Under the Nile: Dave’s Rabbit Chapters 22 & 23

Under the Nile

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

It was dark, cold, silent and still. As Kallis sank slowly down, a feeling of peace and calm came upon her; she felt strangely sleepy; everything had an unreal feeling as if this was all just a bad dream. She tried to move her arms and legs but swimming fully clothed is a lot more difficult and she surrendered herself to the pull of the Nile as it eagerly sucked her down and along.

Blackness, darkness, silence. Then, in her silent, cold dream she heard a voice calling her name, over and over: ‘Kallis! Kallis! You must wake up, my little Hod-hod, Kallis, come on, swim to me!’ It was her father, but how could it be? But it was his voice, and no one else had ever called her Hod-hod, the name for the hoopoe bird found in Africa and his pet name for her. Kallis started out of her strange sleep and started to swim towards the voice; he was calling over and over to her, ‘Kallis, Kallis, swim to me…’ But it was hard to swim. The water was strange and syrupy, full of mud and weed. It was hard to know which way was up. But she followed the voice, wanting her father so badly. The water hurt her eyes and she wanted to close them again but suddenly she could see a little lightness filtering through the silted water. Suddenly her hand touched – something. It was soft and damp, a tree branch maybe? She pulled herself up to it and her head broke through to the surface. She gasped for air, she had not realised how long it was since she had last drawn a breath. She looked to see what she was holding. It appeared to be a mass of leaves and stems all woven together, a large organic mattress floating along the Nile. Kallis managed to pull her top half onto it, then with a big kick, swung her legs out of the greedy waters and, twisting over, she lay full length upon it. Kallis started to sob as she panted for air: ‘Daddy, Daddy…’

Gradually her breathing and sobbing quietened down and she gazed up at the incredible night sky full of the brightest stars she had ever seen. And the moon! A new Islamic moon looked down upon her, the silver crescent low in the sky. Kallis started to sit up a little to see where she was. She appeared to be moving quite quickly. She could see the lights of the city – and what was that over there…? A boat of some kind was heading towards her. It was all lit up and she could hear soft voices and laughter. Kallis tried to sit up a little more and she started to shout, ‘Help! Please help me! I’m over here!’ She waved frantically, her wet sleeves weighing heavily on her arms.

She saw a head look over the side at her, then heard some shouting and then several heads looked over at her.

‘It’s someone in the water!’

‘No, look, they’re on that plant-stuff in the water!’

‘Hello! We are going to throw a rope to you.’

‘Maybe he doesn’t understand English. Where’s the Captain? Get him to shout something to him.’

‘Get that book hook and try and grab the plant.’

The boat came along side Kallis and her ‘mattress’ was held with a pole.

‘It’s a woman!’ someone shouted in surprise.

Hands reached down to her, pulled her up and helped her on board.

‘Do you speak English?’ she was asked.

‘Yes, yes, I’m British,’ Kallis managed to reply.

A blonde lady put her arms around Kallis, as she started to collapse onto the deck. ‘Come on, let’s get you below and out of those wet clothes. It’s alright; I’ll take care of her. I used to be a nurse,’ she added as she helped Kallis down the wooden steps below. The lady smelt of a soft perfume which reminded Kallis of her mother and she started to cry gently. ‘Hush, it’s ok, we’ve got you now. Come on, sit down here.’ This kind lady got some towels and started to dry Kallis off. She pulled a curtain across to give Kallis some privacy. She unwrapped a galibaya she had clearly bought as a souvenir and offered it to Kallis to put on. Kallis slowly took off her wet clothes.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked Kallis. ‘I’m Judy, by the way.’

‘Kallis. I’m Kallis’.

‘Well, Kallis, a good job we happened by!’ She laughed, and then stopped as she put a hand out to Kallis’ face. ‘Oh, my, what happened? Someone has beaten you? Oh, you poor thing.’

‘It’s ok, I’m ok.’ Kallis covered her face with her hands.

‘Did you swallow any of the water? You should see a doctor soon to check you over.’ Judy was concerned.

‘Yes, I will, thank you, I’m ok.’ Kallis pulled on the galibaya and sipped some brandy that had been put into her shaking hand.

‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’ Judy asked.

