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Over the Bridge

Over the Bridge

Mohamed El-Bisatie
Translated by Nancy Roberts
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Over the Bridge
    Book Description:

    Forging documents in an Egyptian government office, a bureaucrat ‘authorizes’ a police department for a nonexistent city in Upper Egypt in order to siphon off its monthly payroll. But beyond simply embezzling funds, he sets about imagining in detail the fictional city he has created—the wealthy new district with its villas and swimming pools, the restless inhabitants of the poverty-stricken old quarter, and the Nile bridge that links the two. Most of all, he pictures the cruelty and corruption of the city’s chief of police. But the longer he spends envisioning this city and its inhabitants, the more the boundaries between the real world and his imagination dissolve. With its overlapping narratives, Over the Bridge is a subtle critique of governmental ineptness, economic and social injustice, and individual moral failings. In Mohamed El-Bisatie’s hands, the human drive to create, and to control one’s own and others’ destinies, is invariably turned on its head, while attempts to do good frequently end up causing harm instead. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the bureaucrat’s elaborate illusion begins, gradually but relentlessly, to take on a reality and momentum of its own and, by the conclusion of the tale, reveals itself as having contained the seeds of its creator’s demise. Intriguing and surprising, Over the Bridge is a compelling allegory about power and its abuse, the thin line between reality and make-believe, and the law of unintended consequences.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-196-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Chapter 1
    (pp. 3-8)

    When had the idea come to him?

    It may have occurred to him some time hack, but without his paying any attention to it. It would flash through his mind, then disappear. Then in a moment, it materialized. He’d been looking askance at it, not wanting to give it any serious thought just yet. He’d preferred to keep it at a distance for a while.

    He took leave of his rooftop quarters at the same time he did every day—7:00 a.m. Before descending the stairs, he cast a glance around the spacious roof. Some of the neighbors might throw...

  4. Chapter 2
    (pp. 9-18)

    It was Friday evening and he had finished preparing the needed paperwork. He stood leaning against the rooftop wall and looking out at the horizon, which was tinted with the reddish glow of twilight. He tried to picture this city of his that had just come into existence. It would be on both banks of the Nile. Khaldiya. A nice name. And the police station would be white. Two stories. An old villa that had been remodeled and rented out, its rent to be paid once a year. How much would the rent be? He’d think about that later. The...

  5. Chapter 3
    (pp. 19-22)

    He went out.

    He hadn’t been to the coffee shop for two weeks, so he said to himself: I’ll take a walk and see people.

    He had a small ebony cane that He’d bought from a street vendor a long time before, then forgotten. He happened to spy it under the bed, so he slipped it under his arm.

    He took a seat in his corner of the coffee shop. Not long afterward Younis came in, happy with himself and the world.

    “You finally came!” he shouted jubilantly. “I’d been wondering where you went.”

    Younis took his right hand in...

  6. Chapter 4
    (pp. 23-36)

    He ate his dinner standing up, looking at the model.

    And now, Mr. Inspector, you’re going to do some work. You have a car. However, I’d like to see you on horseback. The horse is black. According to your rules, the inspector doesn’t go out on patrol. The lieutenant does that. You’ll issue orders for there to be two patrols, one of which will be under your command. I’m not inclined to make you kind or compassionate. Not even your appearance will give that impression: pointed features, a beak-like nose, and shoulders that are hunched as though you were getting...

  7. Chapter 5
    (pp. 37-48)

    It’s early morning. The station entranceway has just been washed down and water is dripping off the sides of the steps. You come in hurriedly and, without stopping, ask about the investigations assistant.

    You’re told that he’s waiting for you in your office.

    He rises to meet you. You set your cap and baton on a small table and ask him, “Have you prepared the force?”

    “Everything’s all set.”

    “Where is it?”

    “It’s buried beside a tree in the park.”

    “But the irrigation water may have seeped into it.”

    “It’s wrapped in several plastic bags inside a tin box.”


  8. Chapter 6
    (pp. 49-58)

    She ravished him!

    He raised his eyebrows slightly the way he did whenever he was taken aback.

    It was Friday his day off, and he slept in for a long time. The sun was bright and warm.

    If only he could see her again . . .

    He turned toward the model. A subtle smile appeared at the corners of his mouth, then vanished.

    She wasn’t more than sixteen years old. She wore her hair in a black braid that was slender like her neck. She stood concealed in a dark corner, watching the boy as he sat on the...

  9. Chapter 7
    (pp. 59-76)

    He stood on the bridge looking out at the river, leaning his elbows on the railing.

    He’d taken a tour of the old quarter. He lingered in the streets and alleyways and ventured into the congested markets, where he found the women to be the fiercest bargainers. Here and there scuffles would break out and reach their climax: fistfights and the tearing of clothes—then die down again of their own accord. Half-naked children ran around in a flock, making their way through the press of legs. Drawn to the small puddles in the market, they went around imitating the...

  10. Chapter 8
    (pp. 77-80)

    He paced the room back and forth. He paused in front of the model and examined it for a moment, then resumed his pacing. Something wasn’t to his liking. His brow furrowed and his hands behind his back, he stepped back from the model, then looked at it again. He hadn’t intended for things to go this way, and when He’d been getting the model ready, he had wanted events that would lead to rewards and bonuses. But now, he couldn’t picture the places and movement in the way he wanted to. Instead, he was taken unawares by people and...

  11. Chapter 9
    (pp. 81-98)

    You see her again. The place is the same: in front of the station. She’s wearing her long black jilbab, and the black veil on her head has slipped back, revealing some of her hair, one side of her neck, one of her ears and a gold earring that glistens as the light reflects off it. It’s as if the scene is repeating itself, with the same opentoed shoes and painted toenails. This time, however, she raises a foot onto the first step. As you approach from the darkness, you don’t take your eyes off her for a second. In...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 99-100)