He asked politely but without any undue warmth if they had enjoyed the visit, but was alerted by his mother's reply, a firm negative, as she poured her breakfast tea. Sensing a more interesting story, he raised an enquiring eyebrow at his father; already well on with his breakfast and clearly trying not to laugh. Now intrigued, he asked about the family but again the answer was uncharacteristically brief. Knowing his mother, he decided to say no more, and after his father had finished and left the table he had only a few minutes to wait before it all came tumbling out.
"What sort of an aunt does she think she is, I ask you? I knew my brother should never have married her. She hasn't the brains of a hen!"
"Oh, yes?" put in Nury helpfully, to fill the gap.
"She took me to see that girl - white as snow and eyes blue as blue indeed!" She bit vengefully on a green olive, then proceeded. "I wouldn't have thought even your aunt could have been so stupid. Of course she knew, that's why she was so cagey about the girl âÃÃ¬ thought with her looks we'd have her anyway." She had been helping herself to apricot jam, and here she paused and pointed the spoon at him before continuing. A drop of jam dropped onto the dish of small slices of white sheep's cheese, it looked rather pretty he thought. His mother noticed first his glance then the jam, made an irritated "Tchah" noise and replaced the jam spoon. Dipping pieces of the thin bread, called khubs, into the jam on her plate, and taking alternate bites of that and pieces of the cheese she continued: "You know who she is, of course?"
"Well, no, not really," answered her son. "You told me which family, but I don't know any more than that. She isn't a friend of one of the girls, is she?"
"Certainly not!" snapped his mother. "Anyway, she was in a different class from your sisters. She was between Rula and Rana, which makes her about nineteen or twenty now. She's doing Arabic Literature at the university. But," she added, "That's not the point."
"Oh, no?" encouraged Nury, by now getting really interested as to what the point could possibly be.
"No," said his mother firmly, "the point is this, and mark you that your aunt knew this all along, her mother is Shiran!" She sat back triumphantly and sipped her tea. Nury was puzzled.
"Shiran?" he said, then his eyes opened wide and a grin split his face. "You don't mean Shiran the dancer, do you?"
"That's just what I do mean. She was married to this girl's father a long time ago. She mustn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen at the time. I expect her family wanted to see her safely married off before she could get into trouble, but they were wasting their time. She had this baby girl, then she started dancing - at women's parties at first and then in public .I remember she was on television once, and after that no-one could stop her. Her father and brothers did what they could, one of her brothers even threatened to kill her, but she wouldn't listen to reason. He didn't dare try it either, because by then she'd got the kind of friends it's better not to cross." She gave him a look full of meaning over the top of her cup and continued: "Of course, he divorced her very quickly. He married again, much more sensibly, and she's never been back here, but he has to put up with her flaunting herself on the television all the time."
"What's the daughter like?" asked Nury casually. At this his mother put down her now-empty tea glass and looked him full in the face.
"It doesn't matter what she's like," she said very firmly, "it's what her mother is that counts. She seems a nice enough girl, but the idea of dancer in the family! Really! I told your aunt that if your grandfather had not already been dead, God rest his soul, that would have surely killed him."
Nury had been eating steadily throughout the recital, so now he excused himself and left the table. During the morning at the pharmacy he had a quiet smile to himself several times at the thought of his mother, who considered herself too far above the common herd to have to mention the fact, coping with a dancer's daughter, however virtuous and well brought-up.
At lunchtime he arrived at their gate just behind his father, and caught up with him as they entered the building.
"Your mother had quite an experience last night. Did you hear about it?" Nury nodded and his father continued, "I don't know what my sister was thinking of. She's always been silly but she's never suggested anything as bad as that before."
"I'm sure Auntie meant well."
"Yes, perhaps." Then a gleam of humour from the older man, "But I wouldn't mind seeing the girl. Her mother still dances, but not like before. When she was younger she was something really special. I wonder if the girl takes after her for looks."
Nury stopped in his tracks and stared at his father in surprise. Abu Nury walked on a few paces, then noticed and turned to smile at his son mischievously.
"Come on, boy," he said, "We'll be late for lunch, and I don't think that would be too diplomatic today. What are you looking so surprised at? I haven't always been this age, you know."
The smiled at each other and went up the stairs companionably.