“Oh it’s just that old man with his camels,” the obese woman waved her hand as if making to erase the old man’s existence, “always sitting, as silent as the camels on the wall.” She ushered her equally insufferable friend as far away from the old man sitting on the bench as possible.
The old man sat there in silence, if he had heard her outburst he was not visibly phased by it. His back hunched down using the flimsy cane in his right hand to support his weight. It was as if the heaviness of the world weighed down on him. His fedora adds to the shadows on his face, seemingly to hide him more. He stares at the doors of Souq Al-Manakh, with its entrance ushering camels sitting majestically in profile.
“Hey Sabikah, I see you’ve brought a new friend to ogle at the spectacle of the man with the camels,” snorted the man that was leaning on the wall adjacent to the bench. Sabikah, the obese woman, looked on to the leaning man with a look of disgust, urgently tugging her friend along.
The friend lagged behind with faltering steps, “what’s his story?” her tone piqued with interest, much to Sabikah’s disapproval.
Seizing the opportunity of having a willing audience the leaning man pushed off the wall and closed in on his prey. “He spends all his days and nights staring at those camels, waiting for the so-called ‘giants’. ”
“Giants?” the friend questioned.
“When he was a little boy his father used to work at Manakh during its heyday. As a single parent with a sickly child, his father had no choice but to bring the boy along to work.”
Sabikah finally decided to take matters into her own hands, “being surrounded by all that spectacle, he must’ve wanted to get people’s attention. Making up farfetched stories of being kidnapped by giants and passageways into the Giant realm through Derwazat AbdelRazzaq.”
At that moment a small girl with her mother pass by on the other side of the street, out of earshot of the gang of nonbelievers, a look of eagerness on the little girl’s face.
“There’s that man again mommy! Tell me more of his story!”
“So where did we reach last time? Oh, I know.” The mother looked down lovingly at her excited daughter.
“He had grown accustomed to the souk, having tagged along on countless occasions with his father as he went about his workday. The tiny boy was always in awe at the hushed secret conversations that grew ever louder as more and more people chimed in. The place was never empty during the mornings. There was always someone yelling at the top of his lungs, with people hovering around him completely engrossed in what he had to say. The people were exuberantly dressed, gems and diamonds practically dripping off them. Manakh buzzed with its inhabitants, the camels on the walls appeared to be mirroring everyone’s excitement, dazzling passersby with their beauty and what prospects they held for everyone’s future. There was one thing that was on everyone’s mind. Money. It was always “money” this and “money” that, and yet the boy never saw the precious money that was on everyone’s tongues.”
“Finally, one day the little boy decided to embark on his mission to find the infamous ‘money’ that all the adults were so hellbent on making.” The mother’s tone took that of a storyteller, with a whimsical, airy voice pulling the little girl into her story more and more.
“The boy roamed around the center of the building in the dead of night. The endless camels on the walls his only companions as he was surrounded by padlocked and shut doors, no money whatsoever to be found. The place was eerily dark, the interior lights were haphazardly spaced and not all were lit. The only major source of light was the moon that shone down the skylight. And then suddenly even that was put out.”
The little girl gasped openly, anticipating the next developments in the story.
“He looked up and was met by an unexpected sight. Up there beyond the skylight, a colossal eye peered down. There was a giant on top of Souk Al-Manakh,” the mother paused for impact torturing her daughter for a moment longer, “the child was terrified, losing all feeling in his legs, he was trapped under the mercy of the creature above him. The giant was the first one to make his move. With a thrust he broke the skylight, the shattered glass not even grazing his thick skin, forcing his hand through. As he reached down, his gigantic hand slowly grew bigger and bigger as it got closer to the trembling child below. Finally plucking him up, off the cold ground and into his clutches, dwarfing him with his massive fingers.”
On the opposite end of the road, we return to Sabikah and her friend with a curiosity not of pure intent.
“For a long while he kept saying something about being taken by a giant to Derwazat Abdulrazzaq. Claiming that the giant had to take him away for having ‘seen too much'. The Derwaza was the gateway, he insisted, the water fountains would make the portal that they had walked through. It was, according to him, a door of rippling water into Giant Land.” Sabikah’s voice spat the words mockingly, every syllable laced with menace and sarcasm.
“I heard that he used to spend the days of his youth trekking daily to the Derwaza in hopes of going back. With age, his frail body couldn’t take him that far anymore so he made due with simply sitting here, across Souq Al-Manakh,” the leaning man took Sabikah’s moment of silence to jump back into the conversation.
The mother continued her story to her keen daughter, making a believer out of her, “and in the giant land the little boy met eight giants in total, each one more of a spectacle than the other.”
“Mama you said that there were eight Frsan Al-Manakh also, right?”
The mother nodded as if acknowledging an implied truth, one that wasn’t apparent to the little girl. The duo walked up to the threesome who’s loud voices reached obnoxious decibels forcing the mother to halt her storytelling session and divert her daughter away.
Sabikah continued, invigorated by the concept of malicious gossip, “his poor father. There was no doctor he hadn’t seen in hopes of making sense of what had befallen his son. He’ll get over it with age they’d told him, if only he’d see him now. Still sitting here, beating that damn story to death.”
“I don’t know, it all seems kind of sad,” her friend said with an overexaggerated sympathetic tone, fluttering her lashes at the leaning man in a sad attempt to flirt.
And so there sits the old man admiring his camel companions. Oblivious to his surroundings. He sits, reminiscing about his young and vivacious days. Days he had spent in the once equally alive Manakh. Now the emptiness of the place echoes the emptiness of his heart.