Hieroglyphs in the sun – Chapter 11

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 06/07/2024

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Jamila Farouk

The next morning, as soon as they woke up, Nefeli found a message from the trip organizer asking if there had been any developments. While thinking about how to respond, Sophia suggested:

-Look, Nefeli, we don’t know at all who has kidnapped Hans or if he left by his will, and we don’t know what their intentions might be or if your phone is being monitored, or, after all, who Jamila Farouk is. I propose this: the trip organizer is a somewhat neutral person who is currently in Cyprus, not here. I’ll send her a short message from my phone, informing her where we will be today, along with Mrs. Farouk’s phone number. Every morning and every evening, I’ll send her a message about where we are, so she knows we are okay. If she doesn’t receive a message from us twice in a row, it means something is wrong and she should notify the police.

-I agree, you really impressed me! You have a detective’s intuition!

-I’ve read enough detective novels, but this adventure has activated my brain. I feel like I’m 30 years old!

-I wish I felt the same. My brain is stuck. It’s hard to think.

-Don’t worry, my dear friend. I’ll think for you.

Before leaving for Mrs. Farouk’s house, Nefeli contacted both embassies and received an identical response: there was no news, and from the airport check, Hans had not left the country, nor had some of the Americans from the group who stayed on the ship. It seems they are still in Egypt.

At exactly 10, Mrs. Farouk’s driver picked them up from the hotel and drove them to an upscale suburb of Cairo, Heliopolis. Here, Cairo had a different look. There were no miserable apartment buildings; instead, the apartment buildings were well-maintained, with green spaces, tree-lined streets, shopping centers, villas, hotels, Orthodox churches, luxurious mosques, and generally gave the impression of a cosmopolitan city. As they later learned, the city was built on the site where, in 1910, Baron Edouard Louis Joseph had built a luxurious residence, and gradually, other buildings were erected, creating the city it is today.

Mrs. Farouk’s residence was outside the bustling city center. It would be better to call it a small palace rather than a residence. It seemed quite large, certainly with many rooms. After entering a fenced area with a high railing, they crossed a beautiful garden with palm trees and other traditional plants. The residence was of neoclassical style with arches and impressive Arabic motifs. The windows were carved wood, and the entrance veranda was decorated with colorful tiles, with two impressive stained-glass windows flanking the carved front door.

Mrs. Farouk awaited them at the entrance. She was a tall, imposing lady with gray hair, close to sixty five. She wore an impressive silk kaftan in deep blue, embroidered with gold thread. She greeted them warmly and led them to the living room.

The living room, like all the rooms, had high ceilings, with ornate plaster decorations and heavy chandeliers. The floor was covered with carpets. Carpets were also on the walls, alongside artworks. A huge fireplace, decorated with ceramic tiles, dominated the room. It was early March, and there was relatively cold in Cairo, so a low fire was burning in the fireplace, adding warmth to the space. The furniture was in Arabic style with divans, cushions, and low tables, all in warm colors, tastefully decorated. From the windows, you could see the garden.

At first, there was a mutual awkwardness. Mrs. Farouk broke the ice first by asking what they would like to drink, tea or coffee. They asked for tea because they had had coffee at the hotel. Shortly, the maid brought the tea and placed it on the table, along with some biscuits.

Nefeli spoke first:

-Farouk, thank you for welcoming us into your home, but as you know, we didn’t come here for a social visit. Hans, my son and your grandson, is missing, and we would like your help to find him. We don’t know anything about each other, so perhaps it would be best if I started by telling you who I am and how I ended up being your grandson’s, Hans’s, mother.

Without emotions this time, Nefeli recounted everything she had told Sophia the previous night. It was clear that it was Mrs. Farouk’s turn to be moved when she heard how Nefeli saved her grandson from a possible death.

-Thank you for what you did for my grandson, she said at the end. “I’m truly sorry you didn’t meet my daughter so you could tell me about her and her relationship with the man who made her leave her family.

-That man, as you call him, was also my husband, and I can assure you he had something many women look for in their lives. Tenderness, care, love, the strength to face any situation, and the bravery to face the truth head-on. That man loved your daughter with all his heart. And, unfortunately for me, she was the great love of his life. He loved her deeply until the end of his life.

-I don’t know what to say. For us, he was the one who destroyed our family.

-I don’t know if now is the time to have this discussion, but have you ever thought that maybe your negative stance caused her so much pain that she couldn’t fight anymore?

Sophia realized that the atmosphere had become tense, which would not help solve the problem ahead. So, before Mrs. Farouk could respond, she intervened.

-Please, Mrs. Farouk. Tell us about yourself, your daughter, your husband. By understanding each other, we will find a way to act together for Hans’s sake. The past has been resolved by life itself.

Mrs. Farouk remained silent for a moment. Her eyes were wet. When she spoke, her voice was steady but clearly filled with emotion.

-You are right. This story was resolved years ago in a painful way for all of us. At least I learn that the man my daughter loved was respectable.

-His name was Otto, said Nefeli.

-Yes, Otto was respectable and loved my daughter, and it seems she loved him too. The rest is history. I will tell you about me and my family, hoping you may understand our position as well.

-As you know, we are Muslims. In our tradition, love affairs don’t fit well. Marriages usually happen through arrangements, not always, of course, because love is in human nature and there were always exceptions. In my case, nothing like that happened. I come from a very wealthy Egyptian family. For my time and for my female nature, I was quite educated because my father had progressive ideas. That’s why I speak such good English.

-When I turned 20, and my parents decided it was time for me to marry, they chose Darius Farouk, an educated young man from a wealthy family, suitable for me and my social position. I married him, and we started our family together. Darius was dynamic, like you say Otto was, but he was also ambitious and, under certain conditions, could be very harsh. Initially, I had a son, Nabil, and then I got pregnant with twins. The birth of the twins was very difficult, and I couldn’t have more children after that. You know, we Muslims usually have many children.

-Anyway, I gave birth to Sayed and Dalia. Darius had an incredible weakness for Dalia. He granted her every wish, couldn’t bear to lose her, and while he was very strict with the boys, Dalia could do whatever she wanted with him. With the fondness he had for her, she could have turned into a very spoiled child, but she was an angel.

-Yes, from the photos I have seen, I am impressed by the purity of her gaze, said Nefeli.

With the memory of her daughter, it was evident that Jamila was deeply moved. Her tears flowed incessantly, but she continued her story:

-When it was time to go to elementary school, Darius didn’t want to send Dalia to a school with other children. I intervened and suggested we bring a private teacher to the house because the child needed to be educated. After much persuasion, he agreed, and then I hired a German teacher who knew both French and English. Dalia was an excellent student. She had a great aptitude for learning, just like me. The German teacher taught her everything, including much about ancient Egypt. Dalia adored her. Of course, I later realized that not sending her to school to interact with other children was not good for her socialization.

-You are right, said Sophia. You know, I was a teacher and believe that school is a very good place for children to learn how to deal with society and its various characters.

-You’re absolutely right, Mrs. Sophia. So, my child, when she found herself in Germany, fell in love with the first person she encountered.

-I beg your pardon, said Nefeli again. Otto was not the first person she encountered. She was surrounded by a bunch of immature students with good looks and athletic bodies, but she loved Otto. Otto was a very special person. It’s a pity you missed the chance to meet him!

Jamila Farouk turned to Nefeli and spoke calmly and somewhat apologetically:

-Nefeli, may I call you that, you’re the age of my daughter if she were alive. I don’t want to insult Otto, whom I’ve never met. I just want you to understand us as well.

And she continued:

-My eldest son, Nabil, resembled his father the most and got involved in business from a young age. He now lives in Alexandria with his family and works in import-export.

