Announcement Concerning “Nate” Reissue

My award-winning novel of 2006, “Nate,” is still in the final stage of preparation. I’m designing a new cover for it (I don’t think the old one is adequate) and making corrections in the old text. And since I’m still struggling financially to keep afloat I have to bump the date of publication ahead to January 4, 2018.

Also note: I am preparing a series of essays to be published sometime in 2018 (an exact date has not been set) about the current state of affairs in Black America. It is not exactly a response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me because I have not read his book. From what I have heard about it, and from the few excerpts I have glimpsed of it, Coates’s book is not saying anything particularly groundbreaking. I have my own views on this subject, and as you know they are considerably less compromising than those of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In the meantime here is another excerpt from “Nate” to whet your appetite.


When I regained consciousness, I felt like I had been on a five-year acid trip. Life around me slowly took on some fearful shapes.

Well….they frightened me at first. Then they disgusted me: a big tent, a dirty floor, half-empty plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, scattered papers, a bunch of grimy backpacks and battered clothes, and, last but not least, the unwashed asses of six or seven men, all looking at me, and all hating me.

I wasn’t high; I knew I had woken up where I had always feared I would wake up: at the bottom of the world. Hadegouine, Numidia. The hot spot of America’s war against international terrorism. More Marines than gooks had lost their lives here. But we weren’t about to take their irons out of the fire. It was the eighties, Reagan was in power, America was back—and if anything, we had to prove it to the world. The 3lst Ostrogoths had trained for this mission for over ten months before they transferred me to the unit, all with a “recommendation” from that same vicious black bastard, whom I’d smirked at some months ago.

Of course, he was right; I didn’t so much as smile the whole time I was stuck there.

Shortly after my arrival, I tried to muster some sympathy from my fellow Marines by telling them what happened to me at Fort Jejune. They merely laughed in my face. Every night from then on, they joked about it in the cruelest way, usually where I could hear them. They sounded like obnoxious little schoolgirls.

We passed a number of months just sitting there, in the desert, talking about nothing—or, rather, THEY talked to EACH OTHER. Not to me. After several months drilling with them I let them know just what the fuck I felt about them, and they had grown as suspicious of me as the last unit had. Some actually thought I was insane. Well, I thought, at least that’s an improvement over the old situation: they may hate me, but at least they fear me. I can handle that.

Everybody was scared; they all knew that Death was at the lining of their assholes. The Royal Numidian Army (of King Ahmed) had been assigned to do our dirty work, but they were the most inept, undisciplined fools anyone had ever seen. And the Pakistanis working alongside them had their hands tied behind their backs. When our officers heard this, they exploded in rages that filtered down the ranks from general to major to lieutenant to sergeant to corporals to sorry, smelly us. All trust had broken down on all sides; all enthusiasm was dead. (Meanwhile, the other side, what with their shells and bullets growing louder and louder and popping and whizzing and kA-blooming through the night, seemed to have an infinite supply of ammo to burn. They made it impossible for you to sleep. I sat and waited and hopelessly twiddled my thumbs and clattered my teeth as the hours wound down.)

I heard we were headed for Adjrar, to indulge in a little “light guerrilla warfare,” as soon as the other units (U.S. and U.N.) cleared the way for us. We had a whole load of goodies and treats and tricks piled into trucks we planned to give the gooks to keep them happy. I peeped into one of these trucks just as they finished loading it; it was filled with nothing but—refuse. Whatever happened to the food? “They got enough Purina cat-chow, and besides, we ran out,” one soldier explained to me. “They shoot at us whether we feed them or not, no matter what side they’re on….it’s crazy, isn’t it?”

He was one of the few soldiers who even bothered to talk to me, and I didn’t even know his full name for several months. In fact I still didn’t know half my company’s names, no matter how often I’d heard them repeated, no matter how often I’d seen their arrogant, childish, grimy faces.

The worst of my fears came true after two absolutely sleepless nights, hearing the increasing chaos and contemplating my own death. The sergeant came in before five o’clock, hysterically whipping our asses to the strains of “Reville”. Sergeant Sanders: A big, loud, ugly ape from Edgeville, South Carolina by way of Chicago and Sing Sing, six foot five and medium-to-dark complexioned, with eyes as hard and cold as diamonds. “Up!” he screamed, “up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Get your asses the fuck up! Ten-shun! Ten-shun! Camel-coon time!—”

After standing up like robots, during which time he inspected the human meat to be roasted by the rebels (or “Camel-coons,” as we had to call them, or get thrown in the stockade and make penis-necklaces for the general’s wives), we got into uniform. We had to be quick, because because because because; we didn’t even have time to wash our asses, so we all smelled. I got into uniform with deathly, quaking motions, as if I was putting on my funeral suit, and preparing to step into a casket. I already saw myself dying, bleeding and totally helpless on some God-forsaken road….like the one we were eventually forced down, unpaved, muddy, filled with deep craters and oceans of quicksand. I barely knew where anything was, it was so dark; I seemed to be surrounded, yet utterly, despicably alone. Dead tired, I made my way with them as the sun began to break through the darkness; the only thing that kept me awake was the sound of enemy gunfire. It terrified me, as did the endless roar of the tanks—but after a few hours of the unnerving monotony, I ignored everything but the gunshots.

They had two kinds of tanks—brown for the Marines, and for the U.N., the white kind, with bold, black lettering on the sides. Their drivers were having a ball, knocking over palm trees and plowing through oases and huge, dark sand drifts that were as long and deep as canyons.  Something was wrong. I was sitting in one of these vehicles—a convoy called the “Black Bastard”—when I heard some guys groaning in disgust. The vehicles suddenly stopped, and some soldiers leaped out to see what was wrong. My body pulsed with anticipatory fear. When I finally got out of the convoy myself and saw what it was, I was so shocked, I nearly went blind. Some youth had been crushed flat under a tank. The soldiers said “rebels” did it, but they said it in such a strange way, so casual, and yet so embarrassed, I immediately knew they were lying. How on earth could anyone be so cold? Were these guys just so shocked that they had to laugh, or was this all a grandiose hallucination, brought on by my hunger and exhaustion? I didn’t want to know.

The hours drummed cheerlessly on. The further we made it down the road, the more corpses began showing up. They were not our victims; they were obviously those of the rebel army, but I was revolted nonetheless. Soon I was seeing so many of these ugly, gummy, blasted up things in the road that my mind, long accustomed to nude girls, now kept on relaying back to me faces half-shot away, bodies with no heads, no arms, no legs, sometimes fully intact with heads looking every which way, eyes opened, but mouth cracked as if in stupor….

Peeping through the mud brick walls of the villages, gathered about the doorways of their crumbling souks, were Numidian peasants. They watched us pass along the battered road beneath them. They saw us kicking ourselves in our own asses, our officers routinely abusing us, thrashing us, spitting on us, even threatening to kill us—and from what I could see, they were quite amused. They went about their business while we tried to impress them with our helicopters, airplanes, tanks, and our posturing, smelly asses, flexing muscles but really dying of the heat and exhaustion and aching feet and the hordes of mosquitoes which were so voracious that sometimes, if you listened carefully, the air sang with their shrieking wings.

The Numidians said nothing. After awhile, they didn’t even look our way; I guess they were thinking, “They all look alike to me”….

It was a real revelation. On T.V. they always seemed to be cheering at the sight of U.S. soldiers; we always saw swarms of them fighting, clawing each other savagely for food that these big-hearted, generous Americans had brought them. But the only thing I saw were these peasants just indifferently passing through—even with Marines stopping them, questioning them, searching them with hands raised. It was increasingly clear to me that we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing; it was also obvious that, even though no blood had been shed on our part, the Numidians had won the war. Just look at our outfit! Everybody hated each other—the honkies hated the niggers, who hated the spics, who hated both niggers and honkies, themselves included, but the Numidians?—They may have been frequently hungry, their homes non-existent, they may have been fighting each other and the ruthless Touraegs and Bedouin slave-runners and hash gangsters from the deserts, but they were working in one breath, in ways that we super-individualists couldn’t even do under pain of death. (Or, rather, they—I don’t even know what I mean when I say when I say “we,” because it wasn’t my war.)

The unit kept on listlessly marching through, till I could see the town for myself—or what was left of it, because the place was nothing more than a series of smoldering shells with their walls standing oddly erect, supported by seemingly nothing at all. Everything was gray and black, ashen earthenware—the colors of an air raid’s aftermath. The only things left to show that humans had lived here were a few pathetic shreds of clothing scattered about, along with some shards of pottery—but I didn’t look too hard. I didn’t want to see any more dead bodies. So we passed on to Ben-Ounif….

Ben-Ounif fascinated me. Not much had happened to this town, except that a bomb had landed in the local mosque and hadn’t exploded. The buildings looked odd, like enormous, bright-red beehives. Hemming this little molten town in was a huge, oblong, terra-cotta wall with about five or six openings at either end. Coming out of them, occasionally, were women, children and elders, in white turbans and long, flowing colorful robes loosely draped about their bodies. As I was passing idly up the road, I saw one of the peasants say something to another. That other peasant rushed back inside one of the odd-looking beehives for a few seconds and soon, very timidly, some of the fellaheen began gathering about the openings of the wall to watch us. Some climbed up on the wall, mostly children, who seemed to be making faces at us rather than cheering us on.

Had it not been for the pebbles some kids pitched at our procession, perhaps we would have never stopped. Perhaps: I don’t know. I understood that the guy leading our battalion, Lieutenant Malthusiano, was preoccupied with other things. He spent an inordinate amount of time inside his tank. And what with those strange groans that often came from it, one had to wonder about him. Not that the soldiers gave a damn. Most of them were already stoned out of their minds….

Meanwhile, the longer we paused, the more fellaheen (peasants) began gathering on the road.

Jugs of water balanced on their heads, clutching sticks, with bulging bellies and sealed lips and sullen stares, they faced our company. Their numbers quickly mushroomed. More people got up on the wall; they started nose-thumbing, just the way we Americans do. Once “Tank”—that’s what we called the lieutenant—saw the hold-up, he zipped up his pants and got out of the tank. He had very black curly hair that hadn’t been cut for weeks. He had a hooked nose, Dravidian mouth, thick eyebrows, and sunken eyes; olive-complexioned to begin with, his being in the sun so long made him look almost African. But, appearances notwithstanding, he spoke with a strange redneck drawl, didn’t like blacks, had a rebel flag tattooed to his left arm and an iron cross to his right—‘nuff said.

“Tank” insists he isn’t scared of all these hundreds of peasants. Of course not. War isn’t even on his mind. Case in point: every now and then, some graceful, lean, hard fellaha passes lazily through his field of vision, talking loudly in harsh, guttural, South Numidian dialect….“Tank” absentmindedly licks his lips.

“You know she wants it, they all do,” he barks, watching one girl’s arrogant buttocks mock him and the rest of us through a bright pink robe….“They’re whores, I can feel it. They’re not even Christians! Did y’all hear about it? No? Welllll….down here they don’t believe in all that hocus-pocus WE believe about not havin’ sex. Hell, no! This is a different world, folks….A different culture, so while we’re here we can do a little enjoyin’ of ourselves! Why not?

“You know something, boys,” he adds, louder, in his horrible New Orleans accent—he takes his hand off his crotch and turns to us….“You know something? With no men here, you’ll get so much pussy you’ll fuckin’ hate it. You’ll hate the shit. I ain’t lyin’, kid. Stick around. But in the meantime, stay on your goddamn guard, ‘cause these motherfuckers could hava lotta grenades up their fuckin’ robes.”

He sees another one pass, he starts to get hard. Unbeknownst to him, a banner, displayed by two young women gathered in the road and written in very crude French, read: “DON’T KIL NUMIDIAN PEPLE, WE LOV YU AMRICANS”. I didn’t know that until the funny-looking guy who’d spoken to me earlier mentioned it to somebody behind me. The other somebody sucked his teeth and laughed. “Shit,” “Tank” went on, he being what he was….“Who needs R & R with babes like this around? See….what I usually do is bribe ‘em. Yup. Throw ‘em a pair of Twinkies or something—they’ll eat fuckin’ anything….They’re likea buncha goddamn dogs. Then you ask for what you want—an’ you’ll get it. Trust me. Sometimes all you gotta do is hold your hand out….”

“Oh, Jesus,” snorted the funny-looking guy, “I don’t believe this.”

More and more villagers gathered up on the road. I noticed that they were actually sitting in front of the tanks, strategically placing their bodies in such a way that completely obstructed our movement. Sergeant Sanders popped his head out of his convoy and cursed. He could do nothing, because Malthusian was too busy trying to see what he could see through a small hole in the wall…. “Yeah? No, Sanders, don’t do anything yet, y’all keep cool, keep cool….”

