The day she left Daraw for Cairo had been a great event.
People said that, apart from the time that the great nationalist leader Sa’ad Zaghloul famously made a visit to Upper Egypt, the train station at Daraw had never been as crowded as on the day she and her four children left for Cairo.
People who came to bid them farewell clustered both inside and outside the station, at the entrance, in the station hall and on the platform. All the important families of Daraw had members to bid her farewell: the Mahjubs, the Abd el- Maquds, the Oways and Shayba families. Even the Balams came: in spite of the tense relations with the Gaafar family due to an ongoing dispute over some date palms to the east of the town— their sense of duty had overcome past bitterness, and they sent ten men with their wives and children to take part in the farewell formalities.
They were all fond of her. Her husband and first cousin was Abd el-Aziz Gaafar, one of the foremost residents of Daraw. He had inherited property and money from his father and was renowned for his decency and respectability, always doing his utmost to help out his relatives, neighbours, in fact anyone from the town. Alas, his debts had started piling up, and he had to sell off his land bit by bit. Now, over forty years old and almost penniless, he had to move to Cairo in search of whatever work he could find.
There was great sympathy from the people of Daraw, since whenever they had needed money, Abd el-Aziz had given them loans from the goodness of his heart, as well as helping them in other ways. They all felt partially responsible for his bankruptcy. Ruqayya saw expressions of deep sympathy and love on the faces of those who had come to see them off. To them, she was the very model of an authentic Upper Egyptian woman, sticking by her husband come what may, supporting him with the same determination in good times and bad.
-Excerpted from The Automobile Club of Egypt, by Alaa Al Aswany, published 2015 by Alfred Knopf, New York, United States.