Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1094
The story begins with the word ‘‘she,’’ and the reader does not know this female character’s name until her husband shouts it from inside the prison, where she has come to visit him; but this does not happen until later in the story. At first, the reader does not even know where the woman is standing. All that is told is that this woman has been here once before and that there is a policeman sitting atop a horse outside a long yellow wall. Inside the wall is a long building, and the policeman is trying his best to ignore the woman, who finally begs him to allow her to speak to someone. Who this someone is, where he is, and why the woman wants to talk to him remain a mystery.
When the policeman continues to ignore her, the woman adds, ‘‘You see, he’s been transferred . . .’’ No further information is given, as the narrator then describes the weather and the time of day, and adds one more character to the picture, that of a small child, whom the woman carries. Then the woman is described as ‘‘quietly’’ moving away, without protest. She finds a pile of stones and sits down, staring at the building inside the wall. She sees a line of laundry hanging from the ‘‘bars of the windows.’’ These bars are the first hint that the building might be some kind of prison. The clothes, hanging motionless by the sleeves and legs, are the second hint, suggesting lifeless as well as incarcerated images of their owners.
The woman stares at the dried mud on her feet and attempts to get rid of it by rubbing her feet together. The mud implies that she has walked a long way. Then she looks up at the third floor, an indication that she knows someone who might be there. Meanwhile, that narrator introduces another figure into the story, a soldier in a tower, confirming that the woman is standing outside a prison building.
Suddenly a man is shouting from a third floor window: ‘‘Aziza! Aziza! It’s Ashour.’’ The woman, Aziza, sees only two arms at first. She focuses harder and can just barely make out a face in between two bars. Other faces appear in the window as well.
The voice rings out again, calling her, asking her several questions in succession. Ashour asks about a letter he sent to her: did she get it? He asks about their children, identifying each by name. He also asks if she has been taking care of the property: has she pruned the date trees? Through his questions, the reader feels the emotions of this man, who misses being the husband of this woman, the father of his children, the caretaker of his home.
It is now Ashour’s turn to focus, this time on the child whom Aziza is holding. Who is the child? Which of his children? Then he wants her to lift the child up, turn him to the sun, so he can see him better. When the child begins to cry, his father is joyful in hearing the young, wailing voice; he is also amused by the sound, ‘‘The boy’s crying! The little so-and-so! Aziza, woman, keep him crying!’’ This sound must be like music to the father’s ear. In the company of only frustrated men in the jail, the sound of his son is soothing.
Ashour continues to question his wife. He also asks why she is not speaking. Aziza tries to answer his questions with her hands or with nods of her head. Finally, at Ashour’s prompting, she vocalizes a response. ‘‘Louder, woman,’’ Ashour replies, and Aziza complies. She confirms that she brought the cigarettes that he requested, and Ashour disappears from the window. In his absence, other men take his place. They are crude men who make obscene gestures at Aziza.
Aziza steals a glance at the policeman on his horse. She has spoken, despite, the reader can assume, a rule that denied her this privilege. The policeman seems oblivious, as does the soldier, who ‘‘had taken off his helmet.’’ The heat of the day seem to have affected them, making them sleepy and uninterested in the conversation that is taking place.
Ashour reports to Aziza that instead of the five packets of cigarettes, he has only found three. He questions her, criticizes her, then steps away from the window momentarily and returns to apologize. ‘‘Never mind,’’ he tells her, ‘‘a couple got taken, it doesn’t matter.’’ But of course it does. He needed five packets, but he understands that in prison, he has no choice but to acquiesce to others who have power over him. He tries to regain his composure; tries to calm her in an attempt to calm himself. To do this, he brings up another topic. Did she build the wall, he asks. When she tells him that she did not, he tells her that’s alright, then reminds her to be careful on the tram. He next remembers that he is being transferred. Did she know? He does not know where they will take him, but he commands her not to return to this place. His last words to her are only to call out her name. He then gestures for her to move away, and he disappears from the window.
Aziza sits back down on the pile of stone and nurses her child. While sitting there, she notices a shadow coming toward her as the sun begins to set. When the shadow touches her toes, she draws them back. Time is passing. The laundry on the line that once was motionless is now flapping in the breeze. Earlier, Aziza had concluded that the laundry was wet and that was why it did not move in the breeze. Although she makes no comment about it now, the fact that the clothes are moving indicates that they must now be dry. When she looks back down at her feet, she sees that the shadow has ‘‘clothed the tips of her toes.’’ She then stands up.
Before leaving, Aziza looks back once more at the window, but it is empty. She glances at the soldier in the tower but only sees the tip of his boot. When she reaches the policeman on his horse, he again appears to be sleeping. In some ways, the scenery has not changed from the beginning to the end of the story. Aziza leaves the scene, walking ‘‘down the narrow passageway toward the main street.’’
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