Talat Harb: The First Third War

by M. Leibundgut, Jan 4th, 2003

Chapter One

In the midst of the filthy dense black smog, the European beast slowly descended into the bright lake of white lights. Flight 007 direct from Rome to Cairo with full meal service included landed with a gentle thud. All people aboard the plane who had been discreetly eyeing the bearded passenger hiding in the central aisle sighed with relief. It was with great distress they had watched him eat his freeze-dried potatoes and sip his tea, and it was with greater distress that they had watched him visit the lavatory in the back of the plane.

The evil man did not wear a long garb or headscarf. However, the beard was a dead giveaway that he was a villain in plainclothes set on a secret mission to destroy them all.

“He is a terrorist,” an Asian boy who looked Japanese whispered to his Australian seatmate.

“Yes, I know mate. It’s a preposterous end,” the Australian replied grimly.

“I am not going down!” Cried a Texan wearing a cowboy hat and boots making a lunge towards the seat where the bearded man sat indifferently until his seatmate, a strong brute of a German, reached out and grabbed him and handed him his business card. The Texan studied it, and looked suspiciously at the German and thought he was a brute. It wasn’t until the German started affirming his feelings of death with positive feedback and even constructive advice that he started to actually open up and talk about his feelings. In the middle of this impromptu therapy session, the German brute, who wasn’t a brute at all, didn’t notice that he had lost the time.

“He’s a terrorist,” a pale thin-lipped Swede told his fat Italian companion.

“Yes, of course,” the fat Italian said haughtily. “Don’t be so stupid, do you think you are going to live forever?” The fat Italian nearly shouted and began waving his hands in the name of the good Lord above, and making strange signs with his hands above his heart and head so that the Swede thought he was making a secret signal to him. So secret, he could not understand and when he asked, the fat Italian told him to shut up in Latin.

“I don’t understand Italian,” the Swede whined.

“It’s not Italian you bastard, it’s Latin,” and the fat Italian began to make strange signs again.

Then the Swede who was a rich doctor and very competitive in everything especially plastic surgery which he performed on charity patients had a clever idea and he began to mime the Italian in Swedish. Then he began to mime his way on top of the fat Italian.

“Knock it off!” The fat Italian hollered in Latin.

So, the Swede mimed his way back into his seat and sat there stone faced.

“What is your problem?” The fat Italian asked in Latin.

“Je ne comprend pas,” the Swede replied. Then like magic he remembered the only Latin he knew from an Enigma song, “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa,” about three hundred times so quickly and with such great eloquence and perfect pronunciation that the fat Italian began to think he was possessed.

“Yes, I am a Satanist,” the thin lipped Swede replied and from under his chair pulled a huge autographed poster of Anton LaVey and stuck it with tacky glue on the back of the seat in front of him. “I like your jacket,” said the thin lipped Swede licking his thin lips. “It’s polyester isn’t it?”

“Shut up you fool,” and the fat Italian took a small plastic vial of special anti-demon salts and threw it with a short prayer into the Swede’s eyes.

“Oh my!” The thin-lipped Swede started to cry. “I can’t see, help me what have you done?” He bawled.

Normally someone would have helped the poor Swede out but they were far too fixated on their own imminent death to think about anyone but themselves.

So it was like this throughout the four-hour flight. The passengers squirmed in a thick smelly sweat and eyed the bearded man with extreme detest and abhorrence who paid no attention to anything except his food intake and subsequent lavatory needs. The flight attendants shrewdly noted that few people sitting in C-section of the plane finished or began their airplane meal, save the bearded man, and started to worry that it was not delicious enough.

They immediately reported this disaster to the captain who suggested a quick stop in Athens for an alternative meal plan. “Phone ahead and see what they have available,” he commanded his passive co-pilot. “But none of that vegetarian meat.”

All attendants concurred that this was the best possible plan but they became more troubled when after announcing the unplanned and sudden stop at Athens International Airport all of the passengers sitting in C-section began to shriek and hold each other, all except the Italian and the Swede who had begun to hate each other so much they were hatching secret plans of murdering each other when no else one was looking, and of course the bearded terrorist who was on a secret mission to destroy them all.

Suddenly it was obvious to all of the staff and even some of the non-staff who weren’t aware of the bearded culprit in the back that the meat had poisoned all of the passengers in C-section and that is why they had not eaten any of it.

“It is ok pilot,” explained a particularly full-breasted blonde stewardess. The captain eyed her lasciviously and wondered to himself if he could have the passive co-pilot take over for a few minutes so that he could be intimate with her.

“Great! Onward to Cairo!” Shouted the captain full of sexual tension that he couldn’t hide and which the attendant sensed and became uncomfortable because she was a lesbian not fully out of the closet. In order to escape a near rape by the captain who was notorious for raping his female attendants in the vast darkness of the cockpit, and then proclaiming before all courts lower than the Hague that he didn’t even know his victim was in the cockpit because it was so dark and it was surely the tumult of the ride that she had felt not his body parts. He could prove this with computer generated resonance graphs that he had fabricated years ago in a real wind tunnel. She pretended to have an appointment with one of the passengers in the back of the plane and apologized profusely.

“Perhaps next time, when we fly to Lahore,” she winked at him.

“Damn,” thought the captain. “Stupid passengers. There would be far fewer crashes if passenger flights were segregated by sex,” he complained loudly to his slightly deaf but otherwise passive co-pilot who had a great talent for VFR and wasn’t in favor of discrimination neither by sex or abilities. It was only recently that a new anti-discrimination law had been passed allowing the handicapped to fly IFR.

He didn’t say anything to the captain mostly because he was passive, secondly because he couldn’t hear him, but he made a few signs with his hands that the captain of course immediately understood and told him to shut up.

At Cairo International Airport A and B-section alighted with superb grace, followed by the trembling C-section. They had just escaped death and now they could live to tell about it; almost all alighted with a firm belief in God and a plan to spend the rest of their lives spreading the word around the world of His great grace and mercy. Yes, four hours, and entire lives had been transformed.

Those who were on Prozac tossed the pills into the trash; all other crutches were abandoned, and everyone, except the Italian and the Swede who were found mysteriously murdered with not one but two steak knives in the locked lavatory of the C-section of the plane, found new meaning in life. Consequently, this was quite worrisome to the captain, who was sensitive to his passengers moods and paranoid of another lawsuit. So, when no one was looking he pocketed a solid gold watch with sixty-six six carat diamonds encircling its face lying between the dead Italian and the dead Swede on the floor of the lavatory; the only viable evidence of the crime scene.

But, in a few days everyone whose life had been transformed to contain meaning and purpose would return to normal again, and the captain would commence planning a more ingenious way to rape the lesbian in the cockpit whilst flying to Islamabad.

Jane had been sitting in the middle of C-section. She barely remembered any part of the hazard filled flight because as soon as she had taken a few Valium and pushed it back with some vodka shots she fell asleep on the arm of a big fat woman with flowing golden hair. The woman was so fat that she couldn’t even feel Jane curled up in a dead sleep against her until Jane awoke. She tried to push the pillow away which was not a pillow but really the woman’s fat and the fat woman swore at her in French and flapped her fat about so much that some of it hit Jane in the nose so hard that she started to cry and ran to the lavatory for tissue.

The lesbian flight attendant, who was still shaking from escaping a near rape in the cockpit, consoled her with a few gin and tonics and a nice massage that got a little out of hand until Jane insisted the fat woman was actually her lover.

Now, in a drugged daze, she wobbled on black stilettos off the plane lugging a big back leather bag and was devoured by a vaporous crowd of dark sweaty Egyptian men offering fabulous and amazingly special deals at their brother’s hotel, cheap taxi rides, and ridiculously stupendous and delightful tour deals to see all of the ruins.

Jane forged through customs, ignored all the guards with real Russian AK-47s, forwent chances of a lifetime, and was spit out by the crowd to a dirty parking lot out back. She climbed on bus 422 and immediately a slick gentleman dressed like a Lebanese tour guide moved his body dangerously close to hers. She changed seats and sat next to an Asian boy.

“Where are you from?” She asked encroaching his seat space for safety.

“I am Japanese,” he said without expression and scooted back with internal fear.

“I have a nice hotel for you my friend. It is cheap and nice with television,” hissed the slick Lebanese looking man into their ears from the back seat. His breath was warm, tempting, and ticklish.

“How much?” Jane asked without turning around.

p> “Trust me, I never lie. Very cheap. Only eight per night,” he thrust eight paltry fingers in front of their faces.

“Really?” said the Japanese boy suspiciously turning around.

“Yes, and good too,” promised the slick man looking at Jane’s expensive clothes. “Haven’t we met before my friend?”

“No,” Jane murmured looking at the shining tips of her black stilettos in the dark.

“Green line?” He chuckled like a harlequin.

“No, I am afraid you have the wrong person sir,” she refused to turn around and look at him.

“All right fine then,” the man dressed like a Lebanese tour guide agreed. “But, once I kissed someone who looked just like you on the green line; ah, yes, and what a kiss,” flashbacks of firecrackers and dump trucks filled his mind and he sighed. “Alas,” he hissed, “the girl was a rotten liar and my heart broke into a million pieces,” he snickered so hard the Japanese boy thought it respectful to mimic him and when he did, he automatically offended the slick Lebanese looking man who had actually had his heart broken into a million pieces and was only laughing to conceal his pain and salvage his pride. Moisture filled the slick Lebanese man’s eyes and the Japanese boy’s face turned black with morose.

It was mutual distrust at first sight and the slick Lebanese looking man sensing a pile of money about to slip down the drain began to massage their tired shoulders. First the Japanese boy and then Jane, and when he finished they asked him to do it again.

He was a true businessman and never let his emotions get in the way of making money.

“Not once,” he thought proudly as the bus wound through the hot dusty night, past kiosks selling fresh fruit and metal devices, passing children dressed in thin t-shirts and rolled up pants running along the roads chasing balls through the dark streets.

