Old Cairo: Dave’s Rabbit; Chapters 19 & 20

Old Cairo

Inside the alleyways and markets of old Cairo: worked from my own photographs

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Kallis felt as if she had only been asleep for a few hours, but someone was definitely tapping insistently on her door.

‘Kallis! Kallis! Mona is here to take you to the mosque!’ It was Shamiela.

‘O.K., I’ll just be a minute.’ Kallis leaped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. A few minutes later and she was dressed, dragging a brush through her hair. ‘I’d better take a scarf to cover my hair,’ thought Kallis. She grabbed a scarf and her bag and was out of the apartment and riding down in the lift. Mona was waiting in a car just outside the apartment block. Kallis hopped in the passenger side.

‘Hi, Kallis, how are you this morning? Not too early for you, I hope.’ Mona laughed, put the car in gear and pulled off.

‘No, I’m fine. Thanks for remembering me this morning! But is your husband not coming?’

‘No,’ – Mona shook her head – ‘the men go separately to pray. We women have our own part of the mosque.’

Mona raced through the streets of Cairo, at one point nearly knocking a man off his bicycle; he appeared to be carrying the ‘balladi’ breads on a large platter on top of his head. Kallis wondered how he managed to cycle at all. Eventually Kallis lost all sense of direction.

‘Kallis, I have a confession to make,’ declared Mona, suddenly.

Kallis looked enquiringly at her.

Mona continued, ‘I have already prayed this morning. I thought it would not be so interesting for you to come to our mosque. It is not really a mosque as you imagine with domes and minarets but a room where we gather. I thought I would take you to what we call ‘Islamic Cairo’ instead.’ She glanced at Kallis. ‘It is an area full of history, like stepping back in time a few centuries! And lots of mosques.’

‘Oh, well, that sounds good.’ Kallis decided she was pleased about the change of plans. She had been wondering if she would have been expected to kneel and pray or something and would not have known quite what to do. This would give her a chance to see more of Cairo and have a chat with Mona.

‘Do you remember me from before, Mona?’ Kallis asked.

‘Yes, of course, Kallis, although I am younger than Shamiela. Yes, I remember well when my sister married your father.’ She glanced at Kallis. ‘I was so sorry, Kallis, when you lost him. So sad, so tragic.’

‘I still miss him; since being here in Cairo, I find I’m remembering how my life was before and thinking about Dad more and more.’ Kallis looked at Mona. ‘Mum never remarried, although she still might, I suppose….’ Kallis looked thoughtful. ‘I know she has had boyfriends but nothing serious. I think she’s quite used to doing her own thing, really.’

Mona smiled, lost in thoughts of her own. She was remembering the time before she was married, before she had her precious son. She had wanted to marry, really, to escape from their father who had become increasingly crotchety and volatile as he got older. He had been very strict with his daughters and they stayed in line through fear rather than respect. He had been known to break furniture in one of his furies and occasionally they had all felt the back of his hand. Mona felt he had picked on her more than Dahlia or Shamiela, perhaps because she was quite fair skinned and her hair was a dark bronze (who knows where the genes for this had come from). Her father had felt Mona was too beautiful for her own good and he had jealously guarded her from any suitors, until the day he had introduced her to Akbar. Small, dark and definitely NOT handsome, nonetheless Akbar turned out to be a kind and gentle husband and all that Mona felt she deserved. Within a year she had given birth to Mohammed, who was a special and blessed child, with his lock of white hair and serene ways. Mona was happy and content in her life, but she wondered how it must feel to be Kallis, lovely and young and free to travel the world, and to date and marry any man she chose. Or not to marry at all, if she so wished. Mona also wondered if Kallis had had many lovers but would never have dared to ask her this.

Mona pulled up by the old walls that marked out the boundary of Islamic Cairo. A policeman spotted them and ambled over, gun slung over his shoulder. Mona had a rapid exchange in Arabic with him, a few notes changed hands and she was directed over to a parking place by the wall. Mona jumped out of the car.

‘Come on, Kallis, we’re on foot from now on.’

Kallis pulled her bag over her shoulder, tied her scarf round her neck and followed Mona through the gates and into the old town.

CHAPTER TWENTY

A few hours later Mona and Kallis sat, exhausted, in a small café sipping fruit juices. The day was warming up and they watched as people hurried past, going about their business. Kallis thanked Mona again for the tour; she had really enjoyed seeing the mosques and the old part of the city. Mona had been a goldmine of information and had handled with ease the persistent men who had wanted to be their guides. Notes had exchanged hands easily to let them into hidden buildings and places not normally open to the public. They were back now in the centre of Cairo very near to the Nile, and could see the river, brown and mysterious, gliding peacefully by, heading north on up to the Mediterranean.

