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Murder in the Tower of Happiness

Murder in the Tower of Happiness

M.M. Tawfik
Translated by M.M. Tawfik
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 348
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7dvg
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  • Book Info
    Murder in the Tower of Happiness
    Book Description:

    “When the first armchair smashed into the asphalt, Sergeant Ashmouni was at his usual spot on the median of the Nile Corniche, trapped by the road’s twin currents turbulently flowing forth to Maadi and back to Old Cairo. He was wiping the sweat away from his eyes with his worn out sleeve—and in the process adding a new stain to his white traffic-police uniform—when surprise from the thunderous impact catapulted him into the fast lane of the side of the road closest to the Nile." Thus opens this fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor that takes us inside Borg al-Saada—‘Tower of Happiness,’ one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo—and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its superrich and famous denizens. The naked, strangled body of Ahlam, a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower’s strange characters: the owner’s agent, Kasib Bey, overweight, toupeed, and decked in gold chains; wealthy contractor Abd al-Tawab Mabruk Basha (Tutu Basha to his friends), insomniac since Ahlam’s murder; Abd al-Malak, a psychic with a Ph.D. in genetic engineering from MIT; Farah, his erstwhile sweetheart, who has become one of the very candy dolls she used to scorn; belly-dancer Lula Hamdi, who would be able to see Timbuktu if she stood on top of a pile of all her money; Madame Esmeralda, the society lady from Chile; and the homely Dr. Mahgub, somewhat less well off than his neighbors. And of course there is Antar—the naughty boy—who roams the tower, enters apartments, and overhears conversations, unsettling and exposing the decadent occupants and their relationships.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-180-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. The First Page

    • Sergeant Ashmouni
      (pp. 3-24)

      When the first armchair smashed into the asphalt, Sergeant Ashmouni was at his usual spot in the middle of the Nile Corniche, trapped by the road’s twin currents turbulently flowing forth to Maadi and back to Old Cairo. He was wiping the sweat away from his eyes with the worn-out sleeve of his white traffic-police uniform—adding a new stain in the process—when surprise from the thunderous impact catapulted him into the fast lane of the riverside road.

      The shocked policeman landed in front of a speeding cab whose driver managed, in intoxicated spontaneity, to avoid him, but at...

  3. The Second Page

    • Abd al-Malak
      (pp. 27-52)

      In the waiting room, Abd al-Malak was absorbed by a fly meandering across the windowpane. It paused, rubbed its head between its forelimbs, continued its stroll, then flew to another corner of the fingerprint-stained glass. The fly took to the air, circled a few times, then returned to the same spot. But what were its motives? Surely it possessed a special kind of consciousness, a particular vision of the surrounding world. Otherwise its movements would be no more than random applications of the laws of probability.

      Creation: how complex it must be. Mankind’s understanding is shrinking just as the information...

  4. The Third Page

    • Islah Mohandes
      (pp. 55-82)

      Poetry was among the things closest to her heart. So was the chirping of sparrows in springtime, Abdelhalim songs on a dreamy summer night, childhood’s ‘Rocket’ chocolate bars as they melted elastically in her mouth, her mother’s specialty pigeon stuffed with roasted green wheat, the scent of jasmine at dusk, and the feel of her skin after removing the hair with sticky sugar paste. On the other hand, she hated the sight of cockroaches in the kitchen as she did liars, fleas, the stench of boiled tripe, a man who raises a hand against his wife, the warmth of a...

  5. The Fourth Page

    • Sergeant Ashmouni
      (pp. 85-110)

      “Come on, you stuck-up lord … in your shiny black Ford.”

      Ashmouni contemplates the skyline. The towers extend as far as the eye can see along the Nile’s bank. What an impressive sight they present in all their splendor. Then his eyes focus on the shortest of the towers, the one from which the hammering is coming.

      “Damn your racket, Charlie … on your sleek Harley,” he says aloud to himself.

      Since early morning the hammering has not stopped. Despite his distance from its source on the eighteenth floor, he’s finding it increasingly irritating. The monotonous rhythm makes his head...

  6. The Fifth Page

    • Abd al-Malak
      (pp. 113-138)

      Abd al-Malak has just left the kitchen with a bottle of cold water and is crossing the battered hall when he notices the piano. He freezes not far from the kitchen door then calls out to the Cerebellum. More than anything, he’s struck by the transformation that has taken place in the corner where the piano has suddenly appeared: the floor is again a brilliant pistachio-green, the walls are spotless white with two oil paintings of flowers and fruits in identical frames of black lacquer. The Cerebellum hurries in from his bedroom. His usual expression of surprise attains comic heights....

  7. The Sixth Page

    • Islah Mohandes
      (pp. 141-166)

      “I love plants. I talk to them, whisper, sing to them. In my heart I know they listen, that they can recognize my voice and when I’m away, they miss me and they’re happy when I come back …

      “I’m a peasant girl. Fate uprooted me but my heart is green inside, like an alfalfa field glistening in the morning dew. When the world cut me off from my village and my people, plants became my family. Look. I have roses in six different colors … and grape vines and jasmine … and a swing I can rock on while...

