Ahmed is my designated Egyptian driver. Unperturbed by the dense traffic and the incessant honking of horns, he expertly manhandles the Ford four-wheel drive vehicle through the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. While in the car, Ahmed provides his thoughts on a wide range of topics, always politely inquiring my opinion. We spend many hours together as he ferries me back and forth between hotels and between cities.
As is custom, during our time together, I ask Ahmed about his family. He tells me he is married and has two children -- a daughter who is 20 and a son who is 17. He pronounces each of their names slowly and with relish, like a chef proudly presenting a complex and perfect series of dishes. Ahmed’s voice then falters when he tells me that not so long ago, he was the father of three children, not two. His other son was in a car accident and died. He says softly that his wife is now “sad, so sad, always sad.” In my mind’s eye, I see her pining for her lost boy. I imagine her listlessly going through the motions of her day, everything around her seemingly lackluster and faded. I wonder to myself how one survives the death of a child. How one has the courage to get up in the morning. How very pointless everything must seem.
The car is quiet, filled only with the whirring of the air conditioning and the silent irony of a driver whose son has died in a car crash. I lean forward from the back seat and say to Ahmed that I am sorry, so very sorry. I have given up on God long ago but I find myself telling Ahmed that I am certain that his son is in Jenna, Arabic for Paradise. Ahmed cranes his neck to look at me, eyes shining, and says, “Thank you, Miss Maryam. I want for him to be in Jenna. Yes, in Jenna.” I wish then that I could find some way to ask Ahmed to take me to his home -- there I might sit next to his sad wife and weave stories of cooling waterfalls, trees heavy with fruit, and cloudless skies that stretch as far as the eye can see. Stories of Paradise. But I am shy and inadequate, and so we just drive on.
Images by Photodelic.