Mona looked at Kallis.

‘So, what are your plans for later today?’ she asked.

‘Ah. I have been invited to dinner on Yusef’s houseboat.’ Kallis smiled. ‘I’m really looking forward to seeing it’. Then, ‘What?’

Mona had a strange look of disapproval on her face; her bottom lip was out in a sort of pout.

‘Isn’t it a nice boat?’ Kallis wondered.

‘It IS a nice boat, Kallis, but do you think it wise for you to be alone with Yusef like that? Does Shamiela know what he plans?’

‘Um, well, yes, I presume so. To be honest, Mona, I don’t know but Yusef is being so nice to me, and he asked me and I really don’t see why I shouldn’t have dinner with him.’

‘Well, if you were from here it would not happen, Kallis. That is all I am saying.’ Mona smiled and relaxed. ‘I suppose it is nothing to you. You are a free western woman and can do as you please. Yes, it must be nice to have that freedom, I sometimes think.’

Kallis looked at Mona. She wondered whether to ask some questions about Yusef but decided against it. They finished their drinks in silence and Mona drove Kallis back to Shamiela’s. When she got back to the apartment, Shamiela had gone out shopping but had left a note for Kallis to help herself to some lunch and saying that she would be back later.

Kallis decided to have a nap as she was feeling tired after the early start. She lay down on the bed and thought back over the morning. It had all been going well until she had been convinced that she had suddenly spotted the old lady from the Khan el Khalili market. Kallis had run off in pursuit of her, down an alleyway that appeared to have a dead end. The old lady was nowhere to be seen and Kallis had fallen over a pile of rubbish, kittens mewing and scattering as she fell. She had not been hurt but Mona had been quite cross with her, even when Kallis had explained about the old lady’s warning.

‘Only Allah can know what the future holds for you, Kallis. He will protect you as he sees fit. Do not be taken in by these charlatans. What can they know of your destiny?’

Well, yes, thought Kallis, what can she know? But all the same it was frightening and with all the strange things that had happened to Kallis lately, anything now seemed possible. And the old lady had not asked her for money or anything. She must have felt something about me, thought Kallis, so whether this ‘bad event’ comes or not, what can I do?

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It’s a long way down… Dave’s Rabbit: Chapters 17 & 18

Geckho on window

Not ‘my’ escaped geckho….hopefully he is still on the loose 🙂

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

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.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

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.’

By the pyramids of Cairo: Dave’s Rabbit Chapters 15 & 16

Cairo by the pyramids

Cairo silhouette:  inspiration from my own photographs taken when I lived there.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

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.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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.’

Ankh: Dave’s Rabbit Chapters 12, 13 & 14

Ankh

Drawn using the shape of my own (gold) ankh that I bought when I lived in Cairo

CHAPTER TWELVE

Kallis was back at the Marriott hotel, luxuriating in her large bath. The hotel had provided some wonderful-smelling, exotic bath oils and she was making the most of them. Her black hair floated like a seaweed halo around her head as she lay back in the warm water. A small, jelly-like gecko was on the bathroom wall regarding this small mermaid with one bead of a black eye, whilst making his way up to the ceiling after a fly. Kallis watched as he moved in fast fits and starts. His little splayed feet had rounded sucker toes. Kallis remembered geckos from her life before in Egypt. She had forgotten about them until now. The Egyptians didn’t like them; she remembered some said that they had poison on their tongues and would flick them in your food. It was all to do with a certain gecko that lived a long time ago and was in a tree which the prophet Mohammed was hiding from his enemies in, and the gecko made its ‘chit-chit’ call and gave the hiding place away. Kallis remembered liking them as a child in spite of the maid’s dire warnings. Similarly, the Egyptians seemed to like and respect cats, and maybe that was because there was also a story about Mohammed saving a freezing kitten from the cold and putting him in his coat sleeve, or something like that, Kallis couldn’t quite remember. But in the Cairo apartment where she had lived there had been some cats, beautiful glossy-coated tabbies; but more spotted than stripy like the British variety, and these cats had had big ears and enormous gooseberry green eyes. Kallis had always liked cats even when they had caught and tortured the poor little geckoes.

