According to statistics, the average life expectancy in Saudi Arabia is around seventy five years. This means that my father can die any time; and after I graduate from the university five years from now, it is very probable that my mother, my two paternal aunts and my grandfather will all be dead, which in turn means that by the time I graduate, I will be an orphan, and with only half a family.

Even if each member of my family outlives his life expectancy, there will be no doubt
and this I must take into consideration from now on that in the year 2015 many faces that greet me every day in the family will have disappeared. After dividing up my father’s inheritance, which is supposed to be between six and seven million, among myself and my five brothers, my share will be at least one million. The probability that my father might lose all his money before he dies is not a strong one, due to my Dad’s belt-tightening policy; likewise, the probability that the country’s economy will slow down and that the Rial will drop is a remote one because this has not happened in recent times. Moreover, the forecasts of economic analysts on some US websites and the stability of oil prices are very comforting. I think I need not worry too much about finding a job when I graduate, which is why I see no reason why I should study engineering. I will therefore study the field I like most, painting.


*   *   *   *

Committing one’s thoughts to paper can sometimes be a bad idea, for these lines have triggered a great deal of arguing, anger and blame on the part of my older brother who is suspicious of this corrupt, materialistic view of my future as well as of the rigor with which I am building my hypotheses and plans for the distant future. What is strange, though, is that I had never heard the word “materialistic” when he was urging me to
study the engineering which would later enable me to earn a fat salary; nor did I hear it during my silent listening to my brothers’ discussions with my father on any of their joint projects. My father, having recruited all my brothers into his company, was certain that I would join them and that I would not break away from the rule that had successfully enticed all five of my brothers before me.

My father, who will die in about five years, is a great man! I cannot but appreciate his intelligence, and his intuition which is right most of the time, and his wisdom in running this large male-dominated house. I have a feeling I will be grief-stricken when he passes away, but I am unlikely be mourning his death for very long as the rate of those whose mourning turns into a long pathological depression after the death of their loved ones is still low, and limited to widowhood and bereavement. It seems that the thought of losing one’s parents has always haunted children’s expectations, and I am certain that my older brother shares this feeling too, no matter how hard he tries to conceal it in our squabbles with one of those ancient human masks, accusing me of materialism, harshness and emotional recalcitrance.

I also believe that my older brother will die in about thirty years’ time.


*   *   *   *

I do not deny that the worst decision I have ever made in my life was to take up painting. I have been deceived by this fleeting passion which came upon me when I was in high school, imagining myself as that hand some artist whose beautiful love looks over his shoulder to contemplate her face drawn with utmost precision on the white canvas. It took only three or four such fantasy images to reach the decision that would affect my whole future. I had forgotten to look for statistics on the number of those who had taken up painting as an area of specialization with ardent zeal, and who after a while had lost this passion. This mistake has cost me two years so far, and if I decide to change my specialization now, it will cost me, in addition to the two wasted years, the trouble of having to endure hearing twenty or thirty expressions of the kind “I told you so?” uttered in various moods and tones and with meaningful glances from my five brothers. How stressful this is!

I must find a statistic on the number of those who, half way through their specialization, lost heart and decided to give up, and those who discovered, when they graduated, that it had all been a mistake. I believe this statistic will greatly inform my decision. The two years to graduation mean that I could be awarded a degree in painting a full year before my father passes away; and if I cannot find a good job, I would have to work in my father’s company for sure, which would also give me the pain of having to hear many expressions like “Didn’t we tell you so?” Furthermore, my father, who has only three years to live, does not seem to suffer from any illness; nor does he display symptoms of any disease. This means working many years in the company alongside my brothers with only a degree in painting. This is impossible!

A new plan must be found, but this time with utmost accuracy.

If I graduate from Arts College two years from now I can afford to waste a whole year on the pretext that I am looking for a job. I might even claim that I have had some job offers which I turned down because I did not like them. Then I will sell my car. Some of my savings and the money from the car will be enough to travel for a year or two to America or Europe on the pretext of pursuing higher studies. I will, of course, say that the university has sent me there to study. Once there, I still try to remain jobless and out of the university because I will not be able to pay for my education. Then I will return to my country. I believe faking a degree that will convince my brothers, who might be curious to see it, will not be too difficult for an artist like me. I can then hang on for another year on the pretext that I am tired of studying abroad and am looking around for a job to suit me. By then six years will have elapsed and my father must have died, because by then he would have outlived the average life expectancy by a whole three years.

The million I will inherit from my father will be enough to live a reasonably comfortable life for twenty years without having to work. I believe that twenty years will enable me to collect enough statistics to make an informed decision once the million has been spent. I must not forget an important point, though: at the end of the twenty years, my older brother will be seventy-three years old, and he will then have only two years more to live, or maybe less because he is a smoker. If I calculate my part of the inheritance, which I will share with his wife and two daughters, assuming that by then his wealth would not be less than several million and that his wife will have gone through the menopause, I will pocket a sum of money no less than two hundred thousand riyals, which is enough to live on for four years. As for the rest of my brothers, I cannot inherit from them, of course, because they have sons. Although that day is twenty eight years from now, I believe that due to a mixed set of demographic, ideological and historical statistics, the Islamic inheritance system will remain unchanged until my brother dies.

When the money I inherit from my brother twenty eight years from now is all gone, I will be fifty two years old, broke, an orphan, and without an older brother, and I will have to live for a further twenty-three years as I do not smoke and do not suffer from any ailments, which is very frightening! Twenty three years of senility, poverty, misery and useless statistics! I cannot find any other scenarios that I can take into consideration; and even if all my calculations sound too optimistic and if I am too tight-fisted, I will still live for a few more years, which may not alleviate the systematic and expected misery I will be living in for a quarter of a century.

I believe I must show some courage and opt for one of these two choices:
I will either start smoking, or switch to engineering.


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