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MAHFOUZ, Naguib

Midaq Alley

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The sun began to set and Midaq Alley was veiled in the brown hues of the glow.  The darkness was all the greater because it was enclosed like a trap between three walls. It rose unevenly from Sanadiquiya Street. One of its sides consisted of a shop, a cafe, and a bakery, the other of another shop and an office.  It ends abruptly, just as in ancient glory it did, with two adjoining houses, each of three stories.
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“The matter isn’t easy to decide. Have you forgotten that you are engaged? And that I confirmed it by reading the Qur’an with Abbas?”

A vicious look came into the girl’s eyes and shattered her beauty. She shouted in full, angry scorn. “That barber!”

Her mother was amazed at the speed with which Hamida decided the matter.  Her old feelings that her daughter was ambitious and cruel were renewed.   She never really doubted what the girl’s choice would be, but she would have preferred at least a little thought. She had hoped the girl would hesitate and that she could then convince her.”
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“A taxi!" The word rang strangely in her ears. In her whole life she had only ridden in a horse-drawn carriage and the magic of the word “taxi” took time to die away. But how could she possibly ride in a taxi with a strange man? She was overcome by a powerful desire for adventure.  She was amazed at her capacity for reckless adventures
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“What then would be said about her?  The thought made her toss and turn in distress. However, nothing in the world could have altered her decision. She had made her choice with all her strength and it was the one she really wanted. She was sliding down her chosen route and all that blocked her way to the pit were a few pebbles.”
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She longed to taste one of those kisses about which she had heard. He carefully noted the passer-by while he felt for her mouth in the darkness of the evening and then placed his lips on hers, trembling violently as he did so. His breath engulfed her and her eyes closed tightly in ecstasy.


Mrs. Kirsha, panting for breath, wrapped herself in her cloak and, shouting in a voice loud enough to crumble the wall of the cafe, addressed her husband: “You hash addict! You nincompoop! You filthy lout! You sixty-year old! You father of five and grandfather of twenty! You bastard! You dumb oaf! I feel like spitting in your dirty black face!

Mr Kirsha, quivering with emotion, stared at her in a fury and yelled back, ‘”Hold your tongue woman and take away that toilet of a mouth of yours; you’re spraying us all with its filth!”

“Shut your mouth! You are the only toilet around here, you scarecrow, you disgrace, you rat bag!”

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She was poor and humble, but what about her bronze-colored face, the look in her eyes, and her lovely slender body? All these were qualities which far outweighed mere class differences. What was the point of being proud. He quite frankly desired that pretty face, that body of sensuality and those beautiful buttocks which were able to excite even a pious old man. She was, in fact, more precious than all the merchandise from India.

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Two shops, however, Uncle Kamil's, the sweets seller to the right of the alley entrance and the barber's shop on the left, remain open until shortly after sunset. It is Uncle Kamil's habit, even his right, to place a chair on the threshold of his shop and drop off to sleep with a fly-whisk resting in his lap. He will remain there until customers either call out to him or Abbas the barber teasingly wakes him. He is a hulk of a man, his cloak revealing legs like tree trunks and his behind large and rounded like the dome of a mosque, its central portion resting on the chair and the remainder spilling over the sides. He has a belly like a barrel, great projecting breasts, and he seems scarcely to have any neck at all. Between his shoulders lies his rounded face, so puffed and blood-flecked that his breathing makes its furrows disappear. Consequently, scarcely a single line can be seen on the surface and he seems to have neither nose nor eyes. His head topping all this is small, bald and no different in color from his pale yet florid skin. He is always panting and out of breath, as if he has just run a race, and he can scarcely complete the sale of a sweet before he is overcome by a desire for sleep. People are always telling him he will die suddenly because of the masses of fat pressing round his heart. He always agrees with them. But how will death harm him when his life is merely a prolonged sleep?
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A look of bewilderment and suspicion came into Hamida's eyes. He smiled and went on: "My darling Titi. . . relax . . . you'll know everything in good time. Do you realize that tomorrow you will be a lady of dazzling beauty and fame? This house will perform that miracle. Did you think the heavens would rain down gold and diamonds? Oh no; they rain only bombs! Now get ready to meet the dressmaker. Excuse me, I just remembered something important. I must take you to our school. I am a headmaster, my darling, not a pimp as you called me yesterday. Wear this robe and put on these slippers."

He went to the dressing table and returned with a sparkling crystal bottle with a metal rim from which extended a red rubber tube. He pointed it at her and squeezed the bulb, spraying a heady perfume around her face. At first she trembled, then she inhaled deeply and relaxed, startled yet enjoying the sensation. He put the robe gently around her and brought her slippers to put on. Then he led her into the outer hall. They walked together to the first door on the right as he whispered, "Try not to look shy or nervous. I know you're a brave girl and not afraid of anything." His warning brought her to her senses; she stared hard at him, then gave a shrug of indifference.

"This is the first class in the school," he continued, "the department of Oriental dancing."
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