were over I burst out with the hopelessly over-determined question I had long held within me, perhaps ever since I saw her dance in 1950. ‘How many times have you been married, Tahia?’ I asked. This was as close as I could come to asking her to connect the sensuality of her dancing (and that incredible smile of hers) with her personal life.
The transformation in her appearance was stunning. She had barely finished her prayers when, in response to my question, she sat up straight, one elbow cocked provokingly at me, the other arm gesturing rhetorically in the air. ‘Many times,’ she retorted, her voice taking on the brassiness one associates with a lady of the night. Her eyes and her tone seemed to add: ‘So what? I’ve known lots of men.’ Seeking to get us out of this little impasse, the eversolicitous Nabiha asked her which of them she had loved, which had influenced her. ‘None at all,’ she said harshly. ‘They were a shabby lot of bastards;’ a declaration followed by a string of expletives. Far from the resignation and detachment of a prayerful old age, this powerful outburst revealed an individualist and a fighter. And yet one also felt the romantic spirit of a person often deceived who, given a chance, would fall in love again. Tahia’s latest difficulties with a man, the rascally Fayek Halawa, were chronicled in remorseless detail. Our sympathies were fully with her, however, as they were when she and Nabiha took off after a wealthy film distributor who was trying to manipulate the syndicate. ‘Ah men,’ she sighed. Her lively eyes looked at me quizzically.