STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD – THE DEPARTURE

“Final call for passengers traveling to Istanbul” a gentle female voice called in the background.

“Sir. Excuse me sir” a far more serious mannish voice called as a hand shook Amr’s shoulder. He looked up with dazed and confused eyes, as if he had been sleeping, yet his eyelids were never shut.

“Mister Kamel. You are the last passenger left to board the flight. Please proceed to my colleagues so they can board you immediately.”

Amr thanked the young steward as he got off his seat and walked towards the long awaited boarding ritual.

How could he have drifted away so easily just by remembering his childhood and early teenage years. He felt as if his mind had traveled in time. As if he had been hypnotized and isolated from the world for that moment in time.

This was not the first time that he traveled off into his memories and imagination. Floating away from the dull realities that surrounded him and venturing into a hidden world inside his head, composed on an intricate mixture of memories and imaginations. Such a mixture that at times he struggle to know what had happened in his life, and what was just a figment of his imagination.

He recalled a time in his childhood when he was nearly kidnapped. As he walked along a street with his parents, they turned around a block to check some shops, while he was distracted by a man standing by a bench, dressed in a trench coat and a hat as if it were the 1950s. Little Amr walked towards the man who grabbed him. But he screamed and kicked so ferociously that the empty street suddenly became full of passers by looking to identify where the screams are coming from. The odd man suddenly dropped Amr on the ground and ran away. Amr’s mother came and hugged her son with tears flowing down from her eyes, then immediately warned him never to leave her hand again. Was it real? Did it ever actually happen? Or was it just his imagination?

Then there was the trick he did as a child. Or did he?

He remembered when they lived in New Delhi, India. They lived in a compound and there, in their little villa, he used to do a magical trick as he walked down the stairs. He would take two to three steps down, while holding the handrails, and then suddenly jumps the rest of the flight of stairs, with his fingers still grasping on the handrails. It was as if he was floating in the air. Gracefully and professionally he would land on his two tiny feet, and continue walking to the ground floor. Was it an exaggeration of a simple small jump that he did? As so many kids imagine their miniature jumps to be grandiose leaps into the emptiness. Or did he fabricate the entire scene in his mind?

What to do with such a mind? With such imagination? How to make use of it in a world of monotonous and endless repetitions of the same?

“Welcome on board sir” the flight atttendant said as she greeted him into the plane.

He walked down the tight corridor, feeling hundreds of angry pairs of eyes watching him and tearing his flesh apart like a pack of wolves attacking the weakest deer of the bunch.

He tried to avoid their devilish looks as he searched for his seat, 23B.

The numbers passed by as he walked down the corridor, and finally came across his designated seat. He looked down and found a middle aged man, dressed in an old and wrinkled suit, in a style that has been long forgotten by the designers of the world. And by the window, he saw an old lady, dressed in a black dress and a black veil covering her hair.

“I am sorry sir, I believe I am sitting next to you” Amr said to the man, as he pointed at the empty seat between him and the old lady.

The man smiled forcefully as he got up and let Amr pass.

Amr sat down and fastened his seatbelt. He closed his eyes and put his head backwards as the plane began its take off. Soon, the plane was off into the sky. He opened his eyes and looked out the window, watching the sprawling city of Cairo under him, its lights flickering in the night, and the cars rushing, or stopping into traffic jams. He felts his heart pulled out of his chest. He could barely hold his tears back as he felt the distance grow between him and the only place he could ever consider home. Nothing will ever be the same again.

As the sadness of goodbye took over his heart. His ears heard a whispering sound coming from next to him. He turned his gaze to the old lady, and he saw her with eyes firmly shut, and her lips shaking relentlessly. She was reciting all that she could remember from the Quran. It was obvious that she feared the idea of flying, to the bones.

Amr smiled and turned around to find his other neighbor skimming through the flight magazine without reading a word. He was merely watching the pictures. The man stopped at an advertisement of a perfume, where he saw the picture of a young blonde lady, with perfect skin and every hair in its rightful place.

“How can these Europeans be so beautiful and perfect this way? Why are our people such a mess?” Asked the man with a strong village accent.

Amr contemplated explaining to the man how does a photo session work, and how modern technology allows for an unrealistic editing of any image before it is printed and circulated to the public. He thought about explaining to the man how technology and modern society has pushed us to aim for unachievable goals. How young girls have become anorexic and young men became addicted to steroids all in the name of an illusion of perfection, sold to us by greedy businesses. But he didn’t. Instead he smiled and asked the man “are you traveling to Europe after Istanbul?”

The man put the magazine back into the seat pocket as if he was about to embark on an existential explanation of the meaning of a flight. He adjusted his sitting slightly to allow him to face Amr directly as much as possible and began explaining.

“I will tell you this because you seem to be a good and honest young man”

He paused and looked around himself like a dealer about to sell a few grams of hashish. He lowered his voice and continued.

“I know a man in Istanbul. He will arrange for a bus that will take me to Germany. And there, I will be met by another man who will guarantee a job for me, and I will be rich and return home to reclaim my land and more. One day, I will return home and I will have a great palace. I will bring a German wife to our village, and I will be the richest and most influential man there.”

Amr did not have the heart to tell him that probably all those he is about to meet are fraudsters, who will at most send him to work on the black market in Turkey or the Balkans. Instead, he once again chose to smile and wish the man the best of luck.

At this point the whispers next to him had stopped. Amr turned around to find the old lady staring at the back of the seat in front of her. He asked her if she felt alright. She turned to Amr and with a soft motherly smile she answered back.

“My son, I have never traveled with an airplane before. I am absolutely terrified of the idea of flying. May god forgive my daughter for putting me in this situation”

“What has your daughter done to put you on this flight ma’am?”

“Six months ago my husband passed away. Since that time my daughter has been pushing me to move and live with her in Istanbul. She is living there with her husband. He has a very good job there and they are living very well. But I could not bring myself to leave my home where I spent so many years with my late husband, or to leave my country where I spent my whole life since my birth. I have never even visited another country. Finally, she pushed me to at least go visit them, and decide later on about the move. So I agreed.”

“I understand you ma’am. But I think it would also do you good to visit a new place and to see your daughter. There is no harm in that.”

“Yes. I just wish there was another way to travel. What about you? What are you going to do in Istanbul?”

“Nothing. I am only taking my next flight from there, to Prague.”

“Prague? Where is that?”

“It’s in the Czech Republic. Right next to Germany. I got a job offer there and I decided to try my luck.”

“Ah yes. You young people are all looking outside for your careers. I do not understand why? What will you do abroad that is so exceptional? You come from the oldest country in the world. A country that is called by name in all the holy books. A country that is known by all people of the world. A country that is not only important in history, it is the history of all. Why would you leave all that for some office job in a place that most people cannot locate on the map?”

Amr smiled again, and as he had been doing for over a year now, he opted no to explain himself as he knew it would take him nowhere. He simply nodded his head in agreement and said:

“Let’s see what destiny has hidden for us.”

The old lady smiled in satisfaction and a sense of victory, feeling that she had inscribed her wisdom into stone before Amr.

She said a small prayer for him.

He turned his head and faced the back of the seat in front of him.

He dropped his head backwards, closed his eyes, and drifted into a deep sleep.

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