Hieroglyphs in the sun – Chapter 10

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 04/07/2024

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Hans’ Mother

As they left the airport, Nefeli informed Sophia that they would be staying at the same hotel where they had spent the first few days upon arriving in Egypt. They had booked two rooms from the beginning because they intended to stay a few more days with Hans after the tour ended.

-I think, Sophia said, it would be better if we stayed in the same room, if you don’t mind. Since we suspect foul play and criminal activity in Hans’ disappearance, it’s better for us to be together. We don’t know who might be watching us or what might happen.

-You’re absolutely right. Being together is better. One can watch over the other.

When they finally reached their hotel room, Nefeli started making phone calls. She spoke with the Cypriot embassy and the German embassy in Cairo. Both assured her that the ambassadors themselves would contact the chief of police to inform him of the case and figure out how to handle it and move towards a solution. While waiting for some information, Nefeli paced up and down the room, full of anxiety.

Sophia waited patiently. She took the clothes out of the suitcases and arranged them in the closet, while also ordering coffee and sandwiches as they hadn’t eaten for hours. She urged Nefeli to eat something and reminded her that finding Hans wouldn’t be easy.

-Egypt is a vast country with more than 110,000,000 inhabitants, and as you know very well, not everything functions smoothly. Maybe it would be better to gather the information we have and try to understand what’s happening. The police will focus on exit points and similar areas. I don’t think they’ll search more thoroughly, especially now that they believe Hans left voluntarily. We need to focus on the facts and small details. Only these can lead us to logical conclusions.

-You’re so right! I’m behaving foolishly. Thank you for being the voice of reason.

-I must confess something that perhaps I should have told you earlier. During our trip, I often saw a blonde woman following us and observing you or Hans; I’m not sure exactly whom. Now I feel bad for not telling you. I didn’t know if it was important.

-Don’t worry. Hans and I had noticed her. We suspected who she might be, but we weren’t sure. Do you know that she was also on the riverboat?

-I thought I saw her on the last day, but I wasn’t certain.

-This woman seems to be directly connected to Hans’ disappearance.

-Did you tell the police?

-Of course not. Those police officers in Aswan didn’t inspire any trust in me. But you’re right. We should lay out the facts we have and then decide what to say and to whom. But first, I need to continue my story about Hans’ birth.

-Oh, there’s more.

-Yes, indeed. Otto paid for my stay at the clinic so I could breastfeed Hans until the danger to his life passed. Then he asked me to come to his house as the child’s wet nurse. In the meantime, I had also told him about my dire financial situation and the dead end I was in. So, I accepted his proposal. I accepted it for many reasons that had nothing to do with my financial situation. For one thing, I had come to love the child as my own. It was as if we were connected by an umbilical cord. But I had also started to fall in love with Otto.

-But he was much older than you!

-Yes, I was twenty-one and he was forty-five. And he wasn’t particularly handsome. As I’ve already told you, though, he exuded a sense of security and protection that’s rare to find. I don’t know if you’ve ever met such a person. It’s as if he built a wall around you and no one could harm you. He was a very strong and intelligent man. If he were here now, he would know exactly what to do!”

-No, Nefeli, I’ve never met such a person! My husband was nothing like that. He was just a simple man. I feel bad calling him that, but there’s no comparison. But go on. I imagine you fell in love and got married.

-Something like that. But Otto was deeply in love with Hans’ mother until the end of his life. And he loved me too; I have no complaints, but she was the love of his life. Dalia.

-Dalia? Was she German?

-“No, she was Egyptian.”

-Egyptian? Is Dalia an Egyptian name?”

-It’s of Arabic origin. But that’s not the point. It’s Dalia’s background that played a crucial role in the whole story. Dalia, who was the same age as me, was born in Cairo into a very wealthy and prominent Egyptian family. If I’m not mistaken, her father served as a minister in one of Mubarak’s governments. I don’t know how she convinced her family to let her study Egyptology in Germany. Anyway, she was Otto’s student. As I’ve already mentioned, Otto’s personality exuded a sense of security and protection. It seems that she, like me, fell in love with him.

-I guess you didn’t meet her.

-No, but I’ve seen many photos of her. She was beautiful. A brunette, exotic beauty, with exceptionally clear eyes. From what Otto told me, her parents, especially her father, were fanatically religious Muslims and would never accept their relationship. So, they decided to marry secretly and announce it later. I suppose poor Dalia drew strength from Otto’s personality, who might not have fully understood the impact this would have on a Muslim family. As expected, Dalia’s family was furious when they found out, and her father immediately disowned her. He even threatened her never to set foot in Egypt again. Even her brother called her and spoke very harshly. He called her a disgrace to the family, ungrateful, and I don’t know what else.

-It’s understandable that all this would upset her and sadden her immensely. Otto told me she fell into depression and cried all the time, secretly.

-Her mother?”

-Her mother hadn’t contacted her in any way, but Dalia believed her father didn’t allow her to. He was very authoritarian and absolute. According to Otto, Dalia considered her mother much more open-minded.

-And naturally, all this significantly affected her health and eventually led to her death.

-After Otto’s death and Hans’ insistence on meeting his mother’s family, I tried to find out something about them from some Egyptian students of Otto. As I told you, her family is very well-known in Egypt. They told me that her father, Darius Farouk, had died. This encouraged me somewhat, as I was truly afraid to contact Dalia’s family.

