Egypt, or How I Lost Hope by A. N. Gretly

​On the 2nd of January 2017, I watched ‘The Square’ for the first time on Netflix. It has been available for viewing since its release in 2013, but I could not bring myself to go through the process of revisiting these scenes again. Part of this was due to not wanting to see the devastatingly graphical images which have already been engraved in my brain for years. On the other hand, I did not want to be reminded of the utter hope we have experienced after the events that occured. 

I try not to think about it as much as I can, but the colossal clusterfuck that is the current state of the country forces one to revisit these events. When I brood upon it, I am often faced with flashes of images intermixed with single words. Images of smoke, blood, and grieving faces. Words such as corruption, justice, and greed. But most of all, where ever I stroll amidst all these thoughts, the word ‘Hope’ buzzes on and off in neon lights. Hope of a better tomorrow. Hope that it all meant something. Hope that it made any sort of difference. Hope that given the climate at the time, we could have started a cultural revelation as well as a political one. I can still remember the sensation of all the creative juices rushing through my veins, and exploding inside my head. However, as months went by, the hope began to ebb, and a sensation of nausea bubbled up in my guts. A deep, deep dread hovered around us like toxic fumes. 

In 2014, I left Egypt to study for my Masters degree, but the real reason behind leaving for Scotland was that I could not handle Cairo anymore. Do not get me wrong, it was not the political situation or the lies or ignorance that got me, it was the complete and utter loss of hope. It was lost hope and witnessing a nation sinking back into its old habits of acceptance, of compliance, and of being delusional. I could not stand watching an entire country deciding to revisit its own “Animal Farm” while knowing what happened to its residents. Going back to the culture of “Napoleon is always right” and “Snowball did it”. 

I spent a year away from home, and when I returned, it was home no more. There was a shift. Everything looked the same, but felt completely different. The places, the faces, the sounds. It was corrupt. It was tampered with. It was rotten. But Napoleon was still right, and Snowball was still to blame. The economy went to shit, the rich were getting richer and the poor were poorer than ever. Same old same old, nothing new there, move along, folks. It was a tame Orwellian nightmare veering on full night terror, so I left yet again. 

I am well aware that running away is not the answer, and I am angered by those who believe that being outside of Egypt is the solution. In many ways, I did not choose to leave my family and friends and land, in many ways, I was forced out. I was forced out because they have taken my hopes and dreams. You see, that’s what they do, they always hit you right in the hope. And when hope dies, there is no room for dreams. I realize that now. They can take everything from you, but it’s when they take your hope, every last bit of it, that’s when you are truly lost. 

Watching this film reminded me of my lost hope, it reminded me of that euphoric sensation of peak creativity. I have no hope in the current government, but I believe that at some point, the people will come out of their daze and remember. Remember. Remember everything. I love my country, but I DO NOT love Big Brother.

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Epilogue, or the Bear, the Wolf, and the Man In the Long Black Coat by A. N. Gretly

​It all comes down to the three; the Bear, the Wolf, and the Man In the Long Black Coat. I have thought about it time and time again, during periods of deep brooding as a result of constant insomnia, or bouts of loneliness. This constant battle of the mind, thoughts that run and hide, shivering or in shellshock. Paralysed by the actions of the enemy. Those sly buggers that undergo guerrilla warfare against the innocent and the docile. And I hereby call the security council for a vote that would decide the fate of my humanity. And I hereby elect myself as head of said council. And I hereby unanimously vote for an immediate ceasefire.  And I hereby vote to veto said vote. And I hereby vote for the ending of this council, for I am the enemy.
I sit back and watch it all go to hell.

“He was the Bear King,” I thought “And now look at him!”

I can see blisters on the fabric of this endless night. I can see stretchmarks on my old soul. I howl at the moon as I grind ancient books into a fine powder. I am king and beggar. But then again, what is the point of knowing that the story has already been written. Let them put down their pens, let the ink dry. Let those who are lost wander, tonight and forever. This infinite forest of the mind. The howls and the hoots and the growls keep them company. I snort the hearts of every tree in this forest, and dive off the cliff once more.

“See him run ahead of the pack,” Someone says “What pride!”

