Black Magic

Black Magic

Hamdy el-Gazzar
Translated by Humphrey Davies
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7g6m
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  • Book Info
    Black Magic
    Book Description:

    As a fourteen-year-old, Nasir was entranced by his father’s gift of a camera, finding in it the means both to possess beauty and to assert himself. Now a hack working for state television, Nasir meets Fatin, an independent woman older than himself who has escaped a suffocating marriage and is secure in taking what she wants from life. An affair begins that quickly pulls Nasir into a whirlwind of incandescent erotic and emotional obsession. In a world of superficiality, materialism, violence, and sexual hysteria seen through the unforgiving lens of his camera, Nasir’s life is in limbo. A yearning for escape and a fear of loneliness propel him into a relationship in which he is at once enraptured and non-committal. The resolution of this volatile mix lies in a violent confrontation between repulsion and desire. Black Magic was awarded the prestigious Sawiris Foundation Prize in Egyptian Literature in 2006.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-199-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-6)

    No. The place didn’t scare me, and neither did the old man sitting on the small wooden bench at the entrance to the ancient house sewing white shrouds. This old man wore a permanent smile around which his features had rigidified, while his penetrating gaze shifted back and forth from the needle to the cloth and then to the people going in and out, each of whom he would examine fixedly and at length, almost as though he didn’t see them, as though his eyes were immobile in their sockets—or so it seemed to a newcomer to the place...

  4. Chapter 2
    (pp. 7-10)

    As was my two-week-old wont, I entered the apartment to find myself in the darkness of the cramped parlor. Here the smell was transformed into something old and smothered, the smell of stale air absorbed into ancient furniture that had clung to the apartment since the death seven years before of the woman who had owned it. Mahrus, her daughter’s husband, who had asked for 350 pounds a month in rent under the new rent law, informed me that no one had set foot in the place since his mother-in-law had died.

    “She was one of those women who are...

  5. Chapter 3
    (pp. 11-16)

    Find someone else.”

    “I don’t want anybody else with me but you, and a very good day to you!”

    His tone of voice was resolute, filled with the expectation that a talk between close friends could lead only to his getting his way. He waved his hand and then swept it away from his body in that famous gesture of his to signal that the discussion, which I’d been dragged into while still half asleep, was over, taking my silence and my still-slumped posture in the deep leather chair, in which half my body was submerged, as a sign of...

  6. Chapter 4
    (pp. 17-20)

    That night I saw her for the second time, saw her with the eyes in my head, not through a camera. I wasn’t working. I’d been invited to watch, drink, have a good time, dance, and join Nu‘man and Claudia in the celebration of their new relationship. She had an ordinary face, like any I might see in the street without giving it any further thought, passing it by as though it had never existed, but I stared at her, at her face, at the half of her body that was visible to me, at her arms and at her...

  7. Chapter 5
    (pp. 21-24)

    The events of the day continued to weigh down heavily upon me. On top of my brain a heavy iron helmet bore down on the sides of my head and the meninges. Neither drunkenness nor dancing nor music nor that provocative woman could rid me of it, just as they could not relieve me of the oppressive heaviness or the atrocious pain that crept implacably through my body, descending stealthily from my head to invade my chest, between the bone and the flesh, like some secret, malign, cancer.

    I spent the return journey from the village slumped on the seat,...

  8. Chapter 6
    (pp. 25-28)

    Eventually I found the words to rescue me from the stupid game that had turned me into my own laughingstock and I spoke. She gently declined my invitation to dance. She said that she didn’t much like dancing. She felt like getting out into the open air and the quiet, far from the crowded, raucous party, which she could no longer stand.

    We left together, side by side and without to-do, just like two old friends.

    As we went down the old marble stairway of the Groppi building, I told her that I’d seen her before, at the Third Millennium...

  9. Chapter 7
    (pp. 29-32)

    Yes, Fatin. … Of course.”

