Khaled Omar ate his loukoum, bobing his head and gazing rapturously at Heykal.
“I recognized you right away.”
“I have to admit that pleases me,” responded Heykal.
“You were sure I would, weren’t you?”
“What makes you think so?”
“Well, I thought it strange that you wanted to meet this way,” said Khaled Omar. “I couldn’t see why you’d want to make things difficult – our friend Karim could easily have introduced us. But in any case, his description of you didn’t steer me wrong. I don’t mean that he described the way you look or your clothes; no, he spoke only of your ideas. And that was enough for me to recognize you.”
“So my ideas show on my face?” asked Heykal.
“It’s hard to explain. I saw you walking across the square, and I said to myself: That’s him. You had the look of someone who knows more than everyone else.”
“I know two very simple thing,” Heykal said. “The rest is of no importance.”
“I wonder if they’re the same two things I know myself.”
“I’m sure they are. It’s why I’m here, and it’s why we can speak frankly.”
“So tell me what the first thing is. I’m listening.”
Khaled Oman hastily re-knotted his tie and smoothed his well-groomed mustache with his fingers, as if whatever he was about to hear merited an impeccable appearance. There was a gleam of amusement in his eyes and a hint of anxiety on his face.
“Number one is that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks to ever defile the soil of this planet.”
“I couldn’t agree more. And number two?”
“Number two is that you must never take them seriously, for that is exactly what they want.”
“Agreed!” said Khaled Omar, and burst into a long, resounding laugh.
The laughter was contagious. As it spread to the surrounding tables, it grew even louder, outrageously loud. Khaled Omar turned from one neighbor to the next, winking as if to thank them for participating in his hilarity while encouraging their continued pursuit of such joyful delirium. Finally he got hold of himself; the others, however, were still convulsed with the mirth he so inconsiderately unleashed. Heykal had been unmoved by the general hilarity; he remained seated, stiff and aloof, observing his new friend with satisfaction. He was utterly delighted with this jovial little potbellied man, with his gleaming pomaded mustache and strong scent of violet-scented perfume. How unusual! A man whose success hadn’t corrupted him one bit. He acted just as he had when he’d gone barefoot and slept in the street. His bizarre outfit was only a disguise; all the riches in the world would never tame the crude joy and artless affability of his every gesture. His big, mocking laugh was an outright defiance launched in the face of power.
“You see?” Khaled continued. “There’s all you need to know!”
“Yes,” said Heykal. “But still, not enough people get it.”
“Who cares? Don’t tell me you’re the kind who wants to make the world a better place?”
“God, no!” Heykal responded. “I have no interest in bettering anything. There’s nothing worse than a reformer. They’re all careerists.”
“I thought you’d say that, but I’m relieved to hear it,” said Khaled Omar. “I had this misfortune of encountering that kind in prison. They were no better than my jailers. So righteous – and as full of themselves as pregnant women. They made prison such a depressing place!”
“They’re utterly tiresome,” said Heykal, with something close to hatred. “All they want is to replace one government with another, ostensibly more-just one. They all dream of becoming ministers. Ministers! Can you imagine a filthier ambition! Please, I beg you, don’t speak to me of those people!”
- Albert Cossery, The Jokers