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The Smiles of the Saints

The Smiles of the Saints

Ibrahim Farghali
Andy Smart
Nadia Fouda-Smart
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 150
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  • Book Info
    The Smiles of the Saints
    Book Description:

    “I have returned to settle my account. . . ." Told through the voices of a group of close friends and spanning a generation, The Smiles of the Saints is an epic story condensed into a short, intricate novel. Twenty-year-old Haneen has just returned to Egypt after an absence of fifteen years spent mostly in a Parisian boarding school, cut off from all family save for sporadic visits from her father, Rami. She has been summoned back by her father’s twin sister, who gives her an envelope containing his diaries, the last section of which is missing. Reading Rami’s account of the passionate love affairs and tortured spiritual adventures of his youth, Haneen begins to unravel the riddle of a family she has barely known. Herself the child of a Muslim–Christian marriage, Haneen, in love with a Jewish man, is considering adding a further religious dimension to her family. But someone is carefully watching the proceedings, a figure from the past. Who exactly is this, and what stake does he have in Haneen’s return? Couched in a pervasive air of mystery, Ibrahim Farghali’s novel is resonant with observations on the intricacies of human entanglements.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-200-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. The Smiles of the Saints
    (pp. ix-x)
    Ibrahim Farghali
  4. Part I

    • Chapter 1 An Inner Whisper
      (pp. 3-8)

      At the sound of the mobile phone she opened her eyes and reached for the slim little device that lay on the chiseled surface of the rectangular Indian table. The blue glow lasted long enough for her to see that the screen said six thirty. She closed her eyes again but the turmoil inside her head made it impossible to go back to sleep.

      Slowly she got out of bed, lowering her legs to the floor, searching for her slippers, her eyes still half closed, following the pale light that filtered through the shutters of the open window. Her attention...

    • Chapter 2 Phantoms in the Tunnel
      (pp. 9-14)

      In the same way that she alone felt that Rami was the perfect twin, I was the only one who was able to fathom her, after my long journey through that dark tunnel where I simply floated, detached from time, listening to the thoughts of those ghostly figures that jostled me in the murky chaos.

      And here am I, returning to her in the certain knowledge that—as always—she will not sense my presence, she who has only ever been concerned for Rami and the continuous clamoring of his soul.

      Nadia … “the titch,” as we used to call...

    • Chapter 3 Running Races
      (pp. 15-18)

      I used to wake to the sound of the bells from the nearby church, whose continuous metallic clanging became mixed up with the image of Christine—God rest her soul—and Emad.

      In this way Nadia began to tell her niece the story. I was filled with happiness when she mentioned my name—even though she did not ask God to rest my soul—and I recall immediately that distant time to which I cannot return, perhaps because it is enough for me just to listen to her while she talks, as she releases her own inner whisper for the...

    • Chapter 4 The Final Peal
      (pp. 19-22)

      Haneen interrupted her aunt to ask if she would like some tea since she was going to go to the kitchen to make herself coffee. Her aunt was spinning the story out while Haneen was dying to know what had really happened to her mother and father.

      Haneen called from the kitchen, “When are we going to see Daddy, Auntie?”

      “I don’t know yet, Haneen. Maybe at the end of the week.”

      Haneen felt nervous, anxious, and noticed that part of her mind was repeating the Paul Anka tune unconsciously, insistently, in the way it usually did with any song...

    • Chapter 5 Mysteries of the Spirit
      (pp. 23-26)

      Your silent sobbing tore me apart Nadia, as you drove along Talaat Harb Street on your way to the kidney center beside the university. You stopped crying only for a few moments as you entered the elegant hospital entrance but it began again immediately afterward. No amount of tissues could cope with your tears.

      What stopped you was the emergency call to go to the operating theater. I may be the only one who knows what goes on in your heart. That awful silence that you now feel after those long years of inner roaring, created by his thoughts, has...

  5. Part II

    • Chapter 6
      (pp. 29-32)

      I woke in panic to the din of constant shooting that seemed to come from the top of the building with a persistence that would drive anyone to the brink of terror. It stopped for a while, then started again, just as insistently but this time less distinct, as if coming from the top of the buildings on the other side of the square, or like the echoing of automatic weapons.

      I went out to the hall. I saw my father standing in the middle of the hall in his white gallabiya, his face full of fear that he tried...

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 33-36)

      The assassination of Sadat drove me back into a self-imposed isolation, to rethink everything. In spite of my sense of malicious pleasure, I felt genuine pity for him as well as shock when I heard the news on the BBC.

