In the final installment of the story of the General - Habzyz III's stern grandfather - we learn about the indescribable bond that spans years, miles and generations.
In a past life, I was a grandson-turned-soldier who ultimately went AWOL when needed most by his beloved General Gedo. At a time where the General was living in London, Ontario, I was in Ottawa on summer break, entering the age of self-determination and spiritual awakening. Living with the guilt of being 100% Egyptian yet not being able to communicate in my native tongue, I jumped at the opportunity of living in the ancient lands that gave rise to my DNA; the very same DNA that I would learn more about studying medicine at the University of Cairo.
As I began packing up my life in Canada for a new one in Egypt, I was called to duty; word came from London that the General was in the hospital. His health seemed to be deteriorating to the point where he could no longer be left alone. The drive to London was around six hours, and the drive back and forth was becoming impossible to manage for my father’s working life. While the General was in the hospital, my father decided to pack up his possessions and bring him to Ottawa as soon as the hospital released him. Between visiting hours my father, his brother and I would return to his apartment to decide what to keep from the General’s life in Canada. Immediately, his offspring began packing his clothes and valuables, looking to bring only the essentials. I, on the other hand, began looking through notebooks, birthday cards and photos looking for any items that might be meaningful to the General’s life story.
My digging unearthed a notebook filled with Quran excerpts referencing reproduction, accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations of ovaries and the uterus. It was though he was trying to prove that buried in the holy book are details to the biological stages of birth. This was a baffling discovery, but not as baffling as finding my own high school diploma among his papers. By the end of two visitation cycles, we reduced the General’s life to a half a dozen suitcases and boxes. It was absolutely depressing to see a man of his age reduced to a single car load. Not surprisingly, the General was devastated by the decision made but, left with no options, he begrudgingly followed the path planned for his eventual death.
Since I was moving to Egypt, it was decided that I would give my room to the General in exchange for residency in his apartment in Cairo. When I arrived, I unearthed an entire life of memories and possessions that had been collecting dust for eons. It was only then that I truly understood how little of the General’s life was packed away in London and as I prepared for my new chapter, I decide to explore the apartment and uncover new clues into the life of the man who trained me not to cry.
The apartment had a lot of character. Built at the beginning of the initial migration to Heliopolis, the apartment was old and though it seemed small, its vaulted ceilings made you feel like you were living amongst giants. The kitchen was lit like a cellar off the set of a Saw sequel. On the wall appeared to be a crack that stretched into the apartment above. Under slaughter house light, the crack seemed to shimmer and upon a closer look I discovered that it was a highway for hundreds, to possibly thousands, of ants travelling between apartments.
With the apartment abandoned for over a decade, the ants simply had got no time for a kitchen with no food. I knew that now that I was living here they would all one day collectively descend on me and I didn’t like my odds. I had to do something, and after trying traps, and poison to no avail, the ants knew it was war and began attacking my food. The longer the war waged, the crazier my methods got, until one day I entered the kitchen a soldier and in less than five minutes left it a monster.
Operation CK One involved spraying cologne on ants, effectively freezing them in place as though I was magically stopping time. After stopping the trail in its tracks, I lit a match. In an instant, thousands of ants died tragically burnt, but frozen in place, reminiscent of the ruins of Pompeii. I had committed insect genocide and with my new war criminal mentality, I decided to leave their charded remains, stuck to the wall for a couple of days, as a reminder to the rest of the colony that this road was no longer safe. The message was received, the operation a success and for the remainder of my stay, a crack never formed.
Just like a typical old-Egyptian apartment there were entirely too many shelves, drawers, and cabinets that made every room feel annoyingly claustrophobic, but within them hid the insightful treasures disguised as knowledge into my origin story. Amongst my greatest finds were my daddy’s shotgun, a slew of military medals and operation manuals, and a black and white photo of my grandfather sitting alone with Indira Gandhi. The discovery of that photograph in my mind authenticated all the wild stories about the General’s meetings with historic world leaders, which he used to casually bring up while watching women’s tennis. I never realised just how powerful he actually was, and was mystified that he ended up living with my parents, fading away in Canada.