‘I would rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. Thank you so much for rescuing me. I am so grateful but I just need to think about what to do next. Please just let me off the boat wherever you can and I’ll be fine.’

‘Absolutely not. How can you think we’d do that? Where are you staying? I’ll drop you back there if I do nothing else. We can’t just let you off to wander the streets of Cairo, and presumably with no money on you.’

‘Oh.’ Kallis hadn’t though about that. ‘Thank you, I’m staying in Zamalek.’

‘Well, that’s where we left from and the boat will be going back there in about 15 minutes, so just relax and we’ll sort you out when we get there,’ said Judy.

‘Did someone throw you in the river?’ Judy couldn’t help herself, she had to ask.

‘’No, I jumped into…well, to escape someone. It’s complicated, Judy. Honestly, it’s best if I don’t tell you.’ Kallis started to plait her wet hair back from her face.

‘Alright, Kallis, I won’t grill you. But promise me you’ll go to a doctor?’

‘Mmm, yes, I will. I am going to try and get a flight back home tomorrow so I’ll wait until then.’ Kallis was making plans as she was talking. ‘I think I have had enough of Cairo for now – or it’s had enough of me.’ Kallis suddenly had a coughing fit and Judy helped her to the small bathroom. Kallis was violently sick and her lungs felt heavy and sore.

The rest of the people on the boat took turns to peek down below at Kallis but generally they left her alone with Judy.

‘Do you live here?’ Kallis asked Judy.

‘Yes, I have been working for the British Council here for a few months. We were just having a goodbye drink for a couple who are leaving. You can charter these Nile boats for a couple of hours, and it’s usually a very pleasant way to spend an evening!’ She laughed. ‘I had been told that you sometimes see bodies floating in the Nile but it’s best to pretend you didn’t as the paperwork and hassle involved in reporting them is just not worth it. I’m glad you were a live body!’

Judy was worried about Kallis, but felt she had to respect her wish not to discuss things with her. She guessed a man was involved and hoped Kallis was not married to him. She was also concerned that Kallis might pick up an infection from the dirty Nile water.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

After a while the boat stopped and Kallis could feel it sway on the water as people disembarked.

‘Come on.’ Judy took Kallis by the hand, her wet clothes were bundled into a carrier bag, and they climbed off the boat. The two Egyptian men, who Kallis presumed owned or ran the boat, looked on curiously as they left.

‘What about your new galibaya?’ Kallis suddenly realised she was not in her own clothes.

‘Oh, good heavens, it only cost me a few L.E. Please don’t bother about it,’ Judy laughed. ‘I was only going to use it as a spare dressing gown!’

‘Well, if you’re sure….thank you.’ Kallis smiled a bit shyly at the kindness of this woman.

Judy led the way over to her four-wheel drive vehicle and Kallis climbed in.

‘So, whereabouts are you staying?’

Kallis gave her the address and Judy drove her across Zamalek and back to Shamiela’s apartment. Judy scribbled her phone number and e mail address on a piece of paper and thrust it into Kallis’ hand.

‘Listen, if you need any help, do call me. And maybe when you are safely back in the U.K. e mail me and tell me all about it? Only if you want to.’

‘I will, Judy. Thank you so much. You’ve been so kind. And please thank your friends on the boat too; I didn’t really speak to them. You all saved my life. I could have drowned…’ Kallis bit back tears and swallowed.

‘Hey, you take care now. Are you sure you’ll be ok? You could come back to my place tonight if you want to.’

‘No, no. Thank you but I need to say my goodbyes and get my stuff as well.’ Kallis leaned over and kissed Judy on the cheek. ‘Thanks again. Sorry if I spoiled the evening for your friends’ She jumped out of the car and ran into the building.

At the top of the building Kallis rang the bell and waited. The door opened a crack. It was Walid.

‘Kallis! We have been worried about you. Come in. I will go and get Shamiela.’ He hurried off. Shamiela appeared straight away. ‘Kallis, my child, where have you been? Come through to the kitchen, here. And where is Yusef? I thought he would bring you back here hours ago.’

‘I…’Kallis didn’t know what to say. Suddenly Shamiela noticed her face and grabbed hold of her.

