He has the gaze of a man and hands that don’t belong to him. He seems to have been born already an adult some forty or fifty years ago and lost a few centimetres with each passing decade, recovering the tautness of his skin and the vigour of his legs. If this were the case, he would already know that life isn’t easy and that his fingertips have been toughened by a great deal of work, fingers that have now become those of a child, as he learns everything he should have already known upon being born an adult. It is now, however, that the wisdom of lost innocence hangs from the rips in his galabiyya.
It is now that the low ends have been lifted and the sleeves shortened so that he may wear the same tunics, that he begins to understand everything that would have to come to pass if he were a child. He is suddenly aware of the loves, the wedding, the children, the responsibilities and the hardships, the little work and little food. The misfortunes and sweat and cut,callused hands swirl in his head like bats in a tunnel. Because he couldn’t go to school (nobody would have understood how a seasoned man with a moustache like him should sit with the boys), he learned life the hard way.
Mathematics: today adding up the coins earned from shining shoes, tomorrow the tip he has to give to a policeman so that he may be allowed to sit at a corner and wait for a customer, past the numbers scribbled by a shopkeeper above the cucumbers and spring onions. Literature: he saw the Koran being read in the mosque. He has learned the most important lesson now that he has become a child. How. feeling the force and vigour of an entire life pulsing in his heart, he went out to Tahrir barefoot and defended his own with stones. Other men bigger than him shouted at him, encouraging him as if they really saw him as he was.
Perhaps they believed that for him it was something childish, but he knew what the absence of freedom meant: to be an ignorant and credulous child, an illiterate in the body of an adult and a man worn out from working in a child’s body. If they won, if he was lucky enough to be able to grow in a natural way, like a child who studies and plays and not like a cheap and tireless worker, if he could take advantage of what he now knew and could change everything, perhaps things would go better this time.