What Happened to the Egyptian General?

The General and the Sheikh have much in common. Both of them are over seventy and in good health. They both go to bed and get up early and live in the same neighborhood: the Fifth District. All these considerations make it easy for them to meet when necessary. After the events last week, the Sheikh got in touch with the General and asked to meet. The General agreed and they decided to have breakfast together. The next day at eight in the morning the large black Mercedes carrying the Sheikh stopped in front of the General’s mansion. The General greeted the Sheikh, who embraced him warmly and sat next to him.

It was a working breakfast, as diplomats say. The General and the Sheikh ate and talked. The General began:

“Congratulations on winning the election, your grace.”

“Praise the Lord. Our Lord gave me victory. Victory comes only from God.”

“God is gracious. I’m delighted at your sweeping victory, but, to be honest, I do have one grievance against you.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.”

“My friend, when you have reservations about a decision I’ve taken, why not get in touch with me directly instead of criticizing me through the media?”

“Very well, sir.”

The Sheikh nibbled at the boiled egg he was holding.

Suddenly, the General got worked up and said, “By the way, this isn’t the first time. You always tell me one thing and do the opposite.”

The Sheikh frowned, upset by the General’s tone. “General, it’s really not such a big deal,” he said drily.

“Not a big deal? Do you want to act the hero at my expense?”

“I did nothing wrong. I expressed my opinion through the media. But I won’t do it again, out of deference to you.”

“I dont need your deference.”

“Sir, you know how I respect you, but don’t forget that I represent the people.”

“I wanted you to win, so you won in the elections. If I had wanted you to lose, you would have lost.”

“Excuse me, but you’re not the reason I won. I won by the grace of God and by my own effort.”

“It looks like you believe what you’re saying.”

“General, please restrain yourself. I respect you and I expect you to respect me.”

The General looked ready to strike the Sheikh. He whispered something to the butler, who disappeared for a moment before returning with a small briefcase. After a moment of silence, the General said, “Please, take this briefcase home with you. Open it and examine the contents carefully.”

“What’s in it?”

“All the frauds you committed, fully documented with tapes and photographs. You’ll find a list of all the funding you received.”

“What funding are you talking about?”

“You know what I am referring to. The money that flooded in from abroad. In the briefcase you’ll find copies of the checks you received, with the amounts and the dates they were cashed.”

“General, really, please!”

“You’ll find the incidents of vote-buying you were involved in. You’ll find videos proving how you exploited people’s ignorance and poverty to make them vote for you.”

“Sir, there’s no need to talk like that.”

“I’m going to submit all this as evidence in a complaint against you and then we’ll leave the whole matter to the judiciary.”

“Sir, I beg you.”

“Do you have a problem with enforcing the law, your grace?”

“No, I have a problem with you being angry, sir. Please don’t get angry, sir.”

The General sighed, leaned back and took a sip from his cup of tea.

“Then you have to listen to everything I tell you,” he said.

“As you wish.”

“Don’t you ever imagine that you’re strong and that I can’t get the better of you.”

“Sir, my religion commands me to obey you.”

“So if you have remarks to make, make them to me before you go talking to the media. Understood?”

“Understood, sir. It saddens me that you still have doubts about my loyalty.”

“What you do is what counts,” the General replied calmly.

“Sir, from the beginning I was calling for a new constitution of the country. That was my public position, but when I found out you wanted to make amendments to the old constitution I completely changed my position and backed the amendments fully. I think you remember that, sir.”

The General nodded and the Sheikh continued: “I never took a position against you, sir. I’ve lost many friends because of you. Even during the recent bloodshed I didn’t utter a word against you, sir.”

Silence reigned again, and then the Sheikh said firmly: “Okay, sir. Happy with me?”

“As long as you do what you’re told,” said the General.

The Sheikh and the General moved on to talk about the future. They had finished eating and the General suggested they drink coffee in the study.

The General sat behind the oak desk while the Sheikh sat in the easy chair facing him. The General and the Sheikh talked for an hour and fully agreed in their points of view. The meeting ended amicably and the General escorted the Sheikh and stood waving as his car drive off.

The General returned to his study. After an hour’s work, the General leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. When he shut his eyes and opened them again he found something strange: on the wall facing the desk were ghostly figures. He took a closer look and saw on the wall the faces of four or five young men in their twenties. The faces all looked the same. They were looking at him with one eye; the other eye just an empty hollow with a black space. The General was alarmed and thought he must be having hallucinations from overwork. He shut his eyes for a moment and opened them again, but the faces hadn’t disappeared from the wall. There were more of them. The faces with one eye missing had been joined by other faces with bullet wounds. All the faces had a single expression—mysterious and final.

The General sank into confusion. After a few minutes, he raised his head, avoiding looking at the wall. He put on all the lights in the room. That was his last attempt. His hope was that the bright light would eliminate the shadows haunting him. His heart began to pound. Then he opened his eyes and looked into the light. The wall was now completely covered with faces. Alongside the faces with only one eye and the faces with bullet wounds, many others appeared: faces convulsed as if choking on poisonous gas, faces with distorted features as if they had been run over by a vehicle. This time the General felt that all the faces were closing in on him. They were moving toward him. As if they all had a specific plan and insisted on carrying it out.

The General reached out and rang the bell loudly several times. His private secretary came running. The General tried to appear composed. He exchanged some casual words with him, but when the secretary looked toward the wall, the General immediately realized that the horrible visions were invisible to the secretary. At this point, the General told his secretary to leave, which he did.

The General firmly believed that these shapes on the wall were only fantasies produced by a tired mind. He made a great effort to compose himself, taking his wife and daughter to the club in the afternoon for lunch. When he got home, he sat alone in front of the television in the big sitting-room. He felt anxious, frightened to go into his study.

He couldn’t believe it: when he looked at the large curtain in front of him he found the same faces: the same hollow eyes, the faces choking on gas, the faces shot with bullets, and the faces mangled and crushed by the wheels of vehicles. He trembled. He almost screamed. The General was terrified. He lifted his hands to cover his eyes, and found that his hands were covered with blood.

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