“They got us completely blocked, lieutenant. Now what the fuck we gon’ do?”

“Lissen, motherfucker,” he casually snarled, still peeping….“I’M the one in charge of shit around here, so you just fuckin’—ouch—GODDAMMIT!!

And then this filthy beige covered jeep drives up towards us. The jeep stops. It’s Colonel Dachausky. We all salute the master when he opens his door, steps out and strides over to the scene, frowning, looking strangely befuddled. Tank is raving about the blood running from his eye. The whole left side of his face is red with blood; you can’t tell whether or not they really did poke his eye out, but the colonel…. “Lieutenant, what the hell’s all this?”

“I, I, uh, I dunno, sir—ouuuuuuuch!! I can’t see! My eye! My eye! Those nigger motherfuckers poked out my eye!—”

“This is crazy,” the colonel drooled, watching all of them in his haze….“Oh, I see what the hell’s the hold-up. You got all these goddamn gooks sitting every which way all over your mother-freakin’ convoys an’ tanks. Lieutenant, get the goddamn gooks off the tanks an’ let’s get movin’, shall we?”

“But I’m wounded! I’m wounded! I can’t—I don’t even know if I gotta eye anymore!” Tank cried.

“Well, you got one goddamn eye,” the Colonel snorted, coldly watching Tank cry bloody tears….“That’s good enough to keep. See, you’re gonna haveta use some damn diplomacy, lieutenant. Flex your brains….You know, if you have ‘em! Move ‘em with your bare hands! C’mon! What the hell’d they put you out here for, anyway?”

“Oh, God,” he sobbed….“Where’s a doctor when you need one? Medic! Medic! Medic!! I can’t see out my eye!!—”

Fuck your goddamn eye!” the Colonel suddenly screamed, up in his face—then snatched his face away and strode casually back to the jeep. He picked up his walkie-talkie and mumbled some shit I couldn’t hear, and then turned right around and sped back the other way clumsily through heaps of dirt, sand and battered road. Tank turned livid. He fumed, jerked his head around, as the blood dripped from his chin. He wiped it away, gagged, and strode over to Sanders in the convoy directly behind the Black Bastard and shrieked, “Fuck it! Fuck it! Let’s do it! Let’s kill these motherfuckers!” he shouts, trying to rile us up….“Fuck diplomacy!! Sanders, get ‘em ready—they’re gonna be fryin’ some gook ass tonight if I can help it. You see all these gooks blockin’ the road here? Run ‘em over! Kill ‘em! They’ve just insulted an American! How’d YOU like it if some goddamn nigger poked you in the eye with a stick? Huh?”

“I can’t even answer that,” the funny-looking guy snorted out loud in back of me; he sounded like a white beach bum, almost. “Hey, man,” he said, nudging me, “you think he heard what I said?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered, “what the hell are we supposed to be doing now, anyway?”

“You mean in this war?”

“No, just right now, with all these women and children out there. What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

“I have no fuckin’ idea, man,” he replied, shaking his head. “No idea.”

The both of us got down off the top of the “Black Bastard” and began to amble around as we talked. I finally learned his name: Marv Manchley, of Cincinnati. Like me, he was Private First Class, and, as it turned out, he despised the war. He admitted he only came into the service because he “needed the eggs”. He never cut his hair, and in fact was trying to make dreadlocks out of them. He wore rectangular-shaped spectacles perched at the end of his nose; he actually looked very much like a North Numidian with his Semitic features, except he was so brown-skinned. I joshed to him that if he kept on growing his hair like that, they would mistake him and have him killed. “Oh, no,” he snorted, “no way. I never take my uniform off, I just wouldn’t put myself in the position of being killed by these motherfuckers. That why you joined, too?”


“Yeah, ‘cause you don’t look like the Marine type at all,” he said. Tell me about it, I thought. “I kept on wondering why the fuck you were in this outfit if you couldn’t get along with anyone. But I’d watch it if I were you. Just about everybody here hates your fuckin’ guts, man.”

“Oh, I could tell,” I murmured, looking around at everybody standing about, waiting for their commanders to give them the signal to push the people away from the tanks. I mentioned something to Marv about it.  “I think we should go back,” he said, suddenly, “bad vibes, man.”

Then I asked, worried, “we’re not authorized to kill these people if it comes down to it, are we?”

“Oh, yeah, we are,” Marv blurted out, to my horror…. “Not that I’m doin’ it. I’m above that shit, man, that’s not me….”

“But what if they told you to?”

“I wouldn’t do it. I’d just push them, you know, to the side. But maybe they’ll give up an’ go home, looks like they’re tiring out—”

“But how can we just kill them?” I kept on asking, idiotically. “They’re not the rebels!”

“Well, they’re in the way,” Marv murmured, “that’s all I gotta say. But with that ‘Tank’ guy around, man—you know something’s gotta give. ‘Tank’ thinks he’s still in his fuckin’ New Orleans police uniform an’ shit. Or L.A.—wherever the fuck he was, I dunno. All I know is, you can expect just about anything from that motherfucker.”

“Even the kids?”

Sergeant Sanders saw us loitering about and angrily strode over towards us. I didn’t know what the fuck was his problem, for he began violently lunging out at me, screaming, “shut the fuck up, retard! Git your ass over here an’ line up with da restuf ‘em! C’mon! Get—” He pushes Marv roughly on the back. “You, too, hippie nigger! Get your goddamn asses in line or else!”

By this time, the scene was crazy. Marines would carefully remove the Arabs from underneath the tanks and shove them to the side of the road, but for every Arab they removed, another one quickly took his place. It happened, repeatedly, until Tank literally howled with rage. Major Lewison tried to reason with Tank….there was nothing else to be done, they had us swamped. Using “force” would send the wrong message to these people. But whatever Lewison thought about the effectiveness of non-violence, it most certainly wasn’t working for us. Whenever we got out the convoys to get them off the road, they would climb inside the vehicles and fuck around. One even swiped the keys to two jeeps; another expertly cut the wires to a humvee and rendered it worthless. Indeed, they were so obnoxious that I couldn’t be sure whom to hate or who to side with—they, or these asshole Marines….

Dachausky was hardly ever seen by any of us. Still, we already knew he was at the end of his rope. He really didn’t care anymore; it was as if he’d given up all hope of ever keeping this operation under wraps so the folks back home could think of this as being nothing, just a football game. He kept little round mirror shades over his eyes as he rode around in his jeep, making sure everything was in order, like the general manager of a restaurant dutifully inspecting his dishwashers and busboys. The sounds of occasional rockets and mortar in the distance didn’t faze this hardened veteran of the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and the Dominican Republic; his expertise in dealing with unruly Ay-rabs in Beirut was the prime reason why he was picked to oversee this operation. This time, Dachausky came back to say he’d summoned some “help”. The “help” hurriedly arrived in an outdated green U.S. Army jeep, a tall, gaping, sickly-looking, gangly Northerner who reputedly spoke six languages and worked for King Ahmed’s hated intelligence department. His brilliant off-white silk djellaba was unbearably bright in the harsh African mid-day sun. He cocked his maroon fez on properly and stumbled out of his jeep into the dust, a comical fool. Marv and I mocked him as he was handed a megaphone.

Huge explosions rocked the earth beneath our boots.

More reinforcements quickly arrived, in strange wide helicopters that flapped right down a few yards away from us, their propellers blowing sand and grit up into our faces and hair and eyes.  I thought they were coming to take us to Adjrar so we could stop all this stupid-ass marching and bear wrestling, but as it happened, dozens of khaki-clad, pith-helmeted and very well-strapped soldiers rolled off them. I was surprised to find that most of them were coal-black. Marv told me it was the brutal 9th Battalion. The 9th Battalion got themselves together and began to take their positions, while the peasants, immediately catching sight of the helicopters, grew even more obstinate and swelled their numbers to what seemed like a thousand or more. The sickly-looking Arab came forward and directly faced the bidonville. With a surprisingly firm, almost vicious voice, he pleaded for the villagers to remove themselves. The fellaheen merely jeered and threw stones….I sucked in my breath watching the verbal see-sawing between the sickly man and the village elders; the way they were arguing so, it appeared an explosion was imminent. But I was not familiar with the Arab-African temperament and their joy of having a great argument over nothing, for I was puzzled to see how quickly their tempers flared and died. And that was that.

The elders, adjusting their turbans and flinging their robes about their shoulders, got their people out of the road. The sickly man had done it. We al let out our war cries of relief and reassembled our unit. I was struggling back on top of the tank when I saw three jokers perched on the terra-cotta wall. One of them nudged the other, and picked up a rock and threw it at Tank’s helmet. Tank jerked around with that one wild eye; he bit his lip….

“Who threw that?” he hissed.

Corporal Jerome Gates pointed to the wall where the three jokers had once been but were now gone. Instead, Tank saw a ten-year-old boy who wasn’t on the wall. He roughly seized the boy’s arm while the other Numidians were dispersing. He gave the boy a loud slap in the face with an open palm. When one of the Arabs looked, another Arab looked, and soon all were watching when Tank pushed the boy back over the wall. They all thought he was crazy….

“They can talk if they like,” he panted, his face disfigured by the blood-soaked bandage….“‘Cause the first punk who throws another rock is fuckin’ fried meat.” Then he cuts his eye at the dispersing Numidians. Two more rocks shot out the breaches in the wall and knock him upside his head again. Marv and I were suddenly overtaken with wild, uncontrollable laughter. I clutched my stomach and fell to the ground, looking about to see if Sanders was looking….instead, I saw Tank with his head raised just far enough for him to bark:

“Okay, let ‘er rip.”

I didn’t think he was serious, but when I saw those guns suddenly being raised at the wall, I saw there was no stopping it. It sounded at first like millions of extremely loud, malfunctioning lawnmowers. The blast of guns was deafening; the stench of smoke and grit hit my nostrils; the air was filled with screams. One by one, their heads shattered in gobs of grey and pink and red; their arms, intestines, livers, kidneys, lungs spattered the wall like sludge from a sewer. My head felt like I’d been in a disco for six hours….And then I looked back, at the hands pulling the triggers, and how those hands didn’t twitch once; not a one hesitated to grind ‘em all down to shit. And then the dust cleared, and there they were, all over the ground, all over the walls, about a hundred of them, men, women and children, elderly, dead or dying.

It didn’t even take ten minutes.


            When it was all over, I stood guard to make sure Bedouin thieves didn’t swipe the bodies to sell them on the black market to French universities. All along I was completely flabbergasted. Did they really have to kill all of them? What was the point in all that? I thought I was dreaming, that maybe it was a horrible coda to the joke I shared with Marv. Until I began handling the corpses. One guy’s brains slid out of an eggshell of a head that had its face intact. I dropped the body, stumbled blindly over to the “black bastard” and heaved up what seemed like everything I had ever eaten. I couldn’t go through with this shit; I had to run off. This was just totally crazy….

Ben-Ounif was in ruins; it looked like a big pile of dried clay chunks. And within them were these few people, limping, bleeding, pulling themselves up from the wreckage to face “reality”—the machine guns. The Marines laughed, or cracked jokes, or vomited, turning over bodies, cutting off the left ear of dozens of shattered heads. Those men who were still alive were being herded onto military trucks; once a name was read off a roll by an Arab soldier, the “guilty” party moved, his hands tied with plastic like a garbage bag, across the killing fields, where the Arab assistants rudely pushed him in. The women and children were forced onto a bus—the refugee bus. They will go to Adjrar, where they will forget about their village, and live in the “real world” where, deep down in the filthy basements and fetid tent cities made of plastic and swimming with garbage and excrement, they will become animals—just like the rest of us.

Excerpt from “Nate,” Back House Books, 2006.

American Book Award-winner “NATE” Being Reissued in November, 2017–on Kindle

From Ishmael Reed: “I enjoyed reading NATE so much that I read scenes to anyone within hearing distance. P. Lewis is an original talent whose English cuts through a lot of contemporary BS like a butcher knife. His characters don’t give a flying F- whether you feel for them or not. It’s important that a powerful novel such as this surfaces at a time when the black lit. scene is being smothered by a lot of dumb frivolous chick-lit and down low scribbling. Anybody want to know where the kick-behind black male literary tradition of Himes, Wright, John A. Williams went? It’s alive and well in Berlin.”  

From Darryl Dickson-Carr: “A brutally funny novel satirizing diverse subjects from American military misadventures, African-American cultural politics, to the chaos of contemporary American life. Like the protagonists of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the eponymous hero, Nathan James Morris, is a classic picaro, a naive everyman and would-be artist whose foolhardiness shows us more about American life and the human condition than would seem possible in one novel.”


