The Important Thing

Makeen spent the first four days with his eyes closed, letting the sun dribble across him warm and bright and calm. If he twisted left, placed a pillow under his shoulder, the breeze would dry his back and he could stay in that position listening to the sea lap the beach. Yesterday there had been the two-stroke whine of a jet-ski but today nothing. He’d woken before anyone, studied the shoreline as the waves sunk his feet in the sand and then picked out his same chaise from the day before. Row upon row of empty chairs and it was getting harder to find someone to bring room service. The important thing was to adjust himself into the right position, stay there and not feel anything.
“The phones won’t ring,” his son called.

“Yamha my wife?”

“I’m here.”

Makeen reached across what felt an infinite distance, sloshed whatever was left at the bottom of his glass.

“Another?” she asked.


The tumbler lifted from his hand. He sighed back down and waited.

“Did you hear me father? I said the phones won’t ring.”

“Everything is fine Haytham.”

He inhaled the Red Sea. In his mind’s eye hundreds of umbrellas from his former patients streamed down the coast. Fathers strolled past, thanking him for prescribing the salt air. Six days ago he’d paused his stethoscope over a man’s heart, listening to it thud from underneath a scatter of freckles while the man talked about the Brotherhood and Mubarak and how did you know anything. Makeen had fought with the President, shed blood with the man. He’d pressed down hard on the stethoscope and listened to the patient’s heart swell until it had been too much in his ears and now after nearly a week the tinnitus still plagued him.

“How can you say that? How do you know?” Haytham reeked of sunscreen, slathered like some Englishman.

“Did you try your mobile?”

“The mobile is out. The internet is out.”

“What would you have me do, eh?”

“That’s all you’ll say.”

“You’re a smart boy. What would you do? Break your skull against a tank?”

Yamha slipped a cold glass into his hand. He must have left his fingers curled and then there the drink was in the same shape as before. He’d forgotten how thirsty he was from the sun’s mummification and drank the strawberry juice in one slow gulp. Yusriyah giggled from the shoreline, his youngest kicking down minarets and palaces she’d molded in the sand the day before.

“Shukran Yamha.”

“He sits there like some kind of whale, not doing anything.”

“You will speak of your father with respect.”

“I will when he deserves it!”

Makeen’s eyes still closed. A test now, seeing how long he could go. The breeze cloyed at his back, balancing the sun’s heat. The important thing was to lie just right, to not move.

“They said there were tens of thousands in Tahrir Square.”

“Tens of thousands doing what? For what?”

“You were an honorable man once.”

“Honorable men kill and die and then are thrown from office. Remember that when you give history lessons.”

“I will not cower here while my friends fight!”

“You will do what I say and that is final!”

Sand slipped over sand. Haytham drifting away with the rest of the day. Makeen probed the core of himself, considered that he was hungry. Somewhere above a gull taunting.


“He will do as I say Yamha.”

“I think that time is past.”

What was important was to stay safe and preserve what you could. He sighed and listened to the waves lap against the long morning. A radio crackled with Wahab songs that must have been seventy years old. They stirred some memory in Makeen and he smiled, lifting his hand to swing his fingers along with the melody. But in mid-flourish Haytham switched to a faint signal throbbing with urgency. A breathless announcer described clouds of tear gas sickening the crowds, wounded streaming from barricades.

“Put it back.”

“I will not.”

“I am warning you, put it back.”

“This is what you run from old man, coward.”

“Haytham!” Yamha snapped but Makeen had already sat up and it was too late.

He felt heavy, ponderous, his stomach rolling over his lap. The lounge chairs and umbrellas too bright, the sand a white blister and there were his sunglasses on the little wooden table where he’d put them yesterday. Haytham quivered with a boy’s challenge and Makeen swung at him once, twice. Great thumping blows with all his remembered strength. Haytham stumbled back, startled but soon laughing. Makeen had missed, and failed a second and third time. He was old and out of breath and shuffled dumbly through the sand after his son but soon had to slap his hands over his knees and pant.

“You are like all of the old ones. Useless, cruel.” Haytham dripped bare-chested in the sun.

From his crouch Makeen could see Yusriyah skipping among her rubble, laughing against the water’s sparkle. The radio had lost reception and its static screamed into the wounded stillness. His son turned his back and walked the sand toward the empty hotel.

Makeen drew a wheezing breath of salt air and looked for his chair. What could his son know of the future when the boy had no past? He did not yet know that whatever would come would never be as good as before. That it was best to lie still, close your eyes and let the sun wash over you until you no longer felt your exhaustion, your decay. Until there was only the flow of the waves and the gulls and your heartbeat carrying you and everyone else away into the beyond.

Doctors took care of their patients. And the country, the country could burn.

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3 thoughts on “The Important Thing

  1. I like the way you explore the distance between the characters – even something as simple as your line breaking highlights it really effectively.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this, it reminded me of the writing style in books such as Things fall Apart and the God of Small Things, you’re very accomplished and I would love to see more!

  3. Thank you so much for the compliment! There’s more coming soon. I’m adjusting my day job schedule to allow for more writing and I’ll make sure to put you on my announcement list!

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