Adding colour and flavour to life costs 25 piastres. That’s the value of dreams, of clouds, of the ethereal that turns into a sweet liquid between your lips but that was first soft and spongy and looked like a plume of smoke or a summer evening. Happiness can be found in an inflated bag that hides a tiny shred of cotton wool, a strip of heaven, a morsel of snow. But he doesn’t know what snow is. He has dozens of iridescent bubbles hanging from his stick that disappear one by one as the boat comes and goes from the greenhouses and from there to the church and the mosque, with a stop under the bridge.
The children don’t run to greet him because 25 piastres is the price of a happiness they can’t all afford, but there’s always the one time, the first or the last. Moustafa lives near Kasr el-Aini, but every day he takes his little bubbles of happiness, his sweet cotton wool enclosed in bags and makes his way to Dahab island. There, some children see him pass like the bringer of good news they won’t be able to hear except on some holiday. And others greet him with the noisy delight of one who sees a Friday turned into New Year.
On a corner, by the front door, a scrawny bird with big eyes, thinning hair and a look of surprise, naked from the waist down, relieves its sick, liq- uid bowels. Another with a deathly complexion and huge eyes sits by the well and strokes a donkey that’s chewing on some leaves of grass growing between its feet. Moustafa looks at them without seeing them; he’s 15 and is already a man. He’s got to keep his mind on his business. Farther on an old man stops him. He tugs at a couple of bags and drops a coin into his palm.
The geese flutter around him pecking at the bits of plastic that fall to the ground as he goes on his way. And so, one by one, the bags disappear and Moustafa eventually disappears with them. It hasn’t been a bad day and there’s a tinkle in the pocket of his jellabiya. When he gets to the other side of the river he’ll have to decorate his stick with pieces of cloud again and go back on the streets to feed the dreams of anyone watching who can and of those who only imagine what the sweet side of life tastes like.