Franco closed his eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. He tried to calm down the storm that bullied its way into his mind. When he finally exhaled, he opened his glazed blue eyes, and looked outside at the Mediterranean waves. They clashed over and over with the solid rocks at the bayside. He pulled at the sleeves of his jacket and looked up at the makeshift clouds.
His gaze combed the mosaic floor of the open court. Today he and his beloved Saphiya are to perform a live musical recital in the grandiose Citadel of Qaitbay in front of thousands of devoted music lovers. All the profits will be donated to the Misr El Kheir Foundation and to the Syria refugees’ fund.
With his hands in his pockets and his feet tapping nervously at the floor, he muttered under his breath.
“What a charade! I stand here and perform to raise money for Syria, while my father issues his consent for the bombing of Syria.”
You leave Egypt and come back to the U.S. and you do it NOW, or else!
His father’s angry threats still echoed in his head.
What will the general do, when he learns that his only son has converted to another religion, fallen in love with a girl from Syria, and is not coming back?
Franco absently dragged his fingers through a thick hank of brown hair while waiting backstage.
Saphiya, why on earth are you late? Musicians should never be late. He thought.
Agitation built up and gnawed at his insides as he checked his watch one more time.
They were supposed to rehearse the piece together. The show will start in mere minutes with no time for rehearsal, but that was really the least of his worries.
How am I going to look in her eyes and smile? How am I to perform with her in front of this crowd, when a massacre is about to take place tomorrow? And how am I going to perform here of all places?
His eyes roamed the limestone brick walls of the ancient citadel. Sheer wind from the open window hit his face like a slap.
Was it a reprimand? A reproach from the world for his hypocrisy?
He could see his long shadow in the trembling lamp light. He was pacing back and forth when he tripped over something on the floor. He recovered slowly from the fall and stood up, tracing with his finger the small scratch on his lips. Frustration welled up inside him. He bit at this scratch so hard it started bleeding. The universe was angry with him, and the century-old citadel was angry with him as well. The spirits of the ancients abhorred him as they looked down.
Thoughts played back and forth in his head. World peace was a relentless lie. He couldn’t believe the insatiable greed of his people. It was mere chance that allowed him to find out the painful truth. They were starting a war, a vicious war, breaking with it all treaties and all the rules, simply to dominate and conquer, regardless of the consequences. His father’s plans with his uncle still resonated in his ears.
Franco was the son of General Montgomery of the American Air Force, and Senator Celia Montgomery. He came from a long line of army generals, and was lucky to escape into music. He was raised all his life to love, to respect, and to never judge. What happened to all those principles?
What am I supposed to do? Should I elope with her and leave everything behind? But who could run away from destiny?
Franco turned his head in the direction of the familiar, flowery scent, that very scent that always managed to take hold of his senses. Saphiya had arrived. He watched as she walked towards him with confident strides.
“I know I’m late. Don’t look at me like that. We’ve rehearsed this piece many times before. Trust me we don’t need any more rehearsals.”
For a moment, Franco allowed his eyes to linger on the beautiful dark heart-shaped face, the long chestnut brown hair that cascaded behind her back, and the unsuspecting amber-colored eyes that smiled at him. That smile, that enamoring smile caused every coherent thought to flee his mind.
“Monsieur, Mademoiselle. It is time. The curtains will be drawn shortly.” The chairman of the Misr El Khier Foundation announced. He gave them a thumbs-up sign, and then stepped across the curtain to the dedicated crowd to give his opening speech.
Saphiya gave an excited, light laugh.
He watched as she turned to him, her smile slowly fading only to be replaced by a look of concern. She took his hand and said nothing. She must have noticed the anxious look on his face.
They waited, shortly before the soft velvet curtains brushed against their bodies, unveiling their presence and exposing them to the enthusiastic crowd.
Franco walked along the stage to where the piano was positioned. He sat down and took a deep breath. For an instant, his eyes caught the luminous moon as it escaped the misty clouds. He adjusted the piano bench, and assumed a proper posture, with his back straight but not rigid.
His gaze travelled to Saphiya as she rested her violin on her collarbone, fully supporting it with her arm and holding it in place by her jaw. She placed her bow between the bridge and the fingerboard and, on his cue, they commenced.
They were to play Beethoven’s moonlight sonata, which was their favorite song.
Franco started the first movement of the sonata with the famous Lamentation melody. He opened with an octave in the left hand and a figuration in the right.
The strident, brooding rhythm accentuated his pain, and with every press and every touch, his heart soared.
How could he possibly stop what is to happen. His people were to bomb Saphyia’s land; they were going to fabricate a situation that could allow them to proceed with their plans. Should he just stand witness to it all and keep his mouth shut? Should he alert Saphyia? Nobody knew yet. The U.S. plans were still unannounced, but then what difference would it make? Perhaps she could alert the Syrian authorities, but then he would be considered a traitor. How could he betray the trust of his nation, his family and most painfully of all, his father; the man who supported him indefinitely, who allowed him to take music as a career rather than join the army, who raised him on honesty and principles? It would be a shameful disgrace, but then this war stands against everything he was taught and everything he believed in.
Franco finished the profound, tragic tones of the first movement, and started the relatively calm second movement. He closed his eyes and desperately remembered the echo of happiness and hopes he once had. He remembered the first time he found true love with Saphiya. He remembered the first time they strolled the beach at night, barefoot, with the frothy seawater splashing at them. It felt back then as though nature had celebrated their love outside this very citadel, this massive fort withstanding through time, witnessing the changing world.
His eyes were closed, but he could still see her young, poignant face with his heart. He heard her melodies that united with his tones, and with all this came the familiar helplessness and guilt. Was it possible to escape the inevitable? Was it possible to change the heraldic nature of humanity?
Their shadows danced on the walls, emerging separately but meeting at one point.
The calm second movement transmorphed into the stormy final movement, with its fast and strongly accented notes. His fingers traveled with astounding ferocity as he pressed the keys. The powerful, unbridled melodies knifed through him. He had to make up his mind. Should he choose Saphiya and become a fugitive or should he remain loyal to his people and his country?
Hot tears pushed their way down his cheeks. He looked in her direction one more time before he pedaled cleanly allowing the vibration of the low bass strings to provide the desired “blur” and with it the end of the Sonata.
There was a short silence before the crowd went wild with applause.
Franco and Saphiya stood up and bowed to the crowd before the velvet curtains fell once and for all. This concert was the very last event to take place in the name of peace, love and unison.
They walk past the large stones that form the lintel and doorway of the entrance hall to the outside world, leaving behind the wondrous Citadel, that fort that existed on the ruins of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse. They saunter along the peninsula, that thin arm of land that extends out into the harbor.
The waves pirouette and plume behind them, the breeze dancing in the air like a melody from Apollo’s lyre.
There was a moment of calm before the hail of the growling wind vibrated with remorseful resentment, and the mournful moon disappeared behind the clouds, leaving the couple to their unknown fate.
Franco and Saphiya stood on the brink of dawn, hand in hand, armed only with their love.
This was honourably one of the winning short stories in the MAKAN Writing Award 2013 that was organized by The Forgotten Writers Foundation, Kayan Publishing House, and Diwan Book stores. The story was published in 2014 among the other winning ones in the MAKAN book by Kayan Publishing House.