‘It’s so strange here’, thought Kallis, ‘so foreign and yet familiar at the same time. Lots of memories are coming back to me. I can almost remember some Arabic too; it seems to just pop into my head now and then. My life would have been SO very different if Dad had lived and we had stayed here in Cairo. I wonder if I would have gone to the UK to university? Or if I might have been pushed into marrying an Egyptian boy? I wonder if there is an alternative world somewhere and I AM here living a different life.’

Kallis was suddenly shot back into this world from her train of thoughts by the ringing of the telephone in her room. She rose unsteadily from the bath tub. The oils had made it, and her, very slippery. She wrapped herself in one of the large fluffy towels provided and padded barefoot and dripping through to the other room.

‘Hello?’

‘Hello,’- the voice was deep and male – ‘Kallis? This is Yusef, Charlotte’s son.’

‘Oh! Hello. How nice of you to call me.’ Kallis felt a little flustered.

‘No, not at all, it is my pleasure. I was happy to hear that you are here, Kallis. I would very much like to meet you. If you have not made any other arrangements perhaps I can show you some of Cairo tonight?’

‘Yes, that would be lovely. I would really like that. Thank you.’

‘Very well, then I will pick you up at your hotel, the Marriott? Yes? About 7.30?’

‘O.K., Yusef. I’ll look forward to seeing you then.’

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Seven thirty came and Kallis was ready and waiting at the hotel reception. She had been unsure what to wear as she hadn’t asked what they were going to be doing, but she had thrown on a pair of loose black trousers and a long white blouse over the top. It covered her up in a modest way and felt nice and cool. She was looking around at people as they came into the hotel, trying to remember the photo she had been shown of Yusef. She wondered how he would recognise her. Suddenly she saw him. He was talking to the clerk at the other reception desk across the hall. She saw the clerk point discreetly at her and then Yusef looked over at her, a big smile starting to appear on his face. Kallis took a big breath and walked over.

‘Yusef?’

‘Kallis? Hello, how lovely to meet you at last’ He took her hand and shook it firmly and smiled warmly.

‘Come, let us have a tea here first and we can decide what you would like to see this evening’ His English was flawless, although he phrased things a bit differently than a British person might do. Kallis thought she might get to like this tall, rather good-looking man. They sat down together in the hotel café and Kallis ordered a mineral water; Yusef had a mint tea.

‘So, Kallis. You could have been my sister in another life perhaps.’ He laughed easily. ‘What brings you to Cairo after all this time?’

‘Well, it’s not an easy question to answer, but at this time in my life I am looking for the big answers to life: trying to find myself, a cliché I know but I suppose that is what I am doing.’ Kallis looked at him to see how he was taking this information. He seemed to be listening intently. ‘I have had some strange experiences lately and I got to thinking that I would like to revisit my past. Your mother has been most gracious. I wasn’t even sure if she would want to see me.’

‘Oh, Kallis, why would she not? My mother has often spoken to me about you and your mother. She wished that you had stayed here but she understood that your mother felt she had to leave.’ He lowered his voice as if someone might overhear him. ‘There were many in your father’s family who felt that you should be kept here and brought up as a Muslim in our way of life. My mother did not agree. She felt a child’s place is with its mother but it is not our way for the women to voice such an opinion.’

Kallis nodded. He continued, ‘My mother respected your mother very much and missed her greatly when she left. She grieved for your poor father for one year. Then she was introduced to my father and a match was made. She has been very happy with him, I think; for my father is a kind and generous man.’ He smiled brightly. ‘And I was born almost exactly nine months after they married.’

‘Yes, my mother told me what happened and, of course, I do remember some of it.’ Kallis sipped her water. ‘But anyway, tell me about yourself, Yusef. Do you work?’

‘At the moment, no. I have been doing some work for my father’s company but I am hoping to set up a business of my own next year. At the moment I am looking after my friend’s houseboat and working on my business plans. The houseboat is very nice; perhaps I can show it to you some time.’

‘Yes, it sounds lovely, a boat on the Nile.’ Kallis smiled.

‘Ah, Kallis, if you like boats we can take a felucca up the river a little way this evening. What do you think? Or I was also thinking I could take you to the Khan el Khalili, the big central market? We could have some dinner there. I know a good place. It should be very lively this evening.’

‘Oh, yes, the market sounds lovely; I think that would be great. Can we do that?’ Kallis was excited.

‘Come, Kallis, finish your drink and we shall go.’

