Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz's short story "Half a Day" is constructed as an extended metaphor comparing school to life. As a child, the narrator enters school one morning and is seemingly let out at the end of the school day. At the end, however, the child is no longer a child but has grown to be an old man. Major themes of the story include the rapid passage of time and the changes which time brings. When the child goes off to school, his home is along "a street lined with gardens," but at the end he is released into the congestion of a busy Cairo street. We find out that many years have passed in the final line of the story when the narrator is helped across the street by a young man who says, "Grandpa, let me take you across." Mahfouz foreshadows this surprise ending several times in the text.
First, the narrator is told by a woman at the school, "This is your new home. . . . Here, too, there are mothers and fathers. Here there is everything that is enjoyable and beneficial to knowledge and religion." These lines seem to suggest that this story is about more than just a school and that the time period is longer than just half a day. A little further on, the narrator also implies the passage of time when he says,
Living beings were drawn to other living beings, and from the first moments my heart made friends with such boys as were to be my friends and fell in love with such girls as I was to be in love with.
Maybe the most effective bit of foreshadowing strongly hints that years, and not hours, have passed:
In addition, the time for changing one's mind was over and gone and there was no question of ever returning to the paradise of home. Nothing lay ahead of us but exertion, struggle, and perseverance.
The last words of this passage describe things endured over a lifetime, not just on the first day of school. Finally, the reader is alerted to some major change when the narrator is unable to find his father, who, of course, has probably long since died. Moreover, when the narrator sees a middle-aged man, he suddenly discovers that he knows him:
After I had taken a few steps, a middle-aged man passed by, and I realized at once that I knew him. He came toward me, smiling, and shook me by the hand, saying, "It's a long time since we last met—how are you?"
It would have been impossible for a young boy going home after his initial day of school to come to such a realization.