Samira realized that there might be more old mansions like her father's, crumbling slowly under the endless sun. So many of the old families had moved on, to new, fortress-like homes, or out of Egypt entirely. Some day in the far future, their residences might be the object of study, like the ruined temples of Karnak and Aswan. She imagined sand creeping in the shattered windows, while whole tribes of feral cats prowled the grounds. The trees might be slowly reduced to ash and swept away in the endless wind.
The poignancy of the idea saddened her – but she realized that in it lay a potential spark of creation. There might be a feature in the idea – a profile of the noble houses of Cairo, laid low by time and neglect. She could imagine her father’s rage and disapproval, and smiled. She did not remember him spending much time in the house itself, but his presence had lingered even when he left.
She particularly remembered the dressing table where he kept a small castle of decanters and bottles, a wooden humidor for cigars and various other trappings of Western decadence. No one touched it – not her mother, and not the servants, devout Muslims that they were.
Occasionally he would take it upon himself to clean the tray off, clouds of dust floating up from the crystal and glass in the afternoon sun. As a little girl she used to sneak up and lift the heavy tops to smell the exotic, alcoholic scents of the amber and ruby liquids glittering within. Later, once she was older, she used to sneak a nip or two, praying that he wouldn't notice the dusty fingerprints on the side.
A small cluster of students crossed the street towards her. She remembered that the American University dorms were only a few blocks away, and she began wandering towards them. One of the stray cats scrambled up onto the dividing wall and paced for a while above her head, threading through the overgrown wire before leaping down and scurrying off into the maze of streets.
She stopped across the road and watched for a while as students, some foreign but many Egyptian, filtered in and out through the glass doors. Though she had never attended, Samira had fond memories of lounging in the main quads and courtyards of the University; and other, more vibrant memories of a young Irishman on his semester abroad who had so assiduously courted her. His piercingly grey-green eyes stood out vividly in her memory, along with the crooked smile he would flash at her.
With a shake of her head, she tore away the cobwebs of years past and turned towards home. The sun had sunk low and the full weight of her fatigue began to press down on her. The students continued their boisterous laughter as she turned on her heel and headed away.