The King is Dead
After a brief departure, I am returning to my stories. I will not be reaching back as far into my past as I have with other posts. This is a more recent event, as you will see.
It was an old Honda, maybe from 1990. It looked like it was originally maroon, but so much of it had rusted and faded, it was hard to tell. Parts of it looked brown, other parts looked positively orange. That wasn’t the most striking part about the car. It was the way it roared into the gas station and screeched to a halt, tired brakes grinding and straining to freeze its velocity.
I was pumping my gas at a Mobil poised on a congested intersection flanked by two busy shopping malls. There were also several other vehicles parked at the pumps It was by no means quiet, but the car’s violent appearance startled me, and I turned to face it. The one working headlight shut off, and a figure leaped out from behind the steering wheel. In spite of the shadows, I could still make him out. Olive skinned, about my age, sporting an unkempt beard matched with a wild head of curly, dark hair. He appeared to be Middle Eastern–a strange geographic designation that included parts of three continents and was only coherent from the perspective of the Western Hemisphere.
His undetermined ethnicity was enough to cause all of us pumping gas to pause and stare at him in silence. He returned our stare, still as statue. None of us knew what was going on, and no one moved or spoke for a very long moment. Then the Middle Eastern gentleman reached into his back pocket and withdrew a long, black canister. Even though we couldn’t really see it, the shape was enough to raise the anxiety level in the station–you could almost hear everyone tense up. The man pointed the cylinder toward the heavens and squeezed a small trigger near his hand. The trigger snapped like a mousetrap slamming shut, and all of us jumped.
From the other end of the canister out popped…a tiny Egyptian flag.
Suddenly possessed by a spirit we couldn’t see in the darkness, the man threw his hands up in the air in triumph and shouted, “EGYPT! EGYPT IS FREE!!” He bolted towards us, racing and serpentining through the gas bays, waving his flag and shouting “EGYPT!” over and over again. This was followed by “NO MORE MUBARAK! EGYPT IS FREE!!!” He twirled and skipped like a third grader on the last day of school.
Satisfied he had conveyed the necessary message to those of us outside, he darted into the adjacent convenience store and began charging and racing through the tiny aisles. I could no longer hear him, but I spotted the word “EGYPT” on his lips several times. His fists pumped the air as he continued to wave his diminutive flag. After having exhausted the cramped space of the Mobil Mart, he shoved the glass door open, returning to us outside. I could now clearly see his face bathed in joy as his entire body quivered with giddy laughter.
I found myself smiling, and to my surprise, envying hin. I grew up in the United States in the late twentieth century. I have never lived without the privilege of taking my freedom for granted. I wondered how delicious it must taste to wrestle it away from a tyrant. Before I could contemplate that thought any further, the Egyptian man was suddenly before me. I briefly considered giving him a thumbs up, but I changed my mind, unsure whether Egyptians found that offensive.
As I turned out, I really needn’t have been concerned. Yanking me into a firm embrace, he shouted ”NO MORE MUBARAK!” into my ear. I would have happily returned the hug, but my arms were trapped under his, and his forearm strength was deceptively robust. I noticed the other gas station patrons discreetly climbing back into their cars, no doubt fearful they were next.
Finally, he released me, and we enjoyed a hearty laugh together. Even though we had just met, and didn’t know each other’s names, and hadn’t really had a conversation, we laughed like old friends remembering an inside joke no one else understood. We collected our breath, and he gazed at me before shouting “EGYPT!” again.
This was followed by the gesture that surprised me the most: he squeezed my shoulders and planted a kiss on my right cheek, and then another on my left. He then grabbed both my hands and pulled them to the sky. This time, I knew my cue: we both shouted “EGYPT IS FREE!” as a chorus.
He let go of my hands, and then almost as quickly as he arrived, climbed back into his depleted Honda. Peeling out onto the road, he honked feverishly, and I could hear the faint cry of “EGYPT!” disappear into the night.