Evan was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, lighting a cigarette, when Samira returned from the university. He tried his best not to smirk at the look of surprise and confusion on her face when she saw him sitting at a table, tapping her key-card on the metal rim. She hesitated for a moment, poised on her front foot like a dancer who'd forgotten her routine.
“Left this in the cab. I would have called you, but...” He shrugged disarmingly.
“Oh.” The tone of Samira's voice sounded not at all amused. Nevertheless, she sat down at the table and pulled a cigarette from Evan's pack. He wordlessly handed her a lighter and she leaned back, inhaling deeply. “Thanks.”
“Not at all.” Evan stared at her through the curlicues of smoke. “How was your interview?”
“Weren't you going to...
“Oh, it was fine,” interrupted Samira. “I guess. It could have been better.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.”
Evan heard the note of tension in her voice. “Any particular reason?”
“Just not very helpful, you know?”
Evan nodded. “I do. Welcome to Cairo.”
They sat in an awkward silence for a moment, neither willing to probe or break the other's reverie. The cigarettes smoldered down to crinkled stubs and Evan's coffee was reduced to grounds swirling in fractal patterns along the bottom of the cup.
Finally, Evan spoke. "So what is your story about?"
Samira stared at him for a moment with an unblinking gaze. Then her shoulders slumped and she dropped her eyes. "To be honest, I don't really know. I had one idea when I got here - I had a lot of ideas, honestly, and they all turned out to be wrong."
"Yeah, but what were you thinking of writing?" pressed Evan.
Samira sighed. "I don't know, it was something to do with the old houses in Cairo - you know, the ones all over Zamalek."
"Like the one you grew up in?"
Samira's eyes narrowed. "What does that mean? How do you know that?"
A smile crept up one side of Evan's face. "I didn't, but now I do.
Samira couldn't help but laugh. "I guess I deserved that. Anyways, I don't really know what I'm doing with it any more. There isn't really a story."
Evan thought for a moment. "You know, I have a friend who definitely has an in with the kind of people who are in those houses, if you want to talk to him."
"For sure. But...you have to talk to me about something."
Evan caught a flash of suspicion, quickly veiled, behind her slate-grey eyes. "What's that?"
He leaned forward. "Have you heard of General Abdel-Kareem?"