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Yusef had a very nice car and a driver he introduced as Ragab that whisked them across the busy city. Kallis wondered if the car was Yusef’s or his father’s but didn’t like to ask. Ragab dropped them next to a pedestrian bridge that crossed a very busy road. Beggars were sitting on the bridge and at the bottom, people were pushing past them. Everybody seemed to be in a hurry but without actually moving very fast. There were women sitting on the filthy pavement selling sweets and breads. Some of the bread was actually touching the pavement and Kallis thought she would have to be really hungry before she would fancy eating anything bought from them.

‘This is the start of the market here, Kallis. Come with me, I will show you.’ Yusef lead her up a narrow street, past stalls selling spices in baskets and other unidentifiable things in jars. The sweet smell of incense filled the air and every so often rather unpleasant drain smells as well. Two tiny grey and white kittens played in the gutter. Kallis and Yusef entered an alleyway that had shop windows full of clothes and rolls of materials in bright colours. ‘This is the street of the tailors, Kallis. These gentlemen can make you anything you like; they can copy a dress from Vogue magazine if you wish it. My family uses this shop here – Ah, Mr. Mahmoud, salam al akum .’ Yusef shook hands with the portly and smiling man in the shop door. They chatted in Arabic for a while after Yusef had introduced Kallis. ‘We must go; there is much to show you.’

The next street was full of shops selling gold – and what gold! Elaborate and ornate and so much of it, all gleaming with a deep yellow hue that the British nine carat variety does not have. ‘What do you think, Kallis? Would you like some Egyptian gold?’ Yusef spread his hands out at the bullion before them.

‘Well, I have to admit I tend to wear silver…’ Kallis started to say.

‘Ah, we have the silver shops too, Kallis, just here look.’ He guided her round a corner into another alleyway. Most of these shops had silver displayed including household items in silver, like teapots and cutlery. Kallis felt overwhelmed by it all. She stopped by a display of jewellery and pointed out a pendant that appealed to her.

‘It is called an ankh, Kallis, or it is also known as the key to the Nile, or the key of life. In the old Egyptian paintings the kings and queens of Egypt hold them in their hands for protection as they travel to the next life. If you wish, I will help you agree a price for it. I do not think you will find the silver here expensive.’

‘Yes, thank you. I think I would rather like it.’ Kallis found herself attracted by the shape, like a cross but the top was oval in shape. They went into the dark little shop and a price was quickly agreed upon. Yusef insisted on buying a silver chain for the amulet as a present for Kallis. Kallis was enjoying herself immensely, soaking up the atmosphere of the market, all the smells and sounds, people shouting to get her attention but all the time feeling safe, having Yusef with her who knew the way through this labyrinth of streets and could speak the language. Suddenly, as they were passing down an alleyway she felt a hand upon her shoulder and a hissed whisper in Arabic in her ear.

‘What?’ Kallis jumped and turned round to face an old lady, her face a mass of wrinkles, a black scarf covering her grey hair, her nose a hooked bird’s beak.

‘Child, you speak English?’

‘Yes, I am English,’ Kallis replied.

The old woman studied Kallis’ face. ‘I think you have one foot in two worlds, my child. There is something following you. You are in great danger.’

‘What do you mean? What is following me?’ Kallis was frightened now.

Yusef grabbed her. ‘Come on, Kallis, don’t listen to her. She is not all there in the head, you know what I mean?’ He circled a forefinger by his head.

‘No, I want to hear what she has to say.’ Kallis was scared but wanted to talk to this old crow of a woman who smelt of incense.

Yusef’s face turned black. It was as though someone had turned the lights out on his face. ‘Very well, Kallis, whatever you wish. I shall wait for you in that café just across this street.’ He pointed out the place and walked off without another word. Kallis was dismayed at this sudden turn in his mood but the woman was talking to her again.

‘There is an event following you, my child. A bad event, it is catching up with you, each day it gets nearer.’ Her luminous grey-brown eyes earnestly searched Kallis’ green ones.

‘But – but what sort of event? What will happen?’ Kallis could feel her heart rate going sky high and took a deep breathe to control it.

‘It does not have to happen. It is not written, but it lurks near to you and waits its chance. Like a serpent, coiled but ready to strike – ha!’ She mimed this with her bony hand. Kallis jumped back. The woman grabbed her again and pulled her nearer.

‘This is all I know. You are easy to read, my child. Something has taken your energy level up; you have moved through this world in a different way lately. But this thing that follows you, it is of this world and waits its chance. Be strong and may Allah protect you.’ Then she was gone, swallowed up into the crowd. Kallis stood still for a moment, then walked over to the café. Yusef was talking to the waiter.

