The Surrogates; Extract (2)

MY MOM FED me “the Cranberries syndrome”. As a little girl, I remember late-night insomnia, my father fast asleep, Noor a baby girl – barely over six years old – and the relaxed sound of my mother’s humming, painting in the dark with some Cranberry song in the background.

“Ferry,” she’d scold in her drawling, sweet tone, “why are you out of bed? It’s a school night!”

Yet, her displeasure would soon falter, allowing me in a minute to share her late-night creative incursions. As I sat at the couch opposite her easel, sipping hot, sweetened milk from a music-playing mug – my favorite mug – I’d think I’m the luckiest daughter in the world. And indeed I was lucky, for I was the daughter of the unique Dina Maghawry.

A senior student in the faculty of Business Administration, in the American University in Cairo, Dina Maghawry was the center of almost every single social activity. She was everybody’s best friend, every professor’s favorite student and every fun-trip’s first enroller. She had big plans for leaving for the States right after graduating and pursuing a masters Degree in Harvard or Yale or anywhere as impressive. She wore her curly, blonde hair down and adjusted her couture shades over her head in order to tame her wild curls; at least that’s what she looked like in her college pictures. And most of all, she knew all the latest music hits by heart.

Then, the most amazing thing in the world happened; she met my father. At the first instant when she spotted his old, white Peugeot finally landing in the only available parking spot near the AUC campus, Dina thought that it wouldn’t be too bad marrying that slightly-clumsy man.

Two weeks later, when she sat opposite him at La Piazza, interestedly listening to his latest work assignment concerning Egyptian Foreign Policy towards the Gulf region, my mother was fantasizing about how “swell” it would be should this handsome man at the other end of the table someday choose to propose. And when he soon did, my mother couldn’t see a reason good enough to turn him down, not even if that reason was her Harvard acceptance letter.

A calm, sweet picture of my mum; early twenties with her hair – unusually – tucked back in a ponytail, wearing a sleeveless white shirt with a wide collar and subtly holding my father’s hand with the most sheepish smile on her courteous face is my favorite. I don’t know if it’s her facial expression, or the way she resembles me more than in any other picture, or maybe my father’s far-off glance as one arm is casually stretched out to outline her shoulder while the other’s reaching out to welcome the grip of her hand; I don’t know what exactly makes me fall in love with the serenity of this picture every time it meets my eyes. And I don’t know why the Cranberries’ tunes always play at the back of my mind when I observe it, either. Perhaps because on a quiet afternoon like this one, my father would usually come to infatuate my mum with stories about Ireland; which was on fire back then.

“Do you know, Ferry, that it was your father who got me so into the Cranberries?” My mum would narrate the story over and over again. “I didn’t even know that Ireland wasn’t a part of England until I met him.”

My mother didn’t know any more about politics than she did about plucking the feathers of a slaughtered duck. Yet, the complex construction of Irish politics and how smoothly it weaved the best music got her as knowledgeable about the political situation in Ireland as my father was.

I never understood nor shared her infatuation with the country, yet I easily absorbed her love for the Cranberries. While little girls just off to school would sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star”, I’d run about singing linger without missing a single word.

When our favorite, No need to argue, was released, my mother and I wouldn’t stop breaking into the chorus of ode to my family whenever left to our own devices. Back then, I didn’t understand a word of the lyrics, even though I thought I did. I believed it was a song about a little girl thanking her parents and so I loved singing it to my mother all the same.

The day Dina died; I locked myself in her room, secluded with her cassette player and album selection, and started playing the song over and over again. Nothing could make me stop; not the loud banging of Dada Hoda over the door, telling me how non-courteous it was for me to be playing music when my mum had just died; not the childish sobs of Noor, innocently begging for a crying shoulder; nothing.

“She couldn’t stop the car.” I overheard Dada Hoda narrating the death of my mother to the Ministry’s chauffer a week later. She didn’t know I was listening. “She was a very careless driver; always speeding, always smoking while driving or adjusting the volume of the music; always doing something with her hand other than steering the wheel.”

It was then that I realized that it was the Cranberries who killed my mum. Yet, instead of hating them, I found myself categorizing them as the only remaining link to my dead mother.


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