It was June 2010, Hala, my younger sister, and I sat in the family room sipping hot tea and munching on (Oras) biscuits filled with dates, which she baked especially for me. It was a warm day, but not for Hala. She is always cold and wraps her head with light a wool scarf.
Hala and I lived on a different continent since I left Alexandria in the late sixties. When we met, we reminisced about our childhood, which we never got tired of repeating during my short vacations in Alexandria, Egypt. I became very close to Hala and her four children Soheir, Samiha, Shawki and Sameh after the death of our older sister Rawyia. When Hala developed the debilitating disease Lupus, I committed myself to visit her as often as my busy life in California allowed me, sometimes leaving my sons, Omar and Shareef, behind.
Soheir, Hala’s youngest daughter, walked in breathless, slammed the front door behind her, and with shaking hands, removed the pins holding the silk veil covering her hair. Her hair fell lose on her shoulders like a silk brown shawl. She took off her heel sandals, and tossed them in the corner. Then, picked up a Kleenex tissue from her purse, and before she sat down on the chair facing us, she wiped her tears dry.
Hala, and I looked at each in astonishment. We were used to Soheir ‘s changing mood, and we both learned, during the past twelve years, to live with her sudden outburst of anger. “It’s her hormones.” My sister often said to help herself deal with it.
“They killed him mommy. They did.” She said in a broken voice, then reached for her big canvas purse with decorated with Mickey Mouse smiling face. She pulled out her HP mini Laptop, pressed hard on the power button, and began punching letters on the keyboard.
“The criminals killed Khalid Saiid!” Soheir exploded and got our full attention.
Hala and I faced each in wonder.
“Who is Khalid?” my sister asked and stood up, then picked up her reading glasses lying on top of the still unread ElAhram newspaper on the side table. She squeezed herself on the Louis XIV chair she took with her, as a souvenir, when our parents died in the late 70s. The mini Laptop stole their attention from me.
“Can someone tell me who is Khalid Saiid? Is he our cousin?” I asked in frustration.
Soheir gave me a look of annoyance, and then directed her angry gaze to the mini screen.
“There is no news yet. All my friends are afraid to post it on Facebook. We were all there. We saw everything Mommy.” Soheir spoke again with tears streaming down her face.
“Calm down my dear, and tell us who is Khalid.” Hala took Soheir in her arms and read some verses from the Quran to help her stop shaking. “I will make a hot cup of Yansoon.”
“Thank you Mommy.” Soheir said at the mention of anise tea, but kept her eyes on her laptop.
“Laila, the country is run by Mubarak’s secret police.” Hala’s voice reached us from the kitchen. She, then, walked in the room with two glasses of tea. She handed me one and placed the other one on the coffee table.
“Soheir, drink and calm down.” Hala handed my niece the cup of Yansoon, walked back into the kitchen, and got another glass cup of the steaming tea. She sat on the sofa next to me, took off her reading glasses.
“Was it the secret police that killed Khalid? My conclusion got Soheir’s attention.
“Yes, Tante, they are the ones. Khalid did not do anything. He was playing games on the computer in the Cyber Café down the street. Boys meet there to use the computer. I was passing by with my friends, Sheri and Yasmine, when we saw five men barge into the Cyber café. They dressed in civilian clothes, and asked Khalid for his IDs. When we heard screaming, we stopped to see what was going on. We heard Khalid asking them who they were. Two of the five men lifted Khalid off the chair by his Tshirt. They took turns punching and slapping him on the face, then dragged him out onto the street. “
She went back to her screen, her face fuming with anger “I don’t understand why no one posted the incident yet.”
I kept silent, and tried to understand her incoherent mumbling.
“Laila, did you hear about the ship returning from Haj that sunk with 1500 passengers? They all died. The government helped the man responsible to flee the country. When the people went looking for their lost ones, the secret police killed many of them. The people in Egypt are angry.” Hala, too, voiced her discontent.
I listened with fear and disbelief. My sister and her children never talked about the government. I turned to Soheir, curious to know more about Khalid.
“How did you know Khalid died?” I asked.
“We saw them smash his head on the marble stairs of the apartment building next door. A physician who lived there, came out, checked Khalid’s pulse on the neck, and confirmed his death .”
I handed Soheir the Anis drink to slow down her frantic breathing.
“Where is the young man, now?” my sister asked with a calm voice.
“The secret police took him in their car and drove way.” She sobbed.
Hala turned to me. “This is Egypt now, my dear sister. People live in fear. The country is run by the secret police.” Hala’s voice dripped with sorrow, and her eyes welled with tears.
Soheir broke her silence with a scream. “Here aunty, come and look!” She poked the screen with her pointer finger. Hala and I jumped from our seats, crouched on the Persian rug next to Hala, and glued our eyes to her laptop.
Messages popped on Soheir’s Facebook page like flashing light, Hala and I couldn’t keep up with the pace. She attacked the keyboard with anger jumping from one page to another. All the while, Hala and I watched in silence waiting for her to show us something.
“No photos yet?” Soheir synchronized the words coming out of her mouth with her fingers punching the the keyboard.
Hala glanced at Soheir’s face. Then, back to the screen. I tried to read some words here and there, but failed to decipher the English letters typed in Arabic words. I could not even read the Arabic writing.
“Mommy , many people witnessed the killing, and they are not afraid to post it on facebook.” Soheir sounded proud. She continued looking at Hala who moved to the sofa. “Someone took pictures on his mobile, and he will post it soon.”
“Don’t get involved Soheir. Shawki, your brother, warned you before not to talk politics on the computer with anyone.”
“This is not politics, this is murder.” She banged her fist on the arm of her chair.
“Your mother is right Soheir.” I said to support Hala who looked nervous. But inside, I admired Soheir’s determination to spread news of the crime on facebook.
I got tired staring at the screen, and joined Hala on the sofa. My sister, picked up the remote control from the coffee table and turned on the plasma television. She pressed the channels up and down with shaking hands. “No news anywhere about the incident. Maybe the young man is still alive.”
“No mother, he is dead.”