In downtown Cairo, far across the street from the great-polluted Nile River, the bus came to a final halt before the grand statue of Talat Harb. “He was a rich man,” the Lebanese looking tour guide looked at him with admiration. “He could have anything he wanted, women, food, hotels,” he sighed. “This is one of our national heroes,” and he paused to let Jane and Japanese boy stare up at him in awe.

“Talat Harb?” Jane who was fluent in five dialects of Arabic had never heard of such a violent name. “That means Third War?”

“Yes, so? And this is his square, and this street, let’s go,” he pointed East. “Actually some say three wars. What are you doing?”

Jane was bent over translating the Arabic inscription to the Japanese boy.

The slick man, who looked like a Lebanese tour guide, was angry at Jane for showing off and snatched the Japanese boy away from her, “Look Japanese boy, Talat Harb was the greatest man alive. He was born in 1867 and died in 1941 and during his lifetime he gave Egypt economic independence, and established the first national bank of Misr in 1920. Furthermore, he founded Studio Misr, the biggest most wonderful film studio in Cairo in 1935. It became the foundation for the cinema industry in Egypt, and made Egyptian films famous all across the world.”

“I didn’t know Egypt made films,” the Japanese boy raised his eyebrows at Jane.

“Don’t look at her,” the slick Lebanese man told him sternly. “Of course they make films, thanks to Talat Harb. But most importantly he wrote a great book on the evil of women,” he looked directly at Jane. “Women are the source of all corruption, greed, evil, and immorality in the entire world. They are also inferior to men in all regards.”

“Prove it,” Jane challenged him.

“I don’t have to prove it. Talat Harb proved it himself. He hired a German scientist to research the differences between women who wear the veil and women who don’t. The German scientist proved that German women betray their husbands seven times on average, and the Belgian and the British about five times. Veiled women do not betray their husbands at all,” he pointed to Jane. “You are not veiled, furthermore you are American so you will betray your husband much much more.”

Jane foundered. The slick Lebanese man knew he had won and moved on. “Let’s go!” He took them by their shoulders. “This way my friends,” the slick Lebanese looking man held their hands and the convoy trooped into an rusty lift that creaked them slowly up to the tenth floor. Opening the latch, they stepped forth into the bright clean lights of the Ismailia House reception. They did not recognize it at first because they were in the arms of a stranger. There were four long calico couches sprawled before a balcony overlooking half broken colonial buildings and a million television antennas. But, it was the roar of traffic, even at midnight, that spiraled up from the street below and was filtered into their subconscious, where it would later be retrieved, and remind them of home that gave the place a warm cheery feeling.

“Welcome to Egypt,” said a balding man. “I am Ahmed the night clerk. “ In fact, Ahmed was sometimes the day clerk as well. “How is the weather in your country?” He asked cordially. “We’ve been having just really super weather this month.”

“How much?” the Japanese boy asked cutting through all the crap.

“At what cost would you put on convenience and good utility?” Shot out the slick man defensively.

“Utility, a stupid invention of the mundane,” said the Japanese boy who was not very pragmatic had memorized heaps of English philosophy phrases.

“Well,” Ahmed cleared his throat, “ it is six dollars in your money per night and we have a wonderful television.” Ahmed pointed to six zombie-eyed Germans wearing brown linty flannel pajamas staring at the television. “We even have hot water, lights, and we serve a unique breakfast in the morning,” he proudly pointed to the permanent menu above his head.

“What kind of breakfast? The Japanese boy squinted at Ahmed.

“We serve you a nice fresh western style roll and a packet of delicious strawberry jam, honey, and nice packet of cream cheese, which I am quite happy to say is new,” he pointed the menu again where someone had written in red magic marker the word new.”

“We also give you a fresh boiled chicken egg, some real Egyptian sugar and real cream with your choice of Egyptian style coffee or genuine Egyptian tea.”

“It sounds delicious,” said the Japanese boy.

“But, he said eight pounds,” Jane quickly pointed out.

Ahmed and the slick man exchanged hostile looks.

“No,” Ahmed looked at them with misplaced sorrow and guile, “he was confused, he meant six dollars not eight dollars.”

“He said pounds,” Jane replied.

”He meant dollars, and I am giving you a two dollar discount,” Ahmed was rapidly becoming incensed.

“Is it cheaper if we don’t eat breakfast?” Ventured the Japanese boy.

“Why Japanese don’t eat? You only eat raw fish eh? You want your egg raw in the morning? Is that why you people are so skinny?” Ahmed who felt obese and inferior compared to the Japanese boy asked viciously. “ I thought you were a girl at first. I recommend you put on a few pounds, it will make you more attractive.”

The Japanese boy who was really not Japanese but Korean suddenly felt all his past and present inferiorities wash over him. Luckily because he was Asian he could hide his emotions. “We do not eat raw fish,” he lied stoically.

“Then what do you eat?” Ahmed said with a penetrating sneer.

“We eat hamburgers, steak, and fries,” said the Japanese boy who was really Korean proudly without a trace of pain.

Ahmed, who was wiser than Freud and Jung combined, immediately felt deep sympathy for the boy and patted him on the head.

Jane pulled the confused boy aside and whispered some secrets to him. There they were, two strangers coalesced against the mendacious, backwards, and decadent hostility of the Arab world, which was not really Arab but Egyptian. Two wholly innocent people suddenly forced to fight a war to save their lives and all mankind. They staggered out holding their breasts, and when they slammed the gate of the lift they breathed in relief.

“That was close,” Jane said.

“Yeah, we need a really cheap place,” the Japanese boy who was really Korean wiped sweat from his brow.

“Pensione de Familie,” said Jane perusing her guidebook for cheap places. Out on the street they walked around the block following the map, and two dark boys wearing leather jackets and with nothing to do in the middle of the night but wander in peace, peacefully wandered up to them.

“What are you looking for?” the taller one gazed at them like they were two lambs prancing in a lush green meadow.

“Pensione de Famille,” Jane replied wondering why he was gazing at them so peacefully.

“There, my friend,” the tall one peacefully pointed across the busy street to a row of falafel shops. “Next to the falafel shop.”

So they crossed the street, and stopped before a crumbling building, and wondered what to do next. A thin elderly gentleman wearing a snug navy blue turtleneck and holding a candle, hissed at them. “How can I help you?” he asked bringing the candle closer up to his face revealing a mouthful of black holes.

“We need a cheap room,” Jane told him desperately.

“The family of the pensione is sleeping now,” his eyes were full of vile and flashed the promise of a good time. “I run a small hotel below the Pensione on the fifth floor. Come, come with me,” he whispered.

Tired and hungry, the travelers were indifferent to danger and only able to think in terms of pounds. They didn’t want to be ripped off. “Here,” the elderly gentleman led them with his candle to a small dark din of refuse and natural energy outlets. There was a smell of fresh urine in the air. “Here is a room for both of you”, he hissed proudly at a small empty room.

“No, we need separate rooms,” said the Japanese boy looking at Jane aghast.

“Oh, you don’t,” the elderly gentleman wagged a thin finger between the two of them thinking for sure the Japanese boy must be gay. “He has that gay look,” he thought to himself then smiled at the thought of such delightful prospects. “You sleep here,” he pointed to the Japanese boy, and you,” he led Jane next door and held out his candle for to see the room. It was dark and vast with garbage strewn about and a huge desk, but no bed. “You will sleep here,” he told Jane greedily eyeing her breasts.

“Wait!” the Japanese boy cried following them. “How much is this?”

“Only two pounds per night,” the elderly gentleman said graciously with a tactful bow. Utter delight lit up the traveler’s faces.

“But where is the light?” Asked the Japanese boy.

“Light comes from the soul not electricity my friends,” the old man said wisely. “Only then will you know true freedom.”

“Who cares about freedom?” Asked the Japanese boy who knew little about freedom and even less about his soul.

“Yeah, I can’t see,” Jane complained.

“You can’t?” The old man in the snug turtleneck smiled with surprise. “You will tonight,” he thought.

“It will be like in the movies, “ he thought happily rubbing his hands together. Seducing the girl was not as easy as it should have been.

First, he tried subtly opening the door to her room, but with great disappointment found that she had fortified it with the huge desk. “That is the problem with the West, they are sneaky and they never trust people,” he sighed feeling hurt. Struggling with his soul, he leaned against the wall of the hall outside her door and shed a silent tear. After a moment, he recovered, went next door and from the adjacent balcony began to gently toss old Baraka water bottles onto her balcony. When that failed to seduce her, he tried to talk to her.

“Come!” he hissed with aplomb. “Come hither! I have some nice tea for you my sweet child.” Slowly, the desk inched away from the door and Jane appeared with thirst before the elderly man in the snug turtleneck. “Come! Come!” He gently motioned her to his room next door and to sit on the floor. It was dark save the single candle and all Jane could see was a television and all she could smell was urine. She obediently sat on the rug. “Here watch some television while I prepare the tea,” he switched on the old black and white set. A fat blonde woman started to run from a thin panting Arab man with a mustache at a train station. Suddenly, the fat woman stopped, pulled down her lace panties and hugged a huge marble pillar while the man began the dirty deed from behind. While the elderly man watched fondly, Jane like a flash of light jumped up feeling like she was about to vomit, and bolted back to her room pushing the desk up tightly to the door. “Hey! Don’t! Come back please!” The old man cried after her.

The Japanese boy who was really Korean was thoroughly aroused by all the commotion. At first he was a little shy, but soon the two were busy drinking tea in the old man’s room.

“Tell me about the last referendum,” the boy asked.

“It wasn’t a referendum,” the old man snapped. “We have a democracy here and we elected Mubarak fair and square.”

“How many candidates were there?” The boy sipped his tea.

“There is only one candidate in this country,” the old man snapped again and lit a cigar.

“There should have been more if it was truly democratic,” said the boy thoughtfully.

