Mohamed El-Bisatie’s ‘‘A Conversation from the Third Floor,’’ like most of his writing, is more like a painting than a typical short story. He creates a scene, then populates it with only essential and simple characters whose gestures speak almost as loudly as their few words. Denys Johnson-Davies, in the translator’s introduction to A Last Glass of Tea and Other Stories, in which this short story was published, states: ‘‘While there is drama in his stories it is never highlighted: the menace lurks almost unseen between the lines.’’ El-Bisatie, Johnson- Davies continues, ‘‘is a ‘writer’s writer’—which is to say a writer who makes no concessions to the lazy reader.’’
‘‘A Conversation from the Third Floor’’ is a brief story, almost as short and succinct as the conversation that takes place within it; and it is as stark as the barren environment that encompasses its setting—a prison that sits at the edge of a desert. This makes it read more like a poem, in that every word, every gesture is laden with meaning. Just as in a desert a small patch of green grass screams with color, so too do the quick remarks and the subtle movements in this short story. A small shadow moving across the street toward one of the main characters suddenly becomes a threat, a potent omen.
Describing his inspirations and motives for writing, El-Bisatie, in an article written by David Tesilian for Al-Ahram Weekly, stated that he was ‘‘interested in the dehumanization of the individual by circumstances.’’ He also said that he writes about people who live in small villages where life is slow and ‘‘always the same, and if things happen at all, they happen beneath the surface.’’ ‘‘A Conversation from the Third Floor’’ is an exemplary illustration of these sentiments. The careful reader who takes the time to dig down below the surface of this seemingly simple story will discover that El-Bisatie is not only a master of the written word but also a master of deception.