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  • 36. The Kitchen Boy

    By Alaa Al Aswany

    Alaa Al Aswany is recognized as one of Egypt’s boldest and most provocative writers. Yet his fiction—even when satirical—can work its spell subtly, as in this story from his new collection, Friendly Fire, coming on September 15. The “kitchen boy” of the title is a quietly ambitious young medical student, whose thwarted efforts to secure proper reward for his accomplishments lead finally to a transformation that might be familiar to anyone who has worked in an office in the Western world.

    For some unknown reason, intelligence is associated in people’s minds with brightness of eye, and anyone who wants to prove he’s brilliant stares into others’ faces, focusing on their eyes. This way, they may witness for themselves how brightly his own flash and the inordinate acumen with which they shine. Hisham’s eyes, on the other hand, did not shine at all, and were small too. Similarly his brown complexion, unremarkable features, meager body, and natural tendency toward shyness and introspection made him appear simply one of those undifferentiated thousands who throng the streets and buses. As soon as Hisham began to speak, however, you would be amazed, because he would grasp what you were saying immediately and comment on it before you’d finished. Then he’d fall silent and quietly smile, as though apologizing for having left you behind. They say—though God knows how true this is—that Hisham learned to speak very early and that before he was three years old he knew how to wind the old Grundig tape reel, put it in place on the machine, thread it, and finally press the button to make the music come out. Because Hisham and I were at the same secondary school, I myself had the opportunity to observe his talents, which carried everything before them. Hisham wasn’t one of those who would plod away at his studies for hours and hours; he would understand the lesson in class and read it once at home, after which he might do a few exercises. Then he would effortlessly achieve the highest marks. In math, he’d often stand up and explain to us, in his quiet voice, how he had solved a problem that had defeated us all, and when he had finished and the teacher had thanked him, we would stare at him, in admiration or with envy. He, however, hated being the object of attention, so he’d busy himself by searching for his pencil, or lean back and start a conversation with the student sitting behind him. Hisham came first in the school in the Secondary General exam. He wanted to go into engineering but his mother wept and pleaded with him in the name of his dead father, reminding him that he was her only child and that all her hopes were pinned on his becoming a doctor, and Hisham submitted and spent five years studying medicine, during which he maintained the highest marks. They say that his grasp of the material at his oral exam extracted the grudging admiration of even the grimmest and most savage of the examiners, and they also say that after Dr. Mandour, the celebrated professor of anatomy, had finished examining Hisham, he stood up, went over to him, shook his hand, and ordered him a cold drink (a gesture of respect rarely granted anyone by the great professor). Because Hisham was so outstanding (but also because he wasn’t the son of a professor at the university or a relative of a minister), he placed twentieth in his class on graduating.

    Hisham was appointed a resident in General Surgery, an outcome with which he was genuinely pleased. When his mother got the news (she was peeling potatoes in front of the television at the time), she was thrilled and gave whoops of joy, then wept, blessed the Lord, and performed two prayer prostrations in thanks to Him. She quickly spread the news by telephone to relatives and friends, got dressed, and went out to buy sherbet and pastries. When the first people, some neighbors, arrived to offer their congratulations, his mother (who had now assumed the grave and dignified air befitting the mother of a surgeon) related to them how Hisham hadn’t made any effort to win the appointment; on the contrary, it was they who had insisted on appointing him, in view of his excellence. And on the second day, when more well-wishers came, the mother recounted a whole dialogue that had taken place between the chairman of the surgery department and her son in which the former had urged Hisham to agree to work with him, while Hisham had asked for a chance to think it over, as he wasn’t quite sure.

    *

    Hisham knocked on the door, opened it a little, politely, and advanced a very short distance into the room. Dr. Bassiouni, the chairman of the department, was sitting talking with three members of the teaching staff. When Hisham appeared, they paused and looked at him attentively, and he felt his heart beating hard. He took a deep breath, smiled in a politely friendly way, and said, “Good morning.”

    They didn’t answer but went on looking. Having to explain his presence, he said, “Hisham Fakhri, the new resident, sir.”

    “Wait outside,” was the chairman’s perfunctory response, after which he resumed his conversation with the professors. Hisham left and started pacing the hall. He smoked three cigarettes. When the professors emerged from the chairman’s office, he repeated everything he had done the time before, starting with knocking on the door and introducing himself, since Dr. Bassiouni had, in the few minutes that had elapsed, completely forgotten about him.

