Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Triumphant Sun, pt. 4

The envelope rested on a table between the two men. Carlos drummed his fingers irritably on his chair. A thick silence filled the room as he stared at the envelope. Finally, he pushed it away and inhaled a dense stream of smoke. “It's too much of a mess, Evan. I'd like to help you but...”

Evan leaned forward and took the envelope back. Outside, the storm had slowed and the sun began to gleam through the tarnished light. They lapsed back into a wordless haze. Evan rolled the cool, biting taste of lime and tonic around on his tongue, a perfect antidote to the dry harshness outside. The gin stung in the cracks that the heat and sand had left on his lips.

“Fair enough,” said Evan finally. He rose, finishing his drink and walking to the bar to pour himself another. “You should just forget I ever brought it to you.

Carlos crooked a smile with half his face. “Done. So what happened to your leave, anyways? Weren't you going to head home for a bit?”

“I was. But you know how big this is. If I've got to deal with it, I think I'm going to be here for a bit longer. More than a bit.” Evan ran his fingertips, damp from the condensation on the glass, through his hair.

“Bet you're thrilled.”

“Well, on the one hand it's a month or two more in Cairo.”

“And on the other?”
“It's a month or two more in Cairo,” Evan quipped. He paused, staring out the window. “Anyways, I''m going to head out. If I need to drop some stuff here, could I?”

“No worries,” said Carlos, holding open the door. “Any time you get sick of Stella and tea, I'm your man.”

Evan paused at the bottom of the staircase, standing a moment in the cool shadows. Only one of the bulbs was lit, and it blinked fitfully. The beginnings of a headache teased at the back of his head and he rubbed his temples with both hands, staring out at the almost painfully bright sunlight at the end of the corridor. The bawab had returned and dozed in his chair by the entrance, a cup of tea cradled in his wrinkled hand. Evan walked softly so as not to disturb the man as he emerged into the heavy sunlight.

The island of Zamalek felt quiet compared to the rest of Cairo, and the men armed with Kalashnikovs underpinned the sense of prosperity on every street corner. A group of school-boys in uniform scrambled down the street, bouncing off of cars and walls like so many tumbling creatures. A cab swerved to the corner but Evan waved the driver off and donned his sunglasses before the man could speak. The storm seemed a bit weaker now, and the walk to his apartment would help clear his spinning head.

***

Samira licked the blood from her fingertips. It had a salty taste mixed with the tiny grains of sand blowing through across the Nile. She ran her hands through her hair in frustration, threw a scarf around her throat and headed downstairs to the hotel to get a drink and wash away the dry feeling in her throat that she can't shake. The stares of the porters and clerks bounced off the shell of her indifference. She still felt wobbly though her shoes were flat and the dazed sensation of diabetic lows gave her the oddest sensation of standing feet over her own head and directing her motion like a puppeteer. For a moment she leaned on the banister.

Her finger was still bleeding and she put it in her mouth again before it spotted on to her pale blue dress. A group of rich young Egyptian men wearing garish designer clothes walked by with predatory gazes. She stared at coldly at them, shooting contempt from her steel-gray eyes.

One leaned over and blew a kiss to her. “Yaa habibi!” he called to her from across the hall.

Samira consciously snapped out of her unconsciously coquettish pose. “Allah yuqra baytik,” she snapped back, an Egyptian oath more or less translating to 'May God step on your home'. Patently absurd in English, it was effective as a whiplash in Egypt

He recoiled as if punched and stalked away to the laughter of his companions while Samira glided serenely on and got to the bar without shaking to order a gin and tonic and a tall glass of mango juice, draining half the juice in a single gulp and taking a long sip of the cocktail. Her fist coiled in a tight ball around the fringe of her scarf.

She took another drink of juice and felt the effect as it began to steady her nerves. The only thing worse than a low, she thought, was a high, when her body became enervated and the sugar poisoned her from the inside out. Highs and lows, ups and downs in endless cycles that tore one way and then another.

Her phone jangled and she shut it off after a quick glance. Fourteen hours and halfway across the world, London could wait. She took a palm-sized notebook from her purse and jotted down the number 59 in neat, round characters with a red pen. It added to the crimson digits cascading down the page, every single one representing a low blood sugar, with only a few little islands of black or blue interrupting it. Weren't, she thought and not for the first time, diabetics supposed to have high sugars?

She'd smoothed her rough edges and she finally relaxed a little and allowed herself a tight smile. She had wheedled, bullied, begged and twisted arms but at last the paper had chosen her to take over the Cairo desk and it had been a personal point of honor that she hadn't once mentioned her father's name, even if she doubted they would have understood the importance. She wondered what it meant here. Khalil Mohammed Rahman had been a legend and a terror in his time, and being his daughter would have to mean something, even the daughter of his English widow. And what would he have thought of her gin and tonic? Probably just judged her brand of gin. The thought amused her.

She pulled out a second notebook slightly larger than the first and began to write quickly, the letters slanting more with each word until she held the book almost perpendicular to her body. Without a definite assignment from the London desk, the first few weeks would be impressions, local color pieces and soft features about eccentric characters. Her hotel room was too removed from the pulse of the city – that would have to change. An apartment in Mohandiseen or better yet Downtown, if she could manage it. The western hotels and restaurants of Zamalek were too sheltered and other parts of the city lay too far from the centers of power in the Mogamma and the ministry buildings.

3 comments:

Pat said...

"Without a definite assignment from the London desk, the first few weeks would be impressions, local color pieces and soft features about eccentric characters."

Have her produce one a month, with no real point, and she's Slackman.

jfarbeann said...

Ya basha, I didn't realize you were serializing/blogging this. Pat just informed me yesterday, and I was instructed that you had a brilliant work-in-progress going here. Pat didn't lie.

I read all four sections today while killing time at work, and I have to say, this is really good stuff. I know part of me might just like it because it's Cairo nostalgia, but the prose is really superb. Many of the metaphors and little descriptive details just blew me away. And I'm already really sucked into the story line...

If you can keep this thing up to an exciting finish, the guardian angel literary agent may just have to appear.

It's Wednesday, so get on it!

Claire-Marie Hefner said...

dan. i am still reading. and it's awesome. i will echo joe here: lovely prose, intriguing plot, and yes, cairo nostalgia! i am pleased to see i still have 11 more entries to read!