Short stories from immigration

What’s a Poet’s Life Worth?

Published At: November 14, 2015
By: Ahmed Isam

Who still doesn’t realize that passing through the Departure Hall without a clear destination takes you through tragedies and shock-waves that require sternness and patience?
The doors at the final travel point aren’t going to sweep you into a wonderland. And I doubt the future awaits you in one of the Arrival Halls at Jomo Kenyatta, Cairo or even Heathrow airports. Riding a plane with that smile, assuming that your life starts now is like being intoxicated with an authentic bottle of Jack Daniels; it induces that euphoric stupor but sadly reality remains mean and unkind.
Khartoum’s Departure Hall looks like the rest in the developing world. If you’re familiar with these countries, you know that no matter how much they renovate and refurbish the airports; the ones who leave still escape poverty, lack of freedom and the dark clouds overshadowing their future.
In a Cairo alley between Huda Sharawi and Qasr El Neel, I didn’t reckon I’d see someone sitting out in the middle of a cold winter, let alone a Sudanese. He stumbled towards me, almost tripping on the beer bottle he dropped from his grasp. He reeked of alcohol, you’d think he swam in a pool of cheap Egyptian brandy. I realized he’s Sudanese the minute I recovered from the shock of seeing him in that deserted alley. We spoke for 15 minutes; about where we came from and where we studied, easily finding friends in common. The man’s name resounded heavily in my consciousness; it was he who wrote famous lines of poetry during our university days, the same one whose audience breaks into fervent clapping when he takes the small stage at the university. Many students knew his lines by heart; lines which boldly broke political and ideological confines. In all his wordsmith finesse, his only remaining words today ask: what can be eaten? Bahnas asked me for some pounds to stave his hunger with some bread; I invited him to my room on top of building number 9 on Qasr Al Neel street. 

He began telling me his story which began at the Departure Hall. He heard of publishing houses in Cairo that appreciate talent and creativity, but didn’t hear that they also serve a certain well networked bunch and require a little money which he couldn’t afford. Hussein collected money from six of his friends and bought the visa, travel permit and ticket and finished the stubborn procedures to leave the country. He passed through the departure hall imaging kicking each of the security men with hatred. Arriving in Cairo, he didn’t comprehend that he needed a few pounds to look like a writer; your look not your language matters here, your shirt not your talent, a suit not letters- even if you were Kafka. He roamed publishing houses for four months, landing at Horeyya Bar in Falaki square with the rest of the desperate poets, the hungry and poor and some foreign journalists hunting for blog stories.
He left me three days later, he hated all my sentences that started with maybe; maybe returning to Sudan was better, maybe if you called your family you’ll hear good news, maybe you can apply for asylum through one of the United Nations offices…He hated me and my Maybe’s and left in the darkness of the night, without me knowing where he’ll be or how to reach him.
Winter was severe that year. The coldest recorded storm hit the Pharoahnic land and my friend was faced with the ugly reality. He wasn’t a human rights defender for an organization to protect him, he wasn’t a politician for a country to protect him and he wasn’t a businessman for a friend to protect him. He was a poet, and only the dumpster he died next to could protect him against the cold wind. The next day many wrote long obituaries and exchanged tidbits of his poetry. What if they did that prior to his tragic death? The brightest artists, writers and poets shared their condolences, but the irony of fate and departure hall remains.
I gift you chaos and children’s quarrels in a kindergarten playground.
An ode to the late Mohamed Hussein Bahnas.
In memory of Abdel Rahim Abo Zikra…this land is covered in tiredness. 


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