    “Listen, my boy. Do you know what your job in the department here is?”

    Hisham was at a loss for a reply.

    “Your job here is that of the kitchen boy,” said the chairman, breaking out into quick, repeated bursts of laughter and playing with his long sideburns. Hisham was on the verge of laughing too, out of politeness, but fortunately an inner voice warned him against doing so.

    “Do you know what the kitchen boy is, in the kitchen? He’s the boy who collects the onion peelings and washes down the tiles and gets it in the neck from the cooks. There you have it: the resident in surgery is precisely the kitchen boy in the kitchen.”

    Hisham nodded. The chairman continued, “You will do what we tell you to do. Be careful not to object or complain. Everything has its price. You want to become a surgeon? Then you have to pay the price, just as we all did—in sweat and toil, abuse and insults. And three years from now, if I like you, I will sign with this very hand the decision appointing you an assistant lecturer at the university. If, on the other hand, I do not like you, I will dispense with your services and you will go back to the Ministry of Health to do donkey work, just like the rest of the donkeys there.”

    At this point it seemed to occur to the chairman that Hisham had taken up too much of his time and he glowered, and shouted at him in a sudden fury, “Enough! On your way! Go do the paperwork with personnel!”

    *

    Dr. Bassiouni is too well known to require introduction. He is Chairman of the Department of General Surgery and likewise of the Arab Surgeons Association, and member of dozens of international medical associations. In addition to all this he is a public figure whose views on the economy are published in the newspapers and who is invited to appear on television during Ramadan to tell us about his favorite dishes. And Dr. Bassiouni is above all—and let us not forget this—an exceptional surgeon, who has made his incontestable mark in the annals of surgery. Being all of this, he is, naturally, different from you and me—we the lusterless ordinary people, devoid of any value or talent. The fact is that Dr. Bassiouni is as odd as he is exceptional and skilled and his strange ways attract curiosity and comment, not to mention fear and admiration. In the August heat, for example, Dr. Bassiouni will wear a short-sleeved shirt like any other citizen, but—inevitably—he will wear around his neck a tie so long that it reaches to below his belt. No one knows why he insists on the tie when he is not wearing a jacket. Nor does anyone know what the point is of this tie being so long. In addition, he chooses clothes of bright clashing colors that he seems to have chosen deliberately to not match (though they say that he acquired this practice during his stay in America). And while it is accepted that one should let his sideburns grow a little, Dr. Bassiouni has gone to excessive lengths in this respect, draping his face with long gray sideburns that extend from below his ears and give him the appearance of a nineteenth-century English lord, or a Greek grocer from Alexandria. Despite which, his general appearance, with his sideburns, flashy colors, small bald patch, short, stout body, and rapid, irritable movements is not without good looks and certainly gives no hint of his sixty years.

    Dr. Bassiouni has never gotten married, a fact which, according to one interpretation, is attributable to his faithfulness to an old love that ended painfully. On the administrative side, it is well known that the doctor’s department is one of the best organized at el-Qasr el-Aini Hospital, and this is true even though the doctor—with the exception of operating days—spends less than an hour there each day, after which he leaves in a hurry for his clinic, downtown. His absence from the department does not, however, mean that he is unaware of what goes on there and he often summons to his office people (from the most senior professor to the lowest resident), in order to rebuke or congratulate them on things they may have done while he was away, though to this day nobody has found out how the doctor knows what goes on when he isn’t there. There is much speculation, of course, but it is truly difficult to be sure that any given person is the source of his information, and the results are amazing, for the physicians in the department work, talk, and laugh as though the doctor were with them. Two of them may, for example, differ—may, indeed, become excited and angry—over the history of how the doctor obtained his doctorate or from which American university he obtained it (even though it is no business of either of them) but they will be certain that whatever they say, like everything else that happens in the department, will be reported to the doctor in detail; and if things are like this when the doctor is not there, just imagine how they are when he is.

