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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thy Neighbour's 504

The garage was packed with cars and the old man led me to a makeshift slot on the exit ramp. His steps were jittery and gestured me to wait and then squeezed himself between the front of my car and the back of a parked Peugot 504, staring at me as he put his back side to the car and leaned with all his weight. The car was not moving, but it was meant to be, and knowing this relieved our eye-to-eye of some awkwardness. Sure enough, the car eventually budged, but veered sharply to the left. He got up and walked towards his little station some meters behind where we were, muttering something about a key and getting in trouble as he passed my window. He returned with a small keychain and stooped at the 504’s drivers’-side door and in the dim light I could see him poke into the door handle, shake his head, shake the keychain and poke the other key into and around the chrome strip. He repeated the process shaking and cursing before finally giving up and walking towards me, holding the keychain before him, indicating me to take care of the situation myself. I got out and gently swung my door back into its slot, the soft rattle of cassette tapes, lighters and Halls mints ringing through the breezy hall. “Khosh e3delha enta layeegi yesawwatlena sa7ebha; e3del el 3agal wetalla3ha oddam.” (You get in and park it properly lest the owner give us hell; make the wheels straight and bring it forward.)

The car was in good condition, the paint job seemed recent and the fittings on the outside looked neat. It had two license plates, one was Malaaki El Fayuum and the other an EU plate. I walked over and noticed the key-slot about an inch below the door handle. I tried one of the two keys and it didn’t seem to fit. Examining the other key, I realised the keychain was one of those remote locking/unlocking devices. On it was printed a tiny open padlock and when I pressed the corresponding rubber stub the car came to life, as might a modest lady stepping into a Marilyn Monroe upward gust of air. Its front and tail lights flashed orange and its cabin filled with a flash of blue and the plastic whack of unlocking doors pierced the ‘peep peep’ trumpet-like horn, a sound so shrill on noisy streets but somehow majestic in calm concrete rooms. I got in and gently pulled the door shut and felt around the left side of the steering column, having recalled the various wrong-way-round controls of my grandfather’s old pastel-blue beauty. I found the slot and inserted the smallish key, twisting it backwards not forwards. There followed two raspy coughs and a soft rumble.

I took a moment to feel the car and looked at the gear stick to check the reverse-gear position. The car smelled good. There were no hints of grease, cigarette smoke or leaked petrol. It smelled wholesome and had that subtle perfume of very clean unperfumed skin. It somehow smelled of good people, people who cared and took care and favored freshness over syrupy accessorising. The velvety beige upholstery was spotless and looked new. There was no dog-eared battered tissue box, no cassette cases or sooty crumpled tissues, chocolate wrappers, screwdrivers, wiping cloths or water bottles. Only a dark jacket on the back seat and a single folded white piece of paper on the dash board. On the top passenger-side corner of the windscreen was a Judiciary sticker (scales in a circle with two diagonal stripes, one red and one green) and a Police one (el nesr, the eagle from the national flag), the latter looking fake like the kind sold in accessory shops.

I eased my foot off the clutch and let the car roll back till it came parallel with the wall. I shifted gear and brought it forward, gently pulling on the ribbed right side of the steering wheel to leave things aligned and neat.

My late grandfather had tired of driving just months after buying the 504, and I grew up knowing it simply as that car we used for long trips. It enjoyed a similar respect to the sort my grandfather commanded as patriarch of our very small clan, what with its sensible, reliable machinery and modest jowly look. In time, I too came to use it when there was no other car for an errand. It felt like boat to drive, like it wasn’t actually on the street but tethered to it, floating a foot above on rushing water. It also had a wood-like feel—a firm suppleness, slow spirit and warmth.

I stepped out and locked the car and walked over to mine, got in and moved it some feet forward. I locked the door and walked off but stopped when I realized I’d forgotten to leave my key with the old man. “Ah! Ma3lesh, neseit khales adeek el mofta7,” (Oops, I totally forgot about leaving you the key).

“Ya beih walla yhemmak, di 3arabeeti,” he said (oh, don’t worry, I treat it as my own).

5 Comments:

  • u are in love with this 504, aren't you?
    i sense that your car is completely the opposite of the prviously mentioned in cleaness i mean or am i wrong?

    By Blogger nmoustafa, at Wed Mar 22, 02:44:00 PM GMT+2  

  • the fucker has a renault cleo model 96, laze2 3aleha sticker mazda asfar fi borto2any. Anyways, eih yad al bedan dah. inta ba2et betiktib lilkitaba walla lilkottab? ommak filrida3a

    By Anonymous akhook fildarb, at Wed Mar 22, 07:58:00 PM GMT+2  

  • akhooya fil darb. mabda2eyya ana mitbarri mennak. so2alak 3an el kitaba wilkottab interesting shwayya welafat nazari beshakl mofeed. but i think the distinction isn't that clear aslan. ana bakteb lelketaba, wel kottab byemasselo certain technical standards that guide el ketaba. fa on one hand ana momken amasheeha lat w dardasha bas that doesn't work for me. i find it important to work on (and with) form. maybe that's why you feel kitabti lelkottab. bas waade7 min kalaamak 3al sticker ennak mish up to date, we ennak mil shabab elli mabyes2aloosh. bas eshta, rabbena yehdeek.

    nmoustafa. not in love with the 504. a little enchanted maybe but not in love. my car is messy yes, but not totally the opposite of the previously mentioned cleanliness. cleanliness is nice period and it made being in a strangers car all the more pleasant.

    By Blogger Gayyash, at Mon Mar 27, 11:03:00 AM GMT+2  

  • Interesting comment of cleanliness making the car of a stranger nicer to be in---what does this tell us of our responsibility to strangers entering our lives in general?

    By Anonymous um Rebecca, at Tue Mar 28, 08:29:00 PM GMT+2  

  • hhmmmmm

    By Blogger oyzz, at Wed Mar 29, 04:09:00 PM GMT+2  

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