My second novel, Nate, won an American Book Award in 2006. A lot of people have been asking about this novel and how they can get their hands on it. I’m putting out an e-book of it in November, and the following year a CreateSpace version will be available on Amazon. (That’s the best I can do right now.)

Also keep an eye out for my third novel, Berlin Asylum, in the Spring of 2018. The both of them will certainly raise eyebrows. 

So for a little taste of the novel which rubbed black middle class sensibilities the wrong way, read below…


Chapter Thirteen

Imagine yourself entering Robeson Hall, early in the morning, hungry, exhausted, unwashed, your brain inundated by everyone’s wild screams. Look into their faces as you pass: there’s your story. They make you reach for your revolver. The coeds are everywhere, with plenty of time on their hands and nothing to do except sit on the stairs or slump against the walls and around the soda machine or filling up the lounges and the bathrooms, eating, drinking, playing their radios; they look so charming and luscious, like JET centerfolds—you’d love to have them dangling from the end of your dick—until they open their mouths, roll their eyes, and look at you. They BREATHE hostility and contempt. It oozes like sweat from every pore of their over pampered skins.

They look even more brutal than the 34th Vandal’s worst MP’s. They look ever more mercenary, more cold-blooded, more hostile, and often, they even strike you with terror. I listen to them speak; it sounds so affected, so childish, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Absolutely superficial. But they seem contented enough with life—so whenever I see one of those cute, cuddly coeds coming up my way as I pass through the lobby to see my name on the Dean’s List—after licking asses and not getting my due for it—I deliberately let the door fly into their face. Some of them are scared of me; others resolutely hostile, though I haven’t been attacked—not yet. “Dirty black-ass motherfucker!” one cute coed clucked when I hurled the door in her face.

I shrugged. Why bother with manners if it doesn’t help?

I’ve got fifteen minutes; no assignment is due in Professor Spade’s class, so I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time here. I hadn’t been doing any homework for a week, anyway, I couldn’t concentrate. I could always do my artwork in the studios, but I had to be careful lest one of the students broke in and stole my work and fixed his or her name to it—something that happened all the time. And Leopold Spade—I finally admitted to myself, with some deliberation, that I genuinely hated him. He is one of the few people I’ve ever truly despised. I didn’t want to admit this at first; I wanted to accept his arrogance for something other than just crude hostility. Besides, I had heard from so many people that Spade really admired my work and “had nothing but praise for it”, so I couldn’t figure out why he was being so cool and nonchalant. But I was still young; I had a lot to learn about C.S.U. art instructors.

Designers, without exception, are assholes, sociopaths, egomaniacs and insufferable windbags. And there is no design teacher without a record-book full of failures and withdrawals and these sudden, strange disappearances (“incompletes”) so common amongst Coon State art students. Whenever Spade shows up in class or up the hall, every one of the freshmen groans in disgust as he whistles his self-satisfied, dreaded ass off.  Worse still, he shakes down every cunt in the classroom. At the end of each class (like at the end of his dick) all the girls hover around him like mosquitoes, chirping and cooing lasciviously: they being women, he can pass them with an “A” if he can fuck them. That’s how he shakes them down, the bastard. But he occupies an enviable and almost eminent position in the local art community. He’s gracious, so I’m told; he’s helped many a career, he’s so fucking concerned about “his people”, a man of the streets, a block boy bathing in a tub of champagne. All of which doesn’t explain why he refuses to give me an “A” or “B”, no matter how much time and effort I put into all the work I dish out to him.

Fortunately, there was a godsend seated at the far end of the classroom. I remembered her face very well—her chestnut-colored hair, long sexy legs, almond eyes, puckering lips, slender build did not escape my memory. It was Maya Arschloch. The one Marcus disdained because he said she had a “svelte” ass. At first, I was highly suspicious—I thought she was some agent sent by the consulate to have me jugged. But when I broke the ice with her I found she knew nothing of my desertion. Solid, I thought. The girl had quit the goddamn consulate two days after I called up sick.

“I was wondering why you never came back,” she said, sipping a soda through a straw. “Hell, I decided to take off myself. The nerve of you guys working there, talking all that trash about us! Especially you, Nathan.”


“Yes, you,” she said, “Because you’re so much better than the scum who worked there!”

“Safiya and Khalida were scum, too, you know,” I insisted.

“Yeah, but MARCUS?! I mean—damn! He was impossible. And such a fucking racist, it was incredible. He was always looking through my things—I don’t know why, unless he was looking for nude pictures or some shit. Oh, my God, Nathan,—look.”


I followed her finger to the man seated two rows away from us, three seats from the wall in back; his bespectacled face was filled with bruises, his hair uncut, his sport coat scuffed. “That’s onea my old boyfriends,” she told me— “you think all that stuff about him is true?”

“What stuff?”

“Didn’t you hear the rumor that he’s a male whore, and he supposedly sucks people off for forty dollars a pop? That’s—Sellers! Guy Sellers!” She gasps…. “Oh my God!”

I swear I felt my hair stand on end when she said that. But, thanks to Christ, that was NOT Guy Sellers—the man just looked very similar, that’s all. He was medium-to-dark, like Guy was; his eyes were full and round like his but, thankfully, they were grey. Never minding this strange Guy impersonator, however: some voice just outside the classroom provoked an even greater feeling of dread: Professor Spade. Guy, after all, was just a bad memory; this motherfucker was real. And he never looked more ominous when he strode into the classroom.

We all quickly fell silent.

Spade was a dark-skinned, balding man who wore round mirror shades. He had an angular face with a thick nose and a smug, tight mouth. He looked like a fucking murderer. I bade hello to him, just to say something, maybe to get on whatever good side I still thought he possessed….but Spade said not a word. He drew up his shades, took them off, and then briefly landed his eyes on me.

He stood there looking at me in a very unpleasant way. It was a strange look of disdain, the kind of look I once found in the eyes of some hateful corporal. Whatever the hell was eating him up, I knew I had nothing to do with it.

“Someone’s been smoking in here,” he said, coldly. “Was it you, Mister Lomax?”

“No,” spits the battered-faced nerd from the rear in a muffled, weak, self-conscious voice.

“Excuse me, I asked you a question, so I’d like for you to answer it, please,” he then snorts, pompously.

“I said  NO,”  Mister Lomax snorts in anger, “I didn’t smoke in here. I don’t smoke, sir. You know I don’t!”

“No, Mister Lomax, I DON’T know that you don’t smoke, thank you—for your information. You know,” he adds, icily, “you should learn to show me some respect when you walk in here next time.”

Spade takes out his stool and sits on his bony ass while Mr. Lomax looks at him perplexedly. Today the bastard is in a strange rage, and he himself admits to it. He pompously sniffs the air, and looks at me again. Uh oh. I know what he’s going to do, what he’s going to say. I’ve heard it for the past year already.

“So, Mister Morris,” he continues, laying his things out on the table, “it seems you finally decided to come to class again and take this course for a third time?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I need to. That’s the only reason why.”

“You WHAT?!” he suddenly spat, jerking his head up so vehemently it frightened even me. “Well, I….I said—”

“You said you needed credits, is that right? That’s what I THOUGHT I heard you say! Is that right?”

Everyone was looking at him and I, scratching their heads….

“Yes, I said that,” I stammered, looking into his hard eyes, “I….need them to pass. To graduate.”

The students, Maya included, found my mumbling and fumbling very funny. Spade took his goddamn eyes off me for once, and scanned the class with them. “You must be joking,” he suddenly said. “Hand in your assignment, Mister Morris. I want to see what you’ve done that makes you think you’re so damn tough.”

I looked askance at him. “I didn’t say—”

“Hand in your assignment, Mister Morris,” he snapped. “NOW.”

I dug it out of my bag and made it over to his table, almost feeling as if I hadn’t really left the military. Spade looked at it, over and over, up and down; Maya was sulking in a corner flashing nervous grins; Mister Lomax was looking up at the ceiling, and then at me—he put his finger to his head and “fired.” I know, my eyes tell him, you don’t have to tell me a thing.

“Morris,” Spade shot, “tell me, what’s so damn great about this thing? This stinks!”

He hurls it on the table.

“This is slop, Nathaniel Morris. SLOP. What makes you think you can say what you said an’ just—you know….”

“Say about what?”

“You know what I mean, Mister Morris,” he shot back.

“I think you’re nuts,” I mumbled out loud.

Spade looked up at me once again. “I know I didn’t hear Mr. Morris say what I thought because if he did, he’s not going to find being in this class a very pleasant experience at allllllll.” He cocks his head. “Let me clarify myself, Mister Morris. You—I find you very disrespectful to all the people in this art department. VERY disrespectful.”

“You told Lomax the same thing,” I grumbled.

“I’m not talking about Carl, sir, I’m talking about YOU.”

“But what the hell did I do?”

Spade took a deep breath, shook his head, and sat down. He flopped some papers down on his table; he looked over them for a long time. I couldn’t figure out what his damn problem was myself. “Morris, this is a D-minus,” he snaps, tacking a sheet of paper onto my assignment—the one I’d slaved on all night, the one I had swimming in my head for so long I couldn’t remember. Then all the other students were told to turn theirs in. I was aghast to note that theirs was shit compared to what I’d done.

“Morris,” he begins, as the students stack up their shit in front of him, “Mister Morris. Lissen to me. One month has already passed in this class, and your grades right now are so bad, I don’t even know why you are even bothering to hang around. I doubt very seriously if you can accumulate enough A’s to pass this course with a ‘D’. Maybe, if you would stop clowning around, get serious, an’ show me work comparable to what I’ve seen you do, then, maybe, we’ll see about you getting passing grades. I want to see you in this class. I am NOT going to let you slide, mister—”

“I did my work just like anyone else in here, I don’t know why YOU’RE pissed, unless you personally dislike the damn thing. Or,” I said, jerking my brow up at him, “maybe it’s something else.”

“Oh? Like—”

“I don’t know,” I snorted, “I just think you have a problem with me being in your class. But that’s tough. I gotta right to take this class like anyone else.”

“You know, you really didn’t have to come to class, you coulda stayed home—”

“But I chose to! What the hell’s the matter with that, anyway?”

“Nate, you listen, and listen hard. Do you REALLY want to learn something from us, or do you just want to disturb us again?”


“Yes! Disturb. You disturb this class by coming in late, that’s disturbing as hell, Nate.”

“I wasn’t late this time.”

“Listen, man. Don’t you even care if you graduate or not? What’s the reason for all the clowning around? The bad assignments? What?”

“I’ve been doing my very best,” I insisted.

“I asked you a question,” he shot back—“What is the reason for it?”

“But you come in late, and others do, too! Why single me out?”

“Me?” Spade spat, pointing arrogantly to himself, eyebrows raised, half-smiling. “What about me? I’m not talking about ME, Mister Nate. I’M talking about YOU.  What is it now? Too much fun? Alcohol? Drugs?….Sex? Don’t tell me….it’s the sex, isn’t it?”

I try to keep from hurling something into his face—a bottle on the floor, a thick piece of wood, a stray tire-iron, a balled-up piece of paper. I feel his hatred building up in my bones like poisonous phosphates. The guy starts getting red underneath his ebony tint; my stomach tightens. Every week it’s the same old dreary shit. Spade glares at me one more time and then snarls “get out”. Just like that. “Mister Nathaniel Morris,” he says, “please leave this classroom immediately, and come see me after class.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I protested.

“Now,” he snapped.

Joe and Jacky Cooke appear just as I’m making it out the gate, past the entrance where the cars come in. Two of my “good friends,” whom I’ve known for about a year. One of them trim and smartly casual, the other a big, fat, tall behemoth dressed in shabby T-shirt and jeans. Of course, Jacky is the monster, the toughie, who was so hurt by Coon State’s rejection of him that he went mad, grabbed his soprano sax—and bopped his music instructor in the head with it. Joe, on the other hand, is just a nice guy who amuses himself observing my social gaucherie. Remember him? He was the schmuck I encountered a couple years ago when I was living in Adams-Morgan. Along with him comes Carl Lomax, bemoaning his own plight at C.S.U. and pathetic as usual. Joe calls out to me while I’m down on Georgia Avenue, and, as is the custom, I snub Carl and face Joe. Carl angrily walks away.

I’m sorry, but that’s just the way things are. I have a bad enough reputation as it is without Carl buzzing around me like a fruit-fly.

“Hey, Nate,” Joe says, once he approaches, “Where you headed?”

“Nowhere special,” I say, still angry, still hearing Spade’s sneers in my head. “I guess I’ll go to a museum or something.”

Jacky frowned. “A museum?” He raised his brows. “Oh, I get it! Wanna talk to somea those artsy-fartsy honeys up in there, huh?”

“It wasn’t even on my mind,” I said. And that was no lie. “Actually, I got hooked up with this one girl in class, she’s pretty hot.”