“Having one candidate is better than having no candidate. Don’t be so narrow-minded; candidates are easy to get. We could have had eighteen,” he bragged. “But, there still would only have been one. Try to understand something else than just concentrating on yourself all the time,” he rebuked him with a puff of fresh smoke. “That is the problem with your country.”

Instantly, the boy felt narrow-minded and ashamed of so badly representing his country. So, he told the old man he was gay to prove that he was in fact open-minded. The old man knew that he was trying to prove that he was open-minded and told him he was narrow-minded. “You don’t like women?” He cackled in amusement. “Open your mind boy!”p

The Japanese boy was at a complete loss at how to salvage his identity that had been decimated by this vile old man in his vile old room that stank of fresh urine.

“Actually, I am bisexual,” he looked down at his crossed feet.

“Insecure, eh? Take whatever comes your way?” The old man laughed.

By the time morning came, the Japanese boy who was really Korean had renounced his faith in Buddha, Jesus, and Mohamed, and had sworn on Hirohito’s grave that he was an asexual hermaphrodite of Yoruba descent all to no avail.

“That is your problem,” the old gentleman in the snug turtleneck jeered.

In the morning the two, out of sheer exhaustion returned to the Ismailia House and slept soundly past noon.

Later that day, she introduced herself to Ahmed the night clerk who was extending his shift. “I am sorry, we did not stay here last night.”

“It is ok, just don’t talk to people on the streets like last night. You will get into a lot of trouble while you are here if you associate with the men on the street. Evil things are going to happen, trust me,” he said kindly.

“Thanks,” Jane said politely.

The Japanese boy who was really Korean was perched on the edge of the sofa with his legs tightly crossed and his hands clutching a red velvet pillow to his bony chest while some of the most beautiful women in Paris modeled some of the exact same things Jane was wearing.

“What is your name?” Asked Jane with a blithe smile stretched from ear to ear.

“Why?” Startled, the boy looked up at her clutching his little pillow tighter and began to sweat because she looked like she had climbed out of the catwalk on television; he blinked. She was wearing a thin blue silk camisole and a pair of silk trousers. Stunningly blonde but with miserably sad faded blue eyes that made her face look pale and a little scary.

“Uh, yes,” Jane paused, “We spent the night together last night, remember?” Jane shrugged. “I hope you enjoyed it, did you?”

The other travelers in the room stopped peeling their boiled chicken eggs and drinking their genuine Egyptian tea, and one of the more acute spectators lowered the volume of the television.

“It was ok,” he murmured.

“Just ok?” Jane asked exasperated. “It was really rough for me!”

“Yes, I am sorry,” the Japanese boy who had heard how Jane was outright rejected by the old man in the snug turtleneck straight from his very own mouth, pitied her. “It was our first time. Next time will be better,” he timidly tried to cheer her up.

“I think so,” Jane looked about the Ismaili House and sniffed the air. “I just want to do it safe next time. What is your name?”

“Oh,” he whispered with embarrassment. Everbody was staring at him waiting for his reply. They were utterly intrigued by such beautiful candor in a place where they had read that all the sordid debauchery they ever desired could happen and all without a speck of shame. But the Japanese boy could not speak; he simply looked down at the red velvet pillow and his cheeks turned scarlet.

“What is your name?” Jane repeated a bit louder.

“Oh,” the boy repeated burying his eyes deeper into the pillow, “Young-Min,” it was a barely audible whisper, and only Jane caught it.

“Young-Min,” she said loudly. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” and she stuck out her hand for a good shake.

Slowly his skinny hand interlocked with hers thus causing a silent hubbub amongst the other travelers whose hearts were pounding like racehorses.

Jane was oblivious to it all. “What are you doing today?”

“I am going to spend some time with Illy,” Young-Min told her.

“Who is that?” She wrinkled her eyebrows.

“Illy is the man we slept with last night,” Young-Min told her shyly.

Jane gulped. “You and Illy?” Her lip contorted out in a pout of disbelief.

“Yes, he is very good,” Young-Min said a bit defensively as if she was offending his father. He shifted in his seat like a helpless martyr, but Jane thought him callow and laconic.

“Ha! Well ok, but I wouldn’t let him near me again with a twelve inch pole,” then she felt a little bad about judging Illy who was a mere human. A human she didn’t know and even though she thought Young-Min was callow and laconic she didn’t want him to think she was shallow, “I mean, I forgot to ask his name.”

“He is going to show me around, maybe help me get a job or learn Arabic,” Young-Min explained laconically. His eyes darted to the floor, and they were so abject and lost that Jane was forced to treat him with servility.

“That is very nice. He is a great guy. How long are you staying here?” Jane asked.

“A week,” Young-Min’s eyes were still glued to the floor.

Jane suddenly felt compassion, tinged by a little pity, for him and she didn’t know why. “Do you want to come to the pyramids with me?”

“No, I have to go with Illy,” Young-Min replied.

“Ok, well what about tonight?” She asked trying to conceal her compassion.

An entire room of grungy tired curiosity seekers, who were escaping from reality and following their inner sedition to find meaning in the dusty mysteries in the unknown, forgot everything and savored the exchange of words between Young-Min and Jane like a pearl.

“Illy is going to show me his family’s home tonight in Radwan,” Young-Min said slowly. “His wife and children.” “He has a wife?” Jane gasped. She could imagine no number of wives tied to that greasy old man let alone innocent little children.

“But he doesn’t live with her,” Young-Min explained.

“Ok,” Jane sighed with relief. “ Well then, I guess it’s ok” and she wondered what to say next. “I will see you tomorrow,” and Jane left Young-Min sitting forlorn on the sofa. He chewed his fingernails until blood dripped down onto his trousers and stared at the eggshells on his empty breakfast tray on the coffee table not daring to look up.

While he listened to door of the lift slam shut, something inside him wanted to break out and say a word to her, but he was to shy to say goodbye and too insecure to ask her name. Timorously he looked up at the other travelers and they all gave him a huge thumbs up.

This encouraged him although he didn’t know why.

Chapter 2

When Jane stepped on the street she didn’t feel any deja vu that she should have felt because the first time she had been here she had lived in a big empty flat filled with big dusty pieces of colonial style furniture far away from downtown in Heliopolis.

Her assignment was to document data about the city and its people but she felt so demeaned by its insignificance that she fabricated a bunch of facts and copied and pasted the rest from the internet and stayed the entire month in her flat drinking gin tonics deeply absorbed in her loneliness and depression. She spent much time daydreaming of ways to commit suicide.

But now she had a real mission and she felt terrified.

Terrified because she could die at any moment. Downtown Cairo had killed many people like her, and with all the facts in mind, she backed against the wall of a dirty crumbling building and studied a map.

The streets were very wide or very small, and all of them were packed with automobiles addicted to the horn like heroin, and driven without rules or regard for pedestrians. There were all sorts of drivers, even females, and they were kind and petite, but behind the wheel there was only one type of human, one driven fearlessly without cease, but with utter peace, in pursuit of direction, time, and space. Like life, it was a sport, and so rather than walking about, people in the city wandered, pausing here and there; sometimes they danced, or hopped, but when on the street they stopped and peered for venues of safety.

People who had acquired the highest forms of sensuality wandered in long gailyabayas hissing at people and pensive women hid behind scarves intermingled with men in tight jeans and fleshy lips sucking on cigarettes staring with lust at other women in tight pants and tiny shirts chatting cheerfully on mobile phones.

For certain, they were a shifty bunch. Hissing, spitting, talking, staring, questioning, smelling, urinating, eating, touching, lusting, they formed a crutch so big that at times, one could only hang against a building and do nothing but intake the rebel molecules of air and hope they could still exhale. Besides that, it was late November and still sticky and hot, and the air thick with frying food, and a thousand sweetly scented oils that became vapid by the human body.

Music penetrated the polluted air losing notes amongst the noise of honking horns and the aimless buzz of chatter that electrified the city.

Yes, music played across the street, behind the street, under the street, and on the street cumulating into the vast mechanical engine of the city that was slyly being sold away piece by piece by the ubiquitous vendor whose apparition floated above the city and was visible on winter nights from the moon. Vendors sold everything including banana flavored Chiclets, and Jane stopped to buy some. Banana flavored Chiclets was a specialty she could only chew here. It was utterly delightful, and as she chewed an entire box of them on the edge of the sidewalk waiting to dance between the racing cars to the Nile Hilton, she felt a surge of unadulterated happiness. She clutched the box of gum tighter to her heart.

And at that moment a dashing young man approached her, “Welcome to Egypt,” he said with a friendly smile. “My name is Ismail. I used to live in Belgium so I know what it’s like to be lonely in a big city. In fact,” he paused clearing his throat, “ I just returned from Belgium yesterday. I was studying law there. Would you like to go on a camel ride at the pyramids?”

“Yes,” Jane replied. “But I have to go alone, I am sorry,” and she walked calmly into the frenetic street mingling between death and life until she reached the sidewalk facing the Nile Hilton.

Ismail had followed her of course. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in my entire life,” he told her gazing at her amorously. You are American, no?”

“Look, Ismail, I am a frank person. Can you sell my passport for me?” Jane turned around.

“What?” Ismail gasped.

“They told me in Paris you could do it here can you?” She repeated.

“No!” His eyes widened in horror and exhortation. “Don’t talk about such evil things to me. Stop! I treat you like my sister; even though we just met I feel that we are very close,” he moved closer to her. “Now, never ask anyone this question again,” Ismail who had dreamed of specializing in the illegal sale of passports since a young lad looked around like the police were listening through the deafening traffic.

“Ok!” Jane shouted above the din. “Fine then, I am catching a bus there to the pyramids. It was a pleasure to meet you!”

“Wait!” Ismail called after her, “I want to meet you for coffee tonight?”

“Ok, where?” Jane demanded climbing her way onto a bus filed with eighty-eight belligerent men and subservient women at thrice the capacity.

“Are you going to stand me up?” Ismail asked loudly and jumped onto the bus.

“No,” Jane looked at him crossly hoping he’d go away.

“Why?” Ismail edged a bit closer through the crowds with his fists clenched.