-Farouk? Could they be related to the last king of Egypt, Farouk? He used to come to Cyprus very often. There are many stories about him and his behavior there. I know a book was even written about him.

-No, I have no idea. But I don’t think it’s that uncommon a name.

-Do you think Hans’ disappearance could be related to his mother’s family?

-You never know, but I don’t consider it likely. Almost 20 years have passed since then. They never came into any contact, nor did they show any interest in the child. I’m afraid it’s something else.

-But to complete my story, I think I made a mistake. I didn’t want to tell Hans at a young age that I wasn’t his biological mother. It was selfish of me because I considered him my own child and didn’t want to spoil that illusion. When we told him at twelve, he was shocked. From then on, a rift formed in our relationship. Not that he didn’t love me, but he became rebellious. And he was entering adolescence, you see…

-He should have appreciated your role in this story, but a child in adolescence is completely unreasonable. Do you think that’s why he disappeared without leaving any clues?

-No, no! I’m sure he wouldn’t leave without at least leaving a message. Hans may be hurt, but he’s a sensitive boy and cares about me a lot. His disappearance isn’t just an act of rebellion. Besides, we wanted to contact his mother’s family after the trip. That was our final goal with our visit to Egypt.

-Do you think he contacted them on his own?

-I don’t believe so, but I can’t rule it out either.

-With the information you just gave me, I think your first move should be to contact Dalia’s family. If he has already reached out to them, the mystery will be solved. If not, they might help you, as they have connections, to search for him more effectively. Will you tell the police everything you’ve told me?

-Not for now. You’re absolutely right. I must first contact Dalia’s family and see if I can trust them. I’m betting more on her mother, even though I don’t know her, but a mother will understand better.

-Do you have a contact number? How will you find her?

-Before we left, I searched Dalia’s belongings. Otto had kept everything. I found a notebook with some phone numbers. Of course, they were all written in Arabic. I asked the Egyptian student, and he gave me a number, which I believe is the family’s landline. If it’s no longer valid, we’ll search differently.

-Nefeli, I want to remind you that we need to be very careful. We don’t know if we’re being watched. A landline is better than a mobile.

-Right, you’re right. It’s 10 PM. Maybe it’s too late to call now. Better wait until tomorrow.

-If I were you, I would call. The matter is serious. This won’t be a social call. We shouldn’t waste time!

-You surprise me, Sophia! Ten days ago, you needed support on the plane, and now you’re giving me strength and courage. Thank you very much!

-Don’t think that I’m not surprised by myself too! I’ve never had to deal with something like this in my life, and I don’t know where I’m finding the knowledge to manage these situations!

Nefeli took the phone in her hand and dialed the number she had written on the piece of paper.

-Put it on speaker, Sophia said. I hope they speak English.

They waited a long time before someone answered the phone. A voice, probably sleepy, greeted them in Arabic. Nefeli gathered all her courage and said:

-Madame Farouk?

The person who answered the phone said something in Arabic and seemed to move away from the device. After a while, another voice, clearly female, asked in English:

-This is Jamila Farouk. Who is speaking?

Sophia saw that Nefeli was sweating, but she spoke courageously, continuing the conversation in English.

-My name is Nefeli Eberhard, and I have come from Germany.

-I was expecting you, Jamila Farouk replied.

The two women looked at each other in surprise.

-How were you expecting me? What do you mean?

-The student you asked about me in Germany told me. You see, our family is highly regarded in this country, and the young man informed me. From what he said, your husband has passed away.

-Yes, he has recently passed away. And your husband, too, I believe.

-Yes, maybe this way, two women will understand each other better, Jamila responded. Is my grandson with you?

-That’s why I wanted to talk to you and ask for your help. Hans disappeared yesterday without leaving any message. Did he contact you?

-No, no one contacted me. What do you mean he disappeared?

-When we searched his cabin yesterday to leave Aswan, he wasn’t there. All his belongings were missing too. The police believe he left voluntarily.

-Do you believe that?

-Of course not. Hans wouldn’t leave without informing me, without leaving a note. The police don’t seem to be doing much, and I thought you might be able to help.

With a broken voice, Jamila Farouk answered:

-Of course, I will help. Do you know how many years I’ve been waiting for this moment, to see my grandson? Where are you staying?

-We’re staying at a hotel in Cairo with a good friend of mine who stayed with me, because everyone else left for Cyprus.

-Give me the address, and tomorrow morning at 10 exactly, I’ll send my driver to bring you to my house to talk. In the meantime, I will contact key people in the police to see what I can find out.

It was Nefeli’s turn to get emotional.

-Thank you very much, Mrs. Farouk! We will see you tomorrow. Goodnight.


As soon as she hung up the phone, Nefeli broke into sobs. Sophia hugged her, and they stayed like that for a long time.

-It’s natural, Sophia said in the end. You’ve been suppressing your pain for so many hours. Cry to relieve yourself. Let’s hope that tomorrow a new chapter will open in the case. Jamila Farouk sounds very dynamic and determined.

-I hope so, Nefeli replied. I have no hope from anywhere else. And thank you so much for your support!

-For me, this story is the adventure I never had in my life. And be sure that everything will go well! Let’s rest a bit. Tomorrow will be a long day.

-Yes, you’re right. Let’s lie down.


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