Welcome to Egypt the place where logic comes to die. Nothing makes sense here and it never will. This is a place built on explosive mud where everything is swinging and swirling and sinking. Everything that rises will eventually sink and get covered in dust. When it doesn’t sink it explodes in small bursts so that there is rubble everywhere. Was there a war here recently? Piles of rubble are the only memory of what looks like a forgotten air raid. There’s no interest in rebuilding. The white lines on the road have faded and won’t be repainted. No roads have no rules and everybody is constantly jostling and pushing for the single one lane escape to another crowded street.
So you take a train, but it’s so hot you sweat through your clothes in the time it takes you to travel the two stops home. The doors open and people stream out like boiling water from a high pressure hose, pushing and shoving so you somehow find yourself on the station platform without your feet even touching the ground. The smell of vegetables rotting in the sun greets you as you climb the stairs into the market, back into the open air that now feels cools by comparison. Its madness everywhere, everything swirls together into brown stew, brown dust, brown building, satellite dishes everywhere.
Dinner at the local chicken shop, I was starving, had the half chicken special, rice, salad swimming in a day of vegetable sweat come salad dressing. Mahmoud is a good man, his son Fawzi is a cool kid who runs the show, eight years old and still working, running dishes at 10pm. They had dinner while I was there, half chicken between three, I felt guilty and left but not before Mahmoud insisted that I join him for a cigarette. I go to pull my pack out but he bats my hand from my pocket and waves his pack in front of me until I take one. We don’t say much but he smiles warmly at me and nods. I nod back and think, you’re a real gentleman Mahmoud.
Night is lit up like the day because it’s the only time of day cool enough to be outside. White bright lights hanging from the shops, blowing in the breeze. No 60 Watt energy savers here. All the red-blue-green fairy lights make it look like carnival all the time. Cairo is a nocturnal city. Not surprising when the heat and noise and movement squeeze sweat from your body like the overripe fruit in the juice stands on every corner. The juice is delicious but you wouldn’t eat the fruit. It’s a quick transaction. Pay, drink, leave. Everyone is always in a rush, no-one and nothing ever on time, time means nothings, kept more by the call to prayer then a clock. The Cairo song is inescapable. Car horns and the minarets song, ears always full of sound, overflowing it spills down your neck and mixes with the sweat.
Did I say something about a war? Oh yes that’s right. The building down the road is still a burned out shell. Black soot marks from where the flames of the people gutted it, half broken windows, half burned blinds. I can still see a desk or two and next to that a cement block wall with a rainbow painted on it. When we arrived there was a cement block wall across out street to, that turned it into a cul-de-sac. One night we watched it come down and the next morning the traffic flowed like it had never been there. Then they relayed the tiles on the pavement, then the traffic police came back, the invisible men reappeared to wave their arms at the passing traffic but no-one was looking any more.
I can drive without breaks but not without a horn said a taxi driver. Proof you don’t have to stop as long you can shout to everyone around you that you are there! Some people made their car horns sound like sirens. Firecrackers exploding from sunset onwards and they don’t stop. Light before sound, red glowing balls in the starless sky sparks and then the BANG. Too much light to see the stars, just the moon and the two stars that move around it.
You can still smoke inside and everyone smokes. It’s great, I started smoking again. At two dollars a pack and with the novelty of smoking inside a restaurant while other people eat, it’s stupid not to. Look to the horizon any time of day and it’s a grey shadow of smoke and haze. I haven’t seen a cloud in months, the only rain drops fall from air conditioners, filthy filtrate water falling on me. Vallium over the counter, alcohol in black plastic bags, the kind that you would be given at home to discretely carry pornography. No alcohol during Ramadan though. Minarets songs abound and the expats dry up in the sun. White raisins without anything to say each other so they complain.
You have to get out. You have to get out regularly or this place stamps on your throat and then forgets its foot. I have to get out, this place is strangling me. Everything pushes in, the air is too heavy, too hot, too full of noise and dust and smoke and smells, sweet freshly baked and rotting rubbish meet somewhere in the middle, hang in clouds too far from their source. Too much energy, too much movement to much noise. Sweating like a head, high as fuck on the shouting incessant motion. I have to get out.
Didn’t something serious just happen in this place? Buts its business as usual now, the square is quiet except for a few who aren’t sure why anymore. Everyone’s left, the journalists in the editing suites, at their computers. What happened here? Who are these people who I started calling friends, I hardly know anything about them other than like me they wanted to leave the safety of home for something more exciting or interesting or challenging or meaningful. In context they’re all synonyms. What’s happening around me? Its night time, brighter and louder than any day, speeding in a cab down the Corniche, what? How did we get here? Barry White playing, cab driver has a remote for the radio and watches it instead of the road to make sure the radio works. Watch out for that cat man, I mean car.
Shit, I drank too much. The sun rises through the door I left open and fills my room with searing light. Another day under a bleached blue sky. Cigarette butts on the wood floors, hash crumbs on the plate. Ants don’t want that, about the only thing they don’t. They were swarming over the snot tissues in my bin last week.
Allah who Akbar! Plane flies over our heads. I needed more sleep but my sheets are damp with sweat and the tired fan blows dust balls on my white sheets. Thank fuck its Friday, nothing to do but feel uneasy, no reason that I know of but there are horrible picture on the back of my eyelids. Dreams I hope and not drunken memories. The blank walls in the bathroom reflect too much light and make me feel sick. I jump into the shower for the only five minutes of the day that I’ll feel fresh and cool because as soon as you’ve towelled off you can feel the sweat starting to come and the dusty air starting to stick to you.
Everything seems to have returned to normal. My two housemates staring at their computer screens, working maybe. The TV is off and although I’m starving, it’s too hot to go out hunting yet. Restlessness and a hangover won’t let me sit, it’s too hot to go into the sun, but night will come again soon.
The sun sets blood red, a beautiful glowing jewel on the horizon and as it slips lower, the wind picks up. The air feels suddenly lighter, loosened of the heat that makes the day feel like swimming in thick, chunky soup. The lighter air lets the unstoppable energy of the city flow and rise from the streets, where it has been stewing all day. Wide awake, wide wide wide. Give me more madness, make it wider. The night gives the madness back its magic. The whole city lit up at night like a giant circus. Not many nights like this left until I have to leave, if I leave. I don’t want to leave.