    Her voice on the telephone that late morning sounded delighted, sleepy, calm. I was trying to get rid, by chain-smoking my first cigarettes, of the headache that had coagulated in my head as a result of the previous long night of drunkenness and dancing. She talked at length about yoga, her daughter, and the day’s program. I responded with cautious pleasure and some restrained flirtatiousness about the results practicing yoga might be expected to have on the curvature of the backside and the slenderness of the waist. I mentioned that I would be unable to...

  10. Chapter 8
    (pp. 33-36)

    No sooner had I got to the cigarette kiosk—meaning the office—and greeted my colleagues sitting on the chairs and those sitting on the desks, than I was called in by Sabri Gharib, the senior photographer, who signaled to me with his hand over the large glass partition that separated off his office.

    The moment I went in he stood up behind his huge wooden desk, opened the drawer, and extracted a piece of paper from among the files and documents. Waving it in my face, he said it was an official complaint against me in which I was...

  11. Chapter 9
    (pp. 37-40)

    Fatin is a woman without the fakery, artificiality, and affectation that I can no longer bear having to deal with in men and women—the colored masks of oil paint, gouache, sequins, and beads that they put on their faces before setting off to meet people, smiling their plastic smiles with extreme care so that the oils and the colors don’t run. It goes without saying that in the media there are fewer opportunities, in work and in life, for anyone without a sufficient number of such masks. The more a person’s capacity to hide himself increases, the brighter he...

  12. Chapter 10
    (pp. 41-44)

    Like a camel chewing over food it had eaten long before, I can still taste that kiss in my mouth. We were standing in the inside stairway, on the fuchsia-colored, plush-carpeted stairs of the palace-cum-museum, in the dim light emitted by a large antique chandelier suspended from the distant ceiling. We were afraid we’d be seen by the smartly dressed security man in his navy suit whose job it was both to watch over the beautiful palace’s historic ceramic vessels, walls, and ceilings embellished with verses from the Koran written in gold leaf; and, equally, to ensure that the behavior...

  13. Chapter 11
    (pp. 45-48)

    She was driving and at the same time moving her tongue to touch the edges of her mouth and lips to savor at leisure the remnants of those kisses. We didn’t need to talk. I put the palm of my left hand on her smooth thigh, threw my head back on the seat support, and pressed its little lever, making it move back. I stretched out my body and my legs and felt a calm intoxication sweep over me as my hand traced the outline of her thigh and caressed its smooth, soft flesh. I closed my eyes and gave...

  14. Chapter 12
    (pp. 49-52)

    I love you.”

    Did I say that to Fatin while I was having intercourse with her?

    It always seems to me that when I tell someone, “I love you,” I demean them somehow.

    I’ve stopped saying it to anyone at all, even though any woman with a man will be waiting impatiently to hear the miraculous word from their first meeting and will try to get it out of him by any means, whether by exerting her charms to the full by bestowing on him her lips, her breasts, her whole body, the bounty of her smell, her taste, the...

  15. Chapter 13
    (pp. 53-54)

    The following morning, Fatin arrived before I’d heard the squeak of Rihan’s shop door opening. I’d given her a copy of the key to the apartment before she left the night before. I don’t know how long I slept. I slept deeply, undisturbed by nightmares, or dreams, or images. I awoke to the feel of her fingertips on my face, as she said with a sweet smile, “You looksountroubled!”

    “So you didn’t sleep, or what?”

    “Not at all. I slept three hours … and got up feeling very energetic … and wanting you.”

    I felt a bit embarrassed,...

  16. Chapter 14
    (pp. 55-56)

    I dozed for I don’t know how long and woke to find myself still on my bed. In front of me I found a tray of food placed on my thighs, with cheese, egg, and pastrami sandwiches, and Fatin sitting on the edge of the bed eating greedily and saying, “I’m dying of hunger.”

    She put a cheese sandwich in my hand.

    “So tell me,” she said, “where did you learn all that? And how?”

    “Meaning what?”

    “Meaning … that you drive me wild, totally. And now it’s too late. I’ve flipped, totally.”

    I let out a great laugh.

    “What’s...