‘What has happened? Kallis! Who did this to you? And you are wet, child. Look at your hair. Tell me what has happened.’

Kallis put her head in her hands and started to cry. Shamiela held her for a moment, then got up slowly and shut the door. She walked back to the table.

‘It was my son, wasn’t it, Kallis?’ Shamiela stared down at Kallis, her hand to her face. Kallis looked up at her and slowly nodded.

‘He….I….I thought he thought of me as a sister, but, well, he wanted more. More than I felt for him. It all got out of hand.’ Kallis didn’t want to upset Shamiela, though she longed to tell her what had really happened.

‘My father, he was the same. Such a temper, such black anger, the beatings I suffered at his hands….’ she shook her head. ‘And my son, he has this anger in him also. I have seen it before. Kallis, I am so sorry.’

‘Shamiela, it is not your fault. I am going to leave tomorrow if I can get a flight. I think it will be best for me just to go and say no more.’

Shamiela nodded. ‘I will help you with this, Kallis; my husband will call the airport for you and make arrangements. Perhaps we can avoid telling him why you are leaving? Please? It will be easier for me. I will speak to my son quietly when I see him.’

‘O.K., Shamiela, if that’s what you want. However, I can make my own arrangements. I think I’d just like to go to bed now, if you don’t mind.’

Kallis stood up and walked out of the room. She collapsed onto her bed and was soon in a deep, dark, disturbed sleep.

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The Nile: Dave’s Rabbit Chapter 21

The Nile

Egypt and the river Nile: view from a satellite. Watercolour and pen painted using NASA images. WARNING: Not accurate, please do not use for navigation purposes…. 😉

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

The houseboat was wooden, long and flat and moored up at the end of a row of other such boats. It had a large ship’s wheel and along the side railings batik prints were strung, giving some privacy and a bright feeling. There were lots of plants in pots and tinkling wind chimes The sweet smell of joss sticks pervaded the air. The whole thing had a very bohemian, hippy feel to it. Kallis loved it at once.

‘Oh, Yusef, it’s lovely!’

He laughed. ‘Yes. I wish it was mine but I have the next best thing – my friend is abroad on business and he asked me to look after it. All I have to do is put some water in the pot plants now and then. Come below, Kallis, and have a look.’

She followed him down some wooden steps. There was a tiny kitchen area, with a cooker and fridge, a small sink and draining board. There was a wooden table laid for two with seats around it built into the sides of the boat with large colourful cushions to sit on. There was a door across the centre of the boat, and Yusef opened this, showing a bedroom area and a bathroom. Kallis wandered around, taking this all in.

The oven was on in the kitchen and Yusef produced two pizzas out of it with a flourish.

‘Ah, Kallis, I am afraid I am not a cook, but I hope you like pizza?’

‘Love it.’ Kallis was pleased to have something simple after last night’s feast.

Yusef opened a bottle of red wine with apologies. ‘I am sorry but the Egyptian wine is not what you will be used to. We, as a Muslim nation, do not drink alcohol. I must confess, however, that I do partake from time to time.’ He pulled a face. ‘Don’t tell my mother.’

Kallis laughed and they clinked a toast.

Yusef asked Kallis about her day and where she had gone with Mona. The conversation flowed easily and Kallis felt relaxed and happy.

After they had finished eating, Yusef moved and sat next to Kallis.

He looked earnestly at her. ‘You know, Kallis, you are very beautiful. You look like a pale skinned Egyptian girl but you have such beautiful green eyes. I have never seen such eyes.’

‘I get them from my mother.’ Kallis wriggled away from him a bit. She didn’t like where this conversation was going.

‘Don’t move away from me, Kallis. Don’t you like me?’ Yusef put an arm around Kallis’ shoulders. She stood up and walked over to the other side of the boat, pretending to be interested in the Nile drifting past outside the small porthole. Yusef stood up and followed her over.

‘Ah, Kallis, my beautiful Kallis, come to me.’ Yusef grabbed her firmly by her arms and pulled her towards him.

Kallis shook him off and backed away. ‘No, Yusef, I’m sorry, I don’t feel that way about you. Listen, I would never have agreed to come here with you like this but you said I was like a sister to you…’

‘Ah, yes, a sister ….but we are not of the same blood, Kallis.’