‘Ah, Kallis, we can eat here. This is the famous Naguib Mahfouz restaurant, where our most illustrious of writers used to come.’ His mood seemed to have changed back again, Kallis was relieved to see.

‘They have a table for us at the back, in the cool.’

They both washed their hands and were shown through to a table at the back of the restaurant. Yusef didn’t ask about the old lady and Kallis decided not to mention it. She would think about it later when she was alone. They feasted upon a variety of different dishes, mostly vegetarian at Kallis’ request. It was all very nice and the conversation flowed easily. Yusef talked about his life in Cairo, his friends and his work, about how he wanted to set up a financial advice service aimed at foreigners living in Egypt. He laughingly told Kallis how his mother kept trying to arrange a marriage for him. ‘I have not met the right woman yet, Kallis, but soon, soon.’ Kallis smiled, imagining Shamiela earnestly doing the matchmaking for her son.

‘And so, Kallis, do you have a young man waiting for you back in England? A fiancé perhaps? Are you hoping for marriage soon?’

Kallis laughed. ‘No, no and no to all those questions. Well, actually I do have a very good friend waiting for me, I hope anyway. He’s called Dave and I only met him recently. We’re just friends but – well, there is something between us but at the moment I’m not sure what.’ She sat for a moment staring into space and thinking of Dave, wondering what he was doing and whether he had received the note she left for him at the West Country pub. Yusef coughed, bringing her back to the moment.

‘I did not mean to pry, Kallis. But you are very beautiful and I think many men would be interested in you. Now I am feeling protective of my new sister!’

Kallis held her hand up. ‘Hey, no need, I can look after myself, believe me.’

Yusef’s face darkened just for a moment. Then he smiled brightly. ‘O.K. So. What shall we do now? Are you tired Kallis, would you like to go back to your hotel or would you like to do something else?’

Kallis yawned. She was quite tired, and it was suddenly late in the evening. The lights were on outside the restaurant and the sun had gone down long ago, the call to prayer echoing like a ghostly wail across the city. What a day it had been: hard to believe she had only arrived in Cairo this morning and already she had found Shamiela, and now she was here, sharing a meal with Yusef.

‘Ah, Kallis, you are tired. We will go back now and tomorrow morning I will send our driver to collect you and take you to my parents’ house. Then perhaps you would like to see the pyramids and the Sphinx?’

‘That would be fantastic, and thank you so much for all this, Yusef, it’s been a great evening.’

‘It is all my pleasure, Kallis. You are most welcome.’

Kallis in Egypt: Dave’s Rabbit Chapters 10 & 11

Kallis in Cairo

CHAPTER TEN

Early Saturday morning Kallis was tired but excited on EgyptAir flight 657 to Cairo. The rain had been lashing down at Bristol airport and the flight had been delayed for half an hour, Kallis was not quite sure why. It had been too early to contemplate breakfast in the airport café, but now, as breakfast was being served on the flight, Kallis felt hungry and ate the breakfast roll and drank the coffee that was served to her by a smiling air steward. The flight was about five hours long, but the plane was rather nice, Kallis thought. Each seat had a small TV on the back of the one in front, and Kallis spent several hours watching a romantic comedy, and then an old episode of ‘Friends’. She also finished reading the Carlos Castenada book. It was certainly very interesting and made you look at the world in quite a different way. It seemed though that he had written a whole series of books and this one hadn’t really had anything like what had happened to Kallis in it.

The man next to Kallis had been trying to make conversation and Kallis was glad to put on her headphones so she had an excuse not to talk anymore. He wanted to practise his English, he had said, but Kallis was not so sure what his intentions had been. His eyes had been all over her and she had felt rather uncomfortable. He had wanted to know where she was going to be staying in Cairo, and she had lied and said she was being met by friends. Now he appeared to be asleep and she could relax.

A few hours later and the plane started its descent. Kallis tried but failed to look out of the window. The man next to her had given up and was not bothering to talk to her anymore. The plane hit the runway with a bump and she was welcomed to Cairo by the pilot. He gave the outside temperature as being unfeasibly high and it definitely WASN’T raining. As the plane taxied to a stop there was the frantic clicking of seatbelts being undone as everybody rushed to get their things down from the over-head lockers, in spite of being told to wait for the seatbelt sign to be switched off.