  17. Chapter 15
    (pp. 57-64)

    Nu‘man came on his own two feet to see me without making an appointment and without waiting. Normally when he’s been making problems for me behind my back he prefers to take me by surprise and I pretend to not to know what he’s talking about and don’t say a word. If he’d rung the bell when Fatin was with me, I’d have left him standing there like an idiot in front of the door, even if he’d stayed there all day. But I opened the door to him and he hesitated a little, hiding his tension and embarrassment by...

  18. Chapter 16
    (pp. 65-70)

    I was sitting in the ancient main stores on the second floor close to Door 2, where cameras, equipment, film, and technicians are issued—a large oval room with high, drab walls whose paint lost its color years ago; it’s quite possible no one has painted it since the construction of the Television Building in the early 1960s. Spiders have taken up residence in the corners, weaving their attractive, delicately made webs and traps. Two or three were crouched there, waiting quietly and peaceably for the fly that had flown off-course.

    In front of the large wooden desk that blocked...

  19. Chapter 17
    (pp. 71-72)

    I’m not like one of today’s intellectuals. I don’t talk about politics, poverty, the economic crisis, and corruption, about dictatorship, globalization, the unipolar world order, terrorism, and people’s feelings of defeat, failure, and frustration, about the new box-office stars and the obsession with consumption, or about happiness and individualism. Nor do I talk about the little things, the intimate details of my life, sex, the death of great causes and the fall of ideologies, or “the neutrality of the text” and “affectless” writing. It is pointless for me to talk about anything except war, killing, violence, and death, because my...

  20. Chapter 18
    (pp. 73-80)

    From the wooden diving board that projected about a third of the way over the large swimming pool she made her quiet dive, creating hardly any noise or ripples. She cleft the still water with head and body like a large, svelte fish and glided smoothly and easily in her blue one-piece swimsuit, the color and texture of a cloud, and her rosy, taut, bronze skin. She swam calmly, slowly, and with concentration, moving her arms one after the other like small oars. Her feet were open-toed flippers. The roundness of her shoulders gleamed where they met her arms, which...

  21. Chapter 19
    (pp. 81-86)

    Her husband didn’t notice that she’d grown a little more beautiful recently. Her face was rosy and new blood seemed to course in her veins, as though she’d had a massive operation to replace the old—at least three liters of fresh blood, of a different type, taken from a pampered woman not less than ten years her junior who hadn’t lived through the trials of exile abroad or the loneliness and the boredom. It’s hard to find women like that in our country, but in any case, new blood flowed beneath her skin bringing vivacity and freshness to her...

  22. Chapter 20
    (pp. 87-92)

    I went with Fatin to visit Basim’s studio in el-Harraniya. About a year ago, Basim had moved from his apartment in Masr el-Gedida to live in his studio in this village, far from Cairo and from us.

    He was taking revenge on us all by imposing on himself a near total isolation, following the death of Lamyaa’.

    She’d been alone in her little car on her way to Alexandria to visit her mother. They pulled her out from between the roof, the floor mats, and the steel, with shards of glass in her face and her clothes. They pulled her...

  23. Chapter 21
    (pp. 93-94)

    You know, Fatin, I’m no narrator or storyteller. Words are among my enemies—and genuine, strong, obstinate enemies at that. How can I say of you, for example, the way they do, “Listen. I love her. I’m crazy about her. Do you understand?”

    The most hackneyed words, such as love, romance, infatuation, passion, and so on, are just sounds that emerge via the larynx, vocal cords, tongue, and lips. Cryptic, inadequate, powerless, repetitive sounds. They say nothing, have no meaning, no significance, no point. They are nothing sounds. But what am I to do, I who dislike books and stories...

  24. Chapter 22
    (pp. 95-98)

    I knew that she’d absolutely never forgive me for such boorishness. Perhaps I, alone, was the only one who considered it to be shameful, shameless boorishness.