‘No, I know that. The thing is, Yusef, I’m just not looking for a relationship at the moment. And in spite of what you may think of us Western woman, I don’t go in for casual sex.’

‘Well, you are straight to the point, Kallis,’ Yusef replied, looking a little embarrassed at her blunt comment. ‘I am not in a hurry either. I just want to get to know you and I was trying to say that I am developing feelings for you. You are very lovely, Kallis.’

Kallis hung her head down, unsure of what to say.

‘Aren’t you seeing anyone at the moment, Yusef? I mean, isn’t Ramadan a special friend?’

Yusef frowned. ‘Yes, he is of course a good friend. What do you mean?’

Kallis felt she had started so she had better finish. Her mother had always said, ‘Think, Kallis, before you speak’, but sometimes it just all came out of its own volition….

‘Well, seeing you together yesterday, I thought, I don’t know, perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this but I assumed, that you were, well …’

‘I was what?! What do you mean!! ?’ His face was black now and Kallis was afraid. She knew she shouldn’t have said it.

‘I thought perhaps you were gay, Yusef.’ Kallis said this quickly. ‘You know, when I saw you with Ramadan and you seemed so close-…I just…’

‘GAY! GAY! You think I am a – a – he spat it out ‘a HOMOSEXUAL! How DARE you you, you western SLUT! YOU WHORE!!’ He spat these words into her face. ‘Phuh! How dare you say such a thing to me?! There is no greater an insult you could give me. NO Muslim man is homosexual. We do not have such a thing here, you hear me? It is a sickness that YOU have created in your perverted and corrupt Western society!’

‘Yusef, I am sorry. Truly I did not mean any insult to you, please believe me. Where I come from it is not an insult. I would NEVER deliberately insult you, you must believe me, accept my apology…’ Kallis could see he was not listening. She started to back away from him and to think of how she could get off of the boat as fast as possible. Too late, he grabbed her by her wrists and pulled her towards him. ‘You, Western woman with your Egyptian looks, you think you can treat me like this then turn me down. I bet you have fucked’ – he spat this word out – ‘hundreds of men. We see it on the western television all the time, how you behave in your society, it’s disgusting. And you think I am a sodomite. Well, I will show you, woman!’

‘No, Yusef, I’m not like that, it’s not like that – let me go, please don’t. You said I was like your sister…’ Kallis pleaded with him.‘Please Yusef, let me go. I take back all I said, really. I beg you, let me go. Don’t let it be like this between us.’

Yusef’s face was a mask of darkness as he threw Kallis to the floor. He held one hand over Kallis’ mouth and with the other hand he tried to pull her shirt up. Kallis brought her foot up hard between his legs and he yelled, releasing her mouth for a moment. Kallis bit down hard on his hand and he yelled again, a dreadful wail of curses in Arabic. He pulled Kallis up with his other hand and flung her hard against the wall. Her head banged hard against the wooden door and for a moment she thought she would lose consciousness. Yusef took that moment to get on top of her again. Kallis tasted blood in her mouth. She grabbed Yusef’s hair and pulled as hard as she could before he slapped her hard across the face. She rolled over and tried to stand up but he had hold of her ankle and she lost her footing again and fell to the floor, kicking out with the other foot as she did so. It was a lucky kick and she caught him in the face. He released her ankle to try and protect himself, giving her a precious few seconds to climb up the wooden steps and out onto the deck of the boat. He was up the steps after her and they stood facing each other for a moment. He took a step towards her; she took a step backwards. They eyed each other again.

‘Stop this now, Yusef, please. It has gone far enough.’ Kallis tried to reason with him, but everything had changed and she knew he was not the same man who had been so kind to her, who had shown her around Cairo. He was not her new brother anymore but a madman, someone who wanted to hurt her, to rape her. Kallis felt she had no options left. Time seemed to have slowed down for her and her thoughts had become very clear. She felt that accepting calmness she had experienced before, when the horses had stampeded past her. She spun around and ran for the railing surrounding the boat. Yusef watched in frustrated amazement as she jumped high over it and plunged into the dark waters of the Nile.

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.’

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.’