking around me in the white faint light coming from the many lights in the ceiling, I realized how wide the kitchen was.. I noticed large metallic tables, upon which were piles of dishes and dirty cups, passed beside the large stove, upon which were many boiling pots, that many of them dried up and started doing the pitter-patter sound over the stove fire, then I noticed a large white fridge like the one I always wished to have.. It seemed like the cafe’s stuff went out quickly and would return any second.. Approaching the half closed door slowly, I tried listening to whatever was happening outside.. Going out right away wouldn’t bring me except a bullet in the head..

But the moment I touched the door I remembered I didn’t have any weapon.. How could I get one now..? Looking around me quickly, I decided to pick up the large knife lying on the bench beside the large sink.. Carrying it made me feel a lot stronger.. Now I could face that guy having some kind of a chance.. At least I could come from behind anyone of them and threaten using that knife.. Hearing sounds of quarrel, I hurried back to my place behind the slightly closed door.. Through the opening I sneaked a peak nervously, feeling blood flushing through my veins.. Those people had guns and won’t hesitate to kill me, and no joking about this..

Did that knife have any kind of chance..? I doubt.. But no more options to choose from.. On the pale white light that covered the hallway I saw the ends of blond hair disappearing behind one of the doors, and after a second came two hurrying men in the beginning of the Hall.. The two guys prepared their guns and started checking the doors along the hallway..

- She must’ve gone to one of those rooms..

I saw them as they opened the first door.. Not it..

They opened the second door as well, then walked away again when it turned not to be that one either..

Then I saw them approaching the third door behind which I saw the blond hair disappearing..

After switching off the kitchen lights, I went to the nearest table that I could remember it’s place, and threw everything on it to the ground, knowing that this was loud enough to catch their attention even if for few seconds from opening the third door.. Standing behind the kitchen door shaking, holding that knife, I waited for their appearance..

****

21

“Kareem”

- What are you doing man..? I thought we said no killings..

I watched him nervously, while preparing his gun, and heading towards the kitchen that the sounds came from..

- I didn’t say shit.. If any of those losers is going to be the reason for us get arrested, I’ll kill them all.. But first let’s find the slut that’s hiding in the kitchen..

His cold answer froze me, and not knowing what to say, I kept silent.. Should I follow him or just stay here..?

- You stay here to cover my back, and I’m going to go quickly to check the kitchen..

His answer saved me from wondering.. I watched him as he walked towards the slightly opened door, hoping everything would go fine.. Please God make it all end now and let it be just a bad dream..

I watched “Sameer“as he pushed the door open carefully, then disappearing inside.. Few moments of silence passed then came the sound of the quarrel, followed by the sound of two bullets.. Dammit.. But “Sameer” didn’t come out, which meant that something was wrong.. I headed towards the large door, trying to imagine the possible scenarios of what happened inside.. If “Sameer” was the killer he would’ve come out smiling.. I stepped close to the door which I felt leading to another world, to the unknown.. I took another step, while my hands reached for my pistol to be ready for whatever happens.. No sounds now behind the door as if it was covering a grave, but that made me even more tens..

Another step..!!

Now I reached the door..

I put my head slowly through its opening.. Will……..?

******

22

“Nadine”

Gloated, I watched the worry appearing on the two left men after the rest were gone.. They must’ve ran away after hearing the siren..

- Should we do something to fight the two men left..? Or will they leave quickly without doing anything stupid..?

I heard the whispering question coming from my neighbor “Nadia”, and didn’t know how to answer..

- Believe me I don’t know..

But the answer to my question came quickly when the confident man in the sunglasses pointed at me saying:

- You..!! You will come with us..

Why..?! Why me..?! I finally managed to stop my body from shivering and cleared my throat, before putting my thoughts into words:

- M.. Me..?!

Tense moments passed through which my heart stopped several times, before I saw him pointing to a blonde girl in a white dress sitting in front of me.. The girl in the front was keeping her head down, leaning it on her hands..

- Are you deaf or something..? Come on..

I felt relieved for a second on realizing he didn’t want me, before starting to feel guilty for the quick change in my feelings, with some pity for the poor girl.. Why her..?

- You’ll come with us to make sure that no one follows us, and if they do, we’ll blow your pretty head up..