    My old, forgotten emotionality, which year after year I’d chopped little bits off to throw into my wastebasket of embarrassing defilements, was transformed into an overwhelming thirst to be in her arms, to play with her face with my fingertips, to sculpt her features with my fingers, to kiss the innermost part of her hands, to pat her back like a child shushing its mother. I’d put my palm on her cheek, encompassing her...

  25. Chapter 23
    (pp. 99-102)

    Since Ma’mun Atallah had taken possession of the apartment and thrown me out, I hadn’t been back even once to this house, hadn’t once returned to the house of my childhood and boyhood, the house of my father and mother. Maybe it was now crowded with furniture and children, with the photos of Ma’mun in his military uniform hanging on the walls, from when he’d been a young lieutenant in the army up to his present rank of major. There were ten years between us, which perhaps explained why we’d never been friends. He loved to give me orders: stand,...

  26. Chapter 24
    (pp. 103-106)

    Sixteen years after taking my first picture with a camera, I’ve just about worked it out: that the photographic portrait is incapable of flattery, social propriety, or mendacity. Fatin pressed me to take her picture numerous times. I’d get out of it adroitly, making up excuses, determined to escape the trap.

    She’d bounce about on top of the bed wearing her long green nightgown and stamp on the foam mattress like an angry child, screaming, “You must. You must take my picture.”

    With one great leap from the bed, she’d end up standing on top of my desk. She’d crash...

  27. Chapter 25
    (pp. 107-108)

    She accused me, of all people, of actually seeing her the way she appeared in the photograph—wan face full of wrinkles, small, stupid eyes, thin eyebrows drawn in with eyeliner; the face of an old woman trying, with childish glee, to look young, and exciting disgust.

    Wasn’t I the one who’d taken the photo?

    After contemplating it a long while in silence, she screamed in terror, “Ouff, ouff, ouff, ouff!”

    She threw the photo in my face and it fell to the floor. She also threw the banana, from which she’d taken a small bite, down on the table...

  28. Chapter 26
    (pp. 109-114)

    I was waiting for her.

    I roamed all over the cramped apartment like a bear in a small iron cage. In my hand was my big Ericsson 688 cell phone. I repeatedly looked at the time on its small screen—every three, every five, every two minutes. She was five minutes late for our appointment, seven minutes, ten minutes. I went out onto the balcony and looked to the end of the street. A weak light emanated from an old lamppost around whose bulb gnats had gathered. I could see anyone approaching, though with difficulty, but I knew exactly how...

  29. Chapter 27
    (pp. 115-116)

    I wandered the streets and small neighborhoods of Sayida Zeinab in the midst of the crowds and the noise, but all I could see were the images, ideas, and lurid fantasies that were jostling one another inside my own head. The sexual these days was still foolish and trivial, even if its most blatant and coarsest forms had acquired commodity status. It was the emotional that was now the foolish, trivial subject of which we were ashamed to speak. It was emotion above all that was now subject to repression and persecution, to censorship and confiscation, in the name of...

  30. Chapter 28
    (pp. 117-120)

    Tonight, as I observed her naked body and those slow, boring movements that we were making in order to kindle that mysterious something that had settled upon us both, I found that I was indifferent to my lack of an erection, to the demeaning inertia of the historical instrument of victory of my sex, that sex that is embarrassed and shamed by impotence. At the same time, I almost cried to see myself naked and devoid of desire, lust, madness. I abandoned my body to her like a corpse, without any warmth in its breathing or violence to its movements—...

  31. Chapter 29
    (pp. 121-122)

    The events of my life are so trivial that getting them onto paper takes a tremendous effort. Writing is painful. It tastes bitter in my throat, more bitter even than the medications for cirrhosis of the liver that I used to taste before putting them in my father’s mouth.

    Writing is an unbearably laborious and exhausting activity. It is a permanent, chronic, unalloyed pain that invades my stomach, makes my throat dry and sour, and takes the taste from cigarettes and food and from the fruit that I play around with out of boredom and impotence on the table at...

  32. Chapter 30
    (pp. 123-126)

    Gum‘a has killed an old man he didn’t know. Gum’a has lost his mind.