“Because tonight is a long way away. How am I supposed to know what will happen?” Jane asked him.

“Ok,” he let down his guard, “but please don’t stand me up. My time is precious you know. Meet me at the Kentucky Chicken, over there at seven tonight, “ he nodded poignantly at the restaurant across the street, glanced at his watch, and hopped off the bus.

“Ok,” Jane mumbled as the bus started its engine bound for the West Bank of Giza.

She recalled the first time she had seen the pyramids. It had been one year ago, and she had trudged along in the same heat and the same dust, in the same sweaty mobs of flesh wondering where she was going and why she was alive, when suddenly she had glanced up by mere chance and there above a set of shanties, Cheops pointed to the sky as if to give her the answer.

Yes, the pyramids were magical. This was a fact and anyone who argued this point was not human and did not have any human capacity to think or feel. So again, she looked up and Cheops with its missing capstone pointed to the smoky sky above the shanties.

Once again, she was instantly submerged into the same set of paranormal emotions that make people fall in love, pray, and commit various crimes like murder, theft, or rape.

All of life was meaningful, unique, and flooded with purpose up to the point where a human heart and soul could come face to face with the ancient embodiment of human pain and hope felt by countless other souls before them. The pyramids were the Answer for many people. Whatever that answer was, it was always advisable to visit Giza under the auspices of an antiquities department approved tour company where convenience could avert a soul from feeling thus prevent them from disaster, let alone catastrophe. All of life was meaningless, this was remembered again and again as one sat alone under the shadow of the limestone monsters; this was the profound meaning hidden in the dust of the pyramids.

Behind the pyramids, she treaded through the rueful village of Nazlet as-Sama’an where men and their families lived in dirt hovels and scraped a living together selling trinkets and camel rides, past the papyrus shops, and sneaked past the mountain of trash that acted as a natural wall between their homes and the plateau where she was caught by a policeman on a camel and forced to buy a ticket like a normal person.

Finally, she began to ascend the sandy plateau. Many small school children pulled her hair as they crowded down from the plateau to board their buses. “What’s your name?” They cried swarming her and pulling her hair and clothes. Small fingers pointed and laughed, and Jane shouted at them to go away. “Imshee!” She roared, and they gathered closer giggling.

Their lazy teachers climbed out of the buses and called them back.

“That’s right,” Jane thought, “ Go ahead and play, you’ll see,” she looked at the children with contempt and climbed higher. The sand swirled up blinding her, and clogging her nostrils and filling her lungs. She coughed, and her eyes filled with a bit of water.

“I am feeling a bit shaky,” she thought. “Look my hands are shaking,” she held them up for the world to see; the children below were still laughing at her. She stuffed her hands into her pockets, and walked on slowly, quiet and embarrassed and a little awkward with all the people staring at her. She shivered.

“Nothing has changed,” she thought wryly. She forgot that things could still change and be the same. But many people have made this mistake and jumped off the cliff thinking the bridge was still there. She laughed loudly. It was hot outside and she began to sweat profusely. Cheops glared down.

At his base, she forgot she was an American with a mission against these evil people. Not just any American, but an agent for the CIA who had been unsuccessful here before but spoke fluent Arabic and was blonde, young, and from afar looked like a glamorous movie star which made up for her many flaws on any given day.

Furthermore, this special mission required a special agent. Jane Smith was a very special agent indeed. She had grown up in a dingy suburb of New Jersey with trauma, tension, hate, neurosis, in a loving and supportive family who had engendered in her a great sensitivity to humankind. Yes, and by sheer fate had landed into the hands of the CIA who had employed both of her grandfathers, and her uncles in the OSS in its heyday. But, this was a secret, and not even her mother who was the dead derelict ancestor of Gavrilo Princip himself knew, nor her father who had died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty.

Yes, her life was a life of dark and dirty secrets that spared her from love and intimacy, and at times she felt like committing suicide but luckily the CIA paid for psychotherapy and she was enlisted for free as a test subject by the major pharmaceutical companies to try out their steadily changing menu of the Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors.

Furthermore, she had a birth certificate for each sign in the lunar and solar zodiac with a fixed list of traits for each that people had brainwashed her with while she slept by telling her she was genetically engineered to memorize all forty-eight personality traits. Therefore, she had memorized the lists and on any given day she could be any one of forty-eight distinct personalities; a very trait attractive for a secret agent.

Otherwise, people who didn’t know her thought Jane Smith was a pale pensive looking young woman, fairly attractive, blonde, and it was a blatant fact that she spent most of her time thinking about nothing.

Nothing is probably the deepest level of thinking one can attain because at this level many things are discovered. Probably these constant habits of thinking about nothing made her malleable and look like a nothing; another very attractive trait for a secret agent. Jane Smith didn’t care too much until her nothingness got her into profound trouble. Like the time she became pregnant with with the child of the leader of the Hizbollah army, whom she was told not to go to bed with, or especially kill or have sex with because CIA agents never kill or have sex with the enemy especially since the CIA had explicitly told her that the Hizbollah was not the enemy. Instead they had given her a picture of a slick tour guide with the word enemy printed on it in bold black ink that she was to apprehend in undisclosed fashion while operating under the cover of a news correspondent for the Beirut bureau of Time magazine.

When Jane arrived for her little tour in Lebanon, both sides of the Green line were just starting to be swept up. It was such a huge sweeping task that they were obliged to have the Syrians, who were already over for lunch, stay and help wash the dishes. The Syrians promptly tried to take control of the cleanup along with the Maronites, the Muslims, and some dissidents. And in the south the Israelis objected to cleaning up altogether. It was like being in an international kitchen with the world’s best chefs preparing a single meal for a king. And even though everyone signed their name on a piece of paper that officially forgave the horrors that everyone had inflicted upon everyone else, nobody had forgotten a single thing, and there were a lot of attractive events happening every day.

Most of the abortion clinics that were rumored to have existed at some point along with the rest of Lebanon were still in a state of supreme decimation so Jane had to abort her mission and return to the USA where the CIA paid for her abortion. Luckily, her mission there was not entirely futile, right before their last loving kiss goodbye she accidentally lodged a bullet into a part of the Hizbollah leader’s spinal cord that turned the leader into an ex-leader and nothing but a useless vegetable instead of an evil rebel, which was just great until the new leader of Hizbollah took up a lawsuit against the CIA.

In order to keep the President of the United States, who was getting exasperated with pretending to not know what the CIA was up to, from officially being forced to find out, the CIA immediately wired several million dollars from an offshore account that wired money to them from an offshore bank in New York to cover the ex-leader’s hospital care, a couple of battle tanks and a few other trivial things.

Jane in a heroic act of desperation tried to make up for her failure and gave the aborted fetus to the CIA to examine for genetic mutations that might explain in full why people might join violent organizations like the Hizbollah and kill totally innocent people.

The CIA laboratory packaged up the fetus and sent it off to the NIH, and in two months they had done enough assays and map linkage to prove there was a definite mutation cited at a locus on chromosome six. Was this the link to evil? The President of the United States himself congratulated the NIH and sent a dozen red roses to Jane under the name of Gavrilo Princip which he learned was Jane’s great-great-uncle while having tea with her psychiatrist. The NIH secretly thanked the CIA and secretly turned over a bundle of commissions rendered from the gigantic fees paid by top research magazines to publish the so-called evil mutation theory. Things like this had built up over time, turning Jane into an internal hero that no one ever knew. So she was a very special agent indeed.

And she had no friends, subsequently she was lonely and permanently vulnerable to bad things that always turned out good but never improved her life making suicide one of the top ten things she thought about daily.

Downtown, the evening sun like a great ball of gold, hung treacherously over the scummy Nile River. The muezzins called out the evening prayer, and it made Jane feel very lonely. But, she wasn’t alone, a lot of people felt lonely when they heard this prayer because they knew the only one they had was God, and they weren’t even sure if he existed.

The confusion was enough to fill the souls of some, but a lot of people didn’t even pray, they just say listlessly listening to the echoes of the prayers numb their skulls, even if they didn’t want them numbed.

Jane was hungry and eating was an excellent distraction after such an intense afternoon of thinking. She bought some date cookies from a small bakery next to the Ismailia House and debated going to meet Ismail at the Kentucky Restaurant. As she stood on the sidewalk gobbling up the cookies, a dark handsome man sauntered up to her like a black rap singer. He was wearing loose fitting dark trousers tied with a string at his waist and a Marlboro hung from his lips.

“Hey!” He hollered at Jane. “Hello! My name is Mustafa. We met last night. Remember?” He smiled at her.

“No,” said Jane with a mouthful of date cookies.

“Oh yes,” he smiled. “You were with the Japanese guy. And do you know where he is right now?”

“With an old man?” Jane replied.

“Yes, they are eating dinner together at the Falafel King,” Mustafa said.

“Ok, so?” Jane shoved another cookie into her mouth.

“Just a warning. But, Illy is the vilest man in Cairo. He is probably planning to kill your friend as we speak. You must tell him to be careful,” Mustafa warned her.

“Then why did you tell us to go see him last night?” Jane suddenly remembered him as the friend of the guy who had pointed them to the Pensione de Famille on the previous night.

“You guys asked us where we were going, I remember. You should have told us to not go there!” Jane accused him and started to walk away.

“Wait!” Mustafa called out. “I need to tell you something else.”

Jane stopped.

“I know your name, it is,” he closed his eyes and waved his hands back and forth. “Jane!” He opened his eyes with a wicked grin that looked sexy, wild, and absolutely exotic.

“No, you can’t know my name, you are just guessing,” and she turned around again.

“No really wait! I know who you are going to meet now,” he said. “Who?” Jane turned around again.

“You are going to meet a man at Kentucky Chicken, and you should not do this,” Mustafa drew closer to her breathing deeply.

“How do you know who I am going to meet? Besides I wasn’t going to meet him. I just told him that so he would go away,” her eyes were dead with boredom and she longed to go to sleep.