He was threatening the rest of us more than he was threatening the girl, who stood up trembling, not looking to anyone.. She must be thinking: why her..?

I looked sadly at the guy sitting next to her, who was sitting to her table earlier, and he was looking at her helplessly.. The guy with the sun glasses grasped the girl’s hand tightly, and told the other guy left with him:

- We’ll go out of the backdoor, let’s see what happened to those idiots before leaving..

Didn’t forget to turn to us in a dramatic way for one last time before disappearing in the corridor that led to the kitchen, saying:

- We’re really thankful for your cooperation ladies and gentlemen, and sorry for annoying you for the last hour.. No need to tell you that whoever tries to stop us will be the only one to regret..

I watched them as they disappeared into the Hall, while the guy who was sitting on the blonds table, together with the fat guy with the large nose rose almost right away..

- Come with me..

The fat guy said to the other guy, while heading to the cashier's desk.. What will they do..? Didn't they hear what the armed man just said..? The young guy - whom I knew after that was called "Sherif"- asked the question I wanted to ask:

- What are you doing exactly..?

The fat guy opened the cashier’s desk, and reached for a secret drawer below the money’s drawer, answering:

- We keep a pistol here for emergencies.. We can use it to try to save that girl..

“Sherif” asked bitterly the same question I had in mind at that moment:

- And you didn’t remember the bloody pistol except now..? Why didn’t you get it out earlier..?

- Because I was under threat smarty if you haven’t noticed that.. I was afraid to go get it and make them suspect something and shoot any of us..

“Kamel” – as I knew he was called after that – whispered while walking to the Hall.. A good point of view that made me shut up..

A sense of safety mixed with nervousness spread between the rest of us.. We were supposed to have survived.. why don’t we feel the supposed joy then..?

Probably because of that girl they took with them.. Curiously, I stood up and followed them..

I wanted to know how this story was going to end..!!

****

23

“Mahmoud”

Just one hit was enough to knock him out.. Waiting for the other one who I knew would come shortly to see what happened to his buddy, I stood silently in the dark as if I were the angel of death.. Steps came from far, along with the guy’s gasping for breaths, as if he knew what was waiting for him..

Step..

Another step..

I saw his shadow approaching through the opening in the door that made me able to see him without him seeing me.. Will he try to shoot me from his place..? The thought made me tense, and I tiptoed from my place as quietly as I could, carrying the gun I took from the first guy, who was lying unconscious now beside my leg..

When I reached a good place away from the door from which I could manage to shoot him without him noticing me, I pointed the gun at him, and pulled the trigger..!!

Two bullets were enough to make him loose his balance..

I walked out after I made sure there was no one else waiting for me outside.. Careful not to touch the guy’s still body or the toilet cover beside him, I headed to the third room where I saw the girl entering, but no answer..

- I’m the one you called for the girl who tried to kill herself..

I whispered to the girl inside, because I realized that I wouldn’t answer if I were her.. The possibility that one of the armed men knocking was the major one at these moments.. Few silent moments passed.. She must be thinking whether to believe me or not.. Nervously, looked at the end of the Hall, fearing any of them would show up.. I didn’t know their exact number, or when would they notice the disappearance of those three men.. I whispered again trying to make her decide fast..

- Hurry because the rest of them might show up any minute, and there is still the rest of the people here to try to save after getting you out of the backdoor..

The door slightly opened and I could see a guy in his twenties with eyeglasses, and behind him stood a girl.. After they looked at me cautiously for a second and made sure from the custom I wore, they opened the door to the max.. The girl pointed to inside the room whispering:

- But the girl is already dead and.. How did you get in here..?

I looked inside to see a female still body lying on the floor.. I answered her:

- A little girl ran at me and told me about the armed men..

- “Leila”..!! Where is she now..?

She caught my hand nervously, her overreacting response surprised me.. I answered her while removing my hand from her claws:

- I told her to stay in my car till I see what’ll happen here..

Then I started to put the picture together..

- You are “ Dalia“ that she told me got her out..?

She shook her head silently approving what I said and..

- Just one minute.. You told me the girl already killed herself.. Right..?

I asked them while looking behind them to inside the room at the strange scene happening in front of me.. The girl answered me frowning:

- Yeah..

- Why is she moving now then..?