    After he’d mopped the tiles of the kushari restaurant, cleaned the black, marble-topped metal tables and the white plastic chairs, and washed the wall tiles with water, soap, and detergent till the small rectangular premises radiated smartness and cleanliness, Gum‘a entered the little toilet at the back. There he removed his brown pants and the brown jacket with the name ‘Mas‘ud’ written in white thread on its breast pocket, put on the clothes that he’d worn to work that morning (a large, ill-fitting blue shirt and...

  33. Chapter 31
    (pp. 127-128)

    When I was looking at her as she spoke, I deliberately avoided allowing my eyes to fall on the thin circular lines that swathed the upper part of her neck. Her lines were many and deep, etched in the skin and slightly lighter than the bronze of her complexion, as though they were ripples from a stone thrown into a river. Geologists determine the age of stones and rocks, of comets, and of the strata of the earth by counting the number of these fine horizontal lines. Likewise, in animals, the creases in their necks reveal their age.

    She wore...

  34. Chapter 32
    (pp. 129-132)

    What cannot be understood cannot be understood, and that’s all there is to it.

    Those savages who are said to be like the horses that try to cut their own veins with their teeth in order to breathe more freely, or the elephants that separate themselves from the herd when they feel the approach of death and silently remove themselves to await the end—those savages who seek only death or, more correctly, no longer desire even death, for it is death that desires them and they simply surrender to it without noise or disturbance to others—are said to...

  35. Chapter 33
    (pp. 133-136)

    I was thinking about the time she once said to me, “Why didn’t I meet you twenty years ago?”

    At that beautiful instant, such as rarely occurred between us, I was grateful to her. Her words were a bullet that pierced my breast and lodged there. How often I repeated the sentence to myself when we were feuding or she was mad at me or thinking of leaving me. Her beautiful statement cleansed me totally, making me despise my explosions of anger and my annoyance at her.

    Where now had that spirit gone which had given me a certain security...

  36. Chapter 34
    (pp. 137-140)

    My censurers sought to console me. Said I, Not all hearts are patient in adversity.”

    My two eyes—my single lens and the new digital camera behind which I crouched, hugging its body, my hands on its belly—and I myself were transformed into an ear, a massive, terrifying, sensitive ear that devoured that mournful broken voice, the strength of whose brokenness was terrible in its entreaties, its suffering and complaining, the strength of whose collapse raged in its pleading for release from the pain of separation and ecstasy.

    Despite the continuous monotonous drone caused by the breathing of close...

  37. Chapter 35
    (pp. 141-142)

    I know. I know that everything is destined to disappear, that stories, movies, and plays have their ends, just like the end of the day, the end of satiety, the end of desire. Everything proceeds toward its fate; only the speed may differ, being sometimes a little too fast or a little too slow, though, in any case, we all get to that place whose significance as end is unknown to us until it actually arrives.

    This woman knows exactly what she wants, and what she wants from me. That is what pains me, what makes me terrified of her....

  38. Chapter 36
    (pp. 143-144)

    Fatin was about four meters ahead of me. She walked with leisurely steps to the very edge of the mountain. Directly below her feet was a steep and sudden drop. She stood at the rim of the outcrop, separated from the city by hundreds of meters. She was calm and silent, looking out from this lofty height over Cairo at the shadows and shapes of the Citadel of Muhammad Ali, at the minarets scattered everywhere, at the ancient buildings—some on the verge of collapse, others holding out tenaciously against time. Modem apartment blocks and tall hotels could be seen...

  39. Chapter 37
    (pp. 145-146)

    Was I really able to raise my hands in the air? Form them into fists, then shove them toward her strong and hard and, placing them against her naked buttocks, in one decisive second, push her? Push Fatin, while standing stock still, not shaking, my feet dug into the ground, my face terrifying, cruel, pitiless, the face of a killer with bulging eyes, lips pressed tight together, skin taut and cold? Did I do it? Did I kill her?

    I woke in a panic. Gasping, I took the glass of water from the small table next to my bed, drank...

  40. Back Matter
    (pp. 147-148)