“Where are you going now?” Mustafa asked.

“To meet a man called Ismail,” Jane began walking.

Mustafa walked alongside her, “Ismail?” He gasped. “I know him! Oh my God! What did he tell you?” Mustafa asked with great excitement seeping from his voice.

“He is your friend,” Jane replied, you already know him,” Jane stopped and looked at Mustafa like she knew everything if there was anything to know. It was one of the mind games she had learned in training.

“Well, we know each other but I really hate it if I have to talk to him because he and I are the exact opposite you know,” Mustafa said gravely.

“What’s wrong with Ismail?” Jane asked.

“He is a hopeless case, trust me. What did he tell you? Don’t believe him, he’s a liar.”

Jane was intrigued to hear that Ismail had lied to her, “Really? He said he just returned from Belgium yesterday where he was studying law.”

“Yes, of course, he is a lawyer, first let’s drink some tea. I know a nice place,” Mustafa led Jane down a shady alley into a small open air tea shop crowded with old men playing cards and smoking sheesha.

“It’s all a lie,” Mustafa began. “Itneyn!” He hollered out their orders. “The truth is, Ismail was married to a really old fat Belgian woman who he met here in Cairo during her vacation. You know she is really rich so Ismail fell in love with her, and she invited him to Belgium to live with her in her flat. He went, but a few days ago he came back because his marriage was no good. When they started to make sex together the woman wanted to give Ismail, you know,” Mustafa paused, “something with the mouth, I can’t say it because you are a lady. But, Ismail stopped her and called her a bitch and ran out of the flat. We think he may have had some severe childhood problem,” he lowered his voice and looked deep into Jane’s eyes, “maybe even rape.”

“That is terrible,” Jane whispered sadly.

“Yes, he is a very dangerous man. So this is why I tell you to be careful, you must not trust anyone but me from now on. Wait a minute,” Mustafa stood up and hopped black rapper style to the sink in the coffee shop. He nodded to the bearded owner and spent two full minutes cleansing his hands. “You see how he just let me use his sink to wash my hands,” Mustafa bragged as he sat back down. “The people respect me a lot. I stay clean,” he displayed his hands for Jane to inspect.

“Wow,” Jane looked at his clean hands.

Mustafa gazed into her eyes. “I have never met anyone like you before in my life. I feel something good from you, like I have never felt from another woman. I never want to leave Egypt, I love my country so much. Money is never a problem for me, money comes and goes. The most important thing in my life are my friends. Yesterday, one of the people needed money and I gave it to him. I believe in the people, “ Mustafa took a big sip of tea. “I will never leave my country. I have a lot of money.”

“I see,” Jane drank her tea. She was getting tired again, and suddenly she felt the need to go to sleep. “ I have to go call my mother now, I promised her.”

“Oh,” said Mustafa sadly. “I will wait for you then.”

“No, it will be a long time,” Jane said politely. “She is sick.”

“Ok, yes, yes you need to call her. I will meet you tomorrow afternoon at your hotel. You must refresh yourself tonight,” Mustafa caught her hand warmly.

“But, I will not sleep tonight you know,” he sighed.

“I am sorry,” Jane said politely.

Chapter Three

The next day a new clerk with crystal clear blue eyes named Mustafa was commanding the front desk at the Ismailia House. “Why do you have blue eyes?” Jane inquired.

“Are you racist?” The blue-eyed man asked sternly.

“No,” Jane said meekly and paid him the fee for another night.

“Be careful out there, do not talk to strangers,” Mustafa counted the money.

“Then how am I supposed to make friends?” Jane asked confused. “I am lonely.”

“Make friends with them,” he pointed to a group of six zombie-eyed Germans wearing old t-shirts and ragged jeans, and a bunch of other scraggly looking people sitting on the sunny couch peeling their chicken eggs and watching the IDF kill little Palestinian boys on CNN. A man hidden behind a cowboy hat was sitting sequestered from the Germans behind a large plastic palm tree waiting for a kitchen boy to proudly serve him a fake silver partitioned tray each quartered with the venerable fare.

“Those are your friends. You cannot make friends with the Arabs.”

“Ok, thanks, but I ate breakfast with them this morning and no one talked to me,” Jane whimpered looking at the rally on the sunny couch.

“What did you come here for? Did you come half way around the world to make friends or to tour Egypt?” Mustafa peered cynically at her purple rhinestone suede boots and matching suede jacket and skirt. He mentally wrote her off as trouble, maybe even sin and decided he’d better keep an eye on her.

Jane was silent. She wished to tell him the truth; she was so lonely. She had come to Cairo to investigate the people who bought and sold foreign passports, especially the American ones. In fact a month earlier she had tried to sell hers in Paris, but her secret contact there told her to go to Rome. So, after she had bought three suitcases full of the latest Parisian fashions she had boarded the bus to Rome, and immediately met two Kurdish flute players who were illegal because they had no country. She immediately became soul mates with these two boys and they advised her that the best place in Rome to sleep was with them.

She slept three nights with them under a bench at the Stazione Termini in Rome. The first two days were full of bliss, and she ran about at night carefree as a bird with the two Kurdish boys playing in the fountains and eating chocolates for breakfast and sneaking into the plush bathrooms of the five star hotels to take baths. Soon, she knew every bum sleeping at the Stazione Termini on a first name basis and she was happy to have so many friends that genuinely didn’t mind spending time with her. Some were residents of the Termini and provided her with blankets, even tucking her in under the cold bench at night and making sure she felt safe.

One of the Kurdish boys was romantically inclined to Jane, and he brought her little things that made her happy: a little pink lacy doll that sang and danced, a small treasure box with a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a miniature cameo of the Virgin Mary.

In her great state of bliss, elation, and security she had decided to live at the train station with all the bums for the rest of her life. But this caprice changed like the weather did on the third day. A storm broke out upon their sweet little home and flooded them away to huddle and shiver under the big archway of the train station. Some were squished, and others started to fight for space. There wasn’t enough space undercover, and all but the residents of the Stazione Termini fled forever. The Kurdish boy who was romantically inclined to Jane was caught by a policeman to be deported, and shortly after his comrade became despondent and turned himself in and soon enough they were both waving cheerfully to Jane from a window on a packed bus bound for their country which sadly did not exist.

Despite the sanguine, sagacious, and palliative company of the permanent residents of the Termini, Jane became dangerously depressed not only because she had become attached to the Kurdish boys who had no home but because the rain was still coming down in torrents and was ruining her purple mink coat. Contemplation of suicide returned; to make things worse, she could not find her passport link in Rome. Chronic desperation spiraled into a set conviction of her ill fate, and she could nothing but wander aimlessly in the dirty Roman streets drenched like a purple rat and attempt a handful of desultory avenues to end it all.

However, it was all romantic rumination because on the third day she received a divine message from above.

She was sitting sad and hopeless clutching her purple mink tightly around a black silk dress that came down to her ankles, weakly sipping a small bottle of chiante under a dismal pillar at the Vatican when the pope suddenly popped into a small window to deliver a profound message to the masses. The crowds roared like starving tigers waiting to be fed. Pope John Paul II began feeding them. In his Latin message were words she understood. Somehow, the Pope had been paid by a secret party to deliver her the instructions to go to Egypt. “The people in Egypt are fighting a war of lies and they are giving up their very own identity for money, and selling souls so that bread may be provided,” Pope John Paul II had said. “The plainest of Janes can save thousands. We must keep crusading until every last infidel has been saved.”

So Jane, hopeless, hapless, and sad, was transformed again into a woman with direction, hope and therefore future. She said a tearful goodbye to her comrades at the Stazione Termini and bought her ticket to Egypt. At the agency, a grim old man sitting behind a desk flipped through her passport. “I see you have been there before.”

Jane nodded. “But it was only reconnaissance.”

“Well, they say any stranger to Cairo who drinks the water from the tap will return again and again, ” and he handed her back the passport shaking his head.

“Why?” Jane asked.

“Natural law. You must return; the choice is not yours. You are an agent and agents don’t have choices. It is out of your control,” the grim old agent replied grimly.

“How do you know I am an agent?” Jane asked with irritation at having her cover blown.

“Anyone who drinks of the Nile is an agent, because no stranger can survive the chemicals in the water unless their system contains an enzyme to break down the bugs,” the agent explained. “Detergent is an agent.”

“Who is Detergent?” Jane asked.

“Never mind,” the grim old man waved her along.

“I am never going home,” she told Mustafa philosophically. “I am not a tourist.”

Mustafa, who had heard it all before in several different languages wasn’t impressed in the least, handed her a list of Giza day trips. “And did you read this sign?”

Mustafa pointed to a magic marker sign above the front desk reading:

“Do not fraternize with any man whose name is Mustafa and says he is an artist. He will ask you to buy some artwork and after you agree to buy the artwork he will bring you to his studio in Talat Harb Street and offer you al-Arosa tea with sugar. When he makes the tea he will empty a packet of potent sleeping potion and mix in into the tea with the milk, and when you have fallen asleep he will rob you naked and kick you out onto the street.”

“It sounds dangerous,” Jane observed.

Mustafa was busy counting money and didn’t look up at Jane.

Mustafa was intimidating to most of the foreigners at the hotel because they could not understand why he had crystal clear blue eyes. Furthermore, Mustafa who never discriminated against a particular nationality at the hotel had a certain and disturbing habit of serving Jewish people last.

“It is always better to be served last in this country than not at all,” he would explain to the Jews. When the Germans, Swedes, and Brits protested he would accuse them of being racist and threatened to kick all the white bastards out of the hotel for violating the ethical code of Management. For these reasons he didn’t trust white people because he had a deep-rooted suspicion that they were all Ashkenazi in disguise.

“That is the problem with the Ashkenaz, they all look normal,” he would complain to the kitchen staff who sympathized with his plight. Because Mustafa didn’t really trust anyone, including the kitchen staff, which he secretly thought were Sephardic, he was the clerk with the most power in his hands.

Jane thought of him as a father figure, and so had many others before her.