They turned in horror, to see the same thing I was seeing.. The girl inside was moving.. Moving her leg, Opening her eyes, moving her head, before looking at us and smile..

What I didn’t know that the guy lying in the corridor – supposedly unconscious from the hit he got from the toilet cover – was moving too.. I wouldn’t know that till he stood behind me directly and…..

****

24

“Youssef”

Dr.“Youssef” pushed the glass door aside, before stepping down the eight steps that lead to the wide hall, and stopped there watching silently.. Didn’t stop taking notes, as his direct supervisor was waiting for a fully detailed report about each case..

He watched the patients scattered in the hall, some were sitting on the floor beside the wall, while some were standing and engaged in whispering talks.. The young doctor approached them cautiously, as they were still considered psychopaths..

He had to say that many of them showed a lot of improvement after some time under that weird trial they were carrying on them, but he must be careful, because in this department there were many hopeless amnesia cases, and some advanced schizophrenic cases that were subjected to an accident or a very strong shock that their minds couldn’t deal with, causing them to lose their peace of mind forever…..

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, express their feelings, and behaves. People with schizophrenia might seem like they have lost touch with reality, and affects the way they look at the people surrounding them.. Besides, many cases become associated with illusions, or hallucinations.. In other words, the patient creates another world for him or herself, other than the real world around them..

- Are you OK..?

He asked “Sarah” while giving her his band to stand-up.. She depended on his hand to rise, smiling at him..

- Never been better..

He remembered her story that lead to her being here.. Her stepfather kept harassing her, especially when they were home alone, the story that ended with her losing her nerves one day and murdering him, and escaping, then spending time waiting for her lover who got hit by a speeding car when he was on his way to meet her, the story ended up with her trying to commit suicide to escape everything after the discovery of her stepfather’s dead body.. After she was saved they found that the shock was too much for her, and her memory erased the last part from her mind completely, so, every day she goes to sit beside the window waiting for her lover, reliving the whole situation from the very start.. Her mind couldn’t stand the shock of him dying on his way to meet her.. So she keeps sitting, waiting for hours.. The sun goes up and down and she would be still waiting.. There was one time when he saw her in the last scene (the suicide scene) and she was picking a toothbrush, imagining it as a sharp blade, and trying to kill herself with it..

He watched her as she approached “Yousry”, another patient that seemed interested in her, but had a slightly different story.. The brain concussion that happened to him after an armed robbery caused a complete damage of his memory, and his wife couldn’t stand to live with a husband who couldn’t remember her name for one whole day.. And since his case was hopeless, she decided to get rid of him in this mental hospital..

“Youssef” watched in pity “Yousry’s attempts to get “Sarah’s attention, but his main problem was not being able to express his feelings clearly.. So he got used to write in a note that he used to hold in his hand all the time.. Write in a paper, then cut it, before handing it to “Sarah” that does her best trying to read his shaky handwriting, before answering him with few words, while picking up a flower from the garden smiling, then he writes more in another paper that he hands her again and so on.. The problem was that “Youssef” knew that all of this will start again from zero tomorrow, as if they never knew each other.. “Yousry’s memory wouldn’t be able to keep all of these memories, but let’s not rush things..

Feeling the place too gloomy, he decided to pull the curtains up, and while the golden afternoon sunlight invaded the place before his eyes and covered everything with a golden overlay, he watched the group sitting next to the wall as they separated silently.. He turned off the gramophone that was still on “Edith Piaf” songs, to have little quietness to be able to concentrate with the patients.. Most of them seemed annoyed on closing the songs, specially “Sarah”, but she didn’t comment..

He chose “ Edith Piaf” songs because he noticed that the patients were mostly relaxed with her type of songs, which would be in the favor of the experiment, and he chose the gramophone, to complete the whole old distinctive character of the place, because he thought this would help calming them down, with almost nothing belonging to the present around.. Old songs.. Gramophone.. Vintage advertisements and photographs from the past.. Even the furniture and the wooden walls belonged to the same era..

He looked smiling at an old black and white photograph of “Hind Rostom” – a famous Egyptian classical actress – sending a kiss to him, before looking back at the patients.. Many of them seemed to him most of the times more human than many people out there assumedly considered (normal).. “Youssef” remembered many times of himself getting angry, and he would then be more crazy than this whole bunch in front of him altogether..

