The Sergeant’s Fiasco or who is the real father?


The narrator in Kamal Ruhayyim's novella, The Sergeant’s Fiasco, is a murderer who recounts the story of a crime, whose details unfold gradually.

From the very first page, Adel Hassan, the narrator who has attempted to kill his mother and her husband, declares that he has a clear conscience and does not have any regrets! Thus, the reader is intrigued to know more.

The story begins with portraying Adel’s trial for attempted murder, in which several female neighbours show solidarity with him. Soon, however, we accompany the narrator as he attempts to exonerate himself before the readers by describing in flashbacks what happened.

The story we read begins with Adel as a child, who was able, through an acute sense of his surroundings, to observe and record many details of his relationship with his father and how things stood between his parents. Furthermore, we are introduced to the covert relationship between his mother and her lover, Zakariya, who later becomes Adel's stepfather. 

The story is set in Port Said in the 1960s, and the main protagonist is Adel, the son of a police sergeant named Hassan. Through Adel, we become privy to his father's feelings, disappointments, and serenity. We also see Hassan's helplessness before his wife, Wedad, and the constant humiliation he is subjected to, whether at the police station or at his house.

Adel recounts how his mother insulted and humiliated his father and how she forced him into accepting gratuities, which he had always considered to be sinful. 

Many characters insinuated that Adel was probably a bastard due to the lack of similarity between Hassan and Adel. These included El-Salakawi, the police station's local area commander and Hassan's only friend, and Hassan's brother El-Shennawi. Adel remembers that as a child, they explicitly cast doubts about his filiation as they stared at his face. Though he was aware of these remarks during childhood, Adel was too young to understand their implications. 

In addition, we come to know that Zakariya paid attention to Adel early on. For instance, when he returned from the pilgrimage in Mecca, his eyes seemed to see only Adel among the neighbourhood children playing in the street.  

Hassan’s bond with his son began when he used to take Adel with him everywhere he went, whether it was to the police station, to El-Salakawi, or the beach, where they stayed for hours. However, when his mother took him to the market with her, Adel always heard men’s remarks on his mother’s immodest clothes and the way she walked. Such remarks amused her greatly.

Adel's mother, and Hassan's wife, Wedad (which means endearment in Arabic) is portrayed as a despicable, loose, impertinent, and sharp-tongued woman who would do anything for money. When Hassan used to find gold jewellery items or money in her handbag, she always claimed they were gifts from her mother. And though he never believed her, Hassan never confronted her.

The author posits the 28th of September 1969 (exactly one year before the death of Egypt's president at the time, Nasser) as the darkest day in the narrator’s life. On that day, Adel sees his mother’s betrayal of his father in their house after his father travels for several days to sell his land to his sibling.

Eavesdropping on his mother and her lover, Zakariya, Adel discovers that Zakariya is his biological father. He also becomes aware of Wedad and Zakariya's plot to murder Hassan, his non-biological father. Wedad finds out that Adel has been in the house all along. From that point onwards, she cannot look him in the eye!

As Hassan’s health begins to deteriorate, Adel suspects that his mother is behind this. However, he does not reveal to his father the ominous secret until his death. Hassan's death shakes Adel to the core, causing him to drop out of school, sleep in the streets, and eat in restaurants without paying.

As soon as he knows about his mother's marriage to her lover, Adel returns to his house to take revenge on both his mother and Zakariya. While living with them, Adel constantly contemplates revenge and describes his mother as “Zakariya’s woman." One day, a famous song triggers him, and he attacks his biological father with a knife and badly wounds his mother. On her return from the hospital, Wedad, Adel's mother, becomes bedridden and raves madly.

Adel is consequently arrested and stands trial. The novella concludes with an open end when the guard informs Adel that the verdict will be announced in the next court session.

Ruhayyim's The Seargeant's Fiasco raises significant questions about what constitutes a true father, for the story portrays Adel's adoration of the man who raised him but was not his biological father as opposed to the hate and disdain he felt towards his biological father.

In addition, the story's main protagonist, Adel, is portrayed as a precocious child who is also too sophisticated for someone who has received so little education.

The reader will also observe that though Seargent Hassan's family is described as living on a shoestring budget in the 1960s, they own a TV set. Only affluent families could afford a TV set in Egypt in the 1960s.  

Ruhayyim's subtle sense of irony is revealed when he designates a song by Ahmed Adawiya in the 1970s as kindling Adel's desire for revenge, for it was this song, in particular, that also caused the Egyptian State Radio to ban any songs by Adawiya.