From Mustafa’s desk Jane dialed the number of the grim old travel agent in Rome, “Who do I speak to here?” She whispered.

“The agent, go to the agent,” the grim old agent whispered back and hung up the phone.

“Where is there a travel agency?” Jane asked Mustafa.

“Why? I thought you said you were never going to go back home,” Mustafa looked at her suspiciously. “Are you neurotic? Just relax and go watch television; it will make you feel better. ”

“But, I need to cancel my return ticket,” Jane told him.

“Which airline?” Mustafa sighed impatiently.

“Olympic Airways,” Jane told him.

“They are everywhere, just look,” Mustafa told her with a jest of false civility as two new guests entered the hotel.

Downstairs right below the Ismaili House there was a travel agency. She didn’t know if this was the one, but she thought she should give it a shot.

“I want a one-way ticket to Addis Ababa,” she told the skinny agent behind the desk sitting down on a stool.

“That is absolutely impossible; you need a departure ticket to arrive in Ethiopia,” the travel agent told her without blinking an eye.

“I don’t have enough money for that,” she complained.

“Why do you want to leave so quickly?” Asked the agent with a snakelike smile.

“Because I am afraid to stay here for very long,” Jane confessed.

“Ah, you’re frank and utterly correct. The conqueror will get you,” he ducked his head sharply out the window as if he had seen an apparition emerge from the crowd. “He is out there.”

“Who?” Jane looked out the window at the masses of people milling about in the smoke. “I don’t see anyone.”

“He is always there, in the square.”

“What does he look like?” Asked Jane.

“Who picked all the purple flowers?” The agent asked her.

“What purple flowers?” Jane could not remember purple flowers being in her codebook.

“The ones on the way to the school house.” The agent told her.

“I don’t know,” Jane said sadly.

“The little boy,” the agent said quietly.

“What little boy?” Jane asked.

“Why must you know?” The agent lit another cigarette.

“Because, I need to know if you know. You started this,” Jane was exasperated.

“How did I start this?” He asked.

“I said I wanted to leave,” Jane told him.

“Yes, I know why not stay?” He asked her.

“Why do you live here?” Jane asked him.

“Why did you come here?” The agent squinted.

“I am lost,” she said.

“You need a task,” he told her.

“You told me I should leave,” Jane protested.

“Yes you should don’t stay,” he whispered.

“Why are you whispering?” Jane asked him.

“I don’t want him to hear,” the agent replied.

“Who?” She whispered urgently.

“The little boy who used to pick the purple flowers for his mother,” the agent leaned over the counter and smiled.

“Who is that?” Jane asked leaning forward.

“He feeds people,” the agent smiled. “Where did all the purple flowers go?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?” Jane scowled.

“Why do you ask why do I ask?” The agent looked at her suspiciously and threw up his hands. “Are you hiding something?”

“No, I just wanted to buy a stupid ticket from your stupid agency. You are the one making up al this nonsense. I want to talk to a real agent. Are you an agent?” Jane looked around the empty office and got up from her stool.

The agent immediately pulled out a huge book with torn paper flaps and leafs and swiftly flipped through to the E section. “Of course I am an agent, what do I look like?”

“I don’t know,” Jane shrugged.

“When do you want to go?” The agent looked up at her.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“You are lost. Lost people are lethal to society because in the end all they end up doing is discovering things that do not aid in the betterment of society and irritating people they have no relation to. And in the end?” He giggled. “They will tell you they were only bored. Very very very bad, for example look at Einstein, boom! Boom!” He giggled. “Just not good,” then the agent sighed as if he were sick of fighting a senseless war against nefariousness and wanly stuck out his scrawny hand. “My name is Mustafa.”

Jane grasped his hand and they smiled fondly at each other like lost friends having a reunion after many years of separation. In fact they had met at a staff party once, but both were wearing paper bags over their heads at the time to conceal their true identity, therefore they didn’t recognize each other.

“I am Jane,” she told him warmly.

He looked at a slip of paper, thinking to himself, whispered a reminder to himself in German and tucked it away nodding veraciously.

“Can you get me a ticket then?” She asked hopefully.

“I can get you the best deal in all of Cairo, trust me,” Mustafa took out his business card and thrust is across the counter. “I am an artist, perhaps you would like to buy some artwork before you leave Cairo?”

“What kind?” Jane studied the lavender card. On it the word Artist was emblazoned in gold.

“Genuine Papyrus paintings,” he smiled. “I would like you to come with me to my studio now. We can drink some fresh al-Arosa tea with sugar and I will show you what I have. Your mother will get a present from Egypt, trust me.”

“But now I have an appointment with someone,” Jane glanced at her watch.

“Yes, I know,” Mustafa nodded. “Go with him, you will begin to learn much and return when the time is right But, Illy, be careful of Illy Jane, he is the vilest man in all of Cairo,” and he shook her hand with a wink.

Alas a contact had been made, she thought to herself, “the boy who sells, no picks, used to pick purple flowers for his mother, and sells food,” she thought about calling the agent in Rome and see if she got a positive signal when she said purple flower to him.

“Bon giorno!” She hollered into a phone on the street. “What I can’t hear you?” The traffic and honking drowned out the voice of the grim old agent in Rome.

“Purple flower!” She hollered.

It was not use, all she could hear were grunts from Rome and the chaos from Cairo.

“Darling!” A familiar voice rang loud and clear.

“Purple flower?” She repeated.

“Darling!” The voice repeated.

“Darling?” She hollered, “I don’t understand. What is a purple flower?”

“I’ve been waiting for you all day,” and a hand clutched her shoulder from behind.

“What the!” Jane swung around in fright. “Oh,” she gasped it was Mustafa the strange man she had met twice on the street by sheer coincidence. Darling meant nothing; Mustafa was the one speaking to her. She put the phone back on the receiver and blushed bright red with disappointment at seeing him standing there.

“What’s wrong?” Mustafa asked. “You remember we had a date today right?”

“Yes, you make me shy,” she muttered looking down at the tips of her purple suede boots.

“Come! We are going to a wedding today. But, first we have to go meet my best friend Issa,” he grabbed Jane’s elbow and led her three blocks to the TWA office that faced the Nile Hilton. Standing up against the red TWA sign was an extremely hot Arab boy with his arms folded against his chest glaring at the crowds behind a swathe of black silky hair.

“Issa,” Mustafa hollered. “This is Jane!” And he pushed Jane forward. She nodded and Issa glowered at her.

The three walked across the busy street into a neon lit koshari restaurant.

“Three!” Hollered Mustafa at the greasy cook. A skinny boy barely the age of ten brought them three big bowls of steaming koshari and thick rice pudding with a rich milky glaze of fat lying on top.

“Issa likes computer programming Jane,” Mustafa took a huge bite of lentils and noodles.

Issa motioned to Jane to rub her face; he shook his head, and rubbed vigorously pointing at her. Jane began to rub her face, and the harder Issa rubbed the harder Jane rubbed until she felt her skin start to peel, then Issa stopped and pointed at her laughing.

“Leave her alone Issa,” Mustafa kicked him under the table. “Don’t you think she is beautiful?” Mustafa put his arm around Jane.

“No,” Issa scowled. “I think she is pig ugly. Anyways, beauty is only to lure idiots that can easily be lured away,” and he looked sideways at Jane.

Issa knew everything very well since he was always luring women to bed with his beauty and being broken hearted by them after they did not return to his bed for a second round. “Beauty is a worthless concept outside an average population response. It is only the feeling of beauty that really exists,” Issa said bitterly. “And her clothes look weird on her because they are beautiful and she doesn’t think she is beautiful, that is why she is so ugly.”

“Ignore him,” Mustafa elbowed Jane. “He is too sensitive,” Mustafa slurped down the rest of his rice pudding. There was no time to waste. “Yallah! Let’s move, ok?”

Jane who hadn’t said a word let alone touched the hot lentils or the rich pudding followed Mustafa and Issa because she could not think of a reason not to, and she should learn something because Mustafa the agent had told her she should. She sighed remembering all the lessons she had encountered in her career before some huge failure turned to success. Her mother had told her before she had died screaming in great agony that before bliss, there is great pain. That was all Jane knew.

Mustafa lived in Embaba; the great holy city of Embaba that once tried to secede from Egypt. It was again slowly succeeding with plans to take over Egypt and convert the entire country to a strict system of Shariah. With a purely Islamic government in place, women would be comfortably confined to dark rooms and energetic old men, and people would not be paid interest on their bank savings. There would be other changes of course. But most importantly, Embaba was a refuge, a place where the Islamic fundamentalists could escape the hedonistic nightclubs of downtown Cairo, drink tea, and plan dissent in tranquility.

Before they arrived, they could hear the wedding party. As the sun was going down, the men were convening between the multi-leveled dirt dwellings connected by laundry lines and neutral colored underwear. Dressed in clean black gailyabayas and scarves, the women peered down from open windows. They watched the men writhe sensually on a board propped up by cement blocks as they sang into a megaphone that was so loud that Jane wrote down with disdain on a secret piece of paper that Embaba must not really be the seat of Islamic Fundamentalism. Across the street from the mosque, the imam concurred, and sent over some of his scholars to tell them to lower their voices so his muezzin could call out the evening prayer.

“Do you smoke bongo Jane?” Mustafa asked.

“No,” Jane replied.

“That is really good,” Mustafa patted her on the shoulder. “I don’t like women who take drugs.” Then he turned and whispered something to Issa, and Issa dashed off disappearing around the corner.

“Issa has an errand to do for me,” Mustafa told her. “You must go upstairs and watch the celebration. Here,” he nodded to the gyrating men, “there are no women.”

Jane obediently climbed the stone steps of the dwelling to the women’s quarters above.

The festivities continued on in tedious fervor while the bride sat in one of the rooms above waiting for her groom to emerge from the crowds of sweaty men below.

