The One Cool and Quiet Time
I don’t usually get up early on the weekends since I’m up at 5 during the week to catch the early bus to school. But, with it being so hot, and my apartment being hot even in the morning (elsewhere I’d open the windows at night to cool it down, but here there’s too much dust) the only alternative to the dreaded air conditioning is to get out. So, this morning I walk out into the one cool and quiet time in Cairo, between 5 and 7 a.m., the fact that it’s Friday, prayer day, turns 7 into 9.
The street is empty except for a few taxis, all of which, even at this hour tap their horns upon approach, then stop beside me to beseech my business. I kindly say la’a, no, and walk on through the cool morning. Walking along my neighborhood sidewalks is not like walking in the west. Curbs are monstrous, sidewalks are uneven, with stumps of trees, whole trees, nubs of cut off old signs, and garbage making for an obstacle course. It is preferable to walk in the street, and at this hour I do so. Even there one learns to lift his feet. Shuffle, and you’ll find yourself guaranteed horizontal in no time.
The street is never completely empty of people. This morning as I walk by a pharmacy there is a boy sitting on the steps, one hand holding his patchwork bicycle, the other hand lifting a cigarette to his lips. He pays me no heed. He looks twelve. Bowabs wash cars, a woman walks to somewhere, and this morning there are three teenagers on the corner of Roads 233 and 200. I believe they have been up all night.
I walk a familiar route this morning, enjoying the cool and quiet, as always looking for photos. None pop out at me today, though I do see some I’ve taken before. Sadly one of them, a decrepit black VW bug that sat beautifully in front of an orange corrugated construction fence has been destroyed by the removal of the fence and the partial crushing of the car. I am happy I found it previously, sad that it is now gone. Half way through my walk, along Road 9, Shera Tessa, I’m reminded of the calf muscle I pulled the other day. I ignore it. Maadi is waking up. A familiar woman who sells whatever she can, sits in her usual place, this morning selling large fluffs of steel wool. A bakery owner sweeps his sidewalk. The vegetable man sits, leaning back on two legs of his chair against the wall, his hands intertwined on his belly, feet dangling. He is asleep. Already men are smoking shisha at a café. Everyone has a cell phone. A train, unseen behind the façade of businesses passes.
I’m still without a photograph and my calf is encouraging me to go home. I push on, farther down Shera Tessa into the more Egyptian part of Maadi, along the Metro tracks. At a convenient point I turn right and head for home. It’s beginning to get warm, the quiet starting to dissipate. I’m pulled out of my morning bliss by the honking of, and need to avoid, the morning’s first blue and white transit mini-buses; the drivers of which always seem just as inclined to run you down as let you live. They own the road and their day has begun.
My focus is now on getting home, but then my eye catches a street I haven’t walked, and so I take it, relying on my geographic sense, or if I do get lost, a taxi, to take me home. This, I think, is a good street for pictures. There are men at cafes, shops beginning to open despite it being Friday. Automotive stalls occupy a short stretch and I find muffler trees adorning the curb in front of two shops, their dull silver gray sheen flying every which way above the sidewalk. I wonder when they bloom? I meet a mat/carpet seller, and examine his wares. He offers. I decline. I ask if he’ll let me take his picture. He chooses not, but encourages me to photograph his wares, then gives me his card and asks that I tell my friends. I find a green door that begs to be known and I snap it, twice. I head down side streets, mostly empty, keeping right so that eventually I will weave back toward my neighborhood. Laundry hangs from verandas, brightening the dull and dirty beiges of buildings, dogs and cats roam casually keeping their distance. Two men eye me blankly. “Sabah el-kheir, good morning,” I say. They smile and shake my hand.
Three more blocks and I am all of a sudden in familiar territory. My calf says, “It’s about time.” I say, “Soon enough.” We stop at the local kiosk for two bottles of water. At the entrance to my apartment I see my neighbor in his pajamas and flip flops watering the green space he keeps so nicely outside our respective buildings. I wave good morning. He smiles back. I walk up the two flights to my flat, open the door, and turn on the air.