“I don’t believe that shit,” Jacky shot. “Really?” Joe added, right about the same time. “Joe, man, he’s just sayin’ that shit to impress his friends! Ar-hargh-har-ar! You can’t talk to these snotty-ass hoes up here, ‘cause all they want is either some fuckin’ pimp or a white dude—either which, they certainly don’t want you, Nate!”

“That’s not true, I knew this girl from Numidia, from way back,” I explained. “Her name’s Maya Arschloch.”

“That’s a helluva name,” Jacky said, “sounds like German for asshole! Nate, you sure she’s okay? ‘Cause I’m tellin’ you, I’ve been up here before all y’all. I was in this motherfucker twelve years ago. Back inna goddamn seventies! Man, that was nothing but total sell-out time! Every motherfucker wanted to be a goddamn pimp, a fuckin’ hustler—I mean, it was fucked up! The decade before they were all into that ‘black is beautiful’ shit—then, they just freaked out!”

“Tell me about it,” I snorted, “look what became of them.”

My words were complimented by the sudden appearance of three happy, merry, huckle-bucking students, dressed in loud “COON STATE” T-shirts and cut-off jeans and gold chains, yelling and screaming like lunatics; following right behind them were a group of enormous negroes with their hair shaved to the shape of Greek lettering, making funny noises right out of Monty Python, their feet ensconced in Adidas sneakers, running two and fro from the gateway entrance to the steps of the School of Business in repetitious patterns only seen in the mentally autistic. “Oh, shit,” I snorted, “the goddamn Greeks.”

The three of us continued down Georgia Avenue, until we passed the rows of rotting brownstones and store-front churches, the beer joints and crumbling sidewalks, the stripped-down cars, the post offices and cathedrals with grilled windows….We popped up in Chinatown, still talking. Chinatown looked more or less the same—the main difference being the lettering was Chinese, and that the windows didn’t have grills in them. Right around the corner from us—we were on H Street—I saw this obscenely bloated figure in pink tights and a black T-shirt pushing a baby carriage; I was aghast to see that the bloated thing had the face of Rhonda Randolph. Even more outrageous was the fact that it was smiling! “Damn, that’s a goddamn gorilla right there,” Jacky huffed, with a chuckle…. “That bitch is so fat, she can’t even make it through the fuckin’ door.” He squints his eyes at her face. He sees what Joe sees, what I saw before any of them. They turn and look at me. “Oh, my Lord,” exclaimed Joe…. “Nate??”

“What?” Jacky cracked, his mouth widening into a shitty grin. I bit my lip. “Yes, I know, I know.”

“It’s your girlfriend!” Joe giggled, and then broke out laughing. Jacky wasn’t laughing, however; his eyes said something else. “Hell, I’d fuck her,” he admits, shrugging. Joe laughs even harder, though the shit is really directed at me, as he makes clear when he leans on me when I got my back turned, trying to make sure Orca doesn’t see. “Yeah! I mean—she may be fat, but it’s the good fat, yo! She’s hugely but evenly distributed! Hell, African dudes like their bitches fat, so I guess I’m more in tune to the Motherland than you niggers are! Ar-har-har-argh!”

“Hell,” I snorted, watching that huge rear-end swish disgustingly away, “she IS a motherland all unto herself.”

“You know, it’s really fucked up, how the sisters at Coon State be doggin’ a nigger, yo,” Joe begins, as we make it onto 9th; thank God Orca goes down the escalator of the Gallery Place metro. “I mean….there’s this one bitch I heard about, right. She’s up there now. She’s such a freak. I mean, she’s such a big freak, Vanessa del Rio don’t have nothin’ on her, okay? Light-skinned bitch. She’s got this answering machine, an’ all these niggers kept callin’ her ass up, one after the other. ‘Cause she had this message on it where the girl was actually rubbin’ the phone up against her pussy an’ sayin’ some wild shit, lickin’ the phone an’ stuff. She looks almost white.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jacky says, cutting his eye at me jocosely, “I remember. I think I recall. Melvin told me about that bitch when she used to work overseas! She got those long, sexy dancers’ legs, like a, a ice skater. Yeah, she’s fine! Got that luscious skin, that svelte ass….”

“She’s the one Luc’s in love with,” Joe says, cutting his eye at me. “The stupid-ass fool!” Jacky replies. “She’s like the fuckin’ mirage you see inna desert. That’s all she is! A goddamn flirt! You think you gonna get something but you don’t get shit from her! Goddamn dickteasin’ bitch! She be whippin’ her long dark hair around, flashin’ them sexy cat eyes—she ain’t nothin’ but dirt. She ain’t but nineteen an’ she’s already had five abortions, slept with about a thousand niggers, Melvin told me he’s got this film of her with eight guys shootin’ sperm into her mouth, big ol’ fat juicy gobs, too, not that small shit, you know, these ol’ tiny-ass droplets—I mean, BLISSSSSSSHHHHHH!! Shit looked like she got doused with wall-paper paste….Damn!”

“The nastiest, sluttiest, whore-ass high-yellow bitch of the class of 1992,” Joe said, mordantly. And then he turned and faced me, and said: “Does that sound like somebody you know?”


In my silence the void was filled with raucous laughter, with Joe laying it on thick for effects. No big surprise: his whole face seems like it’s been constructed just for that purpose—to laugh in other people’s faces. “An’ to think he’s been to bed with Orca an’ shit—bitch is so goddamn fat that when a nigger fucks her, the motherfucker sinks right in! Takes him a whole week to find his way out that bitches’ pussy!”

“Man, Nate,” Jacky laughed, “I thought you had some good taste in women.”

“She’s my ex-girlfriend,” I snorted, angrily. Then, for some strange reason, Orca reappears, through the Metro’s elevator. Joe and Jacky are in stitches watching her huge thighs wobble around; I move away from them. They follow, sheepishly giggling. “Okay, man, we got you. FORMER girlfriend.”

“I’m serious!” I furiously whispered, in vain. Jacky nods. “Okay, man. Gotcha.”

“I mean, we don’t even know each other anymore,” I continued.

“Yeah, man, we get the point already!” Joe snorted, still laughing. “Former girlfriend. FORMER GIRLFRIEND. Shit, that’s what they all say.”

They are still laughing when we enter the clothing store further down on 11th Street, North West. I didn’t care to go in to the goddamn place, since I usually picked up something cheap at a flea market. And I know that THIS IS A STICK UP! doesn’t have the kinds of things that I like to wear; their stuff is too hip, too self-conscious. “Look around, man,” Joe says, once we’re into the men’s section, the sounds of Public Enemy pounding over the intercom. “All this,” I snorted, “just to lay these stupid cunts on campus. They won’t give a shit! I’ve been through this whole thing before!”

“Nate,” Joe says, as I pick up a black long-sleeved shirt with red poker-dots, “you may be a veteran of a nasty war, but there are other wars to be fought. Keep your head up, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Joe moves away from me, over towards Jacky, who’s checking out a new pair of Elleese tennis shoes. Yesterday it was Fila; the day before that Gucci; the day after tomorrow it will be Timberlands….and these silly names will be the only reasons why guys like us will die in these streets.  Nearby, two beefy security officers, one a fat black woman, the other a jaunty-looking white guy with a mustache, are watching me discreetly but carefully; a sales representative, dressed smartly and casually in jeans and olive sport coat, Asian with unusually round eyes and slick, trimmed, oily hair, a face full of acne and thick, pink lips, a white name tag reading “DOUG” stuck on his coat, starts hovering over me when I’m looking at a double-breasted suit. The sales rep says, “Need any help?”

“No,” I say, “I’m just fine.”

I put the suit back down on the rack, and then pick up another one, a single-breasted jacket with one button only. “No, that’s not you,” says “Doug” the retailer, who pulls out something strange— “this is. Yeah.”

He holds it up to me as I face the mirror. The thing is triple-breasted, with buttons running up and down the bright blue fabric like black cockroaches. “Now, that’s bumpin’, that’s cool. You a Coon State student?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I figured you were,” he said.

I go into the fitting room and try it on. The pants are too tight, and they haven’t even been cuffed. The shoes are too stiff, too shiny, like they’ve been made out of plastic; besides, I don’t like the combination of red and black. And the jacket is a four button-holed monstrosity. Only a lunatic would pay three hundred and forty dollars for this trash. Of course, I don’t say that to “Doug’s” face when I give it back to him, and simply take the black poker-dotted shirt for twenty dollars.

Joe and Jacky are in the women’s section talking to a coed from Howard University. I am just leaving the cash register, ready to walk out the door when “GREG”, the other sales rep, black and medium-complected, narrow-featured and Latin-looking, calls out, while striding towards me:  “Oh, sir?”


“Could you mind putting that shirt back where you found it?”

“You mean this? I just bought it,” I said.

“No,” he says, grinning forcibly, suddenly tugging on the one I’m wearing. “I mean this. Please take that off right this instant and give it back to us.” Very strange how he has suddenly become so rude.

“Oh, no, this is my shirt,” I say, watching his face—it isn’t moved once. “I’ve had this shirt for a year.”

The security’s ears are pricked up: the fat black female one wobbles over, eyes popping, fingers itchy to pull out that pistol she’s got in her black leather holster. “Don’t start that shit with us,” I hear her snarl. I froze: my mind rambled back to Pointe-Blanche, to Adjrar, to Camp Jejune, to Freedom College, and all the past humiliations I had ever suffered at the hands of authority figures.  “Take it off.”

“But this shirt is mine!” I exclaimed, and then wheeled to Jacky and Joe, who were still in the women’s section, still talking to the Howard U. coed. I tried to wave them over—but, lo and behold, I found them acting like they didn’t know me. Neither one of them said a goddamn word when I asked them had they seen me with my shirt on. The female security officer tugged on the sleeve of my shirt…. “I’m sorry, boy,” she barked, while the other one came closer, chewing gum, eyes set dead on me, “but you gon’ have to show a receipt if you claim that shirt’s yours!”

“I bought it a year ago,” I said, my breathing starting to speed up apace. “Why would I have it? Those guys over there, they’re my friends, they saw me with this shirt….”

All along, the burly white guy with the moustache kept nodding, chewing, nodding, nodding, chewing, chewing, and then going, “uh, huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, sure it is. Sure, pal. We believe you.”

“Take off that goddamn shirt, nigger!” the fat black bitch rasped.

I started arguing with them, thinking, this is the last straw, I’m not going to take this crap. But everyone else in the store, save for the personnel, was indifferent, even though I observed the cashiers laughing and joking with some customers about the absurd scene. Then the big white guy seizes me roughly by the arm. “C’mon, c’mon, let’s go, kid,” he snorts, hurtling me through the doorway of the room reserved for “employees only”.

C’mon, Nate, I thought, wake up. Stop dreaming, you can’t fight the world all your life. Give them the shirt, and walk out of the building, back to campus, back to school, and get your degree. Maybe they will let you off easy. You know they are right after all—even if they are wrong. What are you going to do about it, motherfucker?

The door closes on a room filled with unopened boxes, scattered tables full of invoice papers, trash cans filled with discarded Dixie cups and soda cans and potato chip bags and empty boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a water cooler, a soda machine, and two bright, dangling bare bulbs. They say, after they lock the door, “Take your pants down.” I refused to take them down. So the two guards held me as “Doug” reached for my pants. I smashed my knee up in his face and the two guards wrestled me to the ground; I punched the honky in his face with my left but the black bitch quickly pointed her gun between my eyes. Then “Doug” ripped my pants off, zipper and all. “Greg” filched out my wallet; the honky took the wallet, went directly for the ID’s, pulling each and every card out, VISA, Master Card, etc., etc. “Is your name Nathan James Morris, or is this some shit you made up?” he spits. “Yes,” I say, “it’s my real name.” “Well, is it!?!” “YES,” I shot back, observing “Greg” put on rubber gloves, and “Doug” filching my remaining cash out of my wallet and sniggering. “Fuckin’ sonofabitch,” “Greg” giggles, while he sticks his hand up my ass and starts probing around in my asshole for what he thinks he can find….Unfortunately, by the time the cops come, it’s all over, the damage has been done, my pants have been buttoned back up. Five police officers stream in through the door and, without a word, point their finger outside, towards the waiting patrol car. I stroll through the doorframe feeling one of the security officers kicking my sore ass. Joe and Jacky have long since left. People stop and stare at me; the old Korean owner of a nearby hat shop puts down his broom and, his wife coming out, starts pointing, jabbering stuff in Korean; both their slit eyes carefully follow my clumsy steps from the STICK UP!’s doorway to the patrol car. The mastiff in back of me keeps barking down my ear, giving me a head-splitting headache by the time we get to the precinct station.

