Friday, December 19, 2003

A Horseman Passes

There was a sandstorm yesterday. The sky was a dirty grey and a bitter wind blew in off the desert. It wasn’t a movie sandstorm, but a nasty Cairo winter sandstorm to make your hair gritty, your lungs ache, and to make you wish you’d never gone out of doors. I was out of doors for work and regretting it, but I listened to the weather forecast and was told that it would be like this for three days. Thinking of a ride and brunch that was scheduled for this morning, I called my friend Magdy to see what the news of the ride would be. He’d been in bed all week with what he called a most “pernicious” bug that was causing him great abdominal discomfort, but we chatted about the weather and I joked with him about his being smart and not riding the next day. I congratulated him on having good sense and told him that the most I was likely to do was to pop by the brunch as I had houseguests over night.
This morning dawned exquisitely beautiful, the only sign of yesterday’s storm being a skin of mud over every car left by rain last night. I headed out to my horses about 10 am and while I was on the bridge over the Nile my mobile phone rang. It was one of my grooms calling to tell me that Magdy Bey had died this morning. The beauty of the morning was lost to me.
Magdy and his wife Janie had been good friends of mine for 10 years and a major part of my sanity since my husband died about three years ago. When I needed wise, honest advice I knew that I only had to dial Magdy’s number at work or at home and I had the best. When I was low or needed help healing myself, my family or my animals, Janie was there. They were there for so many of us, without fuss, pretense or ceremony. The front door was never locked and there was a cup of tea for everyone at any hour.
I took myself in haste to Magdy and Janie’s house in Sakkara, the haven, and Magdy’s dream come true. He’d always wanted to be able to open his bedroom window in the morning and look out at his horses. Until this morning he could do that, open his window and look out to see a wonderful selection. There was La Reine, his half blind Selle Francaise, Bukreya, a pure Egyptian Arabian mare who actually finished Egypt’s first 120 km race with Janie, Bukreya’s daughters, Janie’s stallion Emir el Wadi, offspring of other mares who had grown old with Magdy and passed on, and also Texas, the gelding that had belonged to our friend Jenny who died in a car accident this last year and who had been promised a home for the rest of his life by Magdy and Janie.
Friends were beginning to gather in the garden waiting for Janie and their daughter Zeinab to bring Magdy’s body from the hospital where he’d been rushed the night before. As per Muslim custom, Magdy was washed, wrapped in a white cotton cloth and buried on the day of his death after noon prayers. I didn’t go to the graveyard with them. Someone had to stay and the house to receive visitors and the supplies that had originally been intended for the ride brunch this morning. Despite the change in weather, no one rode today. Magdy was buried in the tombs overlooking the village of Abu Sir, just below the tombs of the pharaohs in Sakkara. As they carried him up the slope the sun gleamed off the sand and sparkled on the palms and mango trees of the countryside. It was perfect riding weather.
After the burial, friends gathered in Magdy’s garden to remember the man who encouraged all of us to follow our dreams, a man who ironically died because his heart was too big. And it was indeed big, big enough to hold all of us from the wealthy and successful horse breeders to the simplest of the fellaheen who walked behind him to the tomb and came in their dark galabeyas to give his widow and daughter their respects.
The old royal flag of a crescent moon and three stars decorates Magdy’s car, his fireplace in the Sakkara house, and various cups and plates. Yesterday I was Christmas shopping and had found a lovely blue bowl with the design on it and I had bought it for him. Magdy came from an old Minya family and learned his love of horses from a grandfather who had been in the royal cavalry. He passed his traditions to all of us. Farewell, Magdy Bey, we’ve lost a horseman.