    Indeed. When the doctor appears, everyone devotes the same energy to doing his work well as he does to staying alive, for the doctor is not given to idle talk. He punishes the wrongdoer whoever he may be and his punishments are immediate and also—like everything he does—extremely strange. Thus if he finds a car parked in his private parking space, he at once orders that its four tires be deflated and then leaves (we may imagine the subsequent difficulties faced by the owner of a car with four flat tires) and if he catches sight of a ward orderly making tea beside the patient’s family, he pounces forthwith upon the teakettle and flings it out of the window (it isn’t important on whose head the kettle may land; that is the problem of the person passing by in the street). And if the doctor enters the sterilization room and finds that the brush he uses to scrub his hands isn’t clean, he will right away hurl it in the face of the nursing sister, and he really does hurl it, meaning that the sister may get her head cut open. (This happened once with a new sister; the others knew from experience how to avoid these flying objects.) And in the operating theater, during those terrifying minutes when the fate of a person lying anaesthetized and with their insides exposed is decided and the doctor’s assistants are whispering in dread, the sweat pouring off them in spite of the air conditioning, the doctor—and he alone—remains unflappable, his highpitched voice rising as he curses the families of those he is working with and insults them with a variety of sentences all of the same structure, as when he says, “Drain the blood, you animal!” or “Call that sewing, you ape?” The surprising thing is that the one insulted—be it surgeon or sister—rather than paying attention to the insult will focus all his thoughts on correcting the mistake. In fact, the doctor doesn’t insult his assistants only when angry: he also curses them out when he is pleased and wants to give praise. Thus, at the end of an operation he may say to one of them, “You’re a real ass as a surgeon, but you did good work tonight.”

    Thus, in the doctor’s private language the meanings of the insults are changed and the names of animals are employed in the same way that we ordinary mortals might, in our language, use “you.”

    *

    Hisham worked as he had never worked before. He was on the job every day from seven in the morning to midnight, and on operation days (Sundays and Wednesdays) he would spend the night at the department. When he came home exhausted, he was supposed to find one or two hours in which to review his work for his master. The result was that he didn’t get more than four hours sleep a night. His body grew thin, his face pale, and permanent dark rings formed around his eyes. His mother noticed how irritable he was and reproached him frequently for his excessive smoking. At his insistence, she would wake him every day at daybreak, almost weeping out of pity for his weak, exhausted body. Hisham’s hard work did not, however, hurt him. What kept him awake was the thought that his hard work might go for nothing. He had a clear well-defined goal in mind—to become one of the great surgeons. Because he was aware that these days would decide his whole future, he was prepared, were there time enough, to double his efforts and, believe it or not, he managed to work with Dr. Bassiouni for a whole year without any disasters. He would go in to see him twice a week to show him the operation schedule and each time Hisham would approach Dr. Bassiouni exactly as we might a live electrical wire, or a gas valve that has to be fixed, meaning that he would extend his hand with the papers and retreat to avoid any impending explosion. Dr. Bassiouni, however, to Hisham’s amazement, never exploded. Needless to say, things did not pass without a few special forms of address (Hisham’s was usually ‘pig’) but this was a trifle.

    Though Dr. Bassiouni caused Hisham no problems, others brought him a wide variety, and here we should mention that Dr. Bassiouni’s department included four other professors, not one of whom enjoyed the same celebrity or authority. Dr. Mansour, for instance, had graduated one year after Dr. Bassiouni and like him had a doctorate from America; like him too, he was a skilled surgeon. For reasons that were hard to fathom, however, and as is often the case in life, he did not have the same charisma, and while the presence of Dr. Bassiouni, with his strange appearance, had an effect on people, Dr. Mansour, despite the care he took to wear a three-piece suit summer and winter, resembled, at best, a middle-ranking bureaucrat, meaning that while with his graying hair, his glasses, his good manners, and his soft voice, he was undeniably a respectable person, he was also never anything more than that. Thus there was no great stream of patients to his clinic, since patients usually prefer to contract with a famous surgeon as the latter must obviously be more skilled or how else would he have become famous? And as Dr. Mansour had more free time, it had become his habit to spend most of the day in the department, which he would roam, observing what went on from a distance, and always intervening at the appropriate time. He would, for example, wait until a doctor had prescribed a certain medication for a patient and, as soon as he caught sight of the expression of gratitude in the patient’s eyes or heard the patient’s family thanking the doctor, would approach and ask the doctor in a low voice what he had prescribed, then give a smile of private (but nevertheless observable) sarcasm and announce to him that what he had prescribed was totally wrong (it never happened that Dr. Mansour found that any doctor had got it right). Nor would Dr. Mansour omit to explain in a clear and audible voice the complications that would follow if the patient were to take that medication, which was known to totally destroy the liver. When, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the anxiety and confusion on the patient’s face, Dr. Mansour would joke with him, saying, “You should praise the Lord! The doctor was going to kill you.” At this point the patient and his family would inevitably plead with Dr. Mansour to prescribe another drug for them, so he would take the prescription sheet, resolutely cross out the first medication and then write in another (which usually was no different from the first). Then he would sigh and shake his head, as though to say, “What am I supposed to do about these ignorant doctors, dear God?” and leave exactly as he had come—calmly and politely.