He took a deep breath, remembering the details that started this whole experiment.. Weird experiment it was certainly.. They were a group of hopeless cases, because ordinary treatment methods didn’t work out with any of them.. Besides, none of them had relatives or friends that cared for them or cared if they were alive or dead from the first place, and for sure they wouldn’t object on what Dr.“Youssef “ had in mind.. All of them either were from rich families that got rid of them in that mental hospital, or had a large bank account that allowed them being here..

None of them had a visit from any of their relatives for almost three years, and some of them for even more.. All their lives became pivoted about being in this hospital, so he managed through doing a little effort to convince the hospital manager to give him permission to try a new method of treatment with them, a method that he had read about in an American scientific science journal..

The place was prepared for carefully selected cases, to look like a classy vintage café, where the patients would be able to have the nearest possible version of real life, and through time and reaction that would soon happen between the patients, in addition to medicines added to the beverages they have, the doses are adjusted and changed regularly to ensure the most efficacy, together with using some new under experiment drugs that have shown good results in the American version of the trial.. He named it the “Bianca” trial, the same name of the American version, which was named after the Italian American doctor “Bianca Masso” who first thought of it..

(all previous and following information about the “ Bianca” trial is complete fiction)

Expenses of preparing the place and furniture and everything was to be added to the patients bills, paid regularly and without any kind of delay from the legal authorities responsible for the money in some cases, or the relatives in the other cases, which encouraged the manager of the hospital to approve the secret trial.. They were hopeless cases anyway, so why not give that enthusiastic young doctor the chance to try something different with them..?

At the beginning of the trial he allowed the most stable cases, like “Sarah”,“Dalia”, and “Yousry”, and he kept watching them closely all the time, as he couldn’t just leave a group of mental patients With each other with no supervision.. Not yet..

But the first results were good, and no case had any kind of relapse, which encouraged him to add more cases to the place, like “Kareem”, “Nadine “, and “Moataz “..

And at the end he added the most doubted cases that had frequent relapses, like “Mahmoud”, “Sameer” and “Hassan” who insisted that everyone call him the “Boss”..

All sharp equipment and pens and similar stuff weren’t allowed at all, so that no one of them would use it in any stupid thing.. Even the ceramic toilet covers were replaced with plastic covers, after one of the patients someday removed a toilet cover and was about to break it.. Only the stable cases – “ Yousry “as an example, who was considered to be one of the most stable cases around, or at least Won’t try to hurt anyone with the items given to him – were allowed to use pens and papers.. In his case those items even seemed like a good solution since he showed interest in writing, because it made him able to express his feelings and thoughts better, besides helping his case recovery for a good extent..

Wasn’t only him who started to get better, as many cases seemed to improve to some extent with that new method of treatment, while others didn’t differ a bit, not yet at least.. There were plastic useless cell phones to make them feel more like normal people and not just outcast patients.. Just plastic toys of no use more than make them feel human.. Their imagination would be enough to make them real working cell phones that they could use to call whoever they wanted to call..

The patients daily program included waking up at 9 a.m., then breakfast from 9,15 till 10,30 a.m., after that a relaxation period, including several suggestions: either a quite walk in an isolated corner in the near garden which faces the main door in the end of the hall.. Isolated to make sure that no contact happens between the subjects of the trial and the rest of the patients.. Or reading, or watching TV, that to be left open till 1,00 p.m.

2,30 p.m. would be the time for the afternoon snack or drink, to which more drugs are added ..

Lunch time would be between 5,30 p.m. till 6,30 p.m. , then on 8.00 p.m. they watch a light movie during dinner, before going to sleep round 10 p.m.

Trying as much as they could to make it look like a café, in order not to make them feel like patients in an ordinary mental hospital, as one of the main ideas of the trial was to make them able to merge in real life, in order to prepare them for life outside the hospital.. As one of the main weak points in ordinary mental hospitals was keeping the patients in a perfect world differing totally from the outside one, with no responsibilities and no duties, which makes it difficult for many of the patients after recovery and being released, in coping with the outside world.. “Bianca” trial was supposed to have avoided that point..

