Cairo, spring of 1967.
Michael was fidgety, pacing the room restlessly. Then he sat down and looked at Anthony’s calm wrinkled face as that sat squarely behind his large desk waiting for the answer to his question. Finally Michael spoke as his eyes travelled to the black hat hanging on the rack at the corner of the room, his voice was shaking …He said, “Ed is my friend. We were friends since we were kids. I still remember that evening, many years ago, when we were going to the movies together. We were going to see Quo Vadis. After we bought the tickets, we still had some time before the show started. So, we went to eat. On our way back to the theater, I stopped to look at the hats in one of the shops. He laughed and started to make fun of me. “You are going to look like a clown in that black hat” he said. I badly wanted that hat for so many years.”
Anthony answered flatly, “I don’t care about your nostalgic stories Mike. Are you going to do it or not?”
Michael stopped to face him and asked , “What is going to happen to him if I testify against him?”
Anthony shrugged saying, “Why, he shall have to know his proper place. What you should be concerned with is that you shall get your long awaited Black Hat…it’s a big promotion. I guarantee you that much.”
When Michael tried to speak again, Anthony stopped him and asked for a yes or no to his question. At last, He gave his OK to testify against his life long friend even though he knew for certain that Edward was innocent.
It did not take Anthony much time to arrange everything. Michael got his promotion as promised. A few days later Edward was fired from the company. When he went home and told his wife, she became outraged at his “incompetence.” She accused him of being “rigid and unable to compromise.” All his attempts to explain to her that the charges against him were fabricated and untrue fell on deaf ears. She was fed up with his “standing up for principles.” She liked to throw at him the usual “we cannot eat principles. Principles cannot pay the rent.” Before long, she packed up her belongings and left him. As if Edward did not have enough misery, his ailing father soon followed his late mother to the grave. Only a handful of people came to console him at church for the death of his father. Since his wife left him, he was practically considered an outcast. Even the “good morning” and occasional “Hello” thrown at him by other parishioners were cold and condescending. He would walk all the way to the altar and look at the image of the crucified Christ with tearful eyes and say one word “Why?”
Edward had to accept a menial job at a shoe store to survive. Until one day in the course of business, a customer walked in and unexpectedly recognized him. “Ed. Is this really you? Edward Louis? Right?”
Edward hesitantly answered, “Yeah. (He was mindful the shop owner would think he was slacking) yes sir. You are…?
The stranger cheerfully said, “I am Raymond… Raymond Basil. We were in high school together, remember?
Edward smiled sadly saying, “OH. Raymond. It is hard to believe how the years fly by.”
They chatted for a while. As Raymond was paying for his new shoes at the cashier, he suddenly said, “Listen, Ed. Our church is going on a retreat next week during the long holiday. It is going to be a wonderful time for reflection and relaxation. Why don’t you come with us?”
Edward took a deep breath, “I… I don’t…sorry Raymond. I am not sure….”
Raymond insisted, “Nonsense… here, I have an extra ticket. All the directions are on the back and it is already paid for. I shall be very happy if you should join us.”
The retreat was great. He enjoyed the rest, the time for reflection and above all the free meals which came with the free ticket. Raymond tried very hard to convince Edward to join his church. But Ed thought “they are treating me well because they don’t know that my wife left me as “incompetent” and they don’t know that I was fired from my good position for being accused of all these horrible charges.” He always yearned to walk into his church which he had served for so many years, smell the invigorating incense, and feast his eyes on the beloved images of the saints so dear to his heart. He longed to be able to partake in the communion as he had always done. The enchanting hymns, which he memorized and kept humming day and night, could not be found anywhere else. Despite his refusal to join Raymond’s church, the latter finally offered him a position in his company and in a short time; he came to trust him unconditionally. Before long, Edward had achieved a very prominent position in the company. He was put in charge of distribution of all imported products. It was such a critical position because most other companies would compete bitterly to lay their hands on a piece of that market.
It was Monday morning, and Edward had to take care of certain business away from his office. When he finally got back to his office, he sat down at his desk and rang the bell for his secretary, “Jacob, will you please get me a cup of coffee. I am really tired.”
Jacob gladly said, “Edward, shouldn’t you have something to eat first?”
Edward said, “I don’t want to bother you too much. But if you can fetch me a sandwich as well, I’d be most grateful.”
Jacob responded, “It is my pleasure. (on his way to the door, Jacob stopped then turned and walked back towards the desk) Many people are waiting outside to see you.”
Edward raised his eyebrows, “I didn’t have any appointments today I/”
Jacob shrugged his shouldered, “None of them has an appointment. But I think you should see Fr. David first.”
Edward was surprised, “Fr. David? Here? Let him in right away.”
Jacob warned, “But I must warn you. You know why he is here?”
Edward waved him away, “Come on Jacob, never mind that. Please let him in…let him in… it is nice to keep him waiting”
Fr. David left Ed’s office with a big smile on his face. The sandwich Jacob brought was still untouched, when Jacob ushered in the next caller. For a moment, the earth seemed to stand still. The two men looked at each other for a long while. Edward, shocked, sitting at his desk and Michael standing humbly at the door, black hat in hand…tears swelling in their eyes. Ed finally ran towards Michael and hugged him. They remained speechless for some time, before Michael finally could speak, “I must ask you for a huge favor. The future of our company depends on this. We have to get the items on this list before the end of the month and/”
Edward did not let him finish, “We’ll let Jacob take care of that. You talk to me about Quo Vadis and about black hats…you clown.”