Two Gardens in Cairo
Anne Fairbairn AM
Dedicated o the memory of Naguib Mahfouz who believed in tolerance and
Egypt 1915
Each night she wakes on the stroke of twelve.
An oil lamp set high on a wall
In a whitewashed niche is projecting light
…. A pale circle on the ceiling,
Hemmed in by darkness.
Can she hear
Whispering jinns in the empty rooms?
When her husband's walking stick
Tap-taps from the street his arrival home
From wine-soaked hours philandering,
She holds the lamp to light his way
Up the stairs. Drunk, he twists
Her ear and shouts, 'I'm your husband,
The one who commands!' If asked her opinion
She replies, 'My opinion is yours, sir.'
Each day as the sun is slipping away,
She climbs the steps to her roof-garden.

In webbed shadows of hyacinth beans
And jasmine, she trims and waters her herbs,
Glancing from time to time across
Cairo's roofs to the crescents and lamps
On Qala'un and Barquq's minarets.
Below the twisting, restless street
Echoes with the constant chatter
Of donkey carts, cries of vendors,
Beggars' pleas, haggling shoppers,
And the raucous Australians' constant chatter.

Soon these soldiers will fold their tents
And fade from Giza like a mirage.

Many will die on the Dardanelles,
Later, those who survive will ride
Across the desert to claim Damascus
For the Arabs. But peace brings merely
Shattered pledges and loss of trust.

EGYPT 1919
From her garden, beside her son,
She watches a demonstration grow.
Supporters of the revolution
Are gathering around Bayt al-Qadi,
Souk al-Sagha and al-Nahhasin.
As the crowd swells and surges,
People are shouting, ’Sa’d, Sa’d,
Sa’d is free …. Allahu Akbar!’

Her son turns to question her,
‘Do you love Sa’d Pasha our leader?’
‘I love him if you do, my son,’ she says.
‘That doesn’t mean anything ,’ he replies.
He leaves her in her fragrant garden.
‘I’m joining my fellow freedom-fighters
In Ramses Square, against my father’s
Wishes. I must follow my conscience,
The world is so full of blood and grief.

Don’t worry mother today the British
Freed our leader and sanctioned our rally
This is indeed a day of peace!’
From balconies high on minarets,
The muezzins are loudly reciting
Prayers of gratitude;
Some are chanting
‘Oh Husayn, a burden has lifted!’

The vast parade is thrusting forward
To assemble in Ezbekiya Gardens.
While hawks are wheeling in golden light
Above the city, this woman smiles,
‘From today my thoughts are mine,
My son’s rebuke has set me free.’
Staccato bursts, distant yet clear,
Cut across her reverie.
‘Guns?’ She murmurs, ’It cannot be.’

In Ezbekiya Gardens, British
Soldiers are firing at the crowd
Against the prayers against the joy.
Her son lies dying beside his friends.
The towering trees are shimmering;
He sees darkness …. Only darkness.