Some patients act as customers, while others act as waiters.. The waiters are only allowed to deal with previously prepared drinks or meals, and they serve them only under supervision of D.”Youssef” or his assistant D.“Noha” – who was checking things in the kitchen now – as the patients aren’t allowed here to deal with knives or boiling water or kitchen equipment, or anything that could be used to hurt someone, even if by mistake.. Besides, stable cases were the only allowed to deal with the kitchen, in the presence of him or his assistant, who check things every hour or less..

He looked at the TV in the corner, switched off from some time now, as it was switched on in certain times only, and when it was on, only broadcasting pre-taped funny programs or sitcoms.. The reason for this was them not wanting to subject the patients to violent scenes or news, fearing they would relapse again.. But an interesting fact he noticed was that many of the patients imagine the TV on in many times it was turned off in, in addition to them seeing imaginary news reports on it at these times.. “Youssef” didn’t pass this information to the hospital’s management, in fear of them considering this was a sign of the failure of the trial, and call the whole thing off.. Just some time.. All he needed was some time to give them the results they wanted..

He looked at “Dalia”, and her daughter “Leila”, who were the victims of a car crash that killed the husband and left them with complete amnesia.. He watched them both as they went to sit beside amnesic “Mourad”, who reacted well with them, maybe because they shared the same case and all the three of them didn’t remember any past life before entering the hospital, which made them imagine a whole story of how they came here, a story that included both of them being in love and about to get married, and “Leila” was the daughter of the people “Dalia” worked for, the thing that “Youssef” didn’t like much, but since they didn’t annoy any of the other patients, he decided to ignore this in the meantime..

He looked after that at “Nadia” (Schizophrenia) who was keeping her eyes on “Sherif” (Schizophrenia) who was sitting alone beside the window, the thing that made him get worried, but “Nadia’s motives probably were only her being lonely, so she used to look at any couple sitting together.. Maybe the resemblance between “Sherif” and her late husband was a reason too, but her not trying to catch “Sherif’s attention or do anything to annoy the others, made D.“Youssef” decide to give her more time, after all, the shock of losing her husband in a robbery turned her to that silent creature who never got over it..

He looked after that at “Yousry” to see whether he still had those hallucinations about “Sohair”, regarding her killing a guy in front of him or not..? As one of the main defects in the damned trial that” Youssef” noticed was that the patients were in direct contact with each other, and listening to the stories of each other.. So “Yousry” heard “Sohair’s hallucinations regarding feeling guilty for killing a young guy, and since then he was certain he saw her Committing the crime, and determined to punish her, and sometimes spend hours planning for punishing her.. Naive kind of call-police-on-phone or call-her-on-phone-threaten-her plans.. And since “Youssef” knew that the phones they carried were just dead pieces of plastic, he didn’t give the subject much of attention.. In addition to that, “yousry” didn’t show any signs of violence, so “Youssef” decided to put him under notice.. But looking at him now showed that his case was getting better, because he didn’t look anymore at “Sohair” with the same accusing look in his eyes.. But that point of weakness wouldn’t stop bothering” Youssef”.. The stories the patients keep repeating to each other all the time, end up overlapping and many of them inspire details from other patients stories that weren’t in their stories before..

At that moment he was passing beside the two brothers “Omar” and “Sameh” (schizophrenia), who kept arguing almost all the time for different reasons.. He approached them to see the reason of the newest argument.. Last time “Omar” was pretending to be the owner of an illegal building, and “Sameh” was blackmailing him in return of his silence.. He smiled on their too serious attitude and their conviction with what they were doing.. “Youssef” remembered the cases histories.. Since their childhood they had these hallucinations, which most probably had generic origins, because their mother had a history of mental illness in her family..

“Nadine”..? She had obsessive compulsive disorders related to death.. The brain tumor she had made it a risk to try removing it, besides she already escaped another hospital before bringing her here, because the tumor was in a late stage, and had a negative influence on her thinking skills.. Many days she just sits there not talking to anyone, imagining herself waiting for a guy she believed is coming to kill her before the tumor eats her alive.. He watched her as she fixed the veil she wore on her hair, and heading towards the only window in the place overlooking the garden, to look through it blankly, while holding in her hand her favorite beverage: hot chocolate with a lot of sugar..

Passing beside “Moataz” who was sitting alone, he remembered how he ended up here.. The shock of being abandoned by the girl he was about to marry was a lot to him.. Tried to commit suicide then but with no success, and ended up here (because his family wanted to get rid of him) and he just kept reliving the same experience over and over again.. One time imagines the building his girl lives in collapses, and another time he imagines she had an accident that kills her.. Not able to face that she deliberately walked out on him, so his mind kept making those stories..