    Dr. Mansour would explain these interventions of his by saying “I always pass on my experience to my children,” and it was in exactly the same fatherly spirit that Dr. Mansour was accustomed to destroy the hopes of the students whose theses he was supervising. Thus, after the student had worked hard for two whole years on his topic and it was approaching completion, and just as the student was starting to feel stirrings of hope that he might obtain a degree (whether a master’s or a doctorate), Dr. Mansour would always discover some fundamental flaw in the study and inform the student of this fact in a deliberate and leisurely fashion (just as you might take your time when sipping mint tea), and then calmly look at the student’s face as the frustration and despair took hold and refuse, politely and adamantly, the student’s feverish attempts to defend himself. When the student had surrendered to despondency and taken refuge in silence, Dr. Mansour would sigh, with genuine relief, and say, “Don’t try to argue about it, my boy. We have at least a year of work ahead of us.”

    That year would be renewed once, and again, after which Dr. Mansour would frequently advise the student to start over with another supervisor because, quite simply, he was not happy with the study and could not agree to put his name to it. The upshot was that, in twenty years, only four students had persevered to the end and obtained a degree under Dr. Mansour’s supervision and the young doctor to whose fate it fell to have Dr. Mansour as an advisor would receive the heartfelt condolences of his colleagues, as though someone dear to him had died. A few days after his appointment, Hisham was invited by Dr. Mansour to attend an operation he was to perform. Hisham was very grateful for this attention, and he scrubbed up and entered with the doctor. The operation was to remove the gall bladder of some wretched peasant from el-Minoufiya and after this had been done, Dr. Mansour asked Hisham to sew up the wound. Hisham focused, controlled the shaking of his hands, and sewed it up as best he knew how. True, his hand was slow, but he made no mistakes, he was certain of that. Afterward, Dr. Mansour asked Hisham to come and see him in his office, invited him to sit, and told him, lighting a cigarette and observing him with the calm of an experienced hunter, “Listen, Hisham. Would you be upset if I told you you’ll never do as a surgeon?” Hisham felt fear and asked him what he meant, to which Dr. Mansour replied that being a surgeon was a matter of feeling before it was one of learning and that his long experience allowed him to judge whether the surgical sense was present in a person or not; he had made up his mind to observe him today during the operation and could assert—and for this he was very sorry—that he would never make a surgeon, for which reason he would advise him to go to some other department—internal medicine, for example, or dermatology—where everything depended on training. Hisham burst, as he was expected to, into violent, and then despairing, attempts to convince Dr. Mansour that he was still at the beginning of the road and that he would learn and improve. Dr. Mansour, however, heard Hisham out with head bowed, refused his arguments with one short sentence, then drove him with another to a further attempt to convince him, and so on, until Dr. Mansour had had his fill of Hisham’s chagrin and despair and stood up, bringing the meeting to a close by saying, in a soft well-mannered voice, “I hope to hear of your resignation in the near future. I’m sorry, but I’m acting for your own good.”

    *

    “A few minutes aren’t enough to judge me, and nobody has the authority to force me to resign,” Hisham told himself. This convinced him and he calmed down and decided to put what Dr. Mansour had said out of his mind and treat it as though it had never happened. Despite this, for weeks he would get confused whenever he was entrusted with a task during an operation; Dr. Mansour’s words would spring insistently into his mind, his hands would shake, and he would have to expend extraordinary effort not to botch things. In any case, Hisham stopped helping Dr. Mansour in his operations after that. Indeed, he started taking steps so that he wouldn’t even see him and if he caught sight of him coming down the hall, would go into a side room and busy himself with something until he had passed. Once it seemed to him that Dr. Mansour saw him, and was smiling. Hisham took to helping the other professors thereafter and was amazed to find that each of them, in his own way, treated him badly. At first, he thought that they must hate him for some reason but he soon discovered that he was not being targeted personally but that relations among everybody were bad: the head sister was always telling the other sisters off and the professors accused everybody—nursing sisters and doctors—of ignorance and poor performance. In a word, everyone had taken it upon himself to expose the ignorance of those who were junior to him, and the quarrels proceeded as in some monotonous soap opera. In the morning, a professor would be rude to a lecturer and tell him off in front of everybody and half an hour later the lecturer would find a fatal mistake made by an assistant lecturer, who would lose no time in his turn in taking it out on a resident or a sister. As Hisham was the most junior, the flood of affronts would always end up pouring down on his head. Fearing a confrontation that Dr. Bassiouni might hear about, Hisham would accept the slights in silence, or, if his tormentor went too far, would direct at him a sad and reproachful smile. He thought at first that this approach would get him out of all the things that he had to put up with, but the actual result was that the insults multiplied and everyone in the department started shouting at Hisham and finding fault with him for the most insignificant reasons. Hisham even caught the sisters, who were beneath him in the hierarchy, winking more than once to one another over him and laughing. This pained him, and each night before he slept, Hisham would put the pillow over his head and remember, with bitter feelings, the events of the day. He would counsel himself to be patient, saying, “It will all change. I will become more skillful. I will make first place in the master’s exam and then they will think hard before doing that. In fact, nobody will dare to speak to me without using my title.”

    The fact is that this poisonous, hatred-charged atmosphere did not prevent Hisham from learning. He read up well on each case and focused his mind during the operations, staring at everything he saw so as to fix it in his memory; thus he inevitably made progress. His diagnostic mistakes gradually grew fewer and he became certain that, were he allowed, he could perform numerous operations with success. As the master’s exam approached, Hisham realized that this was his big chance. He closeted himself with his books, reading, understanding, and memorizing. Often morning would find him still studying, on which occasions he would take a cold shower to wake himself up and then go to the department without having slept. Hisham passed the written exam with virtually no mistakes, did perfectly on the practical, and, as was his custom, won the admiration of the examiners on the oral. When Hisham finished, he was certain of the result.

    An unintentional mistake resulted in the omission of his name from the list of those who had passed, or so Hisham decided. He did not therefore worry too much and went to the Office of Student Affairs, where he explained things to the director. The man was extremely polite and Hisham got to see his grades in the exam. Hisham didn’t argue or say anything, but set off immediately for Dr. Bassiouni’s office. He knocked quickly and hard on the door, opened it, and went in. Dr. Bassiouni was reading. Hisham interrupted him, saying in a hoarse, panting voice (which surprised Hisham himself), “I failed the exam.”

    “Congratulations,” said Dr. Bassiouni without lifting his eyes from what he was reading.

    “I want to know why I failed,” Hisham insisted obstinately.

    “You failed because you didn’t deserve to succeed,” Dr. Bassiouni told Hisham, starting to fiddle with his long sideburns. His tone gave warning of a coming eruption.

    “I had no mistakes on my written or my practical. And the oral . . . .”

    At this, Dr. Bassiouni exploded. “Listen, pig. Do you think I’m taking time out from my many tasks so that I can repeat to you what I tell you every day? I’ve told you a thousand times: there is a difference between the surgery exam and the primary school certificate. We don’t let everyone who turns up become a surgeon, no matter how much he knows. What matters to us is your character and above all your morals. I’ve told you from the beginning, you will never succeed and continue with us unless you please me. Got it?”

    Hisham took refuge in silence.

    “Now, be about your business, pig.”

    And Hisham left. He resumed his work as usual and when he was alone that night he wasn’t exactly sad; it was a feeling of panic that possessed him. Panic is the right word because, for the first time, he realized that his intelligence, that firm base on which he had always confidently depended, was no longer valid. That the doctor had clearly announced that he did not please him (wasn’t that what he’d said?) when he did not know what to do in order to make him pleased further increased his agitation. Days passed, and weeks, and months, and Hisham went on working in the department with his old application but with only half his mind, the other half being preoccupied with the urgent and critical question, what could he do to please Dr. Bassiouni? When Hisham could come up with no answer, he decided to ask the people he knew, starting with his mother, so he put the question to her. His mother, however—to his amazement—attributed all his problems to his colleagues’ envy of his superiority and took to pestering him every evening to pass seven times over a brazier for which she brought incense from the tomb of Lady Sugar Lump (a well-known saint with a shrine on el-Azhar Street). Hisham’s annoyance at all this was extreme, but he did it to please his mother and shut her up, submitting and passing seven times over the brazier. Time went by, and there were only months to go before the second master’s exam (and Hisham’s last chance). He was desperate to know how to please Dr. Bassiouni and started getting to know every professor in the department, working out the times when he was in his best mood, and then getting him on his own and telling him fawningly, “I would like to benefit from your experience, Professor. What should I do to make Dr. Bassiouni pleased?” To which, as one, they would smilingly reply, “Our professor, Dr. Bassiouni, loves anyone who gives himself wholly and sincerely to his work.” Hisham knew that they were lying and started asking his colleagues in the other departments. He would enter the radiology department or walk to the pathology department, look around for an old fellow student, and put the question to him. Gradually, Hisham started presenting his problem to doctors he didn’t know: he would go up to them smiling, introduce himself, and then go over the matter, posing the question, “What should I do to please Dr. Bassiouni?”

