While I was sitting in the deserted office today talking on the phone, a small boy of a variety Charles Dickens would have described as a street urchin – such was his angelic poverty – suddenly materialised in the doorway. He was roughly about nine years-old, dressed in torn clothing and with unidentifiable detritus decorating his hair like confetti. He marched in without hesitation and saluted me army style, mouthing salaam 3alaykoo before heading to the two rubbish bins whose contents – two pieces of paper – he extracted, and then once again saluted me and disappeared. I watched all this open-mouthed, wondering whether he wasn’t part of some scam involving a similarly diminutive partner behind me busily and silently stealing the ideas out of my head to sell for noss gineeh [a million pounds] in the Friday market.
After ending the phone call I went out to investigate and saw Osama Twist just as he was leaving the office, hauling on top of him the giant grey sack these rubbish collectors of Herculean strength carry on their backs which give them the appearance of bipod snails.
The kid reminded me of a boy I had seen last week from my balcony while hanging laundry. As part of the decoration for her garden birthday party, Cousin Gombaz had elected to have a black, white and red theme in honour of el watan. She had hung tricolour balloons at various locations which the mostly AUCian party-goers enjoyed looking at as they wondered why they weren’t on a beach if today was the anniversary of the liberation of Sinai, and therefore a public holiday. While most of the balloons had been freed or popped the evening of the party, three lonely stragglers remained tied to the top of the garden’s entrance gate the day after. As I was looking in their direction I suddenly saw the gate shake as a filthy-looking kid hauled himself up in order to untie the balloons. He did so frenetically, clearly desperately afraid of getting caught, and in his haste inadvertently sent the balloons flying up into the sky one after another, his eyes sadly rising with them as the black, the white and finally the red floated away. He then spotted another balloon or some other discarded item worth investigating inside the garden and, cautiously opening the gate, slunk in silently – at which point I made my presence known rather than have him discovered by someone else possibly less forgiving. He froze immediately like a cat, before turning on his heel and scarpering.
I recalled the balloons and the boy tonight as I watched Ahly get hammered by Barcelona in Cairo, in a friendly exhibition game memorable for goalie al Hagary’s ability to chew gum and explode with fury simultaneously – he is surely destined to be the next Man U manager. Yes it’s only a friendly and of course it’s only football, but I found the whole thing sadly humiliating somehow, watching Ronaldinho et al dance circles round Ahly like Dads playing in the park with their 3 year-olds, only perma-smile Abu Trika redeeming Ahly in any way. It’s the same old song: if only sports (education/hospitals/anything) in Egypt were better funded, and players better paid, and a few big foreign stars attracted to the game, and the abundant home grown natural talent nurtured and Egypt’s immense potential capitalised on. So infuriatingly simple, and yet all this promise is allowed to float away.
On a brighter note, today I stood in a sun-soaked balcony and listened to birds sing, before smelling water sprayed on hot dusty tarmac – which is one of the official smells of summer. And then while I was in a taxi two men on a motorbike went past, the young and dashing driver wearing flip flops, his short-sleeved shirt flapping in the wind . The horn was apparently not working so in between talking to his mate he was instead shouting ‘7AAAAAASEB’ [look out] but with such carefree happiness, gusto and smiling joy that there was really no where else other than Egypt I wanted to be today. I mean other than locked in a Lindt chocolate factory with Dr. Christian Troy but that goes without saying obviously.
* No offence intended, Ahlawy readers!