Cairo silhouette: inspiration from my own photographs taken when I lived there.
Kallis slept well when she got back to the hotel, but woke early feeling fretful and worried about what the old lady at the market had said. What had she meant about a foot in two worlds? Maybe she was just referring to the fact that Kallis was half Egyptian, which was perhaps obvious by her appearance to the local people here. Or maybe she could tell that Kallis had had a strange experience and perhaps seen another sort of world? And more worryingly, what was this danger and how should she avoid it?
‘Well’, thought Kallis, I shall just have to see what happens and deal with it then’.
Kallis took a shower and packed her things back into her bag. She put on her new galibaya and went down to the cafe to have some breakfast: some toast and a coffee. When she got back to her room a note had been pushed under the door informing her that the driver would be by at 9.30 to collect her. It was almost 9.00, so Kallis spent 20 minutes flicking through the channels on the T.V., finding an Arabic version of M.T.V. and belly dancing around the room, her hips swinging to the urgent beat of the drums, then collapsing on the bed laughing before heading to reception to check out.
The driver from the night before was there waiting for her. He smiled hugely, ‘Good morning, Miss Kallis. I am Ragab, you remember me?’
Kallis nodded. ‘Of course, Ragab, Salam Al Akum.’ Kallis practised her Arabic.
‘Wi al akum y salem.’ Ragab responded with a smile. ‘Come, Miss Kallis, the car is just here. I will take you to Madame Shamiela’s.’
Ten minutes later and they were at the apartment. Shamiela was there to greet Kallis with a hug and a kiss to the cheek. ‘Kallis, welcome. I am so pleased you have agreed to stay here with us. Come, I will show you to your room.’
Shamiela had been up early preparing a bedroom for Kallis with the help of the maid. She had been so astonished yesterday when Kallis had called at the apartment. She had never really thought that she would see Kallis ever again but was quite delighted. Shamiela was kind-hearted and felt very fortunate that she had remarried and to a good man. She was eagerly looking forward to hearing more about Kallis and her mother.
Shamiela led the way through the large apartment to a small but neat little bedroom. The single bed in the centre had a mass of mosquito netting over the top, draped artfully down from the ceiling. There was a small bathroom with a shower through a tiled archway. On the other side of the room was a wrought iron dressing table with a marble top, and chair, with a large mirror and plump tasselled cushions. On the other wall was a large double window which looked out over the city.
‘Oh, it’s beautiful!’ Kallis clapped her hands with excitement and ran over to the window to look out. ‘I can see right across the city. Is that the Nile across there?’
Shamiela laughed at Kallis’ excitement. ‘Yes, child, it IS the Nile. We are in the centre here but the double glass keeps much of the noise out. I hope you will be comfortable. Ah, look who is here already.’
Kallis turned round to see Yusef looking in the bedroom door.
‘Kallis, good morning. I see Ramadan has delivered you to us O.K.’
‘Yes, good morning, Yusef. Thank you again for looking after me last night; it was fun at the market.’
‘Ah, he took you to the Khan el Kahlili, did he? And did you buy anything?’ Shamiela was interested.
Kallis pulled out her silver ankh, which she had put on that morning, to show Shamiela. ‘Ah, the key to the Nile. Very pretty, Kallis. So, what are your plans for today?’
‘I thought I might take Kallis riding up by the pyramids, Mother. What do you think, Kallis, can you ride?’ Yusef turned to Kallis.
‘Well, I did when I was at school, but have not since. However I am sure I will be O.K. We can really ride near to the pyramids?’ Kallis thought it sounded quite wonderful.
‘Yes, I am friends with a stable owner up there, but we should hurry, Kallis, before it gets too hot.’
‘Just give me a moment; I need to put something more suitable on.’
Shamiela led Yusef out of the room with the promise of a coffee. Kallis shut the door and sat on the bed. She felt incredibly lucky and happy – everything had gone so well since she arrived here, and it had just been a whim, really. A few weeks ago she hadn’t even been thinking about Cairo, or Shamiela. Kallis emptied her bag out on the bed and after a bit of rummaging selected a baggy pair of cargo pants and a long sleeve tunic style t-shirt. ‘Well, that will have to do for horse riding. I didn’t exactly think of bringing jodhpurs!’ Kallis laughed to herself as she got changed. She pulled on her purple doc martens as well, thinking them better than her sandals for riding.
She found Yusef and Shamiela in the kitchen drinking coffee. The maid, Meervit, was there as well, busily clearing the kitchen table and loading the dish washer. Kallis was offered coffee, which she declined. ‘No thanks, I’ve just had some at the Marriott.’
