Walking home today across one of Cairo’s bridges the usual scene of marauding packs of pubescent boys, flower sellers, and ambulant lovers was interrupted by an unusual sight.
Standing perilously on the edge of a the bridge’s railing, one arm wrapped around a lamppost, was a young man clutching two placards bearing a scrawled entreaty to ‘release the detained Al Azhar students.’ Parked in front of him were two navy blue police pick-up trucks, while at his feet plain-clothed policemen milled around bearing aloft their walkie-talkies as if they were talismans. Over on the other side of the bridge the one or two people who had stopped to impassively observe the proceedings were urged to move on my more walkie-talkie bearers, their arms waving back and forth, in the manner used by farmers herding geese. Their concern about the protest attracting attention – or even worse participants – was entirely unfounded of course, and cars, lovers and horse carriages clattered past with indifference as above their heads the lonely defence of freedom staggered on, risking at any point to topple into the murky blue depths of the Nile, or the even murkier blue clasp of the police vans.
As I was standing there some old geezer mumbled conspiratorially in my ear as he went past, ‘the government are coming behind me’ – presumably a warning about the giant blue truck trundling along. It was actually carrying army recruits, and the old fella might have been slightly bonkers, but the USSR-Big-Brother-is-watching nature of the exchange delighted me.
I ended my observation of the happenings when I could no longer stand the rocking motion caused by traffic moving over two ill-fitting pieces of the bridge. My memory of the hoo-hah surrounding London’s swaying Millennium Bridge makes me almost certain that such structures are not meant to move, certainly not to the point of inducing a waterbed sensation, and as much as I wished to stand (preferably without moving involuntarily) in solidarity with the brave protestor, I was very conscious that falling off a collapsing bridge would bring together my least favourite ways of expiring: great heights, water, and being in the vicinity of a horse and carriage driver who, even as we plummeted down, would doubtless spend the descent assuring me that I really do want a ride.
* Ladies and gentlemen, bilingual wordplay of this calibre surely deserves some kind of international recognition, possibly in the form of a Nobel prize. Hear me roar, world!