‘Zaabalawi’ is a story by the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz about a man with a strange or unknown affliction who seeks out a great healer called Zaabalawi. The story is filled with symbolism and creates scenarios that allow the reader to think deeply to unravel its intended message. Similarly, the story proceeds from the perspective of the narrator, who is the sick man, as he looks for Zaabalawi in the streets of Cairo. Zaabalawi is a mysterious character that a lot of people seem to know about but few or none can accurately locate him and help cure his disease that no other doctor can cure. Additionally, Zaabalawi is highly regarded in the streets of Cairo as a healer and given the title of a saint for his ability to heal physical afflictions and provide religious salvation.
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The narrator o the story first discovers Zaabalawi from the tales that his father told him. His father referred to Zaabaawi as a holy being and as a person with the ability to help a person overcome their worries and challenges, affirming that Zaabalawi was instrumental in giving him a peaceful life. Consequently, the narrator understands that Zaabalwi is a powerful person and sets out on a mission to find him and get healed. In his quest to find Zaabalwi, the narrator meets various other characters who do not necessarily guide him but sets him on a path that would ultimately lead to him finding the mysterious Zaabalawi. The narrator first encounters a religious lawyer who doesn’t pay him much attention because he sees the narrator as a potential client. The narrator concludes that Zaabalawi is not there and leaves and later encounters a bookseller who is driven by greed but ironically sells books about wisdom and truth. The narrator does not find Zaabalawi here either and leaves, meeting a government officer who again cannot give him the lead he wants. Moreover, he also meets with a street artist and a musician but he is frustrated that he still cannot find who he is looking for. Eventually, he meets up with a drunkard who successfully leads him to Zaabalawi.