And I look yet again when I have been asked a million times not to. He is blind but he sees. The man knows, the man knows. He knows that I am looking, but I am never sure. This constant presence, always. He lights a handrolled cigarette, and for a moment, just for a mere moment, I see the face. That face, with deep valleys running here and there from old age, and those deep wells for eyes. Dear me, what fright. But I please myself by looking, the fear tugging at my insides. He tips his hat and walks away.

To hell with him, I say. To hell with me, dear me. But I know that the silence will reach into my mouth, and touch my heart with its cold fingers. And I stand in the middle of the middle of the m-middle. And I look up and see the stars shimmer and wink, celestial and proud. And I try to swallow but my throat is dry. And I try to speak but I have forgotten my mother’s tongue. And I hear the troops marching. And I hear the sounds of their war drum syncing with the beats of my heart. And I hear them sing their songs of freedom and national pride. And I hear them reassuring me that they will be my salvation. And I understand their words but the masks are cheaply made, and the blood on their hands seeps through the fabric of their gloves. And I know by now that the stage has been set, and the bear is now a rug, and the wolf is a luxurious coat, and only the Man In the Long Black Coat remains, forevermore.

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Prelude, or Man on the Street by A. N. Gretly

​Here you have it. Well, that is if you’re still keen on knowing the particulars of a typical night on these sordid streets.
I wonder if you can see it now, how things change through time. We sit together in the same old café with the aroma of old books and stale coffee mingling with the murmurs of those who speak of flowers growing out of people’s heads, and dancing amidst field of blooming dandelions while at the same time you find them in the small hours of the haunted night with the doors locked and the shutters down and the lights out, you find them twisting and turning inside their own minds with rotten brain slime oozing out of every facial orifice. But I am getting ahead of myself. A head.
Look here, now. See the man walking, limping. Shuffling his footsteps. Torn brown boots, old coat caked with mud and other silt-like substances. Yes. Do not look at the man that drags his legs along the pavement, with the stink of theft and junk hovering around him almost in fumes which refract light, distorting the image of the man to the point of abstraction. And here you have a concept of a human being walking about the empty streets with eyes bloodshot and half asleep, looking at nothing in particular, and having nothing look right back at him with a sly grin that triggers fear and sexual desire. The footsteps click-clack on the cobble stones, ticking away and pronouncing the end of time. Don’t look!
“But what time does the end of time start?” He says in a high piched voice “I’ve got to g-go!”
“Happy hour?” I reply.
And I think of that old boy from Cork sitting on a broken stool at a dirty pub, cradling his fifth pint while singing about a Monaghan boy who lost his wife to the drink and the whores and the fairies as the fiddle plays on and on and the old whistle fades all melancholy. And time goes on, and you can waste it sitting at the foot of Arthur’s Seat smoking something or spending your last copper on the girls at the Triangle but the voices keep at it till dawn and you walk down back and forth on the Grassmarket where you hear the ghost of old Maggie Dickson, and on Cowgate where you can find my sense of self respect in the gutters, looking for a fix of something or another. Anything. Bumping into women with faces like ancient battlefields; bless. Bliss.
“You o-kay, pal?” Someone asks.
But who is this Paul?
And you muffle something and keep on going, racing, racing time itself because you know if you stop for one single second, the Fear will hit you hard, and you sweat and you shiver, and you stare at all the wild dogs like yourself chasing that white rabbit, rabid, raw.
And the fog engulfs you whole and spits you out covered in gore but the rain washes out anything and everything down the gutters and into the sewers where the demons still roam the night, and who knows, maybe someone will say something and make it all go away at some point.
But soon things settle down into a monotonous hum, on the pavement or at the casino or on someone else’s couch. And that hum carries the weight of the world with it, and you are nothing but a fragile piece of skin, and you know something broke inside of you but you don’t know what it is. You open your eyes and you are back from once you came, with that Cork boy, in that dirty pub, on that lonely lonely night in the City of Ghosts.

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The Hounds of Blair Street by A. N. Gretly

Mist rolls down the street on black-fanged high heels, all click-clacking footsteps and kerosene eyes with the sound of sozzled giggles bouncing off the ancient bricks in eternal vibrations that ripple through the smoke and hover about like wretched ghosts of long nights forgotten in the translucent fumes of yesterday.