‘In that case, Kallis, we should go.’ Yusef headed for the door.
Shamiela called after them: ‘Don’t forget that tonight I have invited a few people for dinner to meet Kallis.’
‘Don’t worry, Mother; we’ll be back before sun-down.’ Yusef lead the way out.
Kallis was amazed by the pyramids. She hadn’t realised they were just on the edge of Cairo. The area itself was higher than the main city – you could look back and see just how enormous Cairo was: a big sprawl of high rise blocks and every so often, higher than anything else, the minarets of the mosques glinting in the harsh sunlight through the hazy clouds of pollution.
Ragab stopped outside a row of low buildings. Yusef got out of the car and opened the door for Kallis. ‘These are the stables, Kallis. I have called my friend already, and he is expecting us.’
Kallis got out of the car and they walked over to the stables. A slim, good looking long-haired man came out to greet them and there was much laughter and slapping of backs and shaking of hands between him and Yusef. ‘Ah, Kallis, this is my good friend, Ramadan. Ramadan, this is my new sister Kallis that I was telling you about.’
‘Kallis, hello, I am pleased to meet you.’ Ramadan flashed her a big white smile and shook her hand.
‘Hello, Ramadan, pleased to meet you too.’
Kallis was surprised by the behaviour of Yusef with Ramadan. They couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other and, as she watched, they walked over to the stable entrance with their arms around each other.
‘Kallis, come and see the horses,’ Ramadan called back to her.
Kallis followed behind them. She wondered if there was more than friendship between Yusef and Ramadan and maybe that was why he was so reluctant to take a wife. ‘Well, whatever, it’s none of my business,’ thought Kallis.
The horses were a bit on the thin side, and some of them had scratches and scabs on them where they had banged against the concrete wall of the enclosure, but generally they seemed ok.
‘Kallis, have a look. This can be your horse today. What do you think? She is very gentle.’ Ramadan called her over to a light grey horse with a white mane. Kallis walked over to her and rubbed her soft nose. The horse pushed gently against her.
‘She is called Bougainvillea after the flowers; we call her Boogie for short.’
‘She’s lovely.’ Kallis was pleased to have been allocated a gentle horse, especially as she was not sure of her horse-riding skills.
They sat crossed -legged on rugs flung onto the floor in a small corral area, drinking tea and watching while the three horses were bridled up. Yusef was to ride a large, almost black stallion called Michael Jackson, and Ramadan was to accompany them on his biscuit-coloured roan, called Cookie. Yusef and Ramadan chatted away in rapid Arabic, occasionally breaking into giggles.
‘I’m sorry, Kallis, we are being rude but my friend here has much gossip to pass onto me, and it is not really suitable for ladies’ ears.’ Yusef patted her on the arm.
Kallis laughed. ‘Hey, I’m sure I’ve heard it all before and I’m not easily shocked.’
They both dissolved into giggles again at this piece of information. ‘Ah, Kallis, maybe I will tell you later. Ah, look, the horses are ready for us.’
Yusef and Ramadan swung easily into their saddles. Kallis mounted Boogie from a wall, but managed it quite well to her surprise. The horse was quite responsive to her and she found she had not forgotten how to ride after all.
‘O.K., Kallis?’ Yusef called to her.
‘Fine, yes, she’s a really nice horse.’ Kallis pushed her heels into Boogie’s flanks and she was off at a gentle pace. Ramadan led the way and Yusef stayed behind Kallis as they made their way up the track and out onto the sandy area near the pyramids. It was wonderful: the warm wind in Kallis’ hair, the proximity of the huge and ancient pyramids, the hum of the city in the distance and the gentle rhythm of the horse under her. They broke into a fast trot as they headed out into the desert. It was mostly flat but sometimes they went over some sand dunes, Boogie’s hooves sinking into the soft sand.
Soon, the pyramids were in the distance and they seemed to be a long way from anywhere. Ramadan stopped his horse and they passed a bottle of water around.
‘O.K, Kallis?’ Ramadan asked her. ‘It is not much further and we will stop for a long lunch before we ride back.’
‘I’m really enjoying myself. This is great – and Boogie is lovely.’ Kallis patted her horse on the flanks.
They rode on for another half an hour until they came upon a greener area where a hotel was visible. It was like an oasis, with tall palm trees and lots of brightly coloured bushes. The hotel was quite small, and it had a stable at the rear with a paddock area.
‘This is it, Kallis. We will stop here,’ called Yusef.
They dismounted and tied the horse to a long pole outside the hotel and walked over to the hotel garden. Yusef chose a wooden table and benches and they were soon tucking into a welcome lunch.
