Evan awoke in near darkness, his disorientation almost complete. He stared at the crazed lines and cracks that cut his ceiling into broken shards of ancient plaster. Outside, the muezzin howled the morning prayer, echoing over the rumbling sounds of the city. As he finished another began, then another and another, tumbling over each other in a patchwork symphony of Quranic verses.
He fumbled at his bedside table for a glass of water, knocking his keys and watch to the floor with a metallic crash. A pervasive fatigue enveloped him as he levered himself to sit on the edge of his bed. The floor felt grainy beneath his bare feet so he shuffled his feet into a pair of beaten rubber slippers. The venetian blinds clattered back and forth in the slight breeze, sending erratic blades of light tumbling across the room, illuminating the dust that hung in the air.
Evan peered out the cramped kitchen window as he made coffee in the Arabic style, letting the powder-like grounds steep slowly in a small tin pot with sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. The window opened onto a peculiar shaft that ran the length of his building, supposedly bringing air to cramped interior rooms. Pipes and byzantine tangles of wiring snaked through it, covered in the sand and dust of forty or fifty years. It all hung together in an “Egyptian fix” – slapped together with whatever came to hand until it broke again, hopefully on someone else’s watch.
Evan closed the window shutter and walked to the balcony of the apartment, cradling the steaming glass of coffee in his hand. The first sip brought him awake and upright, the intensity of the dual flavors of coffee and sugar jolting him out of the morning stupor. He’d had no intention of waking so early, but sometimes he still found himself dragged from sleep by the calling of the muezzins. It was a sound at once ethereal and comfortingly familiar – on a trip across the Mediterranean a few months ago, he’d felt the lack of it every morning.
Minarets jutted out over the city like exclamation points – some mere crumbling towers of shoddy brick, others modern stone edifices and a few, selected examples of medieval Islamic architecture. Cairo earned the epitaph “City of a Thousand Minarets” several times over, but the effect became stranger and more affecting with odd, new juxtapositions. A new phenomenon outnumbered the spires – satellite dishes dotting every rooftop, sometimes clustering together like a growth, sprouting out of the fabric of the city. More popped up every day, tenuously wired and affixed to whatever surface provided a modicum of space.
Many of the buildings were unfinished, too – steel bars twisting up out of the concrete giving the roofs a vicious, unfinished appearance. Builders left them that way to dodge taxes – an incomplete building wouldn’t get taxed by the government. That never stopped squatters from moving out onto the exposed roofs, setting up rambling shanty-towns that collapsed upon themselves with depressing regularity. One of the thousands of forgotten, unimportant scandals that got lost in the wandering streets.