A Novel By Ehab Shawky
Struggling against endless raging waters, stroke after stroke my arms relentlessly fought. My eyes searched for the shore. Disabled by the ruling night, I strove and strove but to no avail. Suddenly, a fading silver light started to rise on the horizon. Before it filled my eyes, before certitude filled my heart, I woke up.
Looking around, I found myself still sleeping in that abandoned oasis amidst the Misrostian eastern wilderness. I looked at the stars and pondered over their silence and might, hope had always gleamed in their light. A gentle breeze blew away the heat of the night and renewed my vigour. I got up, looked around bidding the peaceful place farewell, and then I started my journey back to the heart of Misrost.
My name is Qotazio Al-Misrosty. I am the former captain of the famous merchant ship, “Karma.” I am the son of late Mohab Al-Misrosty, one of the former generals of his majesty’s once had been army. Some say that the lineage of our family could be traced back to the descendants of Misroim himself. Personally, I never believed this allegation. I still remember how my grandmother used to tell me the stories of my ancestors, and I remember how I used to mock those stories during my teenage years. My father always resented my attitude regarding this particular issue, but he never tried to discuss the matter with me. There was I… the alleged descendant of Misroim himself, wearing patched dirty clothes, starving, and walking back to my homeland after a long tiring journey that ended up with colossal failure.
Near the border of the oasis, I saw an old man leaning his head on his stick, sitting under a palm tree.
“Peace and blessings be with you old man,” I said.
He raised his head, looked me up and down, and then said suspiciously, “May Alaha’s peace and blessings be with you my son. To where might the traveller be headed?”
“To the heart of Misrost,” I replied.
His eyes grew wider and protested, “Heart of Misrost! Are you crazy?”
“Why are you saying that?” I asked.
The old man got up, grabbed me by my shoulders, and said hysterically, “The way to Misrost was lost long ago. It was overtaken by beasts that kill its youths. If I were you, I wouldn’t go there. Go and start a new life elsewhere.”
He retreated in quick humpy steps towards the heart of the oasis. I heard him repeat that last sentence continuously until he disappeared amidst the palm trees
The old man must be mad, I thought to myself. I turned around and continued my journey back home. All I was hoping for at that moment was to return to my family’s farm, settle down, and raise a family of my own. I still had relatives living in Misrost, so I was counting on the help I shall get when I arrive. I was two weeks away from home. All I had for food was a sack of dates and a waterskin, which I refilled whenever I passed by a water well.
A few miles away from the ancient city, the gigantic ancient monuments were still standing as a warning for invaders. “Beware, intruders. A mighty, capable nation lives behind me. Go back before it’s too late,” that’s what I have always imagined them saying.
On approaching the city gates of Fastotia, the largest Misrostian city, I saw some soldiers searching an entering caravan. They were treating the riders in a very harsh manner. One soldier pushed a young woman throwing her on the muddy grounds and shouted roughly, “Where is the damn message bitch?” The young woman seemed oblivious to what the soldier meant. He pulled her up by one hand and slapped her with the other, and then repeated the same question. Not receiving an answer, he dragged her by her hair into the officers’ room beside the city gates. Another soldier pushed an old man violently towards a higher-ranking officer and said something about Shamalia. The officer pointed towards a caged wagon and ordered the soldier to throw the man inside it.
I wanted to stay out of trouble, so I decided to mind my own business. I waited for my turn in the line trying not to care too much. Suddenly, a small, firm palm pulled my left hand. I looked, and there was a young child with a dirty face smiling at me. He was champing from an apple in a funny manner.
“Peace be with you, uncle,” he said loudly.
I patted his head in a bit of disgust and responded smiling, “Peace be with you, young man. What are you doing outside the city gates? Where are your folks?”
The boy looked at the gate and said, “My family lives inside Fastotia near the gates. I was playing with the boys in the street when a fruit seller passed by. One of his bags was leaking but he didn’t notice this. I collected what fell from the bag, followed the man, and returned the apples. As a reward, he offered me those few apples. Can you take me with you into the city? I’m afraid the soldiers would confiscate the apples and arrest me thinking I’m a thief?”
What a chatty little person, I thought to myself.
“Why would they think you are a thief?” I asked wondering.
“Apples are very expensive. A poor boy like me cannot buy them,” he answered in a pitiful tone that felt fake.
I looked him in the eyes and asked, “Why don’t you just tell them what happened as you told me?”
“They won’t believe me, uncle. They would confiscate the apples as they always do with poor people. Please uncle, just hold my hand till we pass through the gate. My sisters haven’t eaten anything for two days now. Please uncle, please.”
Unable to deny some admiration that had crept into my heart towards his persistence, I decided to help him. I held his little palm until we reached the checkpoint. The soldier sitting behind the desk said, “Your name and address of residence.”
“My name is Qotazio Al-Misrosty. My family owns a farm by the river bank in Fastotia.”
The soldier raised his head piercing the boy and me with his looks in a strange way.
“Wait here,” said the soldier. He got up and walked over to the officers’ room hurriedly. The strange manner in which the soldier looked at us made me nervous. The moment this boy grabbed my hand, I smelled trouble. I felt he was hiding something. He must have stolen the apples’ bag from the officers’ room, I thought looking at him doubtfully.
“Did you say your name is Qotazio Mohab Al-Misrosty, uncle?”
“Yes,” I responded coldly concentrating on the rapid movement around us.
Suddenly an officer came out from the guards’ room, mounted his horse, and took off towards the city gates shouting, “Make way.”
Then the soldier came out and whispered some orders to his comrades. They immediately started moving towards us. The boy pulled his hand out of mine saying, “I’ll see you later, uncle.” He ran through the gate and disappeared amidst the crowds. Amazingly, the soldiers didn’t care whatsoever about the boy. They surrounded me, and their leader said, “The chief wants to see you. He is waiting for you in his office at the city hall. Walk along now.”
Without giving me a chance to utter a word, they pushed me forward, and we started walking towards the heart of Misrost.
“The Lost Way to Misrost” is available at:
Diwan Bookstores: Zamalek, Maadi, Heliopolis, & Zayed.
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If you wish to read more online, Please visit the novel’s blog here.