The view from the street

In the small ‘Ahwa’ near the meeting of Shari’ Mobtadayan and el-Qasr el-Ainy, you can become part of the furniture.

The chairs are recklessly stacked on top of one another, propped up by the sturdy steel body of the smouldering coal store.  They are anxious for a customer of their own to come and put them to use, so that they no longer feel like the odd piece of rubbish which Nasser – the owner – throws to the street; not caring when or by whom it will be swept up.  They stand there, idle.  Boasting to each other about who they have served here yet at the same time quietly pondering the fidelity of their masters to their cause.  By the wall, the odd couple are glad of their freedom.  The relative comfort of their silk upholstery guarantees them a place in society even without the need for their subjugation.  Their superiority, you would think, would distress the commoners; but despite their angst they are still able to find a sense of validity by clinging to the newly-laid ceramic floor, lightly littered by the odd leaf of tobacco and stray bottle cap.  They have lived a good life, the stains of which are visible in the small cracks lining the rim of their torsos; just as the first unwanted wrinkle claims its place on the face of the middle-aged mother.  They resist growing old.  Of course, they still have half of their lives ahead of them – but these wrinkles are the first frosts of their winter.  No longer will they receive the same lustful looks from the fatigued Kiosk owner, impatient for respite from his dull routine.  The journalist, sporting his custom-made suit will search for a younger, more attractive model to which to dedicate his custom.  Yes, these chairs have seen the best of their lives.  Their heyday now but a distant nostalgia which they are not quite prepared to fully surrender to the past.

Arrogantly looking on, two rows of shisha pipes are secure in their places.  Nasser – albeit through necessity – tends to their every need as though they were his daughters.  After every use their lungs are cleared and new water poured in; their long, carefully made-up limbs sinuously wrapped around their bodies.  They are the reason for the Ahwa’s existence.  Old men come, coughing and spluttering, craving their next fix; and although the pipes may not be in the correct mental disposition to be used, they are aware that they have no choice in the matter and must therefore desensitise themselves to every unwelcome touch, each insensitive drag on their delicate and dainty parts so that the customer leaves satisfied and wanting to return.  They may rather be purchased directly from their mass-produced workshops of the souq, for one faithful owner to proudly display them on some far-off mantelpiece as a loving souvenir of the east; but they are here, part of a well-oiled system of exploitation, their ornate beauty and individual temperaments overlooked, condemned to slavery in this brutal bordello of testosterone and vice.

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