It is 8 p.m. on a Friday night, everything is monochrome in the darkness and the air is heavy with the sweetly acrid stinging smell of something which is everywhere in Cairo, and which tears at the throat and sits on the lungs, and which they tell me are messages of love sent by farmers burning their rice fields.
Oosha is driving a bunch of us towards the Dokki Corniche. We approach the end of a side street leading to the river and are prevented from going any further by a glut of taxis swarming around something or other. The car in front of us eventually moves us and we are met by a spectacular sight.
A group of smiling, laughing tourists, young ladies all, is gathered around two parked taxis. All have elected to dress as if going to the beach, in halter necks and daisy dukes and the flimsiest, shortest of summer dresses the effect of the wind on which is to make it look as if the garments are experiencing weightlessness. All, without exception, are magnificent specimens with weapons of mass destruction-legs of the type which, even if hidden from the international community in clothing bunkers, would induce a diplomatic crisis in the trousers of any man. Furthering their appeal is their incessant squealing as they are buffeted by the wind and liaise with one another about taxis in a pitch only audible to whales. It makes them appear girlish, and what I imagine is perhaps tantalisingly-silly to those inclined to the Marilyn Monroe-type of woman.
The noise that this pin-up circus is making is only outdone by the incessant beeping of the taxis, and the roar of the Corniche traffic, and above it all the electronic cacophony of those police sirens which, rather than being a straight forward neee-naaaw, is a collection of sounds one associates with toy robots: up and down whoop whoops, and strange guttural clanking noises all interspersed with the voice of the policeman inside telling people to get the bloody hell out of the way. For watching the show is a car full of five smiling policemen, those on the near-side leaning out of the window with their mouths falling open while their less fortunate brethren gawp behind them and the driver works his siren in such a way that it seems as if the car is woof-whistling the demoiselles.
Oosha being the cad that he is cannot resist attempting to make a crack to the police about ‘taxis [wink wink] creating a nuisance’ but is interrupted almost immediately by one of the winking policemen, ‘itla3 ya 3am’ [move along mate] – presumably because we are blocking his view.
As we wade through the testosterone I look back at the twittering birds and see that they are accompanied by a harried-looking young Egyptian bloke attempting to negotiate with a taxi driver while around him unaccompanied distracted drivers crash into the Nile, and those sitting next to their wives carry out surreptitious ogling without turning their heads by moving their right eyeball until it is somewhere in the vicinity of their right ear.