Maha and Noha


Maha and Noha ran up and down the streets from El Hussein into Abassaya, pressing their small faces into the windows of passenger-filled cars, looking for spare change to buy food. One girl, five years old, the other only 6 years of age, their dirty hands, feet, clothes and torn sandals soaked in Cairo’s heavy lead and smog-filled air which masked the afternoon’s busy horizon with a black screen of smoky fumes streaming from exhaust pipes. Maha could only run so fast and far due to her heavy weight, but Noha could outrun any moving vehicle. So, occasionally, Maha would take a rest while Noha chased after any car reeking of wealth, which she measured quickly by veiled women heavily loaded with gold bracelets, rings, and necklaces that sparkled in the sunlight.

The two girls represent the poor youth of Egypt, where fighting for survival in Cairo’s tension-laced streets makes their aggressive dawn to dusk hustling the daily norm. Maha’s only aim was to feed her hungry stomach, and save some coins to buy her dying grandfather a pair of flip-flops because someone had stolen his beaten shoes from the Mosque one day during prayer. Noha dreamed of becoming like those women she would spot in long luxury cars or taxis; lounging in the backseats carrying Italian leather handbags and coiffured hair.

Their days were long and their breaks were very short. However, after each sunset, both girls would count their remaining pennies as they shared their last meal for the day together. After dinner, Maha and Noha would play together like sisters in the back streets of El Batanaya, while happily exchanging their dreams with one another for a brighter tomorrow.

One day, a year later, a taxi passed by Abassaya and rolled under the bridge towards El Hussein, and a little girl with dirt all over her face, dragged her right foot to greet the passenger in the back of a taxi. “I want to eat. May God bless you for a few pennies to spare,” Noha sadly muttered, while trying to hide the pain piercing through her right leg like a bolt of lightning. The woman in the back seat rummaged through her pockets and purse looking for loose change, while the taxi driver asked the girl in a tone of familiarity, “And where is your friend, the fat girl you are always running with?”

“She died,” the girl replied.
“Died how?” asked the driver.
“Tahrir Square.” Noha said softly.

An immediate uncomfortable silence overtook the taxi, and the woman in the back seat pulled out two-hundred Egyptian pounds and handed it to the girl. Noha took the money, gently nodded her head, then turned away without a smile.

–Suzy Kassem

Copyright 2012, Suzy Kassem. All rights reserved.

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