The ladies were rushing about preparing special linens, special drinks, and sweet sticky food layered in grease. The yet unmarred young bride was covered in three layers of fine cloth and a sheer veil from which her eyes shone like chunks of black ice. The gyration below continued and more men joined and sat in plastic folding chairs and partook of drink. The virgin sat and under her robes trembling with fatigue and the sweat of the day.

She felt like a mouse eating a small piece of cheese in a mousetrap. Gore and anticipation of a first sexual encounter filled the air, and even the old matrons danced about the window clapping their hands in absolute ecstasy. “Are you a virgin? Are you a virgin?” It seemed they were singing to the young bride, and the question hung silently as they sang, suspended in the humid polluted air like a piece of raw meat waiting to be devoured by cannibals.

“What if I am not a virgin?” The virgin became paranoid that she had lived her life in vain.

An older woman with fat red cheeks stood her up and ushered her into an adjacent room prepared with the white linen of attestation.

Jane followed them and the women hanging at the doorway stared at her because they had never seen glamour in real life. They whispered, giggled and ignored her which made Jane feel inferior and sub-human.

“When I married your father, he felt good when I,” the bride blushed and giggled.

“You must make him feel good,” the mother repeated imperatively.

Everyone began laughing so hard that the wise old mother could not hear herself speak.

“Imshee!” The mother hollered and everyone including Jane scattered while the mother began further instruction to her daughter on how to pleasure her husband.

Fresh bongo had relaxed Mustafa beyond the neutral intercourse of the partying and gyrating me. He was ill at ease and sent a boy to fetch Jane to spice things up.

“This is where I live Jane,” he pointed about to some other shabby buildings. “But, I will take you back to your hotel,” he bowed flamboyantly.

“That is gallant of you Mustafa,” said Jane.

“I know,” he replied.

They left Issa gyrating rabidly on the stage and returned in a small bus getting off at the Nile River.

“You must promise to see only me now,” Mustafa looked at Jane with deep love that shocked, surprised, and then scared her. No man had ever asked for her fidelity, nor to be her boyfriend. Furthermore, she didn’t even know this man. Jane was swept off her feet a fury of flattered ambivalence.

“I promise,” she said not understanding a single thing.

Mustafa swung her closely to him and kissed her deeply. White lights from the feluccas capered across the Nile reflecting the blue and green scum, which exposed them to a flock of bystanders who stared at them like two monkeys in a zoo.

“I feel like a monkey in a zoo,” Jane withdrew from Mustafa. Furthermore, she had been taught about the police. She knew if they got caught they would either have to pay a fat iniquity fine or an even fatter bribe to the lucky official who nabbed them.

“Don’t worry, no one is looking,” Mustafa reassured Jane. On the opposite shore some fishermen settled down for the night in their small boats.

“You are the woman who will complete me,” Mustafa whispered into her ear tickling it with his warm breath so that she shivered. “Don’t worry, I am a good man. All the people love me,” he said softly and gently. “Yet, I am so tired of being alone in this world. Please don’t leave me like the others. You must not,” he stopped and held her tightly to his strong chest. “Promise?”

“Promise,” she said again.

When she finally returned to the Ismailia house it was nearly midnight and Ahmed, who had been told by Mustafa exactly what to say, lectured her pedantically for thirty minutes even bringing out colored charts and statistics that proved the perfidy of fraternizing with the locals. Before he finally handed her the key to her room he made her promise to not do it again.

Before she went to her room, she noticed a skinny pale man sitting in a gailyabaya with a crutch. He smiled feebly at her.

“Hi,” she said. “Are you Egyptian?”

“No, I am from California,” he told her, “But, I’ve become a Muslim. My name’s Eyman, yours?”

“Jane,” she replied slowly. “Why are you dressed that way?”

“I told you I am a Muslim,” he said rather snappishly. His deep blue eyes glittered with nervous excitement that Jane could not understand.

“I am sick you see. Very very sick,” he explained. “I am writing a book but I am terribly ill, and I can barely move now because I nearly died and may do so again. Why are you here?”

“I don’t know,” Jane shrugged.

“Do you know any guys down on the street?” he asked her.

“Uh,” she looked back to see if Ahmed was listening. “Yes,” she whispered, “I think maybe I know someone.”

“Can you tell him I want to buy new camels?” He whispered back.

“You have to sell the old ones?” She asked loudly.

“Yes, the rotten beasts are a bunch of traitors, never, and I repeat never trust a camel because it will only fuck you over.”

Jane paused, then sat down on the floor and listened to his story because it was interesting and it was the first interesting story she had heard in awhile.

Eyman explained to her about the book he was writing about traveling through the desert from the Bahariya Oasis all the way to Abu Simbel with three camels. Unfortunately, his camel had kicked him off a quarter of the way there and he had been carried back to the Ismailia House half dead wrapped like a mummy in Persian style rugs by some compassionate Bedouins.

“I can barely walk and I lost thirty pounds,” he complained and Jane felt so sorry for him that she forgot about her own adventures. She could feel heat pouring down on her and started to feel extremely thirsty, hungry, and felt her heart palpitate.

“How will you finish your book?” Jane asked him.

“I will stay here until I recover,” he crossed his injured leg. “I think it is just a muscle spasm,” the gauze slipped off of his leg and both of them tried to ignore the severe swelling and the broken piece of bone jutting out of his bloody flesh. It smelled rotten, and he hastily put the gauze back over it. “I should be back on the camels writing my book in about three days or so.”

Chapter Four

The next morning Jane called up the agent in Rome but the line was busy, and when she tried back for the fourth time she got a recording that said the agent had been murdered in his bed by some Italian thugs and would not be back the next day. It was the universal code signaling agent re-deployment.

She paced the reception pretending to look at the walls not wanting to leave the safety of the Ismaili house. Young-Min was sitting on the sofa alone watching another fashion show.

Now was a good time to tell him to stay away from Illy since she regretted not doing so yesterday.

“Good morning,” Jane told him.

“Yes, hey what’s up?” Young-Min grabbed her hand warmly and stood up and gave her a great big hug. “You look great,” he pinched her cheek and kissed it twice.

“Huh?” Jane looked at him like he was on crack.

“Whatcha been up to baby?” He tapped his feet. “Oh man I’ve been thinking about you every moment since that night,” and he rubbed his hands together.

“Uh,” she said cautiously. “How is Illy?” She asked.

“He’s great, matter of fact he asked about you,” he winked at Jane. “I understand you want to spend another night with Illy.”

“I do?” She looked at him puzzled.

“Yep, ya wanna come with me today man?” Young-Min looked her body up and down. “I sure would like it baby,” and he smacked his lips. “It was sure great the first time, but I think I can make it a bit better for you this time.”

“Uh, yes,” Jane looked around. “ I have to make a phone call first; I’ll be back,” and she returned to her room and sat on her bed to cogitate her plan. Denying that there was no plan, she was besieged by despair, anguish, and of course self-hatred.

She looked up something in a book and then thought some more. Then she remembered a phrase she had heard somewhere, maybe it was from a movie, and she took a few pills of Valium and felt better.

When she left the hotel she went out the back door taking the key with her thus breaking one of the strictest rules in the hotel.

She slipped into the travel agency looking for Mustafa the agent. He was on his lunch break and would be back the next day, the lady sitting besides his desk whispered. She remembered the card he had given her and pulled it out, unfortunately the only thing that was printed on it was Artist; no phone numbers or address.

”Shukran,” she told the lady and suddenly she felt a signal drawing her eyes to the corner of Mustafa’s vacant desk. On a piece of paper in plain English was the word Hustle.

“Hustle?” She spoke out loud.

“Hustle?” The lady who spoke fluent English furrowed her thick eyebrows. “There are no hustlers here mademoiselle, this is a proper business,” and she looked so offended that Jane apologized.

Then for a good minute she stood still and thought and the lady behind the desk wrote her off as a weirdo.

“Wait!” Exclaimed Jane. “What did I apologize for?”

The lady looked at Jane like she was crazy and ignored her.

“No, ma’am, excuse me, but what is a hustler?” She asked the lady.

“Nasty ugly dirty vile liars and cheaters! They are the scum and lice of the earth and if I could I would kill every one of them with my bare hands. Last year they took away at least forty percent of our expected business, and this year they will probably take away fifty percent,” the lady said ardently. “Be careful of them they will shred you into pieces.”

Jane looked at the scrap of paper on Mustafa’s desk again. Hustle, hustler, hustle to the hustler. The hustler?

She thanked the woman profusely and stepped outside, and it was no sooner that she had set foot on the hot pavement that Ismail waved his hands in front of her face.

“Oh, Ismail,” Jane now saw him as a poor defiled rape victim and took a two steps backwards. “How are you?” She asked expecting his fragile system of break into a million pieces if she said the wrong word.

“Where were you the other night?” Ismail pouted.

Jane took out a pair of white gloves from her purse and put them on. She smiled kindly, “I was so sick,” she explained.

“Oh?” Asked Ismail suspiciously with both hands on his hips. He took two steps forward.

“You look very nice today Ismail. You are a very smart man,” she lavished him with a few hundred other compliments and patted him on the back in a white gloved hand.

“Well, yes, thank you. What about today?” He demanded clenching his hips tighter.

“Ismail!” Mustafa popped up from nowhere and put his arm around Jane.

“Hey Mustafa, izzayak?”Ismail smiled, dropped his guard, and gave Mustafa a giant hug.

“Wait darling,” and Mustafa pulled Ismail against the wall with his arm around him and talked to him about something Jane could not hear.

When he was finished Ismail waved pleasantly and like any other normal man he called back to Jane, “You look really sexy today!”

Mustafa joined her, “I hate it so much when I have to talk to him,” he sighed.

“I am working at the camel market this morning will you come with me?”

Before Jane could say yes, he was pushing her along the sidewalk through the crowds and pulling her into a packed minivan.

“Yallah!” Mustafa cried in glee waving his hands out the window. They stopped somewhere in the dust and picked up a frowning Issa, and at the camel market Mustafa disappeared.

