His name was Gerard, people called him “Giro”, he was what the Alexandrian intelligentsia, the artists and intellectuals may call, with a deep nostalgic look in their eyes, a good example of a cosmopolitan person or what is left from the “great cosmopolitan life that Alexandria witnessed early last century”.
Giro was my neighbor, a forty something Greek tailor who has inherited his shop and his profession from his father, lived and worked in Alexandria since ever. Entering to his shop, talking to him was a big adventure for the young thirteen years old girl that I was. I still remember him standing in his dusty shop, short and shubby with his lovely smile, white skin and laughing baby face always animated with colors, surrounded with these old fainted photos on walls representing his father with a traboush, and Giro’s young years when he worked in the sea. Yeah I forget to tell you that Giro was a sailor too.
For me he was like a fairytale: a Greek sailor who landed just next my home, telling me stories about life beyond the sea, lands that I’ll never see. He was “my childhood friend”. Well kind of, because I was always puzzled why he spent all this time chatting with me; it’s true that we were both francophone, and he enjoyed speaking French with me, he used to tell me “ أنا أعرف اعد بخمس لغات حتى شوف” ( he used to address me in the masculine grammatical form :). When i know think about it, i think that Giro was simply very lonely: he talked to me because he was very lonely.
After finishing the Don Bosco school technical diploma, he worked on ships as a sailor, one day his dying father asked him to stop travelling and to stay home to take care of his mother. Since this day, he never left her; till she died he was by her side taking care of her, all he was left with after her death, were his big apartment, his shop, his loneliness, and his old sea stories. “أنا وحيد، ما فيش حد هنا كله خلاص سافر ”
He couldn’t leave the country like the rest of his family, even after his mum death. Once, he tried to settle in Australia with his cousin, to see if he can move there forever, but he couldn’t, he came back to Alexandria and to his old rhythm. In the morning, he goes to open his shop, have breakfast with other shop owners and postmen crossing him, in the afternoon and evening, he stay alone at home or go to the Greek club.
I grew up, and by the time I stopped to pass by and chatting with him like old days. But from time to time, when my mom gave me some shirts to fix, I used to tell him
“معقول جيرو انت اهلي لسه بيضحكوا عليك، ايه اتنين جنيه دول عشان تركيب زراير، دول يعملوا ايه دول دلوقتي” ;
I still remember him answering laughing “أعمل ايه انا مسكين أنا غلبان انا يتيم”
From 8 months ago, he died! He simply got tired one day, next day, his neighbors transport him to the hospital. Before entering he told them “I’ll die”. I didn’t know by this time, after he died by 2 weeks, I knew by accident.
I suddenly felt like good people leave this earth! I thought he will be there forever. How can the neighborhood exists without Giro. And since, I felt that Giro’s life needs to be documented. The facts made him a perfect candidate to be labeled “Cosmopolitan person”. But he never was actually, or I never think of him that way, he was simply “Alexandrian”. He told me once, that the he can get easily the Greek nationality, that the Greek community in Alexandria is pushing him to get this nationality, to belong somehow to the “minority” but he refused.