Billowing clouds of off-white smoke obscured the street from the entrance of Evan’s building. He peered into the haze and perceived the shape of an old pickup truck, spewing out clouds of some mosquito repellent. Probably DDT, he reflected ruefully. Beams of sunlight filtered through the air, refracted into twisting edges of light. He seemed trapped in a bubble – unable to see beyond the corner of the street, the sounds of the city muffled and distant.
For a moment, he paused, watching the mist swirl, then pushed through, holding his breath, to clearer air down the street. Tendrils of white curled around the trees and fences, snaking under the cars and casting the whole scene in a kind of impressionist fog. A soldier leaned, head bent in the act of lighting a cigarette, against his wooden post. Evan took a deep breath, and coughed slightly. An ache in his side reminded him that he still hadn't eaten yet, and he headed for the corner.
A small crowd had queued in front of the compact pastry stall, crouched at the corner of two dilapidated colonial buildings, run by a Saidi named Hamid. His ashy, charcoal skin and oddly square, professorial spectacles gave him the demeanour of a tenured professor of African Literature. He had an aversion to smoking that relaxed only long enough for him to share his clientele with the ahwa across the street, but he chewed packs of imported gum with a singular ferocity.
"Sabah al-khayr," called Evan as he reached the stall.
"Sabah al-nour, sabah al-fuul, replied Hamid effusively, playing the old Egyptian game of topping another's greeting with one's own, more dramatic reply. Thus, 'morning of goodness' gave way to 'morning of light' - and, oddly, of chickpeas. Uncontrolled, it could swing back and forth until someone dropped a game-stopping 'Morning of Allah,' which, for obvious reasons, could not really be topped.
"Just a couple with honey, Hamid." Evan's stomach rumbled as he watched the man expertly flip circles of flat, light pastry dough onto a griddle and pour honey from a rusty iron bowl. The result was a flaky, sweet meal that was good just as long as it remained hot.