The precinct is an olive-green walled hell-hole alive with the endless ringing of greasy telephones, the ruffling of papers, and swarms of dick-headed cops of every race(though mostly black men)and their equally repulsive victims: hookers, drunks, armed robbers, gang-bangers, pushers, etc. By now, after a year in this goddamn city, it comes as no surprise to me that nearly all of them are young black men. The man behind the desk, a patrician-looking fatherly guy with gray speckling his neatly combed kinky hair, keeps asking me a whole bunch of insulting questions, one after the other. My only line of defense, unfortunately, is to tell the truth. “Uh, huh,” he merely snaps, after everything I tell him. I give him Joe Washington and Jacky Cooke as witnesses, provide their phone numbers and campus addresses—all of which comes in the end to nothing. They take me into the booking room for “attempted petty theft”. They flung a sign around my neck, snapped some horrible pictures of me, had me roughly fingerprinted, then led down dark, stale corridors to—the Drunk Tank.

Why the hell were they arresting me for public drunkenness?

I go inside the place, and there are about fifteen mothers in there, all black, and all male. Eight of them are huge brutes, eyeing me very, very carefully as I’m shoved inside. The other six are non-descript-looking, dirty fellows clad in dirty jeans, torn overcoats, soiled pants, some wearing only underwear; one guy masturbates in a lone corner while talking loudly to himself. The whole place smells of piss and rotten blood. The fifteenth guy stood out above all, because he was dressed in drag. He had on a shiny black wig with black fishnet stockings, red plastic earrings, a tight pink mini-skirt obviously padded around the hips, breasts and ass to give him the semblance of woman ness. Had not this figure stunk so bad of alcohol and unwashed ass, I would have never guessed—though the prickle of beard should have told me so. And, above all, the eyes: they were too green, with that coldness that one sees only in snakes.

“Hey, man,” he says, when he sees me, “what’s happening? Whad’chu do to get in here?”

After my shock wore off, I only said, “whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t what YOU were doing!”

“Man, it was just a ruse,” Guy insisted, stumbling around drunkenly, “it’s not like I was selling myself.” He then began a spiel about how he worked with some other guy in a fake prostitution scheme: Guy, dressed up like a woman, would lure suckers into a trap in a dark alley, pull open their pants, go through the motions….when the other guy, unbeknownst to the sucker, would bash him in the head. It sounded very believable, but I couldn’t be so sure after noting that the front of Guy’s dress was encrusted with flecks of what looked like dried wallpaper paste. Myself, I said nothing, wanting to believe it was all a bad dream.

“You got twenty dollars, man?”

“No, I—the security officers took my money,” I stuttered.

“Where was this at?”

“THIS IS A STICK UP!, you know, that place,” I said. Guy laughed. “Man, I don’t believe that shit,” he snorted.

Hell, I thought, I don’t believe you, either. What the hell happened to all your money?

Late that night I managed to place a call directly to my dormitory at Hillcrest Heights. But it was four days before Lucius followed up on his promise to get me out. Guy, on the other hand, stayed behind. I watched the look of despair on his face as I left the Drunk Tank, thinking to myself, it’s the fitting end for a stinker.

Excerpt from “Dark Was the Night,” a (sort of) new novel

The following excerpt is from an unpublished novel of mine, set in Egypt in the late ’80s, at the height of the Mubarak regime. Unlike most novels written about the Arab world, there are no terrorists, no James Bond action figures, no belly-dancers (well, only one, and by accident), no snake-charmers,    and above all NO FUCKING ORIENTALISM. The last aspect was the most difficult one to achieve since the book was largely modeled on Durrell’s Quartet, with which I have a strange sort of love/hatred for: I enjoy the language and descriptions, but the rest–in my assessment–is just fluffy shit.


My car was practically deserted when the train rolled up into Alexandria Main Station. I hadn’t run into any inquisitive folk who wanted to know why I was in Egypt, which was strange in its own right. I was apprehensive; I didn’t know what to do. Should I see Leila or play it safe and find a hotel?

Alexandria was not as chilly as Cairo; I gladly took my overcoat off and bundled it under my arm. I had forgotten that Alexandria had an entirely different ambience. Meaning, of course, that in this city, there still existed an appreciable level of human decency. On Rue Nebi Daniel I looked around at the little restaurants and clothing stores, and at the people in them; I looked at their faces. They were good people, I thought–they didn’t look like my killers. The ambience looked like it would treat me well: the tnew-1all, fluted palm trees, the old crumbling tenements, the crowds ambling at Ramleh Square where popcorn popped in the big kiosk and where dated yellow trams roared in opposite directions; the excited cries of children in a nearby park, the newspaper stands, the explosion of cheap hotels, and above all, the horse-driven taxis, whose jangling din entered my mind for the months to come.

I felt extremely nervous. Leila could have been anywhere, I reasoned—perhaps just at this corner, on Sidi el Awal, in that dingy little tenement. But I dared not dwell on it. The further I walked down along Sidi el Awal—among the pastry shops and candy stores—the more I was seized with an urge to just cast it aside, forget all about it. But I had to do this thing; without it, my chances of escaping Egypt were exceedingly slim.

The last thing on my mind was sex. Beautiful though the women were, sashaying around in their long, tight skirts, I was disinterested. I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me other than shell-shock from months of living in Cairo flophouses. Only now do I see that it was just that little boy in me, rearing his nappy little head. He had always kept the world at arms’ length, because people were too concerned about the color of his skin, or his nationality, or his religion, or the way he walked, or the way he talked, dressed, or the music he listened to. And to be truthful, he wasn’t entirely wrong.

The address–36, Route du 26th Julie, number 24, if it really was her address–was just another one of those slummy Venetian villas that infested the beachfront. It must have been the height of fashion not too long ago–maybe during the last world war–but now the mezzanine bore a disturbing similarity to that of the IFLI: impossible grime, corners heaped with filth, the elevator long since broken. I quietly struggled up the cracked marble to the third floor, which looked a lot more appetizing; no cleaning ladies were there asking questions, no spies, no cops, no boabs. Door number 24 was directly opposite another apartment which had a plaque on its door reading, “Dr. Jeanne Faures, pneumatique,” or something like that. I rang the doorbell to number 24, and was half-electrocuted.

“Eys eh!”  I heard from inside, sounding very distressed, and my initial impulse was to cut the crap and leave. But she was fast. The door flew open and Leila’s wasted, nervous, phlegmatic face burst into sudden surprise and delight. She extended her arms and drew me to her.

soul_el_attarine_90“Louees!” she whispered, nervously, beside herself somewhat. She drew back and looked at me funny.  She wagged her head. “Whot? Why you here?”

“You said you wanted English lessons,” I said, rather awkwardly, “so….”

She frowned, then gave me a look of reassurance. “Ohhhh–yes, come in, come in.”

I was puzzled at her sudden standoffishness. What the hell was she doing now, teasing me? Leading me on? Dammit, Louis, can’t you see she was just drunk that time?

“You know,” she said, as I entered her apartment, “you don’t look berry well, Louees.”

“Really? I don’t feel bad at all. Especially since I’ve escaped Cairo!” I laughed, self-consciously. “The city is disgusting. Oh, yeah, here’s your book. You left it behind on the bench the last time I was with you,” I said, giving her Lolita.  She took it.

“Thank you, Louees. Say, why you call me Mrs. Aswad?”

She lay down in a chair, kicked off her slippers, and brushed her ankle-length dress down. I sucked in my breath. “I am your friend, am I not? Are you my friend? Let us be friends.”

I sat in the softest and silkiest chair I had ever sat in. It amazed me how plush her apartment was, smelling sweetly of jasmine incense, with walls dotted with pictures of relatives, flowers on a beautiful pine coffee table, slender-necked lamps, maroon silk curtains, Venetian blinds that, thankfully, weren’t all tangled and twisted up. Enormous Persian rugs lay atop a polished oak floor; American-style Victorian chairs with real leather, some with velvet. Every table, large and small, was covered with an intricately laced tablecloth. Peeping past all this luxury, I found the bedroom holding even more wonders for my comfort-starved eyes. Not even in America had I seen anything remotely resembling this.

“I know,” Leila said, smiling softly, nodding. “All this time you stay in shit hotel, while you save money to go
someplace else.” She nodded cynically. “Am I not right?”

“I–yes, you are. How’d you guess?”

“Becauze they are evreywhere–people like you, from the States, from Europe, from Australia, from South America, Canada–all over. But they are not as intelligent or thoughtful or kind as you. I know–you have not eaten. I get you some food.”

She got up and as she went towards the kitchen I noticed an old, antique phone side by side with a brand new one, of a make I hadn’t even seen in America. Right by it was a picture of her mother, an ebony-skinned Nubian beauty with the same knowing grin. I couldn’t find her father among any of the pictures on the wall. I saw what might have been grandparents and great-grandparents of all complexions, but they were mostly mulatto or white. Then I found the father, the one in the black and white picture wearing a kuffiyeh. He had the same eyes and nose Leila did. For a moment they all looked like they were coming to life, these folks in their quaint military epaulets and wingtips and tarbushes and beards and high-top shoes and fat bows, the women big, stately, voluptuous cows with congested, frozen faces and those jutting breasts and hips that must have run in the family. “Oh, that is Yussuf’s fameleey,” she suddenly blurted out, in the kitchen, “my family was poor, we did not wear sach clothes. Oh, but he has nice family. Good people. Shure! I write them, I lie, of course. I just do not have any bictures of HIM on my wall, you undastand. Except,” she paused, and gestured to a picture on the far end of the wall of herself–with Yussuf.

The couple looked happy enough in their wedding photo. I could tell Yussuf was happy: he proudly stood beside Leila with side swept hair and sideburns, like a fisherman who’d just bagged an enormous tuna. And how they smiled….Leila was slightly thinner and considerably less well-endowed, I noticed; she looked like a 15-year old girl. Yussuf was clean-shaven and painfully thin. The photo was black and white, and clearly doctored in such a way that the newlyweds looked like caricatures of themselves…

Leila came back with a whole tray full of pita bread, several oranges, dates, bananas, some fresh Turkish coffee which she urged me to drink, and the most beautiful set of grapes I had seen, fine, ripe, nearly black in color. Leila always did believe in class.

“This was one advantage I get from Yussuf,” she says now, extending both hands around the room. “But, also, I model. I make my money. I pose for magazine. Hah, American, French, British photographer see me, they never leave me alone. But–that was five, six, sevan years ago. I was marry, but….” She smiles half-lasciviously. “I have my own way!”

“Say,” she says again, “what about your job? You still fire?”

“No–I had trouble with Joe. He–”

“So!–he mess with you now?”

“He did more than that,” I snorted. “The bastard crashed a whisky bottle on my head. I needed thirteen stitches to close the wound.” I pointed to the stitches in my forehead, which hurt when I pressed it.

Leila opened her mouth and eyes wide in indignation and balled up her fists and threw one hand up; she looked furious. “Hah! Bastard–tha next time I see him, I fuck him good. I mean—excuse me, I beat him up. Motherfucker.”

She sat in a chair opposite me, and took up the book.  I took up another copy of the same novel. “Okay,” she said. “Please correct me when I am wrong on this, Louees,–okay?”

“Okay–let’s go.”

“ ‘Loleeta, light of my life….’”

“Right, keep going, that’s fine.”

“‘Fiar ahf—’”

“‘Fire of—”

“‘Firre uuf!—’”

“My loins,” I said, with a half-smile, trying to restrain an impulse to giggle. But I knew I was looking at Leila’s own heaving hefty loins, thinking they could squash me to death. “Ha— ‘my loins,’” she repeated, smiling and starting to laugh. “Hah—what kind of a book is this, anyway? About this weird white man who love little girls?

“Well, it was your book. Didn’t you read it in French?”

“No, I not see in Fransh language. Boht—now, when I read, hey….anyway, les go, again. Okay–”

“Okay, say the whole thing.”

“But I havant!”


“I know, I read to myself, then, I find the word I not pronounce correctly.”

“How about with what you just told me?”


“The sentence you just spoke.”

I did such a perfect imitation of her accent that she blushed and broke into flabbergasted laughter. “Oh, Louees, why you wanna make fun of me?”

“Leila, I’m sorry, but that’s what I hear,” I said. “I can’t be nice to you. I gotta be honest. Say, instead– ‘I will find the word I cannot pronounce correctly.’ Of course,” I then added, “to tell the truth, nobody really speaks English like that in the real world anyway—”

“I know!” she shouted. “I went to UCLA. I spoke very good English many years before, I forgot. So….why do I need to pronounce?”

“I thought you knew why.”


“What are you planning on doing with your English lessons, anyway?”

“Well, I wannad to read novels, both–”

“Couldn’t you read them in French? They’ve translated Baldwin’s works for years.”