And this dewy petrichor of immortal rain intermixed with the aroma of cigarette smoke and stale beer seeps into runny nostrils as the old clock-tower strikes twelve bongs while the skeletal homeless man sits in Hunter Square like a weary rendition of the Buddha, once radiant, golden, proud, now red faced with yellowish teeth, and tobacco stained fingernails that scratch and scratch a retreating hairline and lost memories; woe to him.

And I stand there, peering at this world, watching the hounds of Blair Street through my CCTV eyes, waiting for something to happen like I always do, and time, oh, the time, it wobbles about through the ever growing crowd, and the people spit and shuffle and talk and laugh and laugh and laugh with knife gash grins on their drooping faces as they sing raspy love songs of empyrean beauty, but all I hear is static, as if the entire world was caught between two radio stations; welcome to the City of Ghosts.

Written at the City Cafe,

Blair Street, Edinburgh



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Top of the World by A. N. Gretly

I stood at the top of the world, and I pondered all the lives, all the stories that have been told, and the ones that are yet to be written. Scribbles on worn parchment, scroll after scroll, the ink still wet, black in colour, all these words that do not tell lies but secrets unspoken, hidden in bottles lost at sea. And I see, I see everything unravel into lucid plots that speak clearly of the things that were once whispered in the dark, now revealed, naked for all to see. But no one is there to witness this, only I and I alone. Oh, that does not make me special, or even slightly lucky, for I am but a humble human, cursed by knowledge of what creeps the streets at night. I stood at the top of the world, and I pondered all the lives, all the stories that have been told, and the ones that are yet to be written. I have had a vision like this once, of a humongous wave of humans rising over the horizon, blocking the sun, and those faces, those sordid faces twisted in hangman knots that sliped over and over again, and I heard lives snap, I heard dreams suffocate. Now, this city is spread before me, and I feel the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet. I stood at the top of the world, and I pondered all the lives, all the stories that have been told, and the ones that are yet to be written; a wave is coming.

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Stairway to Nothing by A. N. Gretly

Rocky stairway of time, where the world and all its grievances boil down to nothing, I wait. I see the humour, the comedy of existence, such a grave joke. One after the other. Funny the way things are, like they have always been. And as I wait for something to happen, I hear the old tales over and over and over again. Of the brave hero, of the mighty beast, of the fair lady, of the kiss in the dark. Swords clink-clink against each other. And the moans and the groans. Slash them all. But the hero is a fake, the beast, one of many, the princess, a sassy drag queen, and the kiss, the kiss is but a venomous dart that pierces my tender skin. Such bitterness. Rocky stairway of time, where the world and all its grievances boil down to nothing, I wait. Tick-tock the clock goes, as the empyrean sun encroaches your virgin corneas, and you stagger about, way too sozzled, and you stumble, and you fall with your face in this sordid earth. Another day, another day. But the fight won’t quit, the fight goes on. You embrace your insidious pain, you hold it deep inside of you, and you let it brew until it becomes the force that drives all your actions, you leave this ache to ferment until you become I. Rocky stairway of time, where the world and all its grievances boil down to nothing, I wait, contemplating that first step.

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The Bridge by A. N. Gretly

I never forget a face, nor a well woven lie; water under the bridge. A plash that rippled the still waters of my heart, and the waves, they carried everything to some distant shore, desolate, and grim. And the railway train took me away to a far away place in which I have found the remains of a forgotten future so vividly displayed like artefacts that were once of great value, now worth nothing at all. And the bums, they hover around like ghosts, droopy eyed, junky eyed, mad! But time doesn’t stop for anyone, or anything, it only halts at the very end, when it is too late, boy. The voyagers stopped and stared in bewilderment at the sights unfolding before them, they beheld the intimate details of the complexity of this grand structure, but even such things whither with time, they fade away at some point, leaving only traces of what once was. I never forget a face, nor a well woven lie; water under the bridge. I have missed him, the man in the long black coat. Even though I have known him for so long, I now fail to define his importance, his significance, sometimes I think he is my companion, other times I thing he is a darker version of myself. Oh, it does not matter any more. And as I stood under the bridge, I saw him limping across the street towards me, his face, still as pale as ever, as if he’s been bleeding for some time. This is it then, once again, we are united as one. I never forget a face, nor a well woven lie; water under the bridge; here’s to you, love, here’s to us.

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