MOHAMED EL-BISATIE (1937-2012)
Denys Johnson-Davies shared his tribute to El-Bisatie, which asks:
“How was it that I came to add El-Bisatie’s name to the short list I already had of writers whose work should never be passed by unread? Was there any particular story by him, which converted me, or did I gradually decide that here was a writer who should not be ignored?
“As it happens there was one particular story that told me that here was a writer who demanded attention. I remember coming across the story in some magazine or other. Normally, perhaps, I would have ignored it, seeing that it was not printed in one of the well-known literary journals and was not by a writer known to me. I remember that the title of the story was ‘A Conversation from the Third Floor’ and it opens with a scene of a woman being stared at by a policeman close by who is seated on a horse.
“Slowly it emerges that the woman has come with her young child to visit someone in the large building in front of which the policeman is standing. She is worried about the presence of the policeman, but explains, hesitantly, that she has come to visit her husband, who inhabits this large building which, we learn, is a prison that is about to be pulled down…
“Suddenly a face appears at one of the windows and a voice calls out to her. It asks her whether she has pruned the two date palms. He then asks her whether, as requested by him, she has brought the cigarettes he wants. It seems she has brought him the cigarettes but, somehow, two of the packages have been mislaid. The man says it doesn’t matter that two packages have disappeared. He then tells her he is being transferred to some other prison. He’ll tell her when he knows. For the time being she shouldn’t come back to this building. She takes a last glance at the prison window but there’s no face there any longer and then she passes by the policeman; his eyes are closed and his hands are holding the pommel of the saddle, as she makes her way along the narrow passageway towards the main road.
“And so the story ends.
“As I wrote in the introduction I did for the book of his short stories that I published under the title A Last Glass of Tea: ‘While there is drama in his stories it is never highlighted: The menace lurks almost unseen between the lines.”
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