Five minutes later a huge man dressed in robes and scarves swooped her up into his arms. “Help Issa!” Jane cried out. Issa scowled even harder and spit nastily aiming for her purple rhinestone boots but luckily he missed since they were real suede.

“No, darling it is just me!” Mustafa pulled the scarf off of his head. I dress this way to make more money off them,” he pointed to a herd of white people at the entrance. “I’ll be back.”

There were nearly twelve hundred camels in the market that day that had been brought up from the Sudan and other countries and now were waiting to be sold across the world for meat, tourism, and transportation. Mustafa specialized in camels.

“I know all about them,” he told the herd of white people. “Sometimes, they are my best friends,” he said soberly. “Look,” he pointed, “those are from Jordan. Each will go for at least five thousand pounds. A rich Saudi will buy them.” He brandished his leather camel whip causing the pack of camels to squirm and hiss in revolt.

Mustafa paraded around the camel market flaunting his camel knowledge to tourists who paid twenty dollars per pack of lies.

Most of the tourists only knew camels from the zoos or their dreams, and now here they were looking at someone who lived with camels and herded them to different countries. They were awestruck by Mustafa, and Mustafa who had never even rode a camel before felt overcome by his own power and eminence. “I just got back from bringing this herd of one-hundred up from the Sudan,” he told them and slapped a handy hide for emphasis. “It took us four weeks. I just returned last night. Once I became severely ill from heat exhaustion and I dropped off my horse and nearly died instantly. But, I knew I had to make it here,” he paused looking down solemnly, “you see I have five starving children at home; even though I was dying I forced myself to get back on my horse and guide these camels here,” he then told the tourists he was still weak and excused himself for a minute to stagger against the back of one of the shacks panting for breath and feigning a partial faint he put his hand to his chest, “it’s the arrhythmia,” he gasped and took a small vial full of water that had a big nitroglycerine label on it in English, French, German, Chinese, and Hebrew and swallowed it all and tossed the empty vial before the tourists feet.

The tourists felt so sorry for him they immediately pulled out Francs, Dollars, Yen, Marks, and even Baht, and signed over whole quantities of travelers checks to him. He refused twice with great pride but the more he refused the more their sympathy increased and they even offered to exchange the currency into pounds, so that he was literally forced to take their money to prevent them from going out of their way for him.

Jane looked at Issa and Issa looked at the sky.

“What?” He grumbled.

Jane looked back at Mustafa.

Finally, the tourists left and Mustafa threw off his robes, “it is hard work, I have been working here since I was five years old.”

“Really?” Jane asked.

“No,” Mustafa put his fingers up to his lips. “Don’t say a word, I love my work, it doesn’t matter how hard it is,” and he stuck out his chest. “Today, you will see my house,” he exclaimed and they walked outside the camel market and caught another minibus back to the heart of Embaba.

“All for free,” he waved his hand out the window as the camel market disappeared. “You saw so much for free, so much for free,” he reiterated glancing at her sideways.

The minibus stopped in front of a series of small shacks in front of a sewage pond with a bridge over it. There were several sparkling mosques amongst the clutter and many food stalls selling hot foul and falafel. Little children ran about without aim, and as Mustafa climbed out of the bus he took his whip and lashed it at the children’s feet and when he roared, they fled. “You see, they respect me here,” Mustafa said happily.

“Come darling,” he guided her to a crumbling five-story shack located at the far end of what seemed to be a street. The door of the shack unlatched to a urine smelling corridor with two doors on each side in between a small stone staircase. “I live here,” and Mustafa unbolted the wood door to his left and upon doing so a thin woman appeared in a layer of black carrying a small wire and a black lens with a younger girl who looked like a boy but was wearing a blue gailyabaya.

They looked at Jane in horror then at Mustafa. Mustafa hugged and kissed them. “My mother and sister are going out so they can take pictures,” he told Jane. “Say hello,” he elbowed Jane.

Jane extended her hand and the woman took it and kissed both of her cheeks and embraced her. Jane felt each of the woman’s ribs and her spinal cord sticking out, and she drew back as if she was afraid of breaking her. Mustafa’s mother was silent. She took her daughter’s hand and they left the shack.

“I am sorry Mustafa. You mother is upset that I am here,” Jane told him. “It’s disrespectful for me to come here.”

“No, never mind. She obeys me and now she is going to take pictures,” he spoke confidently.

“You are the first woman I have brought home,” he told her. “And you are American you know,” he smiled broadly. “My mother is very happy!”

Mustafa led her into his home. There was a family room with a blanket covering the dirt floor and a small stove against the wall. Three mats spread out against the wall faced a small television on a low table.

“This is my room,” he took his hand in hers and pushed open the door. It was dark and hot, but Jane could see a small table with a copy of the Koran. “Finally! No people!” And he stripped off his robes, threw them onto the floor and grabbed Jane, “Take them off! Hurry!”

Jane wasn’t quite sure what happened next. It was like a scary movie, and when Mustafa roared with relief he jumped up and showered. Dripping wet and naked, he came back into the room and paraded in front of her puffing out his chest. “How was I?” He asked proudly.

Jane didn’t know quite what to say but that was fine because Mustafa did. “We will have this sex everyday from now on,” he smiled and took out a bright yellow shirt and carefully buttoned it. “ You are the first, you know girl, to have this type of thing with me in my own bed. Why don’t you shower? You need to get the, you know get clean. We don’t want a baby!” He roared with laughter.

After Jane had showered they caught a minibus back to Midan Talat Harb and headed straight to a koshari restaurant where Mustafa between gulps of hot lentils told Jane deep thoughts. She gingerly picked at the chilled rice pudding, however, her appetite was steadily decreasing the more Mustafa ate.

“Inti helwa awi,” he told her. “We will be forever together and never part,” he took another bite, and Jane thanked him. “I was raised with the camels, never knew how to get a girl until the army,” he explained. “Two years of the army turned me into a real man. The army taught me morals Jane,” Mustafa looked at her with eyes full of deep emotion.

“Before the army I used to watch the other hustlers mate with all the foreign women. I was so jealous then because I didn’t know how to get one. But, after the army, oh yes, I had all the skills. Now I just work at the camel market part-time, the rest of the time I hustle the streets.”

When they finished they walked along Talat Harb holding hands. “They can all see me now,” Mustafa said happily.

“Izzayak Mustafa?” A frowning young man with a yellow fanny pack slung over his shoulder stopped them on the sidewalk.

“Ya, Alaa,” Mustafa greeted him. “Kwayis, inta? Jane, this is Aladdin.”

“Hello, how do you say your name?” She looked at him confused.

“ Al-a-din,” he pronounced, “like the lamp, remember?” Aladdin glowered at her for no apparent reason.

“Yallah Jane,” and Mustafa pushed her onward to meet more of his good friends.

At the end of the day, Jane started to wonder about something and as arcane as it seemed she needed to know. “Why do you love me?” She asked Mustafa as they sat on the subway steps of Talat Harb. A breeze from the Nile washed over them, and for the first time that day Jane felt a bit of her tension relieved.

“I love you because you are beautiful,” Mustafa gripped her hand. “You are hot.”

Jane who was always insecure about her appearance suddenly felt the urge to ask him if he was lying.

“Of course I am not lying,” Mustafa told her.

“You really think I am beautiful?” She asked desperately.

“Don’t you think you are a bit too old to ask this question?” He looked at her impatiently.

“What about Egyptian women?” She asked.

“Some are beautiful but they can’t understand me and good communication is necessary for a marriage to work. We communicate very well Jane,” and he tightened his grasp.

Jane had to agree their communication was excellent even though it was Mustafa who did all the talking and the subject never strayed far from his own profound greatness.

“We look good together, and people are impressed Jane. That’s what counts in this world,” he gazed at her with stars in his eyes.

“You’re so sexy Jane, even the other guys say that. I have a dream,” and he lowered his voice, “my dream is to own mobile phone and a have a beautiful wife, and,” he pointed to the street, “I want to leave the street because it is not a good life. I want to be a barber Jane,” he looked at her and a bit of water came into his eyes. “I want to cut people’s hair.”

Jane felt his emotion and lowered her head in reverence.

That night Ahmed the night clerk scolded her harshly again for thirty minutes for taking the key with her.

“I am sorry,” she coughed and tried to look sick and weak so that he would treat her with mercy.

“Furthermore, your friend was looking for you,” Ahmed who had been born without mercy coughed, and took out a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. He looked faint.

“What friend?” Jane asked.

“Young-Min, that fellow you came here with,” Ahmed growled. ”Do you have amnesia?

“He left you a note, here,” Ahmed pushed a folded piece of paper towards her.

She unfolded it and read:

“You were looking for me today, hustle, don’t spend much time with one person, move, move, move, like a rabbit,”

“Young-Min gave this to you?” Jane was baffled.

“Yes, that is what I said,” Ahmed said crossly.

“Where is Young-Min?” Jane asked him.

“Probably dead, because you didn’t keep him away from that vile old man you slept with,” Ahmed wagged a stern finger at her like she was Young-Min’s mother. Unlike Mustafa, he wasn’t fond of Young-Min because he made him feel fat, but Mustafa had warned him to warn Jane to warn Young-Min and Ahmed always obeyed orders.

“I am not his mother,” Jane protested, “And I did not sleep with Illy!”

“Don’t be so selfish,” Ahmed warned her. “Someday you will need a mother, and everybody knows both you and Young-Min slept with him, you told me so yourself. So, don’t lie.”

“Uh, um ” Jane opened her mouth. “Ok, I will talk with him tomorrow ok?”

“Like a rabbit,” Jane thought. “Wait, are there pet stores here Ahmed?”

“For what?” Ahmed asked.

“Rabbits or hamsters or something,” Jane shrugged.

“Yes, in Ma’adi and Heliopolis there are many. Why don’t you just go to the zoo instead?” And he shoved a zoo guide across the counter.

“Shukran Ahmed,” and she went pensively to her little room, undressed, took a handful of Valium, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.