As Kallis left the plane she was hit by an incredible wall of heat. It really WAS hot. You felt as though you were swimming through the air. The arrivals area was noisy and chaotic, everybody shouting, lots of men trying to offer you accommodation, or taxis or wanting to carry your bags for you. Kallis had no Egyptian LE on her as yet and was doing her best to stop a young lad from wresting her bag from her hand. Her backpack eventually arrived on the conveyor belt and she hauled it onto her back. There was a huge queue for the trolleys, which you had to pay for, but as Kallis didn’t have much she decided against it. An Egyptian chap wearing western clothes was tailing Kallis.

’Where you wanna go, Miss? I offer you taxi, good service.’

‘Um, I need to get some money first,’ Kallis replied.

‘Ah, I take you to cashpoint, no problem.’

‘Ok, but how much to go to ‘The Marriott’?’

‘No problem, Miss, we sort out good price.’

‘No, we sort out the price now and then maybe I’ll go with you.’ Kallis was firm.

‘30 LE, Miss. Good price.’

‘No, 25LE is what it should be.’ Kallis didn’t know but she remembered how everything had to be haggled for here.

‘Oh, Miss, you robbing me blind.’ He made a sign with his hands, as though wringing the neck of a chicken.

‘Well, I can go with someone else.’ There were lots of other men around offering taxis.

‘Ok, Miss.’

Kallis followed him out of the airport doors. He had taken her bag so she was committed to following him. They had to walk quite a way to the car park, and then she was handed over to another guy, who was actually driving the taxi. It seemed as though everybody got to make some money out of her!

Kallis settled into the back of the taxi and they were away, flying down the road, overtaking everything in sight.

‘Don’t forget I need a cash point!’ Kallis called to the driver. ‘Did the other man tell you?’

‘Yes, yes, in a minute, no problem.’

Kallis tried to relax and watched Cairo pass her window. It was a strange city: tall, unfinished blocks of flats, litter everywhere, people squatting by the side of the road – and the heat! The taxi apparently had no air conditioning as all the windows were open and Kallis felt as though someone was pointing a hairdryer in her face. After about 40 minutes they reached a slightly more affluent looking area and the taxi pulled up in front of the hotel.

‘I wait here, miss. You get money in hotel.’

‘Oh. OK.’ Kallis got out of the taxi, assisted by a smiling doorman.

‘Welcome to the Marriott, Madame.’

‘Thank you. I need to get some money to pay the driver…?’

‘Just inside the lobby entrance, Madame.’

Kallis scuttled into the hotel, found the cash machine and returned to the waiting driver. He took the money rather sullenly, Kallis thought, and then pulled off immediately. The doorman had Kallis’s rucksack and carried it into the hotel for her. It really WAS a beautiful place, more like a palace, Kallis thought, all marble and gilt. The cool air conditioning was a relief. Kallis looked at the mixture of people in western and eastern clothes as they passed her by; there seemed to be a lot of Arabs and women covered head to toe in black, their eyes very heavily made up. Kallis felt a little underdressed in such a grand hotel. She was shown to her room, which was lovely, with a view of the turquoise swimming pool from her window. Palm trees swayed gently in the breeze and the sun beat relentlessly down. Coloured birds and large butterflies fluttered about and hidden cicada beetles vibrated in a melodic effort to keep cool. Kallis sent a text message to Mel: ‘In Cairo, all ok, hotel is gr8, love Kal x.’

CHAPTER ELEVEN

After a nap and a long, cool shower, Kallis set off to explore the hotel. She needed a map of Zamalek, the area this hotel was in, or someone to give her directions to Shamiela’s address. According to the letter, it seemed that the street, Sharis Ri’iam, was somewhere in the same area as this hotel.

First stop was the café, where Kallis had some grilled vegetables and a lemon tea. Then she wandered the marble hallways, looking in the shop windows at the gold jewellery and Egyptian galibayas for sale. Finally she stopped at the reception and spoke to the friendly looking guy working there.

‘Excuse me, where can I get a map of this area?’

He looked quizzically at Kallis, ‘A map, Madame? Where you want to go?’

‘Do you know where Sharis Ri’iam street is?’

‘No,’- he shook his head – ‘no, Madame, I regret I do not. However I can get you a taxi to take you there.’

‘Oh, no.’ Kallis shook her head and pushed her hair back from her face. ‘I wanted to walk, see this area, it’s meant to be in Zamalek somewhere. It can’t be too far away.’

The receptionist screwed his face up in total disapproval. ’Madame. You CANNOT walk around here. I will get you a taxi.’

