Wednesday. We arrive in Esna.(...)House of Kuchiuk-Hanem.

March 6th, 1850, 3pm

Wednesday. We arrive in Esna. (…) House of Kuchiuk-Hanem. Babeh [a servant] precedes us, accompanied by her pet sheep; she opens a door and we come into a house with a small courtyard, and in front of the door a staircase. In the staircase, in front of us, the light surrounding her, and contrasting on the blue sky, a woman stands in pink trousers, with only a deep purple gaze around her chest. She was coming out of her bath - her firm breasts had a fresh smell, something like sugared turpentine; she perfumed our hands with rose water. We went to the first floor; one turns left at the top of the stairs into a square whitewashed bedroom - two sofas - two windows - one towards the mountains, one towards the city.

Kichiuk-Hanem is a tall and beautiful creature - whiter than an Arab - she is from Damas - her skin, especially the body, is the color of coffee. When she seats sideways, she has bronze fat pads on her flanks. Her eyes are black and huge - her eyebrows black - her nostrils split - large strong shoulders - breasts plentiful. She was wearing a wide tarbouch with a domed gold disc at the top, at the center of which was a small green stone imitating an emerald; the blue tassel of her hat was spread in a fan shape, going down to her shoulders. At the edge of the tarbouch, on the hair and going from one ear to the other, she had a small twig with fake white flowers. Her black, curly, unmanageable hair are parted in the middle - small braids joining on the neck - one of her incisor, on the upper-right side, is starting to rot. Her bracelet is made of two gold wires intertwined. Triple necklace in big hollowed gold beads. Earrings: a gold disc, slightly domed, with small gold beads on its circumference.

On her right arm, she has, tattooed, a line of writings in blue.


Kuchiuk dances the “dance of the bee”. Before, to be able to close the door, we get rid of Fergalli and of a sailor, who had witnessed the dances so far and who, at the background of the scene, were it’s grotesque part. A black veil has been put in front of the child’s eyes, and a fold of his blue turban has been lowered on the old musician’s eyes - Kuchiuk undressed while dancing - when one’s naked, one only keeps a scarf and pretends to be hiding behind it and ends up throwing the scarf away. That’s the bee. In fact, she didn’t dance very long and doesn’t like to dance this dance anymore. Joseph, heated, red, clapping in his hands: “la, en, nia, oh! en nia, oh!”.


She didn’t seem to care about us spending the night at her house, afraid of the thieves who come when they know strangers are staying. Guards, or pimps (she showed them to us, saying “ruffian, buono ruffian” and kicking them in their backsides for the laugh of it) slept on the ground floor, in a room between a bedroom and the kitchen.


Her body was full of sweat because of the dancing - she was cold. After the most violent licking, fuck. - She falls asleep her hand in mine, fingers intertwined. She snored. The lamp whose feeble light came to us and made something like a triangle of pale metal on her beautiful forehead - rest of the face in the shadow. Her small dog was sleeping on the sofa, on my silk jacket. As she was complaining about coughing, I put my coat on her blanket. I was hearing Joseph and the guards speaking quietly in the next room. - I was looking at her, sleeping. I was thinking about other nights when I watched other women sleeping - at all the other sleepless nights. I was thinking about everything, deep in sadness and dreams. I killed bedbugs on the wall and it made long red-black arabesques on the white wall. I felt her belly on my ass (I was crouching in the bed) - her pubis, hotter than her belly, was heating me like an iron. Another time I dropped off to sleep a finger around her necklace as if to hold her back if she had woken up. I thought about Judith and Holofernes. How sweet for one’s pride it would be to know that when leaving one would leave a memory behind - and that she would be thinking about you more than about the others, that you would stay in her heart.

At 2:45 a.m. she wakes up. Fuck again. Full of tenderness. We hold hands tight. We have loved each other, at least I think so. While sleeping she tightened her hands, her tights mechanically pressing on me, like unintentional shudders. - I smoke a chicheh. She goes and talks with Joseph. I go out in the street, the stars shine, the sky is very high. Kuchiuk comes back with a pot of red coals - for an hour she warmed herself crouched around it then she came back to bed and sleep. The pot of red coals was at the head of her bed and she slept with her heavy blanket over her head - “basta”.


Share this moment

Gustave Flaubert

"Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." [extracts from Flaubert's travel diary written in 1849-1851]

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook