The cat who created the baladi bar flyer explores the alternative nightlife in Cairo and takes us to the last booza in Cairo:
I’ve seen them walk in with a swagger, and slowly disappear in blur.
A few lives ago, the place was still packed with young people. Now only the old stragglers remain, fingering their decaying teeth in the fading light of the last booza in town.
I remember the days when I would hop from one booza to the next, scanning the raw concrete floors for a spilled drop of the bread beverage I grew up on.
For a booza cat like me, rock bottom is where true happiness is found. In this maze of alleyways lies my last resort, my dead-end destination.
The men sit around in clusters, joking and retelling old stories, lovingly calling each other khawal orharami and cursing the deep pockets of their nagging wives.
Some have travelled far and wide to share in the joyous embrace of defeat.
As the night reaches breaking point, and broken memories turn into false promises, the men shake their battered heads at the habits of young people today.
I lick my privates as the daily discussion enfolds on why anybody would spend more than necessary on getting a good head. One plastic cup of the sour fermented bread does the trick, I promise, especially if you mix in the little plastic bag of sugarcane cohol.
The carpenter in the corner with the long whiskers does the math, but loses track of his fingers. The waiter, my main competitor for leftovers, comes to the rescue and twitches up an answer. You need at least six bottles of expensive spiked lemonade for the same effect, he mumbles as he downs the remains of a plastic mug of booza.
The drink that was the people’s choice for centuries is soon to end up in the hairball of history. Only the dirty fingerprints survive the passage of time.
Before the curtains close I will once more pass down the wisdom of eight lives spent in the booza. Soon I will deliver the ultimate generation of booza cats, the last of our species, my final genetic contribution to catkind.
I will teach my last litter how to spot a person in need of a feline friend. And show them how to slide through legs and sneak in a slurp when the bargaining on the day’s haul from the lorry reaches its climax.
Tonight looks promising. Kharga the hunchback is making love with his booza in his corner, as the Nubians are quarrelling over something shiny made in China. Omar is here with his favourite goat, looking suspiciously content.
Bulbul bullies his way in with a loud roar. The room greets him with an echo of acknowledgement. It won’t be long now before the wrestling starts and the goodness will be splashing all over the place. Bulbul carries a machine that sounds like it’s in heat. The booza boys sway with their eyes closed, fists tight around their holy grails. The carpenter does a little dance of sorrow under the ‘no money no drink’ sign. The man without teeth recites a sufi poem to his cigarette:
Look at this! The Beloved is drunk, His hair is messed up,
His clothes are torn and it looks like He’s not had a bath in days!
Late last night, at midnight, the Beloved came this way to my bed-
Holding a jug of wine.
He whispered in my ear: “O poor lover,
Are you awake or are you asleep?”
I said; “Whatever you have put into my cup I have drunk without question.
I have been faithful and have never denied my love of wine.”
Even though I stay up late at night, and wait,
This drinking has been my fate.
So, go away, preacher and leave me alone.
Stop giving me hell for drinking only dregs – it’s all I can afford…
Everything the Beloved has poured into our cups, we’ve tried;
Whether it’s the wino’s brand or the Elixir of Life.
Like the laughter from a cup of wine or the braid of the Beloved’s hair,
Hafiz has had a life that is joyous and then has come untied.