Not ‘my’ escaped geckho….hopefully he is still on the loose 🙂
An enticing aroma of food cooking greeted Kallis as she entered the apartment. Shamiela rushed to meet her as she heard the door. ‘Ah, Kallis! How are you, my dear? Have you had a good day?’
‘Wonderful. Really, just lovely. It is so…different here. The pyramids are spectacular. And it was fun horse riding.’
‘Ah yes, Yusef is often up at the stables with Ramadan. But come through. I want you to meet my husband.’ Shamiela led her through to the sitting room. A rather large man jumped to his feet.
‘Walid, my husband. Walid, this is Kallis.’
‘Kallis, I am very pleased to meet you.’ He was smiling a large beaming smile as he grabbed Kallis’ hand with his large, plump one and pumped it enthusiastically.
‘Nice to meet you too, Walid.’ Large and affable, he was nothing like her father, although why Kallis had expected, without consciously realising it, that he would be she didn’t know.
Kallis turned to Shamiela. ‘Can I help you with anything?’
Shamiela shook her head. ‘All is under control. I have Meervit here and her daughter too, so it is all very busy in the kitchen. You go and have a shower and change. I am expecting my sisters and their families after nine o’clock, inshah’allah.’
Relieved (she wasn’t a great cook), Kallis headed off to her room, where she had a long, hot shower and washed the desert sand out of her hair. Afterwards, feeling refreshed, Kallis sat on the bed, her hair twisted into a towel turban and wondered what the evening would bring. Kallis thought she might have met Shamiela’s sisters before, but had no clear memory of them. Her father had tried his best but it had been so awkward. Kallis’s mother had been so unhappy and upset that he had married again and Kallis, although young, had been well aware of that. She remembered that she had liked Shamiela but had felt guilty for doing so. Her father had divided his time as equally as he could between his two wives and it had all seemed a pretty normal life for Kallis, as she remembered it. ‘It’s funny,’ thought Kallis, ‘I remember more now about my childhood than before. Things are coming back to me; I suppose it’s all prompted by seeing how life’s lived here in Cairo, and of course seeing Shamiela again.’
Kallis started to towel dry her hair. ‘But what am I going to wear this evening?’ she wondered. Her bag had been unpacked, she presumed by Meervit, and her clothes had been hung neatly in the wardrobe. Kallis found her one summer dress and looked doubtfully at it. It was longish and had a design in pale and jade green. It was made of soft Indian cotton and Kallis always enjoyed wearing it but it did have little straps and was a bit low cut. Kallis pulled it on and looked at herself in the mirror. She then rummaged through her bag and found a little silky camisole and put that on underneath. That took care of the low cut aspect. She then threw a soft scarf over her shoulders and tied it together at the back, so it took on the appearance of a little shrug or cardigan. Brushing out her long black hair, Kallis applied her usual black kohl around her eyes and, as a finishing touch, she put the silver ankh around her neck. She changed her earrings from studs to large hoops and decided that she would do.
Kallis heard the doorbell ringing and then suddenly a lot of voices were all talking in Arabic at once. There was a soft tap on her door.
‘Kallis? Are you ready, my dear? My sisters have arrived and are excited to meet you.’
Kallis opened the door.
‘You look lovely, Kallis!’ declared Shamiela as she grabbed Kallis by the hand and led her through to the living room, which seemed to Kallis to be full of people.
Shamiela clapped her bands together. This had the effect of stopping the general cacophony of voices all talking at once. They all turned towards her.
‘Everyone! Quiet please. This is Kallis, the daughter of my late husband.’
Kallis felt the blood slowly rising in her cheeks as everybody slowly looked her up and down. ‘Kallis, this is my older sister Mona, her husband Akbar and their son Mohammed.’
Mona was quite fair haired for an Egyptian, with rosy cheeks. Her husband was small and dark and looked like he could do with a good meal. They both shook hands with Kallis. Their son also shook hands with Kallis. A solemn little boy, he had black hair with a shock of white at the back. His parents saw Kallis looking at it. ‘Mohammed is a very special boy, Kallis. He has been touched by the hand of Allah. See his lock of white hair. It is a blessing upon him,’ said Mona. Mohammed smiled charmingly at Kallis. He was all dressed up in a little suit complete with a tie. Kallis thought he was maybe eight or nine years old.
‘And this is my younger sister, Dahlia, and her husband Hani. They have three children. These pretty girls, Suli and Bekka, they are twins – and this is their son, Nathaniel.’
Kallis shook hands with Dahlia. She was wearing a loose dress and headscarf. She did look a little like Shamiela. Hani was large and handsome. Kallis thought he looked like a young Omar Sharif. He said ‘We are pleased to meet you,’ and Shamiela said, ‘They don’t speak English, Kallis, but don’t worry! I will translate.’
Just then the door bell buzzed and in came Yusef, handsome in a smart grey pinstriped suit and red open necked shirt, all smiles and apologies for being late. A big fuss was made of him by Shamiela’s two sisters.
Yusef smiled over at Kallis. ‘How are you, Kallis? Have you got your legs back?’
Kallis laughed. ‘Yes, I can just about walk, thank you! But tomorrow…who knows?’