“Kareem”..? The death of his wife from cancer took his sanity with it.. He imagined his daughter getting kidnapped while he didn’t have children from the first place, or imagined himself among a gang about to rob a bank.. But that won’t be worse than “Sameer’s case who was convinced that he robbed money from a safe he was responsible for, which was the result of the death of his mother because he couldn’t collect enough money for an open heart surgery she was supposed to have, that resulted in her dead, and him having the insurance money that only benefited him in entering this hospital..

Next to him was “Waheed” (schizophrenic) arguing with “Mahmoud” (amnesic) about who should be the winner on the chess game they were playing together.. Am argue that stopped when they observed him.. They looked at him for a moment, before returning to their chess game, and the big fat “kamel”(amnesic) returned to cheer for them..

Looking at the far point near the bathrooms, he saw “Hassan” coming.. The brain concussion from the accident he had made him not-that-stable.. Sometimes thinking himself the head of a gang, and other times thinks himself a cop.. He enjoyed the fear he causes to the other patients, which was a dark circle in his record, because he probably would be excluded from the trial because of that, besides no obvious improvement was noticed on him anyway..

Writing more notes in his notebook, he continued his wondering among the patients, thinking about the future of this trial.. Would the management of the hospital agree to continue it till the end, or would they just call it off because the results were too late..?

Then he looked at “Sohair “, who was running from something, and passed beside him smiling at him for some reason..

******

25

“Hassan”

- Move on woman..

Pushing her roughly through the corridor, I looked towards its end, where the kitchen door was opened revealing the dark room behind.. “Fawzy” leading the way, and those pale lamps in the ceiling watching us, we walked through the long hall with nothing other than us except our own shadows playing on the walls, the thing that made me even more tens because it looked like someone was following us..

I could see nobody at all around.. Where did all those idiots go then for God’s sake..? I quickly dismissed that thought from my head because we were running out of time.. Each moment counted.. If we didn’t disappear quickly then we would be caught and.. That damned “Sohair” took advantage of me not paying attention and pushed me aside.. I poised real quick before falling, telling“Fawzi” I was fine, before we both head to catch her and..

Then I saw “Youssef Elemam”, the café’s owner that “Khalid” wanted to get rid of, appearing at the beginning of the hall, and smiling at “Sohair” as she passed beside him.. Now he got my whole attention, and I didn’t care anymore where would that cheap girl disappear..

Good that he showed up finally.. But where had he been all this time…? And how came I never noticed his presence before..? Never mind.. What was important that he was here, and that he was going to die.. I watched him silently, as I headed towards him, I saw him writing in the notebook he had, looking around him every second.. He came towards me all smiling when he noticed me, so I grabbed the penknife I had in my pocket strongly, and……..

The end

Acknowledgments

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p<>{color:#365F91;}. To my dear mum: Love you, no words will describe my appreciation to you and your efforts with me my whole life.

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h3<>. Special thanks to a couple of few people, their presence in my life was a blessing one way or the other, they helped me, encouraged me in times of doubt.. If they weren’t there, this novel wouldn’t have been published that fast or reached that far, so no thank you can be enough:

Zamzam Saleh

Akram Imam

Amir Hussein

Nancy Abdelaziz

Ahmed Ali

Anas Elkala

Mona Ali

Yasmine Abdelaziz

[Link to the promo:
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https : / /www.youtube .com/watch/?v=Rsyj69ic0jw

And we will sure be delighted to hear from you on the good reads page : )

https : / /www.goodreads .com/ book /show/24058686

 

 

 


Bianca

Taking place in modern Egypt, a group of seemingly unrelated strangers end up through different circumstances in a weird Egyptian cafe called Bianca, we get to see the story of each and every one of them, and as time proceeds, we find that they are related in the most weird ways you can imagine.. We get to know each one of them deeply, get to touch their souls, their fears, their grudges..!! Things get steamy as the events proceed, and the interlinks between the characters and each other start to unveil, till the shocking ending comes .

  • Author: Mohamed Abdelaziz
  • Published: 2016-11-22 02:35:24
  • Words: 40019
Bianca Bianca