A Conversation from the Third Floor by Mohamed El-Bisatie
In A Conversation from the Third Floor by Mohamed El-Bisatie we have the theme of conflict, connection, corruption, endurance, struggle and loss. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator it becomes clear to the reader from the beginning of the story that El-Bisatie may be exploring the theme of conflict. Though the narrator does not specifically state that Aziza is outside a prison his description of events suggest that this is the case. Aziza is waiting to see her husband, Ashour. What is also interesting about the story is that El-Bisatie does not tell the reader as to why Ashour may be in prison. We know neither whether he is guilty or innocent of any crime. Which may heighten the conflict in the story. Ashour’s actions at the beginning of the story are also interesting as he had hoped that Aziza might have brought all three of their children with her. This may be important as despite the fact that Ashour is physically confined he still wishes to connect with his family. It is as though he wishes for there to be some light in his life for a brief moment.
It is also possible that El-Bisatie is exploring the theme of endurance. Aziza has done everything that has been asked of her by Ashour. Any that she can reasonably do. Like bringing the five packets of cigarettes. Symbolically the cigarettes may be important as El-Bisatie may be using them to highlight the corruption that exists among the prison guards when Ashour only receives three packets of cigarettes. The theme of loss is self-evident in the story. Not only has Aziza lost access to Ashour but Ashour has also lost his freedom. So complicated are matters that neither Aziza nor Ashour know where Ashour is being transferred to. Which leaves the reader suspecting that it will be some time before Aziza knows exactly where Ashour is going. It may also be a case that El-Bisatie is suggesting that others like Ashour and Aziza might find themselves in the same position. Having to endure the fact that they might not know for some time or till contact his been made as to where their loved one may be going to. Which may be a critique of the prison system.
It is also noticeable that the policeman on the horse remains motionless for most of the story. As though he is falling asleep. This too could be important as again El-Bisatie may be criticizing those in authority. The policeman has a job to do but appears to be more interested in sleeping. Similarly with the guard on duty in the tower. He rests his head against the wall of the tower. As though he too like the policeman wishes to sleep. If anything the most energetic characters in the story are the prisoners and they are confined to a small space in which too much exertion may cause problems for them with other prisoners. Something which is noticeable when Ashour tells the other prisoners to be quiet. Though it is clear that life is unpleasant for Ashour while he is in prison. His freedom after all has been taken away from him. Aziza too appears to struggle with life at home without Ashour. Simple thing like pruning the two date palms are a chore that are beyond her. It is as though Ashour is expecting Aziza to do work that is usually associated with a man. Which may be the point that El-Bisatie is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that life with one parent or spouse missing can be difficult.
The end of the story is also interesting as by having Aziza breast feeding her child El-Bisatie may be symbolically highlighting how vulnerable Aziza really is. She is by the prison wall on the side of a street, sitting on a pile of stones. Nothing has really been resolved through her conversation with Ashour. Ashour appears to be handling the position he finds himself in well. Yet the same cannot be said for Aziza. She is alone with the responsibilities of two parents. Ashour has his transfer and his cigarettes. Yet Aziza has learnt or gained nothing from her visit to Ashour. Just as Ashour is imprisoned behind bars there is a sense that Aziza too is imprisoned. That her life cannot move forward under the conditions she finds herself in. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Aziza’s life is paralysed. She does after all make very little movement (like the policeman) in the story. She waits for Ashour’s transfer. Though she doesn’t know where he is going. She has work to do at home that will not be done and she has three young children that she has to raise on her own. While at the same time keeping her commitment to Ashour.