Yussef Wahby’s Memoirs (excerpt)

9 Aug

This is a selection from the memoirs of one of Egypt’s most famous actors, Yussef Wahby. This scene takes places on New Year’s eve 1927-8 and Wahby nobly runs down a drunk man and fails to report it to the police.

I’ll let him tell the story:

Let us return to the plays we put on in that season so I can tell the reader about something that happened during our production of  “The two homeless children”.

I was good friends with a distinguished family in Cairo. The head of the family had died and he was one of my best friends. After his death his wife and her two children were left alone. I loved this Christian family as if they were my siblings and my relationship with the family continued after the husband’s death. I always enquired how they were and took good care of the children.

New Year’s Eve came along … I wanted to raise the family’s spirits and give a little joy and happiness to those two little angels.

I prepared a surprise.

I send everything needed to make a lavish dinner for the occasion. But, in order for the surprise to be complete, I decided to go and visit them as I used to do in years gone by. I wanted to be there the minute the New Year started. I had the opportunity to do so.

For in the play “Two homeless children”, I was off stage for two of the five acts: The third and fourth. Those two acts lasted an hour.

The family’s house was close by. So I had enough time to go to visit them in a car and go back to finish my part. In order to save time I put on my costume from the fifth act … this was the costume of a prisoner with a thick beard, and with my prisoner number on the shirt, all topped off with some make-up and some enormous shoes. My driver was ill that day so I drove the car myself. I arrived at the house on time, carrying presents for the children, and the family were very pleased with this surprise.

Then I went quickly back to the theatre.

As I was driving my car back along Ammad al-Din Street I hit a drunk man who surprised me by stepping onto the road … a little knock … but it still knocked him to the ground … so I slammed on the brakes of the car so as not to run him over and got out to try to help him.

Suddenly I remembered what would happen if the passersby started to gather. They would find a prisoner driving a car that had hit a pedestrian.

What would they think of me? How could I explain to them who I really was? Undoubtedly they would think I was a prisoner on the run who had hijacked a car. It would take time to convince them. I would have to go to the police station with an officer then write my statement … and all the rest of the formalities.

All this would mean it was impossible to go back to the theatre that night and finish the play.

All of these thoughts spun around my head at a rapid pace. There was no solution but to flee before the accident was discovered. So I scarpered!

I was running in my heavy shoes … I cut down an alley called Harat Galal … and I got to the stage door just as I was about to collapse from exhaustion … despite the fact that I was generally active and used to be a boxer.

The head of the theatre was like a madman, eyes darting. He had looked for me everywhere but not found me. I was supposed to go on in seconds.

Before the curtain dropped I entrusted Ahmed Askar with calling the Ezbekeyya police station to report that my car had been stolen from just outside the door.

The ruse succeeded. Before the end of the play the told me that they had found my car in Ammad el-Din Street. A car-thief must have stolen it and driven it away then hit a drunk man and been afraid of what might happen so he left the car, happy to have escaped without arrest.

I found out that the collision did not cause the man any injuries. So I breathed a sigh of relief.


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