The Reveries of a Fatalist
The old man flipped one floating ta’meyya patty after another, and when he finished he threw his pincers to the side of the frying station with a loud clang. He started humming and turned to the young man beside me, a neighbor no doubt who was waiting like me with an empty paper cone in one hand and a bag of hot fuul in the other. The old man motioned comically with his hand like Um Kulthoum, his eyebrows contorting for added effect. He then leaned back, arms flailing like a drunk belly-dancer, singing “Mabalash netkallim fil maady/ Dal maady da
“La Ilaha Illa Lah…matkhallasna ya 3am Yaseen,” said the young guy (for God’s sake, 3amm Yaseen, just get on with it).
The old man picked up his giant ladle-sieve and scooped a dozen patties from the dark crackling oil, carrying them over the counter behind him and depositing them by the sandwich man. He turned back and looked up to notice a smiling middle-aged passer-by coming his way. “Boss akheena da,” he shouted, (this guy, this guy right here,) pointing to the young man, “by2olli La Ilaha Illa lLah!” The visitor chuckled and threw the young man a bemused look.
“Wana3mellak eh ya 3amm Yaseen, manta mokhak fawwett khalaas,” the young guy replied (you’re losing it already, 3amm Yaseen, so don’t be giving me shit).
The old man turned to me, likely drawn by my presumptuously friendly smirk, “da K— omaha!” he snapped, before turning back to the young guy, his eyelids droopy and mouth still agape with the force of ‘omaha’. “K— om el donya di yabni…inta btitkallim f eh?!” (Fuck it, son... to hell with it all…what are you on about!”
The young guy grinned while the old man gave his friend a cool know-what-I'm-saying glance. The other man frowned like a clown, drew a large arc with his hand pointed like a pistol, and poked an assertive column of air hard into the ground, his pistol hand coming back up like a question mark: “taaaab3an yabni,” he said (of course, kid), eyes bulging, “we tedeeeeha bel bolgha 3ala dmagh-ha kamaan” (and smack it with a slipper on its frickin head, too) and then he mimed a vigorous smacking of some short being with a shoe from up high.
3amm Yaseen was back on the ta3meyya, swiping lime-green blobs of batter from a big bowl and tossing them into the hot oil, one after the other, his whole body gyrating with his arm’s back-and-forth. “Boss yabni,” he said (look, son,), “ana lamma dafant abooya tle3t ba3deeha 3al beit wetfaragt 3ala felm,” (when I laid my father to rest I went home afterwards and watched a movie). He then turned to me and added, looking wonderstruck and humbled at the same time, “we tle3t fo2 el dolaab,” (and I climbed on top of the cupboard).
“Tle3t fo2 el dulaab?” I asked, not quite satisfyed with the image of him curled into a ball, perched atop his cupboard grieving. I was, however, totally ready to accept the fact, but still thought it best to confirm what I’d heard.
“Aywa tle3t fo2 el dulaab,” said 3amm Yaseen, his eyes fixed on the froth of boiling oil kicked up by the new batch of ta'meyya.
“Mish fahim…ya3ni eh tle3t fo2 el dulab?” (I don’t understand, what do you mean you climbed on top of the cupboard?)
He looked to his friend and laughed, “maye3rafsh ya3ni eh tle3t fo2 el dulaab,” (he doesn’t know what ‘climb on top of the cupboard’ means), and he looked back at me, adding, “lamma tetgawwiz 7ate3raf,” (you’ll know when you get married). He laughed again as he threw his ladle-sieve onto the floating patties, sinking them deep into the oil. He lifted it, bounced it once against the edge of the pot to clear it of excess oil, and threw it noisily onto the aluminum counter beside him.
Eyebrows raised, I responded in the affirmative: “tle3t fo2 el dulaaaaab...”
“Aaaaaywa,” he said, nodding with a now-we’re-talking grin. The young guy beside me seemed neither interested nor perturbed.
“Ah wallaahi, bakallemak gadd,” he continued, addressing his friend (I swear, man, seriously), “da 7atta M7amma 'Braheem geh w khabbat 3aleyya w2oltelo ‘emshi ana fo2 el dolaab’. 2alli ‘ya ragil 7araam 3aleik dana gayy ba2addi l-waagib, gayy a3azzeek.’ Oltelo ‘motshakereen awi bas ana mish 3ayez ashoof 7ad, ana fo2 el dolaab.’ Ah wallaahi.” (You know, even Mohammed Ibrahim passed by and I told him ‘go away I’m on top of the cupboard’. He said ‘come on, man, I came here to pay my respects’. I said ‘we thank you very much but I don’t want to see anyone, I’m on top of the cupboard.’ I swear, man.”
The ta'meyya was ready and 3amm Yaseen scooped it out and tossed it into the round, perforated aluminum tray. He took a deep breath, exhaled quick and closed his eyes. “Ha... 3ayez bekaam?” (Ok... how many do you want?)
*From a popular old Amr Diab song