‘Why? Why can’t I walk?’ As Kallis’ mother would have said, she was quite as contrary as Mary, Mary.

‘Well, Madame, for one thing it is MUCH too hot and,’ – he counted his reasons off on long, slim brown fingers – ‘and secondly, women do not just walk about here, especially European women. You will be stared at and bothered. I am sorry to say this, but it is true.’

Kallis started at him for a moment.

‘O.K. I’ll think about it. Maybe later.’

With that, Kallis headed off back into the hotel area where the shops were. She found a small newsagents tucked into the end of the corridor and, after much searching, found a dusty ‘Global Traveller’s Guide to Cairo’ which had a town map in it, including quite a detailed map of Zamalek. Next she visited the boutique next door and found a rather fetching galibaya in turquoise with black embroidery. It had long sleeves and was loose and cool-looking in cotton; it came all the way down to Kallis’ sandals. Kallis headed back to her room and, after locating the street on her map (it didn’t look to be too far and was just off the main road that ran through the centre of the island), she pulled on her new galibaya and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She looked good in it, she decided; it was nice and loose and cool and she felt well covered. And I almost look local with my long black hair, she thought. She wondered about covering her hair but decided that was taking things just a bit too far. Kallis ripped the relevant page out of her book and put it in her bag which she flung over her shoulder. She also took a small bottle of water from the mini-bar and headed off.

Kallis swept out of the front of the hotel, with a cheeky wink at the receptionist as she did so. Once she was out of the hotel area, the pavement deteriorated rapidly, seeming not to exist at all at times, or to consist solely of broken stones and gravel. Kallis regretted not wearing her purple doc martens as she stubbed her toe on a stone. Cars parked bumper to bumper, so you would just get onto a decent bit of path and then find you were trapped behind a row of cars and could not cross the road, and would be forced to double back. Kallis was certain she saw small, furry, long reddish brown creatures flash across the road in front of her. Yes, they were like weasels or stoats, and they disappeared up underneath the parked cars. Some of the cars were rather dilapidated and Kallis presumed these animals had made a home inside of them. The main road was incredibly busy and she wondered how to cross it. There was a café by the road side full of men drinking tea and smoking sheeshah pipes. A sweet aromatic smell filled the air and mixed with the car fumes and shimmering heat. One of the men stood up as Kallis passed and started to follow behind her. He was mumbling to himself in Arabic and Kallis started to feel a little nervous. Just then she saw some people crossing the road and she increased her pace to walk behind them, following their route as they dodged cars and casually stopped to let a car past, before walking leisurely on to the other side. Kallis stepped onto the pavement with some relief. The man from the café had not followed her after all. Kallis pulled her map out. The street she was looking for should be just about here. Unfortunately, most of the signs were in Arabic, but the streets did have European lettering as well. Was that it? Yes, it DID look like it. Kallis was pleased to have found it so soon but not sure how the numbering went. She was looking for number 24.

A long, hot and dusty ten minutes later and Kallis was looking at number 24, a tall block of apartments. It looked well maintained and the entrance lobby was full of well tended shrubs. Kallis realised she didn’t know which apartment Shamiela lived in. The door was open to the lobby and Kallis went in. She was greeted by the bo-ab, a small nut brown man wearing traditional Egyptian clothing. He greeted her: ‘Salam alekum.’

‘Wi alakum a salam.’ Kallis surprised herself as the reply came to her lips.

‘I am looking for a lady called Shamiela. Do you know her?’

‘Ah. Om-Yusef. Yes, Madame, she is in the top of here. Take the lift to number 10 floor.’

Kallis was puzzled. Om-Yusef? Then she remembered: of course, the men didn’t call the women by their given names but as Mother of the oldest son, Om-Yusef, mother of Yusef, her son.

‘Do you know if she is at home?’

‘Yes, I have not seen her leave today.’ The bo-ab smiled at Kallis, revealing stained and broken teeth. He pulled open the lift door and hit the button at the top, presumably number 10. The door slammed shut and Kallis was moving slowly up in the rather wobbly lift. The lift stuttered to a halt and Kallis pulled the door open. Light shone through a trellis, throwing squares of light on the marble floors. Kallis made her way over to the large wooden door and pressed the buzzer. It made an alarmingly loud noise. Silence. She tried again. This time the door was opened a crack. A small Egyptian lady with a large hooked nose, holding a rag in one hand, stared at Kallis. She said something in Arabic.

