The Ostrich
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The Ostrich picked his nose on prime time television. What he dislodged he rolled leisurely between his thumb and forefinger like a grain of rice, a seed. Held it up, peered at it closely, narrowing his eyes and then flicked it away. We hooted with laughter at his face as we girls crowded around the black and white TV set, cross-legged on the floor, on each other's laps on wobbling metal chairs, Vaseline glistening on our arms and rollers in our hair, It was a game show, a poetry competition with the flamboyant title, 'Knights in the Arena'. When a competitor recites a verse, his opponent must recite one that starts with the last letter of the last word in that verse. The skill was in memory and the ability to throw verses at your opponent which end with the same letter, depleting his particular stock.

The Ostrich excelled. Leaning back on his chair, his fingers in his nose and in his ears, oblivious to the cameras, to the hundreds who were watching, he gave us the poetry of the pre-Islamic Arabs, their pride in the strength of their tribe. Lovers weeping at the remains of the camp fires from which their beloved had gone away, the Sufi poems of self-annihilation and longing to join the Almighty.

Alienated in his own hazy world, the Ostrich was free. And when he won the prize of fifty pounds (a good amount in those days) and a trophy, he took as many of us as he could to a restaurant by the Nile, where we ate kebabs and watched the moon's reflection flutter in the running water below.

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