“They stink!” she exclaimed. “I know that for a fack ‘cause I read them years ago in English. Ohhh!” In haste, she slapped her palm on the front cover. “Now I forget, I don’t care.”

“But you’ll pay me for my time, won’t you?”

“Sure, sure,” she nodded, “I will pay you.” Then there was a pause, as she pulled a strand of her hair. “Gee, Louees, you really must be desparate to leave Egypt, are you not?”

“I’ve been living like a dog over here, Leila. My friends are nutcases, the people are rude, and I don’t get paid shit on my job. All I can afford is flophouses!”

“You go back to Amreeka?”

“I doubt it,” I said, my nose twisted up. “I can’t breathe in that goddamn place.”

She nodded again, slowly, her nose twisting upward. “You, too, hah? I am not surprised. Nobody can breathe in Amreeka. It’s a jungle. I know—I was in Amreeka too, many years ago.”

“I know—Joe told me.”

Leila sucked her teeth. “He did not tell you anything, Louees. He tell you what he wanted to tell you. I know he say, oh, yes, Leila Aswad go to UCLA and have a nice education and had such a lovely time! Yes, sure, sure, I had a lovely time there. Just ask me. It was fucking paradise!”

“So it sucked shit, I take it.”

“It what?” Leila laughed. “I’m sorry—I forgot all my Amreekan slang, habibi.”

“I mean, it was horrible.”

“It was worse than horrible,” Leila cried, suddenly, frowning. “I don’t even want to think about it. I know how fucking racist it is. You don’t have to tell me anything about Amreeka, Louees. How old are you? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? Haah—you don’t remember the Amreeka I saw, since you was just a baby when it all happened. California? Bwuhhh! Horrible, horrible. I know white Americans hate the black—I am black, too, for your information. Sixteen years ago, when I go there, it was not nice. Nixon was fucking president, and there was so much fucking problems with the police and everything. Even at the school the people are always making fun of me, making fun of my accent, my clothes—I try to dress nice like Amreekans do at that time with the shoes and pants and mini-skirts, but still they making fun of me, all the time. The men just think of one thing—I am some foreigner who wants to fuck them. They don’t see me, they see a whore. It was not like this with the Black people I meet in Amreeka, Louees. I feel more kinship, is that right, with the Black American people and the Black freedom movement. I could not deal with the white people there. I could not! Other foreigners, Arabs, Africans there, they not have this problem so much because they—well, look at me. I am beautiful. The white girls are jealous of me because I was so good looking then—much more better, is that right, then I am now. And the police! Hah—they always bother me in the street, when I come home from something to tha dormitory, and they not bother the white girls. NOT the white girls, but—always!—the black, ‘hey, nigger!’ ‘fuck you, nigger!’–Hah!—I hated it, every single goddamn bit of it. When I leave that fucking ‘You See El Eye’ I burn everything, burn my clothes, burn my hat, burn my long white boots, my shoes. I went to London which was unfortunately, not much bettar. Because now they think I’m from India, and buhhh!—they did not like me at all. But at least,” she then said, with a far-away look in her eyes, which she turned to the carpet, “at least, they did not try to take my life.”

I sighed. “It wasn’t much better for me at Coon College in Washington, D.C.,” I said. “It was a class thing over there. If you didn’t have the right kind of car, the right kind of watch—“

“I know,” she said, looking bitter. “I know. But it is not the same. Amreeka has gotten better since that time. You are luckier than me.”

“No,” I insisted. “America will get better and better, or so it thinks. But it will never get well. They can put some black guy in the White House for all I care. Hell, they could even put ME in the White House. But America will still be America.”

“Of course.” Leila sighed; I noticed that her eyes had begun to water. “But then you wonder, why Josaph.”

“Yeah–I–why him, anyway.”

“I will say, since you are friend. I hate Josaph, worse than anybodey else in this world. He is a fool!! Boy, was I an idiot for being taken in by his lies, his bullshit for me. As for Yussuf—well, is crazy, because it was Yussuf who drive me into the arms of Joe in the first place!” Then she laughed mirthlessly, disgustedly. “And Yussuf, who go crazy, telling me, ‘I am sorry, I am sorry’–hah, I feel cold. I never want him. Never. But–my fameeley say, you take him because he is best for you, he has money, we have not so much. So I say, ‘yes, I obey, I will take.’ But I was only 16 years old! Very young! Too young! And even then, I knew bettar. I could see it in his eyes, how he really did not care. He knew I look good for him when we walk down the street together. But I knew he was going to be cold, that he would lay all night in bed aftar five, six minats of sex, and roll over on his fucking fat stomach and sleep….So what I do? I escape. I go to California. Then, as I tell you, I have enough of Amreeka, go to Europe, do dancing, modeling, have enough–then, I am back in Egypt. And look who is there to take me in his arms! Yussuf Aswad!! He tell me, he is not going to be like the other Egypshan men. He tell me, he know about my ‘checkered’ past. But, I was right! He was completely shit!….”

“Yussuf told me he made it possible for you to escape,” I said, watching her. Leila’s eyes narrowed in disgust. “Hah!–he say that always, complaining, bullshitting. He not a friend, he’s idiot. Do not lissen–of course, he is your boss, so you have no choice. Yes, I know, he make it possible for me to get out of that old village in Aswan; he make me get the education, when my fameeley say I should not have education. Oh, yes. They did not want me to learn how to read…..But with Yussuf,–I knew it was going to fail….Yussuf has buried three wives….Where, I cannot say at all. Maybe in the fucking Pyramids.”

“Three wives? That quickly?”

“You have no idea, my friend.”

“It can’t be,” I said, quizzically. “How old is Yussuf, really? He told me–”

“Twenty-eight? Twenty-nine?” she interrupted. “Yes! I know him like a book,” she continued, thumping on Loilta. She threw it to the ground. “Engleesh,” she sneered, derisively. “I know, Louees. Lemme teach you French and Italian. Or Arabic. If you not speak Arabic what is the reason….oh, yes, I know. You want to go. Well….so do I.” She paused, and got a dreamy look in her eyes as she adjusted her bra inside her blouse. “Oh, yes, Yussuf is forty-two years old, for your information. Me? Heyyy…..I want to go to Singapore. The Far East. You not been, have you? Imagine!….”

“Shit, you’d stand out with all those yellow faces. And you’re so robust, too, you know. Big-boned.”

“And wouldant they love me??” she beamed, as she kicked the Lolita book on the floor.

I lay on the bed in her spare bedroom. It was Yussuf’s old room, I noticed, with that marriage picture on the desk and the cute alarm clock beside it. Leila’s smile looked forced. The two must have gotten so itchy being next to each other that the one moved into the next room. Here I was, I thought, looking at all the pieces of a ruined relationship. But did they have any children? I wondered….

“Ya-Louees!” she exclaimed, from the living room; she entered. “But–now you are free. So why you worry, then?” Leila laughed, and sat down next to me. “You need new clothes, these bad looking. Hah—you living rough life, I see. In these horrible hotels with strange people!” She slapped me on my thigh, playfully. “Ah—Louees!” she laughed, “no good!”

“You must stay,” she says now, propping the pillows up under my head, “and do not go back out into all that mess.” The pillows were soft and willowy, like the bed. Everything was fine and of amazingly good quality. But why was she being so kind? Egyptian hospitality, of course. I forgot that aspect of them ages ago. Not all Egyptians were like Ali, or El-Ahwany. “Hah—what is wrong, you are not sleeping in good things for a long time, I see.”

I was puzzled at her frankness towards me. Did she want me, as a lover? No, I thought—she’s just an Egyptian woman, not afraid of touching another person like an American woman is. I must be dreaming my pornographic dreams. Who would want me, I thought? No woman had ever loved me: I was only a failed writer, a black man living in a world that thought all black men were either clowns or murderers—not writers. Maybe I wasn’t as trapped as Guy Sellers, whom even his mother had despised—but I was still desperate for companionship.

Leila was determined that I never rent another Cairo hotel. She even swore to secure me a flat for a small monthly charge. She cared nothing about the friends I had in the Hotel Baiser; according to her, they were worthless. I’d be better off in a place like Berlin, she said; anyplace, actually, even Los Angeles, than plain old Cairo. There was nothing here for me, me being the free spirit that I was. “I ought to know best,” she snorted, “I, myself, am a free-spirit. But look at me now! All I have is this apartment. I live inside my mind, only. I live in a world of dreams inside this place. But, when I leave here an’ walk out into tha hall, what do I see? Filth, trash, flies….is like living in a fucking garbage can. While I walk, I try to imagine I am not in this horrible place. I go to Sidi Gaber, even if it is not far; at least I can dream I am in Paris!”

I stopped talking and just listened to her ramble on.

Leila was a lovely girl, I thought to myself; I could not take my eyes off the way her hips jutted through her dress, and the way she brushed back her hair, the deep blackness of her eyes and, of course, this breathy quality to her voice, which was the one thing which made me forgive her endless talking. I liked the woman, but I began to feel as if my personality—what little I felt I had—was being smothered between her tits. The little boy in me began to get the upper hand; I decided that it would be best if I just slipped away, back to Cairo. I decided to give Leila an excuse, tell her that I just wanted to go out for “some fresh air”—and not return, not even for my things. But Leila insisted upon coming with me. “You won’t be safe,” she said, looking agitated all of a sudden, “you are Amreekan, there will be problem if you just leave.”

“But it would be even more dangerous if we went together,” I said. “No!” she suddenly insisted, getting up and wobbling towards her bedroom, “they already know, in this building, I am sure. Nobody cares. Some silly French bitch owns the building here. But if you come with me, they will think you are relative of mine from Amreeka.”

“Suppose they ask questions?”

Leila popped her head in the spare bedroom and said, brushing her hair back, “Louees, I will do the talking. You just keep quiet. For your own good.” She smiled, and winked. “Okay?”

“Okay,” I sighed.


At dusk, the Corniche was alive with middle-class people out for a stroll, the women clad in their ankle-length skirts and the men, tall, reedy, bony-faced, hung in clusters along the stone walls. The crowds of Ramleh Station, Sidi el Awal, Safiya Zaghloul and Saad Zaghloul thickened by the minute and Alexandria, having appeared so romantic by day, now looked like an insurrection. The rotting apartments—dirty, peeling, ochre-colored, their numerous windows stained with must—provided a sullen backdrop. Conical street lamps splashed their facades with mellow pink. Battered yellow trams cleaved down these streets, packed to the brim with passengers—men in one car, women in another. Greasy water crashed against the rocks, while black barouches clip-clomped past, their pimpish drivers cracking whips across their horses’ asses. Phony Santas perched upon barrels by frayed storefronts, ringing bells amid the post-Christmas cheerlessness. We walked by the waterfront; further out we saw the old ships rotting in the harbor. We looked idly in the shop windows, stopping at coffee shops and pastry joints, completely unnoticed by the people surrounding us.

I had done these night time strolls through the city every so often—but with her, the absurdity of the scenes seemed still more ludicrous: it was at once tempered by Leila’s presence and heightened by the knowledge that I was an impostor, a Creole who merely resembled one of the natives. I wore my best blue teacher’s suit, and Leila wore an ankle-length, dark blue skirt with a red wool sweater, her face haloed by a white brocaded veil. It amused me how well she concealed from the world her true face, which was belied only by the provocative swivel of her hips. We didn’t talk to each other—that would have been both rash and stupid; Alexandria was not that open-minded a city—but between our casual socializing we stole glances, back and forth, at each other.

My worst fears were confirmed when we turned casually onto the Corniche again, and saw some lively, buxom, chattering women along our pathway. They spotted us—or, rather, Leila—and instantly recognized her, broke out into a flurry of effusive welcomes, affectionate murmurings and salutations, putting their hands to each other’s chests. Leila kissed them all on both sides of their cheeks. I did nothing, said nothing, put on my best poker face while these peacocks fluttered all around me. But Alexandria isn’t New York; when you are out with a friend, and you meet your friend’s friends, something is expected of you. Leila glanced at me, and said something in Arabic; my blood froze. I saw the women looking at me appraisingly, nodding, two with mouths half-open. Good, I thought; Leila did very well. I shook the girl’s hands and put my hand to my chest.

“Saidii?” one of the women said, when the five of us were seated in the Brazilian Coffee Shop. “Le-uh,” Leila said, in Arabic, “mafeesh. He’s deaf and dumb.”

A look of pity crossed these women’s faces—pity mixed with undeniable prurience, at least in my mind. All three of them were dressed in those same face veils and all had flawless, slight café-au-lait complexions, with almond eyes, soft cushiony lips, large breasts and larger behinds. I realized that Leila, while talking, was gesturing towards my arm and talking rather animatedly. Were they mocking me? My twenty-five year old mind was awhirl in speculation. The strong aroma of coffee beans, ground cocoa and boiled milk tickled my nose. At the counter the bartender, whom I’d recognized, nodded, smiled and mercifully said not a word as he blasted his boiling water into a metal container, filled his cups, spooned the sugar in. He knew that I wasn’t Egyptian.

