Hard Luck Bar

by  and translated by Amani Elmawed  /  November 4, 2013  / No comments

Like any other bar in any city on earth, nothing was overwhelming…


Photo: Slimmer_Jimmer via Flickr

Six years ago, the writer (“the passerby”) was in a bus, traveling between two cities in the American Midwest. It was a long road lined on both sides with endless fields of yellow corn. At some points the writer would stick his face to the window and stare up at a sky free of birds. Other times he’d gaze out at the flat fields where he found no trees, no houses, and no people.

The bus gradually approached a large, elegant building standing alone in the yellowish solitude. The writer speculated on the unique structure—a bar—and then stood for long time by its lighted sign as the sun set. The big sign on top of the bar was written in a beautiful font; illuminated in different colors, it bore the name “Hard Luck Bar.”

  1. Off-Screen
  2. “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
  3. Hamdy el Gazzar
  4. Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.

The passerby liked the name and thought about it for months, until he realized that, with it, he could write his first story about America, a short piece called “Hard Luck Bar.” However, over the course of the next several months, he was unable to write anything but the title and a few lines. It was disappointing so he forgot about it.

Six years later, in the north west of another American city, the passerby was walking down a beautiful street; it was lined with colored houses and trees, and dotted everywhere with flowers of different shapes and colors. The city felt like spring, despite winter’s icy approach, and he was struck by the place’s exceptional, unique weather where the sun shone in the morning and the full moon appeared at night, and in the early morning and at sunset the merciful rain would fall.

The writer was happy as he ran with an umbrella under the heavy rain, which was gently musical to his ears. He was out just for the fun of walking in the rain at sunset, and was delighted and energetic, jumping in the empty street, watching the sky with its birds sending rain generously down to the trees and flowers and houses with their innovative facades full of paintings and flower arrangements as tree branches rapped on walls and doors.

After about an hour under the rain both the passerby and his umbrella were completely soaked, so he decided to enter the closest bar, quietly smiling.

To his delighted surprise, he saw lines of ashtrays and lit cigarettes in some hands. Men and women sat drinking, chatting, and laughing. It’s rare to see smoking allowed in bars in this city, the passerby thought.

So he sat, happy, having a local beer, and lit a cigarette.

On a large television screen, a reality show about a woman was playing. “She is really a man!!”

Then a young, drunk black woman, who the writer had known by just looking at her eyes, was watching the show and laughing with a white old man next to her.

The old man said: “Silly show. It’s twenty five years old.”

The passerby said, interfering: “It’s got to be making money and have an audience, no?”

The old man said “Yes,” and remained silent.

Across the bar was another big television, tuned to a different channel. It showed a baseball game, which other patrons watched with eager enthusiasm. At the far end of the bar was an old Crocket instrument that no one was playing, and next to it stood two girls in their twenties from the neighborhood waiting to pay so they could release themselves and play their music on the jukebox. The two girls were delightful and danced gently; one of them was sylph and blonde, the other was brown with a large butt and curly hair.

On the right side of the writer, a man named Ben with a hearty red and black face smiled and said: “Every day I wake up, I look up at the sky and say ‘Thank you, thank you.’ I do this every day.”

In this city Heaven has a lot of houses.

In one corner, a group of old people laughed like kids, sipping their glasses leisurely.

There were nothing unusual happening at all; some people from the neighborhood were spending their night at the bar. Nothing new. Sometimes two people would fight, or two friends would separate, and sometimes a man would kiss a woman, and sometimes…

Like any other bar in any city on earth, nothing was overwhelming, but the bartender insisted on inviting the passerby to another bottle of beer. No, nothing was different for him until he left and looked at the sign above the door. Then he smiled.

The name of the bar was “Hard Luck Bar.”

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