    No one knows exactly how Hisham happened across the answer because what happened then happened so suddenly. On Sunday, Hisham went in as usual to go over the list of operations with Dr. Bassiouni, a process that normally took only a few minutes. This time, however, Hisham stayed . . . and stayed . . . until, after an hour had passed since he’d gone in, the doctors in the department started whispering to one another in anxiety and surprise. Eventually, Hisham came out, his face wearing a strange expression that was a mixture of pain, exhaustion, and relief. No one knows what passed between Hisham and Dr. Bassiouni on that day, but equally no one ever forgot that meeting of theirs because it was the beginning of the transformation. After this, Hisham would go in to Dr. Bassiouni every day and spend a long time with him. Indeed, Dr. Bassiouni would send someone to look for him if he did not come, and within a few weeks it was widely reported in the department that the doctor had taken Hisham to help him in his private clinic (which was something Dr. Bassiouni hadn’t done with a resident for years). Thenceforth Hisham became the sole person charged with taking care of Dr. Bassiouni’s appointments and availability and if you wanted to know in what hospital Dr. Bassiouni would be performing an operation tomorrow or whether he was in the mood to allow you to present your request to him, you would have to ask Hisham, and only Hisham. Nor did Hisham any longer have to put up with anyone’s abuse, for the simple reason that no one abused him any longer. On the contrary, everyone, great and small, started treating him nicely; even Dr. Mansour took to making a point of finding him every morning to say hello and he asked him more than once to assist him with his operations, though Hisham would decline, excusing himself on the grounds that his time was completely taken up with “the Pasha” (that is, Bassiouni), on hearing which Dr. Mansour would nod his head as though he completely understood just how busy Hisham must be. It wasn’t long before Hisham gained a reputation as a strict resident who would countenance no slacking where work was concerned and dock days from any sister who made a mistake, after first giving her a dressing down. If the mistake was made by a senior doctor in the department, Hisham would look at him, smile (politely and broadly), and ask him, “Do you think the Pasha would be happy to hear that you are doing that?” (a question that would agitate even the most confident and severe among them). And when Hisham took the master’s exam for the second time, he didn’t bother to closet himself with his books like the time before, but passed and took first place, and Dr. Bassiouni, before the results were made public, congratulated him with the words, “Well done, pig. You’ve come out at the top.” Hisham smiled and bowed, his smile and his movements seeming this time to be of a new and different kind, and said, “I owe it all to you, Pasha.”

    His colleagues and professors made a big fuss over congratulating Hisham but when the time came for him to be appointed, the university administration announced that there were no empty posts. Such a problem could have been enough to destroy Hisham’s future but, as soon as he heard the news, early in the morning, he picked up the phone and called Dr. Bassiouni at home (which is something no one had ever dared to do before) and Dr. Bassiouni quite understood the situation and immediately contacted the relevant people, and before midday, Hisham had received the news of his appointment as an assistant lecturer in the department of general surgery.

    All this happened two or more years ago. Now Hisham is busy preparing his doctoral thesis (under Dr. Bassiouni’s supervision) and we—his former fellow students—are forever delighting in his achievement. Frequently we visit him at the surgery department, where we have a lovely time with him, chatting and recalling old memories, though sometimes, despite the cheerful welcome he gives us, and despite our affection for and pride in him, we feel that something about our old friend has changed. It is, however, a thought that we quickly expel from our minds.

    *

    From the collection Friendly Fire. © Alaa Al Aswany. English translation © Humphrey Davies.

    Pre-order it today!

    And don’t forget Al Aswany’s novels, Chicago and The Yacoubian Building.



    3 Comments

    1. gall bladder symptoms on June 15, 2011 :

      HI,

      Its really very interetsing article guys.

      I liked it.

      Thanks

    2. momma odey on January 2, 2012 :

      long

    3. gathy on November 17, 2012 :

      this is a short story not an article

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