The bartender passed me my usual drink—an ice-cold chocolate drink mixed with sugar—and gave me a salutation.

The four of them kept babbling for what seemed like hours. Since I had some knowledge of Egyptian sexual politics, I gently nudged Leila and tapped on my watch. Leila looked at me. She understood. She bade the women goodbye, abruptly, and off we went, out of the coffee shop and into the crowds.

Leila looked tense; a weird, strained expression crossed her face that I could not read then but certainly recognize now. officebuilding_1990When we were out of their reach—we walked, didn’t dare run—I whispered fiercely to her, “You should have pretended to be Creole—then we wouldn’t have to fake it!” Leila looked at me; I was trying to be as quiet as possible, there were still people around us on Rue Averoff—the worst possible place. “Hell, don’t we both speak French?”

Leila suddenly shushed me. “You cannot say anytheeng,” she whispered back, in English, hastily. “Undarstand where you are.”

We walked towards Mohammed Ali Square. The breeze was chillier than before; it carried a slightly putrid stench. Light speckles of sand swept up from the cobbles in the streets. Far away we heard the tankers bellowing in the harbor, calling the polyglot Soviet crews back to their ships. A few merchants began pulling their shutters down with thick iron bars. Whole conversations were raging in my head—conversations between myself and an imaginary Leila, of course.

Moving onto side streets away from the Square, the people began to thin out. But above us, many of the weathered shutters were still open. We talked with the lowest of voices. Leila said, in English, “I wanted to tell those girls the truth, but something told me not to.” She raised her brows, still looking down at the ground. “I am glad I did not tell them anytheeng. Those bitches talk too much.”

“I don’t think they’re gonna buy that story about me being your cousin,” I said. “Even though I am redbone.”

Leila looked at me and winced. “What is redbone?”

“Light brown-skinned. It’s a black American term.” Leila nodded, and smiled. “Yes, like me.” Leila then frowned, and looked at me curiously.

“I forget they have that problem in Amreeka, too.”

“What problem?”

“The light-skinned black not like the dark.”

“Of course,” I said. “It’s everywhere. Even in my family.”

“Whar your fameley from, Louees?” she said, softly, looking behind her to see if someone had seen us; we saw nothing. “Louisiana,” I said. “But I was born in Richmond, Virginia.”

We moved deeper into the city’s bowels, down narrower, darker, drearier streets. Nosy folk were few and far between, and after a while, almost non-existent. The agitation I felt earlier had dissipated. Leila quietly sashayed alongside me, her buttocks forever rising here, falling there, hips rolling languidly from side to side and left hand clutching her red purse and right arm somewhat stretched out, gracefully waving her hand forward, then backward. We passed up a souk lit by little strings of lights, and then cut onto a deserted side street. We found the beach almost by intuition and clamored over its dusty stone wall. Leila went first. I didrue_el_farabi_yellowed not need much help in climbing the little wall but she held out her hand and pulled me over.

Being the young fool that I was, I wished to read something intimate in this little gesture, as well as the others that followed. In the deserted spot where we lay, I glanced ahead into the water, the breeze carrying its usual stench of salt and rotting fish. I saw Leila glance back at me a couple times with looks I took to be welcoming. I began to feel uncomfortably aroused, though Leila sat and said nothing. Impulsively, I forgot myself and touched her breasts.

A wild crackle of lightning ripped across the dark red skyline. The sound of the thunder that followed broke my concentration. Leila flashed me a disapproving look; I immediately felt deflated. No, Louis, my brain told me, no, you aren’t free. She doesn’t want you. This is a wounded woman; you are merely keeping her company. While Leila idly glanced out towards the ships at sea, I got up and headed towards the beach, my mind in a whirl. I saw a few flat rocks half-embedded in the sand and began chucking them into the sea, thinking, in a few minutes, dipshit, you will cut out, back to your hotel, back to Guy, Nourredin, Mustafa, Sterling, LaVigne….

“Khalas,” Leila suddenly cried aloud to me from behind. At least I knew enough Arabic to know what that meant. I turned around and walked back. The rain began to trickle down, hitting the sand with tiny plops. I noticed little resentment in her face. She patted the ground next to me and whispered, rather fiercely, “sit.”

Iwaterfront_damaged felt like I’d been an unruly child. I took a deep breath and Leila nudged close to me and said, in a strangely breathy, heavy voice, “Louees.” She repeated my name one more time, and then sighed. “I think you are tired. We going back to the flat. Of course, we did not think to bring the umbrella, did we?”

“No,” I mumbled.

For some reason her halting English began to remind me of Cairo—or, more specifically, Nasri Said of the fucking IFLI. The very memory of his arrogantly incorrect speech left me irritated.


My heart pounded furiously when we trudged back up the stairs. I didn’t know why; I already knew not to expect any miracles from her or anybody in Egypt. It would be business as usual, I thought, with sarcasm, noting how Leila had begun to pant rather feverishly. She fished in her purse at the doorway and handed me the key to the apartment. I noted her hand was trembling. “This one, Louees,” she breathed, in an uncomfortable whisper.

I unlocked the door, and stepped into the foyer of the apartment. It looked strangely threadbare, though in my state I could barely notice anything. I knew where my designated room was but I was too apprehensive to move much further into the apartment, so I found the same couch I sat on that afternoon and lay on it.

Leila was seated nearby, still in her street clothes, looking at me casually. She picked up a newspaper and read it. I gathered up enough energy to go to my room and click on the light, taking my jacket off. It felt warm and toasty inside. I lay down. Then I heard Leila put the newspaper down and move into her bedroom, where I heard the squeaking of her bedsprings. I got ready to bundle up my victrola and head out when she suddenly called out to me from her room. Uh oh….suppose I go in there and see her lain across the bed naked? The thought of it tried to arouse me but my nervousness fought against my thoughts. I fumbled idly with the tassel on my pillow. The bed felt somewhat wet and moist from sweat. One side of my head told me to fetch a glass of water. The other told me, “Go to the toilet”—but I didn’t want to do either.

I noticed Leila’s door was open. I peered in. My heart started pounding wildly. I saw her puffy, krimpy hair reflected in the blinds. For my own good, I decided to leave.

“Louees,” she said, when she saw me in the dark.

I did not respond.“Louees, come,” she repeated, “Come to me. Sssssssh, please, not so much noise….”

“In the bed?”

I didn’t know whether or not I should have asked that question, for she clicked the lights on. She was casually lain atop it, with a nervous half-smile, breathing gently but so repetitiously I wondered…. “Sit, hotelcolumn_1990with me, Louees,” she said. “You want chai? Or café?”

“I’ll have coffee.”


Leila turned on the lights in the kitchen and looked around, then glanced back at me. “Ya-Louees,” she shouted, opening up the fridge, “I am too tired to cook, but I have some food left over from last night. Is that okay?”

“Yes,” I said.

Within ten minutes Leila brought me my coffee on a silver tray, along with some left-over chicken she warmed up in the gas stove. “Life is very expensive here for me,” she said. “I have little money Yussuf gives me every month to pay for little food, and electricity, gas, transportation—hah. This is not a life.” She looked at me wearily, then immediately changed her expression to one of askance. “You are so quiet,” she said. “The quietest man I have ever known in my life. Are you okay?”

“Leila,” I said, “I’m a writer. I talk in my head.”

“How many books you write?”

“Just one,” I said. “It flopped.”


“It didn’t sell,” I said. “Actually, it was something I published myself in college. The book I’m writing now is my first. But I just can’t figure out how to finish the goddamn thing.”

“You will finish,” she said, and held her hand out towards my plate of food. “Eat,” she said. “Now you are out of that shit city maybe you can think and get some inspiration. You like the food?”

“Yes,” I said.

I tried to remember as many of the good manners I’d been taught back home at Baltimore—manners that, needless to say, I’d ignored for some years. I didn’t even know how to use a fork and knife properly, for one thing. Leila, predictably, took note of it. “Louees, you have the fork and knife in the wrong hand,” she snorted, not unpleasantly. “Switch around, okay?”

I continued eating with my head turned down towards my plate, my fears and desires waging pitched battles inside of it.

“Louees,” Leila continued; I jerked my head up at her, almost like some wild animal. Her eyes were lowered at half-mast, her chin resting on her raised right arm. “You are afraid.”

“Of what?”

“I can tell, Louees.”

“No, not really,” I sighed. “It’s just that I worry about Joe or Yussuf showing up.” Leila indifferently raised her brows. “Do not be afraid,” she countered, “they not show. Yussuf is not here, he in Italey, parhaps. Besides, I change lock on the door. And Joe dosan’t know where I live in Iskandriyah. So! Cheer up, Louees, is no problam.”

She took my empty plate from me and gave me a full, open, ambiguous look. “You are all alone here, no? No wife, like Joe?”

“None,” I said, my stomach quaking. “I don’t have anyone.”

“Yussuf tell me that,” she added, matter-of-factly. I looked at her. “Oh, he did? Did he sound jealous in any way?”

“A little,” she said, giving a strange grimace with lips turned down. “But I feel he trust you—somewhat. Not entirely, though. Hah—he trust nobody, so you have not to worry. Calm down.”

She put a teakettle on the stove.

Leila gently placed her hand on my shoulder gently as I stood up. She extended her hand outside, showing me the bathroom in her slip-shod yet sensual English. I could still hear her panting all the while. I found the bathroom and saw a grey bathrobe on the door’s hook. Good, I thought. It had certainly seen better times but it would save me a lot of embarrassment in going back to the bedroom.

When I finished I strode into the room and turned the lights back on. Now that I was less agitated, I got a better look at the high-ceilinged room with its huge, light-green painted armoire and heavily-varnished art deco double-bed with fat, fluffy pillows and bedspreads I knew I needed more than anything. It had been years since I had seen a bed this welcoming, though I noted for the first time a little picture of Joseph Rivera placed beside it on the night-stand. I smirked, and sat down on the bed.

I felt the apprehensions of the whole day forcing their way back inside my head. Of course, I didn’t have the slightest hard-on: somehow, safely secure in a luxurious apartment with a breathtakingly beautiful woman, I was as cold as a dead fish. The smells of her apartment—incense, perfumes and lilacs and roses on the tables, seemed too cloying, too overwhelming. I eased into the infantile safety of the bedspreads when I heard her approach from the kitchen. I was surprised to note she had changed into a long, sheer white robe and had a white kerchief wrapped around her hair. The robe was flimsy enough to show her large hips and bouncing breasts. She was carrying an oval silver tray with two porcelain cups of steaming tea, and blowing apprehensively on them.

“Take, take,” she panted, “It’s hot. Very hot.”

What kindness and hospitality, I thought—and how completely suffocating. I needed a breath of air.

I got out of the bed and, just to be nice, took a cup and sipped it. It was surprisingly good. “Sage tea,” she said. “Better for you than other tea.”

Leila laid the other glass of tea on the small bed-table beside her. She looked at me curiously, and affectionately put her hand on my shoulder. She hadn’t stopped panting. Naively I thought she was having an asthmatic attack, or something. But she didn’t look in the least bit sick.

Leila took the cup away from me—I had expected to finish it, but without another word, she laid it on the table by the bed. Leila sashayed closer to me. She put her hand back on my shoulder and then ran it down my arm, then inserted her hand inside my robe and stroked my left breast. I could hardly imagine this was happening, and the apprehension I had felt just five minutes ago was forgotten in my violent arousal. She began stroking down from my bare chest to my belly. I began to breathe hard, and made no effort to contain my stiffening erection. Leila moved closer to my face; I moved closer to hers. And then I closed my eyes, and did what I’d never dreamed I’d do when she was sober: I kissed her on the mouth.

There, I told myself: I did it.

I opened my eyes fearfully, to see if there was any look of outrage on her face. Her expression hadn’t changed. I kissed her again.

“Good night, Louees,” she giggled, abruptly turning away from me and wiggling her sexy behind out the door, lifting her galabeiyah half-way up her thighs as she did so.


I stayed awake staring at the ceiling, feeling somehow unconvinced at the reality of what had happened. But it was real; it had to have been. I felt my lips and put my fingers to my nose to catch the scent of her mouth. Instinctively, I thought of all the guys back in Cairo and stifled an urge to laugh aloud…

I drifted to sleep. I don’t remember the dream; only that I felt this warm, wet, dripping, smacking sensation in my mouth, kissing me once, twice, three times, four, five, six, and then something kissing and licking my body. I woke up, expecting to be in the Hotel Baiser and found, of all people, Leila Aswad next to me in the nude and kissing me all over. What the fuck….?