      While I was watching the military parade, studying the conceit on that shriveled face, I was thinking about my detained uncle who, along with so many others, including big names, had been rounded up in the few weeks before the October anniversary.

      When the transmission was cut I was seized by a question that I hoped would be answered in...

    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 37-40)

      Break time in el Malik el Salih Preparatory School was the ideal time to stand on the concrete ledge that supported the railings in the middle of the school wall facing the great iron gate. From there, with my back to the soccer players and their supporters, I had the opportunity to watch the girls in the dormitory of the Greek School opposite—slim, blond girls that excited my imagination. On one occasion, while I was standing there on the ledge, I saw her as she was undressing, unaware of the open window or of my presence while I, in...

    • Chapter 9
      (pp. 41-42)

      Maria turned my life upside down. She became the center of my existence, the beginning and end of everything. Even my sense of time was limited to counting down the days to Sunday, our weekly rendezvous.

      I would wait for her by the governor’s residence, on the upper pathway facing the Greek School, and we would make our way to the Rowing Club, in Talkha, on the other side of the river, or to Kasino el Nil, or sometimes Randoplo on the little street between el Bahr Street and el Tumayhi Square, and maybe before or after that, we would...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 43-44)

      Maria. She transformed my life utterly. Mansoura would never again be a suffocating, restricting place. And I would never tire of sitting in Kasino el Nil or looking at the beautiful features of her face, captivated by the look of her sensual, dreamy gray eyes, as we sat at our favorite table, the farthest from the stairs, on the first floor at Randoplo, eating cassata and chatting endlessly.

      From Randoplo we turn right onto Tumayhi Square, looking for Amm Mustafa who is asleep in one of the hantour carriages parked behind each other in a long line, each one tied...

    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 45-48)

      A few weeks before the end of the school year, her last at secondary school, it was decided that she should move to the Alexandrian branch of the school. With the departure from Mansoura of most of the Greek community the number of students in the school had gradually fallen. This forced the school management to transfer to Alexandria the students whose classes had fallen below a certain number. There was no alternative other than to close the school completely within a few years, to be turned into an experimental language school. Nothing would remain of the Greek community other...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 49-52)

      The next morning was unexpectedly beautiful. I woke up just before her, as the light of dawn seeped through the narrow gap between the curtains, announcing that the hour was still early. She turned her naked back to me while I listened to her regular breathing. The scent of her hair—its color blending two shades of brown—was a thick feminine fragrance mixed with a sprinkling of dampened dust.

      Gradually my senses revived. I moved nearer her to recapture the feeling of freedom caused by the meeting of two naked bodies, and embraced her joyfully. She breathed deeply and...

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 53-56)

      Games of time and chance have dominated my whole life—they helped me to escape being haunted by Christine through the appearance of Maria, who saved me from so many hallucinations and anxieties. It was those same ‘games’ that replaced Maria’s ghost with that of Christine, but this time there was an even bigger surprise.

      I had more or less started getting used to life without Maria. I was venturing to walk past those places that were so painful and that could only reignite memories buried in the depths of my soul each time I passed by them: the Greek...

    • Chapter 14
      (pp. 57-60)

      It took us some time to recover the brightness that had become dim inside us both, due to the length of time we had been apart. Even the rituals that we had considered familiar now seemed strange, as if we were performing them for the first time: the hours spent reading or studying in my room under Nadia’s supervision, or at Christine’s home, supervised by Tante Georgette. Even in those places where we used to go to before. We knew that the reason was Emad’s constant presence in those days. Even at the moulid of Sheikh Hassanein things were somehow...

    • Chapter 15
      (pp. 61-64)

      I don’t know what has happened to me so suddenly … I know I am naturally jealous but since we became intimate it has become pathological, and when she laughs with any of our university friends it actually feels like stabs to my heart. I started to strictly follow everything she did during the times when we were not together. My state of mind gradually affected her and she began to be anxious.

      But it all blew up after she returned from a trip she had made to her cousin Catherine in Cairo. She told me how she had accompanied...

  6. Part III

    • Chapter 16 Scenes from the Epic of Fear
      (pp. 67-72)

      It is my mother who can sense my presence. That’s how it always was. She would dream about things before they happened. Her heart would shrink just before a momentous event. On many occasions she would decide to travel to Assiut to visit some of her relatives, determined to see someone in particular, and we would hear that that very same person had died just a few days later!

      Through her tears she told them that I had come back. The phone call with my grandfather Fouad and uncle Emad—who I was named after—and my aunt Theresa ended...

