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The Magic of Turquoise

The Magic of Turquoise

Mai Khaled
Translated by Marwa Elnaggar
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 104
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  • Book Info
    The Magic of Turquoise
    Book Description:

    Was Nirvana’s near-fatal accident at sea simply a case of bad timing, or was it attempted suicide? And what was so important about an unread email that made her jump recklessly into the Mediterranean? As Leila tries to make sense of her aunt’s fate, Nirvana embarks on a journey through memories and secrets. Leila guiltily questions her own fears and failures, bearing the blame of a family that curses the day she was born. Lying in a coma, Nirvana’s story of choices made and roads not taken paint a colorful picture of her struggle against expectations in 1980s Egypt. The two narratives are skillfully woven together to create an intricate story about breaking free from family tradition and the dreams that come back to haunt us. From the sunny beaches of Alexandria to the Bavarian Alps, author Mai Khaled explores the subtleties of family relationships and individual choices.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-208-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Chapter 1 LEILA:
    (pp. 1-4)

    How will I be punished when they find out that I was behind Nirvana’s stroke? She has been floating in a coma after swallowing huge amounts of seawater—water that blocked her lungs and prevented oxygen from reaching her brain. And then there was that unexpected accident: as she was struggling to stay afloat, a renegade jet ski nearby tried to save her and fractured her skull instead, then came back to pick her up after having given her a concussion.

    I am certain that the family will punish me explicitly this time. It won’t only be those looks, empty...

  4. Chapter 2 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 5-8)

    My mind is aware of almost everything going on around me. But my body lies there, completely out of my control. I feel I am in a sterilized room, the scents of ether alcohol and disinfectant mix together. The sharp smells I love are those of acetone, nail polish, and the color turquoise, number 16 in Pébéo’s ceramic colors.

    The jostle of the hospital bed beneath my body says that I’ve moved from the operating theater to a room that’s more peaceful. Nothing interrupts its silence except for the broken hum of medical equipment. It’s a beautiful silence that I’ve...

  5. Chapter 3 LEILA:
    (pp. 9-12)

    I will not burden myself with more than I can bear. Nunu can’t possibly be so stupid as to throw herself into the sea just because I didn’t make the finals in the acting tryouts. She must have had a previous intention to commit suicide. Especially since immediately before she traveled to the coast, she gave me her coloring book, or “the colored days book” as she called it, even though she had repeatedly told me the story of every picture in that book. So why would she give me her past unless she was planning to leave forever? She...

  6. Chapter 4 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 13-20)

    Josef stood with a microphone at the front of the bus, briefing us about the place where we would be staying.

    “The name of our city is Füssen. It’s a small city situated at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. Although the city may be small, you’ll never see anything like its stunning natural scenery, or like the two historic castles that were built on top of Germany’s highest peak, standing at 2600 feet above sea level.”

    The awaited height lifts me bit by bit above last week’s events. I take a deep breath of that fresh air, in anticipation...

  7. Chapter 5 LEILA:
    (pp. 21-28)

    No. I’m not completely innocent of Nunu’s desire to end her life. For what could it mean for her to make the day her life ends fall on my birthday? Why would she choose September 7 out of all other days to commemorate a painful memory? Or is she trying to send a certain message?

    “Everything has a beginning and an end, and we have two beginnings, and we will keep being reborn until the day we die.” This was your saying, Nunu, and your deeply held belief.

    Our first beginning was on a day like this, on the day...

  8. Chapter 6 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 29-32)

    The coma rocks me left and right as if I was traveling on a bumpy road. It sluggishly takes me higher and higher, then it suddenly stops. Will it abandon me and throw me back into the world of consciousness so quickly?

    No. Those were the brakes of the bus in front of the youth hostel, the only object on top of the highest peak of the Bavarian Alps.

    Those two hours we spent on Romantic Road were like a dream, a state quite like the coma that is giving me so much pleasure right now. The first dream was...

  9. Chapter 7 LEILA:
    (pp. 33-38)

    ‘Nirvana.’ They say that everyone’s name plays a part in their destiny. But yours didn’t. You didn’t like your name because it sounded strange to people during your childhood. You would have to repeat it several times when a teacher or shopkeeper who was trying to get on your mother’s good side asked you. You would say, “Nirvana.”

    She would reply: “Neveen?”

    You repeated: “Niiiirvaaaaana.”

    So she would reply: “Nevana?”

    You also had reservations about the meaning, as it referred to that state when a person becomes free from their body and desires and reaches the highest levels of spiritual...

  10. Chapter 8 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 39-42)

    I discovered his name was Muhannad from that road-trip song I was hearing for the first time. He kept singing it in the restaurant where we would have breakfast.

    “Nice, but a little noisy. I only want a little quiet.”

    The noise and laughter that accompanied his singing were completely at odds with the soft piano music that played out of small speakers at the head of each bed at exactly 7 a.m. so that we could wake up and be in the restaurant by 7:30. The noise was also at odds with the serene scene behind the glass wall....

  11. Chapter 9 LEILA:
    (pp. 43-48)

    What does it mean when a girl gets irritable bowel syndrome just one month before her wedding?

    Nunu told me that this was the beginning of her chronic journey with that sensitive colon. It revolts against her when she insists on silence or on keeping the peace, which her mother, grandmothers, and school nuns taught her were signs of good manners. Her colon pokes her and announces its rebellion by creating a center of pain in her guts.

    And what does it mean when a bride asks to meet her husband-to-be away from the house to swear upon all that...