  8. The Seventh Page

    • Sergeant Ashmouni
      (pp. 169-196)

      For a split second, her bracelet captures the rays of the setting sun. Its jewels pulsate color. Her hair is like a movie star’s in the breeze. Her beauty is so familiar … it is her. Impossible. Your mind’s playing games on you again, Ashmouni.

      He gives me an impatient honk, tries to capture my attention. As if I wasn’t familiar with his car: its red paint without so much as a scratch, its luster unblemished by a speck of dust, and an engine that purrs like the desert wind.

      I used to jump to attention upon seeing this car...

  9. The Eighth Page

    • Abd al-Malak
      (pp. 199-232)

      The telephone is a silent devil that I circle around but dare not touch. Her number is a hymn to love I repeat in my secret of secrets. I extend my hand then withdraw it, fire-struck. Farah, my heart’s Farah, my soul’s Farah. She said: “Don’t call me, I beg you. Sometimes there are co-workers around and I fear a scandal.” She said she’d call as soon as she could. I promised to be patient. I’ve suffered in silence but she hasn’t kept her side of the bargain.

      The ring tone cuts through the silence. She hasn’t forgotten me after...

  10. The Ninth Page

    • Islah Mohandes
      (pp. 235-258)

      The staircase is dusty. Blotches readily blend with the mosaic tiles. Layers and layers of stains; consecutive generations of negligent janitors; the enduring chain of disintegration. Atik, the Nubian, washed the staircase every day at dawn. He’d swipe it with a jute rag starting from the top seventh floor all the way down to the basement. A mixture of water and kerosene would cascade down the steps. He was the last of the respectable janitors. The stairs used to be squeaky clean in my childhood, when Atik was still alive, when Hamada was a cherubic baby, before he turned stupid...

  11. A Page Never Read

    • Ahlam Shawarby
      (pp. 261-284)

      Two angelic circles in lapis lazuli: the dance of air and feathers. Despite its irregularity, their flight is serenity. The doves land on the balcony railing, then head into the apartment. My two friends flutter over the men’s heads. Abd al-Malak and the Cerebellum have gotten used to their presence. They do not touch the men’s food and never leave droppings. Their presence is pure and innocent. The men are busy moving chairs from the kitchen and bedrooms, setting them around the dining table. They are preparing for a séance they think will be special: the last séance in the...

  12. A Page No One Noticed

    • Ahlam Shawarby
      (pp. 287-308)

      “Yesss! Got you, got you, got you.”

      Your laughter cuts like a knife. You take pleasure in the man’s revulsion. To your cheerful applause, the sergeant spits out what seems like vomit onto the pavement. At first, his face lit up, thankful for your generous gesture. He welcomed the sandwich after the meager meal he broke his fast with, prayed for you before biting into the soft bread. But what overjoyed him most was that you had thought of him. The sandwich was proof that a special connection bound the two of you. You, the spoiled middle-class brat bubbling with...

  13. A Page Composed by the Clock’s Strikes

    • The First Strike
      (pp. 311-312)

      The rose has turned yellow-brown. Its once-velvety petals now feel like paper. The vase has aged; its surface is covered in fine cracks. But the child—who has sneaked out of his early bed—is oblivious to this. The shadows engulf the corner that shelters the secret—what a secret!—and Antar’s eyes cannot make out the transformation. Instead, he relies on memory’s eye and her false confidence in the constancy of things.

      He hugs Meshmesh, who turns his head, focuses on the vase and rose, then shrinks into the child’s embrace. Antar shakes his head, covered in a sorcerer’s...

    • The Second Strike
      (pp. 313-314)

      On its journey, ultimately to the bottom, the vase’s lower half passes by the belly dancer’s balcony. At this point, it makes three turns in the air along time’s mercurial spiral. The laughter emanating from the apartment is beyond promiscuity, the music has reached boiling point. The dance extends a bridge to mankind’s primordial past. Cigar smoke has erected dark tents. The champagne overflows and fills the revelers up to the top of their heads. Conversations have become intermittent, ideas scattered, and instincts now have the final word.

      Supporting himself on the bare shoulders of two beautiful extras from a...

    • The Third Strike
      (pp. 315-316)

      With heavy steps, Abd al-Malak descends. He’s wearing jeans and blue canvas shoes. In one hand he holds the tape recorder, the black Samsonite briefcase in the other. The Italian suits and French neckties he’s left behind for the ghosts. He’s departing the tower just as he came. He waited a long time but all the elevators were occupied. He doesn’t mind taking the stairs, doesn’t seem to be in a hurry.

      Abd al-Malak is a matchstick both in appearance and substance. The world has lit then extinguished him. But a matchstick can light up only once. Can a man’s...

    • The Fourth Strike
      (pp. 317-320)

      The falling vase makes one somersault in the air just beyond the tenth floor of the Tower of Happiness. The vase’s motion is a spiral in time and space. It belongs to an alternate universe whose laws do not coincide with those that govern the tower and its tenants. Nevertheless, an obscure yet potent interaction links the two worlds.