-However, the two younger ones took after me and had an aptitude for academics. They were interested in the history of ancient Egypt, and both wanted to study something related to it. Darius did not want to let Dalia go to study. It was against everything he believed in and every principle he had. Her brother, Sayed, was going to study in America, but for Darius, America was the country of corruption, and there was no way he would let Dalia go there. Then I tried to find another solution, and we chose Germany because, on the one hand, Dalia spoke German fluently and, on the other hand, her German teacher was there in case she needed something. Unfortunately, Sayed didn’t speak German and couldn’t accompany her to Germany.

-At that time, my husband had been appointed as a minister, he was extremely busy, and so it was easier for me to arrange Dalia’s studies in Germany. In a way, we “tricked” him.

-At first, we had daily communication, but gradually, Dalia’s phone calls became less frequent. I started to worry until one day I received a letter saying she had married a German professor and was pregnant.

-I won’t go into details, but it was like a megaton bomb exploded in our house. I fainted as soon as I read the letter, Darius barely escaped a stroke, and immediately blamed all the responsibility on me and my progressive ideas.

-But she hadn’t committed a crime! Nefeli said.

-For a Muslim family with our principles, this was a crime. She married in secret, without her father’s approval, a non-Muslim, and announced it to us as a fait accompli. We had no say in what happened! You know the rest. Darius immediately disowned her, forbade me from having any communication with her, and even locked me in a room without a phone, like a prisoner, for some time.

At this point, Jamila’s voice broke. These memories caused her unbearable pain.

-Honestly, you don’t need to continue. We understand, Sophia said to her. For your world and your culture, this was something unacceptable and unforgivable.

-Above all, it was unforgivable for our family. Others might have been able to accept it better. Unfortunately, this story also had another collateral loss, Jamila continued. Another victim that Darius never found out about.

She sighed deeply and continued:

-As I said, I have two sons. One, my eldest, Nabil, resembled his father in everything—conservative, absolute, and ambitious. He fully sided with Darius and condemned Dalia’s actions without a second thought.

-Yes, I remember Otto telling me. He called her and spoke to her very harshly. It was one of the reasons she fell into depression, Nefeli added.

-My poor child! Jamila said. How much pain we caused her with our narrow-mindedness! My other son, Sayed, who was Dalia’s twin, as I mentioned, had gone to study in America. There, he fell in love with an American woman and constantly thought about how to tell us. When the events with Dalia happened, he realized it was almost impossible to announce something like that to us. So, he kept postponing it. The American woman, however, didn’t wait long. She left him.

-This cost him greatly. When he returned to Egypt, my husband tried to arrange his marriage with various girls from our social class, but he was adamant. In the meantime, we had also learned about Dalia’s death, and everything had become more complicated. Sayed left home. Now he works as an archaeologist in Luxor. After we lost his father, he visits me occasionally. He never married.

A heavy silence fell over the room. Nefeli spoke first.

-I would like to apologize for the way I spoke to you, Mrs. Farouk. I also experienced a similar situation when I became pregnant out of wedlock. I didn’t know how to tell my parents, not because they would react violently, but because I would cause them immense sorrow. It is a big mistake to place traditions and customs above the person.

-You are right, my daughter, but now it’s too late.

She looked out the window. It was beginning to get dark.

-The day is ending, Jamila said. I think we should eat something, and it would be good for you to stay here tonight. The house is huge; there are rooms to host you. Besides, we haven’t yet talked about Hans.

Sophia and Nefeli looked at each other. They silently agreed, and Nefeli spoke for both:

-My dear Jamila, may I call you that? I think it’s time to drop formalities. We needed to get to know each other and understand each other. There couldn’t be trust otherwise. We will stay here tonight, but tomorrow I will talk to you about Hans. I think we are all too emotionally tired right now. And what I will tell you requires a clear mind and direct judgment.

-Do you know where Hans is? Sophia asked.

-No, I don’t know where Hans is. But I suspect who he is with. And it won’t be easy to find them.

Jamila did not speak. She was indeed emotionally exhausted. Her mind couldn’t take any more emotions.

-Tomorrow is another day, she thought.

At night, before sleeping, Sophia sent a message to the trip organizer:

-Tonight, we will sleep at Jamila Farouk’s house. The address is…

 

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