    • Chapter 17 The Sirens of Terror
      (pp. 73-76)

      I reflect on these memories, so fragile and simple like the fragility of my fears, on account of which I have returned—in order simply to overcome them. My journey in time has undoubtedly made me stronger and more capable of facing the true scale of my fears. And maybe even if I was to return to that former time I would do the same in every respect, with all the fears that I experienced. This is why I could not complete my journey through time until I had returned to settle my account with fear.

      Overplaying an imagined, unbearable...

    • Chapter 18 Visions of the Final Apparition
      (pp. 77-78)

      The problem that faced me now was to define the moment in time when I would move …. When I remember the time before my death, that’s the past. But I can also recall my life after that, during the journey through time to the hereafter, as if it too belongs to my past, even though, chronologically it belongs to the future, even the present moment from which I transmit these thoughts.

      I knew that the journey was through time, beyond the limits of space, and that there were no fixed times apart from the geographical. But now I face...

  7. Part IV
    (pp. 79-83)

    Where am I? The pale light from behind the cover suggests that day has dawned. But I do not know why I feel it is still night. Have I lost sense of time? I seem to be unable to open my eyes. Am I asleep in my bed? That means that if I open my eyes now I will see the great dark brown wardrobe and its five doors and its mirror in the middle, facing me. And to the left there will be the pink wall, and at the level of my head I will be able—that is,...

  8. Part V

    • Chapter 19
      (pp. 85-86)

      Where does beauty begin? Does it begin for example, with the ideal features of an elegant face whose proportions conform to a norm? Or with the bodily form that follows those same proportions? And can this ideal example really be generalized? Is what I see to be beautiful necessarily what other people see, or does beauty always consist of perfect spiritual proportions that no one knows the secret of?

      For me beauty begins at the moment when the perfect ideal is broken. A circular face with green eyes and a delicate nose like Cleopatra’s does not excite me. But this...

    • Chapter 20
      (pp. 87-90)

      It was Nadia—as usual—who was the first to know, thanks to our spiritual bond. She suggested the name of a reliable doctor who could carry out an abortion for Christine, considering our difficult situation.

      When I remember my state that day I find it very difficult to describe. I probably seemed dazed and distracted, afraid, and because of my hatred of fear I was completely thrown. Christine, meanwhile, averted her eyes and her face took on a yellowish pallor that made her look terribly ill. I held her hands and told her gently that the doctor we were...

    • Chapter 21
      (pp. 91-94)

      Running around the courts by day, with a second job in a lawyer’s office by night, plus the extra monthly allowance that my father gave me in consideration of an honorary position overseeing legal matters in his office, made my life with Christine easier. But the pressures from her family and their constant hassling, especially after her Uncle George passed away, made our life a misery.

      We decided, in absolute secrecy, to move to Alexandria. Thanks to a few of my father’s friends I was able to find a job in the legal department of a large export company. Out...

    • Chapter 22
      (pp. 95-98)

      Every time I am overwhelmed with pain I think of Emad, whose loss was so painful, a blow deep inside—a loss so early in life of a childhood friend whose absolute openness and purity had made me complete. At el Malik el Salih School and then at el Malik el Kamil School, I understood from the religion lesson what separated us. He, Ramiz, Roger, and Basim would leave before the class began, in order to have their religion lesson with Mr. Kemal, the Christian who taught science.

      “I wish I could wake up and find everyone was the same...

    • Chapter 23
      (pp. 99-100)

      I did not understand the reason for the mysterious visit by Maurice—Christine’s uncle—to my father in Mansoura. Communication had come to a stop when the investigations into Christine’s disappearance ended many years before. Even Tante Georgette did not get in touch after Haneen went away, which I was comfortable with as I was afraid they might find out where she was. So, was the reason for Maurice’s visit that he wanted to find out where she was or that he wanted to tell us something to do with Christine?

      The depth of my anger increased as I traveled...

    • Chapter 24
      (pp. 101-104)

      When Rola entered my daily routine a new chapter in my life began. I had already spent two full years in Dubai in intermittent relationships, the longest of which was with Olga, the Russian.

      I first saw Olga in a night club, sitting with a group of girls who appeared, with their revealing clothes and Middle Eastern features with attractive Western touches, to be Lebanese. While I watched the dancers on the dance floor, which was slightly raised above the level of the main area, I stole glances at her, then began staring when I noticed that she was returning...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 105-106)
  10. Translatorsʹ Note
    (pp. 107-108)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 109-110)