  12. Chapter 10 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 49-52)


    A voice whispers in my ears, and it’s as if someone wants to wake me from the coma. I don’t want to wake up now. Please go away!

    It is his voice. Muhannad’s voice, when he whispered to me for the first time on that Bavarian day, saying that strange name.

    “I will call you Zakazeeko because you are so smart. And it wouldn’t do that someone named Nirvana be named Zakiya. That’s too huge a leap!”

    The hiking group gathers behind Josef, to start our walk through narrow rough paths between the green hills and azure Alps. Today’s...

  13. Chapter 11 LEILA:
    (pp. 53-56)

    A clear mind leads us to the light of truth. And this agitation that wraps around me may have a negative effect on you and make your condition worse. For ever since our souls met, each of us has entered the other’s magnetic field, wandering in it and influencing the other. So whenever you were upset about some problem between Tarek and Mazen, for example, I couldn’t focus and ended up getting bad grades on my final exam.

    And whenever someone compliments my performance and makes me feel better about myself, I find you calling me and saying that you...

  14. Chapter 12 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 57-64)

    What’s wrong, coma? Why have you become disturbed all of a sudden? I liked it when you chose one face and repeated it in different scenes. I would be comfortable living again in that unique house, alone on the highest peak of the Alps.

    What brought the faces of Sister Marie-Therese and Tarek and Nana Amena and Nana Ro’ya? If you have to include all those in your soft scenes, then I beg you to wait a little and prolong the scenes with Muhannad.

    A free day in Füssen after a visit to a doctor’s clinic to do the necessary...

  15. Chapter 13 LEILA:
    (pp. 65-68)

    The fifth pace: black—white—red. And a gold spot in the middle.

    I asked her: “What is this? Egypt’s flag?”

    She replied: “No, these are your grandmothers. The grandmothers you don’t know.” More than five or six grandmothers are really just two real grandmothers and the rest are their sisters and some of their aunts. They all wear the same clothes: black. They wear them inside the house, outside, and maybe even their underwear is black. They all wrap themselves in blackness for the same reason: the absence of a husband.

    Nunu never saw even one grandfather. They all...

  16. Chapter 14 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 69-72)

    The coma swings with me, as if I was a liquid in a huge glass. Oktoberfest, the German festival for beer. Huge beer glasses with handles, filled with the yellow liquid, its foam spilling over the sides onto the hands of all the customers of the cafes scattered all over Munich. The music of a brass folk band is loud as it passes by us in Marina Plaza and drowns out our voices.

    It seems that the preparations for the festival have started, even though we are still at the end of August. I take a picture of Amena and...

  17. Chapter 15 LEILA:
    (pp. 73-78)

    Is it because Nunu knows that strange characteristic that makes me unique, that I can immediately grasp the meaning of difficult symbols, while at the same time struggle with the simplest things? Did you make this abstract page a lesson and beacon to open up my sight, even though it’s only lines of black, white, red, and gold?

    Nunu told me that story when she was confused by its heroes, something that made me happy later, because for the first time, I was going to explain to Nunu what was difficult for her. This was after I started galloping with...

  18. Chapter 16 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 79-82)

    Has the coma taken me to my final resting place? Have I entered heaven the way I’ve always wanted, without being taken to account? I can almost smell its scent: rest, ease, and gardens of bliss.

    No, not yet. It’s the Hohenschwangau Castle (the high Swan City castle). It was the home of a family of knights, and then in the nineteenth century, it became the summer home of the royal family. The breathtaking scene it overlooks has me under its spell. I feel a familiarity as we walk beside the Lech river that runs from Austria and through Füssen...

  19. Chapter 17 LEILA:
    (pp. 83-88)

    It was definitely not the flag of egypt, but as the colors and lines of flags bear the symbols and events that formed the history and being of a country, so was this abstract page, the final one in Nunu’s childhood sketchbook.

    It wasn’t the last page in the sketchbook, for she had left many pages after it empty, even though she lived through many events over the long years.

    Black . . . red . . . white . . . and a gold spot. Those were the colors of the single horn in the center of the forehead...

  20. Chapter 18 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 89-90)

    The time I got that phone call after midnight wasn’t appropriate. Ghada, one of the girls in the Egyptian delegation whom I befriended after our return from Füssen, called me to tell me that Mrs. Amina’s brother had died, and that the mourning gathering would be held the next day in the big house, the house of her older brother, Muhannad’s father.

    The ringing of the phone alarmed me, for Tarek was out on one of his shifts, and I was worried because he never called me from work. The ringing also woke Mazen, after I had spent so much...

  21. Chapter 19 LEILA:
    (pp. 91-94)

    I asked you why you hadn’t continued to draw and color, and left the rest of the pages of the sketchbook blank. Did your days become so identical that you couldn’t even bestow a colored dot on its deserted pages?

    You replied that the sketchbook belonged to a certain time: the time of the Sporting apartment with its terrors and laughter and colors. And with the death of Nana Ro’ya, the family fell apart, like beads from a broken necklace, each to a different summer destination: Marsa Matruh, Ras al-Bar, Port Said, Arish.

    The era of large apartments that needed...

  22. Chapter 20 NIRVANA:
    (pp. 95-98)

    I feel I am ascending, and once again, getting close to the surface. It seems, coma, that you weren’t caused by drowning asphyxiation. You were caused by the concussion I got when the jet ski hit my head.

    So it seems I will be bidding you farewell after a few hours and will return to them and joyfully embrace them. Yes, I will embrace them because I have started to accept them as they are, with their noise and the things that never change, because I have finally forgiven myself. I dove into my box of colors and emerged to...

  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 99-102)