Walid led everybody through to the dining room and they all sat down together at the large wooden table. There was juice or water to drink, but no wine. No Dutch courage for me, thought Kallis. Not that she needed it, everybody was very friendly and all smiles. Walid proposed a toast to Kallis, and said how nice it was for Shamiela to see her again, and for them all to meet her. Kallis responded by saying how nice it was to be back in Cairo and thanking them for making her feel so welcome. The two girls were absolute horrors, and ended up rolling on the floor. Why is it that children like to roll on the floor? wondered Kallis, especially these two who were done up like dolls in frilly little dresses and with large ribbons in their hair. Nathaniel was quiet and looked bored most of the time except when food was put in front of him. He greedily ate everything he could lay his little chubby hands upon. His mother kept wiping his mouth clean and dabbing at his shirt. Mohamed, on the other hand, was a complete angel. Intelligent and seemingly old for his age, he was polite and could speak quite good English. He kept looking at Kallis as they were sitting opposite each other.
‘Are you Muslim, Kallis?’ he eventually asked her politely. The room fell silent.
‘Um, no, I’m not,’ said Kallis, shaking her head. ‘I don’t follow any religion.’
‘But Kallis,’ exclaimed Shamiela, ‘you were born into the Muslim faith. Therefore, if you have not renounced it, you are indeed a Muslim.’ Shamiela sat back in her chair, looking pleased.
‘Well, that much is true. I AM interested to find out more about Islam. I would really love to visit a mosque while I am here.’
‘But of course!’ Mona clapped her hands. ‘Kallis, I will take you to our mosque tomorrow morning. What do you say? Will you come?’
‘Yes, yes, I would love to, thank you.’ Kallis was pleased. Mohammed looked well pleased with himself too. He smiled serenely over at Kallis.
Yusef was watching all this with an amused smiled on his face.
‘You will have to get up early tomorrow, Kallis. Mona will want to be at the mosque for the morning call at sunrise.’
‘Oh, that’s alright, I don’t mind getting up, It’s nice and cool early in the morning anyway,’ said Kallis firmly.
The conversation moved on, between the courses. A lot of it was in Arabic, but Shamiela was sitting next to Kallis and kept telling her what was being said.
Dahlia wanted to know if Kallis was planning to marry soon. Kallis said firmly she was not planning anything like that in the near future.
‘I am sort of on a journey to find myself, of self discovery: a cliché I know, but it’s true.’
Kallis told them all how she had given up her busy, stressful job in London and was taking some time out before looking for new employment.
‘But, how old are you, Kallis, if it’s not too rude a question?’ Hani asked her suddenly. Shamiela translated this.
‘I’m 32 this year.’ Kallis smiled.
‘I knew that,’ said Shamiela. ‘Our Yusef is 8 years younger, at 24.’
Yusef shrugged and ran his hand through his hair. ‘Kallis looks as young as me, if not younger,’ he laughed
‘Well, Kallis, don’t leave it too late if you want to have babies, will you?’ said Akbar.
´ I’m not so sure I want children, certainly not at the moment,’ said Kallis.
This statement seemed to shock them all a little. Glances were exchanged. ‘Kallis, you will change your mind when you meet the right man. Now, I can make some introductions for you, if you wish. I have many contacts and friends here,’ declared Akbar.
‘Ah, um, no, no thank you. Really.’ Kallis was embarrassed and a little cross.
Dahlia suddenly said something in Arabic to Shamiela. Shamiela shook her head.
‘Kallis, Dahlia thinks we could make a match for you with our Yusef. I have told her that you are like brother and sister.’
‘Ah.’ Kallis gave a nervous laugh. ‘Yes, we are friends, like brother and sister. And he is being a good brother and looking after me while I am here.’ She caught Yusef’s eye but he looked quickly away.
Shamiela was looking at her son. ‘Yusef does not wish to please his mother and marry yet. He wants to make us wait and be very old grandparents.’
‘Mother, that is NOT true. I have yet to find the right woman. Also, like our Kallis here, I am, as I believe they say in Europe, playing the field.’
Oh,’ Mona looked at Kallis, ‘Are you ‘playing the field’, Kallis?’
‘No. I have just not been thinking about or looking for a boyfriend at the moment. I don’t really like that phrase, Yusef, it implies much and is rather flippant.’
In reply Yusef pulled a face and then shrugged. His big smile came back suddenly. ‘Enough of all this talk of marriage. Let us enjoy our excellent meal and good company. I would like to propose a toast to Kallis.’
Everybody raised their glasses and the chatter continued.
It was much later and Kallis was happy to go to bed. The rest of the evening had passed without incident really, but she had felt embarrassed and cornered when they had been questioning her on marriage and Yusef. ‘How embarrassing for him,’ thought Kallis, ‘but what a thing to say, that I was ‘playing the field’, I wonder what he really thinks of me?’ Kallis felt vaguely uneasy about it all. Yusef had asked her, as he was leaving, to have dinner tomorrow night with him on the houseboat. Kallis had said yes, as she really wanted to see the boat but now she did wonder about being on her own with Yusef, somewhere private. He had asked her quietly as well, so that presumably his mother hadn’t heard. ‘I don’t have any romantic feelings for Yusef; he’s good looking and a nice man but really, just not my type,’ Kallis decided. Not that Kallis was sure what sort of man was ‘her type’. ‘Mum always said I was hard to please’, Kallis thought. Restless, she jumped back out of the bed and pulled the drapes back on the large window, then tip-toed back to bed and sat cross legged, looking out at the twinkling lights of Cairo by night. ‘He really does seem nice enough; he’s certainly being very gracious and looking after me,’ Kallis thought, ‘and seeing him with Ramadan – well, I get the impression he prefers men, really. I suppose that’s not really acceptable here.’ Kallis was distracted by something on the glass of the window. She hopped out of bed again and went over to have a look. It was a tiny, tiny gecko, clinging onto the glass on the outside. It was funny to see him from the underneath; his little splayed and suckered feet and his white jelly belly. He seemed quite unaware of Kallis. ‘Hang on tight, my friend,’ laughed Kallis, it’s a long way down.’