‘You will meet some of my family tonight, Kallis,’ Yusef told her. ‘I think my Mother is inviting as many people as she can think of over! She loves an excuse for a big dinner. My Mother is a good host.’
‘Well, I’m looking forward to it. Your Mother is being very kind.’
Yusef smiled, pleased to hear his Mother praised.
Kallis sat back after her lunch under the shade of a small tree. The tree was in full flower. Thick ropes of gold flowers hung down and attracted quite a few insects with their enticing scent. The air was full of their buzzing and clicking. The tree next to it was some kind of palm tree but had spines all up the main trunk; Kallis thought it looked as though it were studded with nipples. An exotic erotic tree, Kallis thought and laughed to herself. Yusef and Ramadan were sitting in the shade opposite her and she idly watched them. They were totally engrossed in each other and were talking softly in Arabic; every so often the girlish giggling began. They both seemed to have very high pitched laughs. Kallis wondered if this was an Egyptian characteristic but decided not, that these two just enjoyed being a little camp in each other’s company.
After a while, Yusef stood up and stretched languidly.
‘O.K., Kallis? We had better think about heading back soon.’
Kallis jumped up and then regretted it. She was aching already. Yusef and Ramadan laughed as Kallis made a big thing of stretching her legs out and rubbing her bottom. ‘Oooh – I am so sore already! Tomorrow is going to be hell!’
‘A hot bath for you when you get back, Kallis. This is the best thing,’ advised Yusef.
Kallis found the Ladies’ room and washed her face and hands. She was covered in orange dust from the desert. She brushed her hair out as best she could with her fingers and tied it back, then wound a scarf over her head to keep the sun off. She went back over to Yusef and Ramadan just as the horses were being brought over to them by the hotel stable boy. They mounted quickly, Kallis groaning as she did so.
‘O.K., Boogie, let’s take it nice and gently!’
Yusef laughed and then they were off at a nice leisurely pace.
After a while, Kallis forgot her soreness and settled into the gentle rhythm of her horse. She found it quite meditative, and her thoughts drifted back to when she went horse riding at school. It had been on an adventure weekend with her class. They had all stayed at a youth hostel in the middle of a wild moor land somewhere. Kallis thought she must have been about 13 or 14, because she remembered discussing the boys with her friends in the dark dormitory at night, all huddled on the bunk beds. Some girls from another school had managed to get outside to meet up with some of the boys from her school, and the teacher next door, a ferocious woman, had suddenly burst in and started shouting at them all, about how dangerous the moor land was at night, and where had these girls gone? Kallis had been full of admiration for these girls that they had dared to do this! Kallis never so much as got a detention when she was at school. Anyway, the girls were located in the boys’ dormitory and unceremoniously marched back to bed. Kallis and her friends had speculated about what had occurred that night but the girls from the other school wouldn’t tell. They had seemed much older and more sophisticated, wearing face creams at night and applying makeup in the morning. Kallis had never really got the hang of make-up although she did like to emphasise her brilliant green eyes with some black kohl. Anyway, the big event of the trip had been the pony trek. This had started off in the stables where they had all been shown how to groom and pick out the horses’ hooves, and then saddle up. Kallis’ saddle had not been tightened strongly enough, however, as she discovered to her horror when the horses all broke into a gallop. Kallis’ horse had been one of the front runners and within seconds she had felt herself slipping and then falling to the ground. She had felt the rumbling in the ground as the horses headed for her and she remembered feeling calm and accepting about the whole situation, instinctively curling herself into a small ball, and somehow the following horses had managed to avoid her. The teachers had not said a lot really, but had made her saddle up again and get back onto her horse; she supposed there was not a lot of choice really as they were several miles from the youth hostel.
Kallis was suddenly brought back to the moment as they climbed a sand dune and the pyramids were once more visible.
‘Nearly back, Kallis,’ shouted Yusef.
All too soon they arrived back at the stables and dismounted. Kallis thanked Ramadan; she had had a lovely day. On the way back in the car Kallis sent a text to Mel – ‘Spent today horse riding in the desert. Speak soon love K X.’
Ragab dropped Kallis off at Shamiela’s and Yusef stayed in the car.
‘I will see you later for the dinner, Kallis.’
‘O.K., Yusef. Thanks again for today; it was fantastic.’ Kallis waved goodbye and headed into the apartment block. Her phone beeped a message at her whilst she was in the lift. A message from Mel. ‘Spent today working hard in the library. Hah. Life is unfair. Have fun. love Mel X.’