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  • from Granada
  • Radwa Ashour (bio)
    Translated by William Granara

Abu Mansour was sitting on the proprietor’s bench in the bathhouse to the right of the front door. He mumbled a response to the two men’s greetings, then pointed to the closet where they kept the clean folded towels. Saad took three towels and followed his master up three steps that lead to the western wing, where he helped him take off his clothes and cover up his nakedness with a loincloth he wrapped around his waist. He carefully folded his master’s clothes and placed them in a large silk garment bag. Then he took off his own clothes except for his drawers and put them into an old sack. He handed both bundles to Abu Mansour, who kept his head bowed down and said nothing

Before entering the bath proper, the master went into the toilet while Saad sat waiting on one of the benches. There were only three other men in the central foyer. Two of them sat on a bench opposite Saad, while the third, a tall, lean man, paced back and forth, crossing the large foyer from the front door to the back door.

Saad was wondering what was wrong with Abu Mansour. He wanted to know if he was sick but didn’t dare ask. It wasn’t like him to sit at the entrance to the bathhouse like all the other bathhouse owners. He would rather have one of his employees sit there and take the customers’ belongings while he would skitter about, shuffling hurriedly from one room to another, bringing soap to a client or a basin to another, or perhaps a loincloth or a towel to whomever asked for one. He would stop to tell an amusing story or crack a joke that would make everyone roar with laughter. He was a portly man in his fifties, or maybe even his forties. He had a ruddy complexion, finely chiseled features, and a smooth, sleek beard. He had a small head and a big paunch that jounced whenever he laughed. But today, he just sat there, sullen-faced, greeting no one and saying nothing.

“Who could be absolutely sure? Who?” Saad looked up and saw the tall thin man passing in front of him, pacing back and forth muttering these words to himself. As he walked he raised his shoulders so high that they almost reached his ears. One of the two men sitting down yelled out to him, “You’re making us dizzy. Why don’t you calm down and sit like everyone else?” But the man paid no attention and kept pacing and muttering to himself.

The inside room of the bathhouse was packed with clients. Some were seated on the tile bench next to the furnace sweating in the thick steam; others went into the pool to purify themselves before bathing. There were men lying down, on their stomachs and on their backs, submitting themselves to a servant or a bath attendant who busily groomed them, massaged them, or simply poured hot water over their heads. All of the men were engaged in some kind of conversation as their voices cut across both ends of the bath. Even those in [End Page 1086] the private rooms for hair-removal contributed to the banter from behind a curtain that shielded the others from their stark nakedness. Saad and his master sat cross-legged in their usual spot next to one of the water heaters. His master stretched out his arms while Saad poured water and lathered the washcloth, then he began to scrub his right hand and arm, then the underarm, before moving over to the left. Someone yelled out: “Abu Jaafar, may God be pleased with you! We don’t have the privilege of choosing one thing or another. It’s our fate! We’re defeated, so how can we choose?”

“We can fight them. I swear by the God of the Kaaba,1 we can fight them,” responded Abu Jaafar.

Saad was following the conversation, straining to listen since he wasn’t able to see who was speaking because he was seated facing his master, and all...


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pp. 1086-1088
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