After about half a year, the General became fed up with living with my parents and he asked me if he could move back to Egypt and live with me. Considering it was his apartment, I was totally obliged and looked forward to getting to connect with him on an entirely new level of understanding. In less than a week of the initial discussion, Habzyz and Habzyz III were roommates at a time where Mubarak’s Egypt was just beginning to unravel. It took some adjusting at first, but we managed to make it work… for a while. Instead of going out with friends I spent my time studying and watching war movies with my Gedo.
On one particularly memorable evening, we decided to watch Saving Private Ryan. Usually while watching movies, the General would only pay half attention to the film, often slipping in and out of consciousness, but this time was different. During the storming of the beach, I witnessed my Grandfather do something I had never thought possible. The general who trained me not to cry was actually shedding tears before my eyes. I asked him what was wrong, but he refused to say shrugging it off as if it were nothing. I couldn’t tell you what exactly triggered the tears. Did the sight of dying soldiers trigger some tragic buried flashback to his days on the battlefield? Was it Steven Spielberg’s gritty direction of the bloodiest war film of its time? Or was it that he was coming to terms with his mortality and the realisation that he too would one day be forgotten?
Emotionally distraught, my grandfather decided that he couldn’t continue watching and asked me to help him get to his bed. Once I tucked him in, he grabbed my hand and with a desperate teary-eyed glance, the general made me swear to Allah that during his funeral, as he laid on his deathbed, he would like me to remove the cloth from his face and kiss his forehead while repeating a specific recitation from the Quran. He warned me that everyone in the family would try to stop me from performing this request claiming it was a sin, but that this simple act would be his final request. I felt honour to be bestowed such an important mission, but at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling disturbed about the General’s gloomy outlook.
As time passed, it was becoming increasingly harder for me to develop any kind of social life. The general wasn’t strict about anything specifically. In fact, he would let me have girls over, and instead of getting #MuslimRage, would blush at the sight of me and a girl alone, making sure to later tell me to have as much fun as I can while I am young. It was that kind of attitude that made me wonder if he missed his life in Canada, because secretly he was a balding silver ‘stached playboy who was never alone among the harem at the old senior citizens’ home. I would never find the evidence, but then again juggling time between medical school, taking care of my grandfather, having a social life, searching for further clues was beginning to become unmanageable.
I slowly realised that I could no longer provide the care my Gedo needed. He was always a stubborn man, and although I would make sure that all his meals were prepared every day, he would refuse to eat unless I was eating with him. He would even refuse eating with his daughter as to not spoil his meal with me but with the massive time hole medical school occupied, it was very difficult to make sure I got home early enough to eat with him. He was losing a ridiculous amount of weight starving himself for my company, and I knew that I would need to give up caring for him, if he were ever to return to a balanced healthy diet.
Coincidently, my decision to seek a new roommate aligned with my desire to escape medical school and begin a new life in Canada. The news devastated the General; I literally heard his heart tearing apart. I knew he wanted me to hold his hand on his gradual walk to the afterlife, but I was still young and full of life, and selfishly abandoned him when he needed me most, in hopes of understanding exactly what it is that I am looking for in this brief period of time we call life.
A year after my return to Canada, word came back that the General was sick again. Although our communication had broken down, I was still determined to fulfill his final wish. I notified work and booked my flight for the next week. Unfortunately, the General could no longer keep up the battle in hopes for his soldier to return. As customary in the Muslim faith, my grandfather was immediately buried the next day. I arrived two days too late, and never had a chance to say goodbye. I failed to fulfill the mission that the general spent decades training me for.
Sitting in his now cold and empty apartment, my melancholy began choking me. Fond memories began flooding my mind, as I remembered the times when he was so full of life. I could never say I ever fully understood the General, but I was proud to share some of his DNA, and cherished every minute spent with him. Coming to terms with his passing meant coming to turns with my own emotions, and when I did, I seemingly opened the flood gates of my tear ducts. Although I was miserable, the tears running down my face were refreshingly alien. I knew the General wouldn’t approve seeing me this way, but I didn’t care. To be honest my tears felt really good… and unsurprisingly they tasted of lemons.