Kallis replied in English, ‘Hello, Salem alekum. I am looking for Madame Shamiela. Is she in?’

‘Madame, she sleeping.’

‘Oh.’ Kallis was not sure what to do.

‘Please could you tell her that Kallis, daughter of Charlotte, has travelled to pay her a visit and will call back when it is convenient?’

‘Meervit! Who is it?’ a voice called from the other room, in Arabic.

‘Moment.’

The door was shut in Kallis’ face. A few moments later it opened again. This time a small lady was standing there. She had bobbed brown hair, a small face with large brown eyes. She was wearing a red galibaya and gold twinkled in her ears and on her wrists. She was staring at Kallis in utter amazement.

‘Kallis? Can it really be little Kallis?’

‘Shamiela? Yes, it’s me, Kallis. I hope you don’t mind me calling on you like this with no warning but….’

Kallis was seized by the shoulders and bear hugged.

‘My darling, I cannot believe it. Allah be praised, I thought I would never see you again. And Charlotte? Is she here too?’ Shamiela looked down the corridor hopefully.

‘No, no,’ – Kallis smiled apologetically -‘but she sends her love to you’.

‘Well, well, come in. You are most welcome. By Allah, what a surprise!’ Shamiela led Kallis into the drawing room. It was very comfortable and luxurious with plump sofas and lots of little rugs scattered across the parquet floor.

‘Meervit! Make us some tea, please.’

Kallis sat down on one of the sofas. Shamiela sat down opposite her.

‘Ah, Kallis, you have grown up into a beautiful woman. You have a husband?’

‘No, no, maybe one day!’ Kallis laughed. ‘I am travelling at the moment and wanted to revisit my past. I was thinking a lot about Egypt and my time here and of course you, Shamiela. And remembering my father…’

‘Ah, my dear,’ – Shamiela shook her head sadly – ‘it was such a tragedy. But, you know, your mother; she was not happy. It was not her way for her husband to have a second wife; she did not understand, but it is what Allah allows for our men’.

Kallis didn’t know how to reply.

‘But Charlotte,’ Shamiela continued, ‘she has a new husband? More children?’

‘No,’ – Kallis shook her head – ‘Mum hasn’t remarried – but she has a good career teaching in Wales, and she’s happy, I think.’

Meervit reappeared with a pot of tea and some little cakes on a plate. The tea was poured and a steaming cup handed to Kallis.

‘Thank you. So..’, – Kallis sipped her tea – ‘you are happily remarried, Shamiela?’

‘Oh, yes, Allah be praised. My husband is a good man and he keeps me very well, as you can see.’ Charlotte gestured at the opulent room. ‘And we have a son, Yusef. A good boy, I think he needs to take a wife very soon though.’ Charlotte picked up a picture from the sideboard and handed it to Kallis. ‘A handsome man now, my Yusef, don’t you think?’

The picture was of a dark, broad shouldered young man, large eyes shining darkly and very white teeth in a big smile.

Kallis nodded. ‘So, this is Yusef. I would like to meet him, Shamiela. Does he live here with you?’

‘Of course, Kallis my darling, you will meet my Yusef. Why, he will be like a brother to you. He does live here but at the moment he is staying on a friend’s houseboat. I do not like him being there really. I think he just wants to get away from his mother’s watchful gaze. As I say, he is restless and I think he should take a wife soon.’ A small frown appeared between Shamiela’s brows. ‘Yes, he is a worry for me now but he is a good boy really.’

‘Have you just arrived in Cairo, Kallis? Where are you staying?’

Yes, I flew in this morning. I have a room at the Marriott hotel’.

‘This hotel is lovely but expensive, Kallis. You can stay her with us. Will you stay with us?’ Charlotte looked hopefully at Kallis.

‘Thank you, Shamiela, I would love to. I will stay at the hotel tonight though, if you don’t mind, as I have already paid.’

‘Of course, my dear, and tonight, unfortunately, I have a social function to attend with my husband. But in the morning I will send someone to pick you up from the Marriott. What will you do tonight? Shall I ring Yusef and see if he is free?’

‘Oh, well, it would be nice to see him, but I don’t want to put him out.’ Kallis thought quickly. ‘Tell him to call me at the Marriott if he has any free time tonight and would like to meet me; otherwise I expect I will see him here some time tomorrow?’

‘Yes, I will do a big dinner tomorrow evening.’ Shamiela clapped her hands. ‘It will be wonderful! I am so happy you are here.’