      At that very instant, Madame Gawdat sits motionless on a Louis XV armchair whose seat and back are upholstered in navy-blue Aubusson, the same color as her dress. As usual, her makeup is delicate yet ample. She’s wearing black patent-leather shoes....

    • The Fifth Strike
      (pp. 321-322)

      As the falling vase makes its second consecutive roll outside the tenth-floor window, Shaker lies on the pistachio-green divan with the floral design. His bloodshot eyes emit a penetrating frost. The pangs of pain have melted away as his body turned into wood. His eyelids flicker continuously; he can move nothing else. His face is gray beneath his dyed, artificially straightened hair, which, in its brilliant blackness, has come to resemble a porcupine’s spines.

      Unexpectedly, his sense of hearing is doubly acute. In his mind, the thoughts come and go, crystallized, sharply defined. He’s only too aware that his ailment...

    • The Sixth Strike
      (pp. 323-324)

      Flanked by Shaker’s door on one side and Madame Gawdat’s on the other, it is Farah’s turn to wait for the elevator that, tonight, is uncharacteristically late. From time to time, she glances at a large suitcase next to her. She’s wearing an unbuttoned mink coat over a chic pink dress. Her olive face is pale and her thick eyebrows almost touch one another. She finds herself encircled by the ocean of dancers. She turns around, smiles and nods to some familiar faces, but nobody returns her greetings.

      With a finger crowded with rings, she presses the elevator button repeatedly...

    • The Seventh Strike
      (pp. 325-326)

      By the time the vase’s broken lower half has reached the eighth floor level, Karim Nafea is pulling Islah by the hand, decisively but in tenderness. She refuses to enter his apartment. With peasant-girl eyes, black outlined in kohl, she stares at him.

      “Come in, Islah … we don’t need a scandal.” His voice is less confident than usual.

      “My life is a mess … everything is wrong … I just don’t get what’s happening around me anymore.” She passes her trembling fingers through her hair, which she has allowed to grow longer than usual.

      “Alright … let’s talk about...

    • The Eighth Strike
      (pp. 327-328)

      At the sixth-floor level, the half-vase rotates in a horizontal circle. At this very instant, Dr. Mahgoub makes a move on Soad, the maid, who skillfully dodges his extended arm. She recoils then comes to a standstill a few steps away from the apartment door. With both hands on her waist, she calls out in a hushed voice, “Madame!”

      He’s dressed in a gray woolen robe and plastic slippers out of which his toes protrude like aggressive sticks of dynamite. Here he is: the esteemed professor, who has educated consecutive generations of our oil brothers, then brought home his savings...

    • The Ninth Strike
      (pp. 329-331)

      Sergeant Ashmouni gasps for air as he reaches the second floor landing. He pulls Zuzu by the hand. She’s wearing jeans that hug her curves. Her plastic slippers are purple to match the scarf covering her head.

      “Why didn’t we just wait for the elevator like everybody else?” The two-story climb doesn’t seem to have exhausted her, though.

      She studies everything around her: the brilliant marble, the polished apartment doors, and the indoor plants in the corners. She cannot see the broken half of the vase, however, which just then intersects the second-floor level in the air outside the tower....

    • The Tenth Strike
      (pp. 332-334)

      Three meters short of its objective, the broken vase vibrates in repeated spiral rotations, as though it too has been infected by the rowdy carnival dance. The human swarm has gushed through the staircase and out into the tower’s expansive foyer, which is soon packed all the way to the main entrance. The musical band positions itself at the center of the foyer encircled by the dancing crowds and starts to splash out its crazy rhythms in every direction, like the sun’s rays: generous to the point of burning.

      Accompanied by one of her assistants, Lula Hamdi, the glittering belly...

    • The Eleventh Strike
      (pp. 335-337)

      The Cadillac has been parked in front of the tower for over an hour. The chauffeur has quietly merged with the shadows. Ihsan, the bodyguard, looks about him in customary vigilance. Sensing no imminent threat, he allows himself to steal glances at the rose of light that decorates the tower’s façade. Its beauty, visible miles away, must bestow joy in the hearts of Cairenes out for a promenade on the riverbanks or a trip in yachts and feluccas. The bodyguard is overtaken by a momentary feeling of calm, a false sense of security. From time to time, he observes the...

    • The Twelfth Strike
      (pp. 338-340)

      The echoes of frantic screaming blend with the drumbeats and song, and reach the ears of the billionaire Abd al-Tawab, Tutu, in the Cadillac’s solitude. Suffering from the chronic bewilderment characteristic of the buffer zone that separates sleep from awakening, he is unable to distinguish merrymaking from horror. Then the shock of certainty slices through the slowly brewing soup of sound. For a split second, he comes to. Then he returns to his wilderness. He sits cross-legged in front of a campfire in a distant desert. Abd al-Malak waves a red-hot copper mandal at him.

      “All my wealth is legitimate....

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 341-345)