Youssef Helmi

How to Walk Like an Egyptian

I’m only eight when the music in class asks me to
walk like an Egyptian
                                                               You’re an Egyptian.
What does an Egyptian walk like? I look around
class and see Bobby walking sideways, like
characters in comics I draw, torso forward, fighting
monsters and beasts, because I want to make some-
thing like my favorite manga. Jazzlyn moves with
her arms bent behind and in front of her, sliding them
back and forth like unsure tadpoles slinking to the
music. Mrs. Ross sees me mummified and kneels
before me, smile inviting cultural exchange,
                                                  You’ve lived in Egypt, right?
        Why don’t you show the class how to walk like one?
Oh, I don’t know. Do they walk like my father, kind
of hulking, shoulders jutting forward, constantly
disapproving                        Chest up, walk like a man.
Oh, so they walk with their chest up, but what do
they do with their legs? Are they like the bearded,
balding man I see at the Quiznos I eat at with my
dad after school, always sitting in a wheelchair,
so then they don’t walk at all?
                                            He’s not Egyptian, he’s Iraqi.
        You can tell from the hair, it’s different from ours.
Thank you father for showing me these differences,
for showing me the rubble of another hospital in the
West Bank, thank you for showing me how white
phosphorus burned the infant alive. I don’t quite
see it yet, but I understand we’re all different. When
I’m all grown up and see the strike on the Iraqi preschool,
a father digging out a son flayed by shrapnel; when I sit
in on the interview with the Yemeni boy whose father and
uncle were taken away and only one came back, who’s
afraid to go to school in case he returns and the other is
gone; when I tutor the Syrian girl who can’t forget the hole
in her bedroom wall, her brother whose bed was by that
wall, the blood that soaked through her dress and into her
skin, I don’t feel a thing. Thank you father, but please stop.
I don’t want to have to see these things. I just want to know,
will I walk like an Egyptian if I turn my back and hang my head low?

Youssef Helmi

Youssef Helmi is an Egyptian-American writer and poet at Florida State University studying Creative Writing, Political Science, Arabic and French. His fiction has been featured in Cleaver Magazine and Scribendi Magazine, and this is his first published poem. When not writing, he stress drinks flavored lattes at local coffee shops, indulges in Wes Anderson movies, and muses over the musical merits of death metal.