I looked at the clock and saw it was barely five in the morning. I stood up on my elbows; now I was even more unbelieving—and even more aroused—than I had been the previous night. I felt myself and then felt Leila just to make sure. Yeah, I thought—it was real, no doubt about it; and even if it was all a dream I didn’t give two damns. Leila passionately sucked my balls. She licked up and down the length of my dick and giggled, then enclosed her lovely lips on it and began sucking it like her life depended on it…I watched the whole thing with delighted disbelief… “Ya-Louees,” she breathed, looking up at me, taking a gentle bite out of my cock… “You are tired. Go to sleep, Louees. Tomorrow morning, you fuck me, okay? Neeki-neek tomorrow.”

“No,” I said, “now.”

I sat up, lifted up her head with my fingers and looked at her, and then planted my open mouth on hers. She let out a passionate groan, laughed aloud, and clutched me by the waist and rolled me on top of her; I felt those bountiful, massive breasts quivering in my hands. Beside the peering eyes of Joe Rivera—of all people—I lifted her legs above my head and felt myself sink inside her with a warm squish. Leila cried aloud. I began to thrust it in and her cries grew louder. It was almost frightening. And not before long, when we were really into it, the bedside phone rang.

“Oh, God,” Leila gasped, “Oh, God!!”

The phone stopped ringing. Leila reached over towards the radio next to the phone and turned it on. To my luck they were playing the right kind of music: frenetic, loud, full of congas and shouts and hand-claps; the strong erotic undercurrent fed my lust. I was about to come, but then the fucking phone rang again, throwing off my concentration. Leila sucked her teeth. “Nom de Dieu!” Leila shouted. “It’s one of them. I just know who it is. Ibn-sharmuta.”

Leila lay down on the bed and clumsily snatched the phone off the hook. It was Yussuf, as it turned out. Talk about an awkward position to be in—I was trying to take her from the rear while she dropped the phone from her hand; the receiver rolled on the bed. Everything seemed so absurd, and became even more so as Yussuf began screaming over the receiver just as Leila flew into another round of long, drawn-out, hallucinating screams. Embarrassed, I pulled it out and whispered for her to cool it. But Leila didn’t give a fuck. “Leila!” spouted the man over the receiver lying on the bed. “Ya-Leila! Ya-LEILA!!  LAAAAYYYILA!!”

Leila sucked her teeth. “Wait,” she snorted, panting, sweating, her hair every which way; she snatched the phone off the bed. “Aiwa?”

“….Aiwa, shit!” Yussuf exploded, in English. “You know buggering well who this is, you stupid bitch! You know goddamn well who it is!! And just as I expected calling up at this ungodly hour—you and some fucking dago’s prick up your arse, as usual! You fucking greasy old whore!….”

“Yussuf,” Leila chirped, as she lay on her ass and began to fondle my cock, “if you do not like me, why you call?”

“….You know, Leila,” Yussuf began…. “You are very, very lucky. Very lucky to have an open-minded husband like me….One who tolerates your dissolute behavior…if it had been another, younger, older man, he would have killed you. KILLED, Leila! KILLED you! What do you think your family thinks about all this shit? Hah? What do you think my family thinks? Hah?…Everywhere I go everybody is talking about you and your bullshit! I’m a fucking laughingstock because of you! Because of you! You—and your stupid, stupid, filthy shit! Where do you think you’re living, hah? You forget you’re in fucking Egypt like the rest of us? Hah? You think you’re some fucking white, Italian, French woman? You think you are still in Paris, or New York or fucking Barcelona with all this rubbish? You know why? Because you’re evil. That’s right—fucking evil. Evil! You are, yes, yes, you are dissolute, a whore to the core. Men, women, orgies–yes, I hear it all! I hear it all through the grapevine! Don’t tell me I am not keeping tabs on you and your crazy fucking behavior—”

“You are drinking again,” Leila sighed, stroking my dick. “You have not slept the whole night, thinking about me, no?”

“…I have my eye on you, you cheap slut. Every little thing you do, every eensy weensy thing you do, I can just see—“

Leila had my dick back in her mouth when she murmured, to my shock, “Mmmff–Yussuf, I’m eating now, sorry. Could you wait one moment, please? God, you have no patience!–”

Yussuf: “….Oh, eating now, are you?…At this hour?…”

“Yes,” she laughed, pulling her lips off my dick with a wet smack.

…Allah…What’s it, then? Pussy and dumplings?…”

“Oh, no, Yussuf, I eat hot dog.” I could feel myself getting ready to shoot off. Yussuf snorted and giggled on the other end…“…Of course, of course, you nasty bitch, you never eat anything else. And no rolls to go with them, I suppose!…” My cock jerked…. “Yussuuuuf, there is always a roll for the hot dog. Always….”

Yussuf continued…. “….Hah…You must think I’m bloody-fucking stupid, don’t you? You must think I’m a real motherfucking idiot not to believe the absolute shit you are up to at my expense! No more! I swear it! I have tolerated it long enough! I-I-I-I-….”

“Apologise,” she giggled, while I suddenly came on the receiver of the telephone, as Yussuf was still talking. I wanted to laugh out loud but restrained myself. Leila didn’t, however. The laughing naturally raised the ire of Yussuf on the other line, who started screaming angrily as Leila licked my come off the telephone and kissed the end she spoke on. “…Don’t mock me, you aswani cow—who the bloody fuck do you think you are?…” Leila continued to laugh; suddenly I felt I had to laugh myself. “…You black bitch!…”

Leila rolled her eyes over at me, crossed herself and went back to the receiver. “Ya-Yussuf,” she cooed, patronizingly, “Ya-Yussuf, you know that’s not very nice to be such a, should you say, bloody racist? You know how much you love me, don’t you?”

I heard Yussuf sigh on the other end. I did not have much time to be shocked, for Leila continued with her antics; she put the palm of her left hand on the top of my head and began pushing me downward, between her thighs, where my tongue found her clitoris. I studiously avoided it. Leila tapped me on my shoulder each time I did not lick her clitoris, and then pointed to where she really wanted me to lick. I licked it …

“…. What is it now? You hurt yourself?….”

“—CHOO!” she shouted, making a passable imitation of a sneeze. “…You’ve got a cold, don’t you? Serves you right for not paying your fucking heating bills!….”

“Yussuf, please, you don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t need to be sick to have a sneeze!–”

“….Yes, yes, I know, I know you have that fucking spic sitting in your bed and you’re giving him a blowjob, right? Well, then. Do as you like. I’m coming up to the flat tomorrow. Yes, don’t be frightened, I’m going to pay you a little visit, my dear. I will see you again. I will. Tomorrow. I cannot wait. I, I—“

Leila looked up at me, and playfully held her hand to her mouth and stifled a laugh. “…I want you,” Yussuf then blurted out, strangely enough. He then sighed, and chuckled. “…You know, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me…I must be the biggest fucking fool in the world…Hell, I guess if you can give every other Gyppo a piece of twat I, well…I know you are nasty…I know it…I know you must be dying of fucking AIDS by now, but I don’t care, I can’t help it–I don’t care about your promis-promis-pro-….”

“Promeesscooooitey,” she cooed, while my left hand found its way between the folds of her ass. “….Yes! Absolutely!….And please tell me, how is it…how, other than your Spanish lover Joe—how you get to know such big words with your poor English pronunciation!….”

“Oh,” she said, coldly, looking down at me, briefly puckering her wet spermy lips and stroking the phone suggestively, “I take English lessons. But—not from Josaph.” There was a pause as she winked at me and licked the squirt of jism off the top of her lip. Goddamnit, do you have to push it so far?…. “Funny thing, Yussuf, you ahnd Joe really have the same name. Have you notice, stupid? Maybe,” she said, tapping the phone gently with her index finger, “you are all of a kind!”

“….Leila—oh God! Leila! Will you please just—khalas, khalas! I am sick—”

“Hah, tomorrow, Yussuf!–”

And with that, she hung up the phone.


I stood up, on my knees, my passion finally spent and looking at her with an incredible welter of emotions. Something like gratitude, satiety, tenderness, mixed in with a hell of a lot of suspicion and even more horror. On the bedside table the radio was going off, spewing all the world’s great disasters into the air: assassinations, strikes, impending insurgencies, terrorist attacks, bombings, failed peace plans, settlements, refugees, starvation, AIDS, and, last but not least, an update on the doings of Rashid, who’d ripped open two women in Damanhur. Aold_alexandria_blurredll I could do was laugh and reach for my clothes. “Oh, Louees,” she purred, giving me a knowing look, “I’m too loud when I do this! I’m sorrey! I cannot help but when I am with you I go crazy. Majnoon, majnoon!”

“No,” I panted, lying down on the bed. “It isn’t that. I’m just amazed at what happened.”

“Oh, you mean Yussuf? But now, you hear the trash that come out of his mouth, hah? Now, you see the real Yussuf!”

“Well, actually,” I then admitted, with some hesitancy, “it’s what we just did.”

Leila laughed, wiping her mouth on the bed sheet. “So,” she said, tenderly, “we fuck? You like? Why are you amazed? That I desire you, and you so obviously desire me? You must not pretend, Louees, that you do not want me.” She reached forward and kissed my ear. “Because I want you.” She kissed me again, three times—once on my cheek, the others fat, wet kisses directly on my mouth. “Ever since I see you working in that horrible place.”

She then gave me long, lingering kisses, but my senses had the upper hand this time. I had to get the hell out of there and back to Cairo. Yussuf was the guy who put food in my mouth. “I know you will be back, yes?”

“Yeah,” I said, hurrying into my clothes.

Leila had a sudden despondent look on her face. “You are afraid.”

“I’m not scared, I don’t want a run-in with Yussuf, that’s all.”

Leila sat up in bed, still nude, and looked at me; she rested her head on her hand, her fat-nippled breasts jiggling on her soft belly. “Louees, he won’t kill you. He always call like this when he’s drinking. He’s not some fucking baladi from Aswan. He’s an Englishman, Louees, not real Egyptian. You can stay. Nobody here will hurt you. You are not with these poor people in the slums. You fuck with them, they will kill you, sure. But we are the upper-middle-class. The people here is more open-minded than stupid Cairo. Look, Louees,” she then said, getting out of bed and walking towards me in the nude and, even without heels, almost towering over me, “I find a better place for you in Alexandria, no? Alexandria is nice—sometimes, only. But it is still bettar than Cairo. Cairo is this shittiest place in Egypt. I say, how many times, I can give you money for tutor! Ahhhhnnnnd,” she cooed, snuggling her ski-slope nose around the hairs on my chest, which she lapped, “if you just ask. Whatevar you ask for, from me, you have it. No problam.”

“Okay, Leila,” I said, and kissed her on the lips. “But I have some unfinished business to take care of back in Cairo.”


Later that day, she and I went quietly to the train station, where I boarded the third-class train for Cairo. Once again, I was a “native,” pretending to be an Arab. Passing me some sandwiches she made, she addressed me in Arabic, my affected attitude of indifference belied by the sly winks I gave her. The platform was filthy with sand, sawdust and goat-shit, but typically I noticed nothing. She was clad in that same lavender bell-bottomed outfit she wore the night I first saw her.

“Ya-Louees,” she whispered, very, very quietly, while I sat down in my seat, “why you taking third class? Why you not get bettar train?”

I stuck my head out the window towards her, and she leaned forward. “It’s cheap,” I whispered back in her ear, painfully conscious if anybody was watching me.

Leila sucked her teeth, and rolled her eyes to the top of the raggedy station. “Ya-Louees,” she whispered, digging in her purse and pulling out a roll of bills. She passed them to me and I shoved them down in my coat pocket. Tenderly, she kissed both sides of my face, and shoved it back inside the train.

Leila strode away from the station, looking back at me with a knowing nod. I nodded back. I patted the bills inside my jacket. I looked around inside the train and at the passengers and felt like I had been asleep for forty-eight hours; everything and everyone looked unreal.

Slowly, haltingly, the train began to roll along the tracks. Every now and then it lurched and sent me hurtling forward. My luggage and victrola dangled perilously over my head from the wooden rungs. Once she was gone I pulled out the roll and opened it up, looking suspiciously at everyone. I counted 250 Egyptian pounds. Opposite me, a fat wrinkled woman in her fifties sat, hunched up in a seat, with one of her pupils dead white. A faint hostility emanated from her. Everyone on that train, it seemed, emanated hostile vibes of varying intensity–in the way they talked, the way they looked at me and rolled their eyes, whether in bewilderment or just plain disgust; indeed, it quickly began to seem as if I had never left that God-forsaken city, Cairo.