Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The world smelled of wet things today; I inhaled the breath of trees, the scent of watered palms, the taste of damp grass, the soapy aroma of cleaned car, the cooling breeze off the Nile. By night the drifting smoke from burning fields clogs the air and I lie in bed, immobile, inhaling the acrid scent through opened windows. The dust of the world filters through my screen and rests on any available surface- a cherrywood dresser, a wicker basket, a cloth mural. Occasionally, I exert a half-hearted attempt to re-settle the dust and send it on a thousand year journey across the sands. More often than not, I watch it pirouette in the beams of sunlight and wonder how long it has danced through human life. Did it swirl through the lives of our hirsute ancestors who rose from the jungles and journeyed across deserts; did it pass before the kohl-lined eyes of ancient pharaohs; did it tumble over seas and dynasties and back again; did it rest on battlefields and broken limbs; did it churn in the debris of bomb-decimated cities; did it spend a wedding night in the trembling hairs of a young bride….how wearisome indeed is such an immortality.
Time is indeed a curious ticker- there are days that pass in a moment, and days that linger into infinity. I never suspected two and a half weeks of vacation could melt away in languid afternoons and ambling nights; but I suddenly found myself on the brink of responsibility, again. I turned back to demand a receipt of my time, and Time obliged- a black night by the pyramids, barefoot atop a surging horse, howling at the top of my lungs to race faster down the sandy tracks and over the short dunes; dusty feet somehow remembering the way through the crowded markets surrounding Khan al Khalili and trudging up a thousand year old minaret to see all of Cairo sprawling into the white-hot sunset; living for the coolness of nights and sleeping through the relentless days; chortling somewhat obscenely in a movie theater at the ribald Egyptian comedy- humor, it seems, is a universal language; bathing in the crystalline waters of the Red Sea, bumping into jelly fish; two drinks happy and riding the subway home. Very well, Time, it was well spent.
I have a sand dollar sitting on my dresser that I pulled from the sea. One side is smooth, the shade of mottled cobalt; the other a lucky star to wish upon, worn by the sea’s caress. I told my mom I found her fortune; even the Red Sea wishes her well. It seems a lifetime ago, when this narrative began, when life seemed simpler, more innocent, less final. And then my mom got cancer two and a half years ago, when I was in Egypt for the first time. It is typical, I suppose, of my egocentricity, to put this event in my own terms, but I will. After all, merely having a blog is a fairly good indication of one’s inflated sense of self. That time, I clung onto what I could grasp- first love, best friends, drowning in travel and new experiences. Alhamdulilah, to the amazement of her doctors and her terminal diagnosis, her cancer disappeared, and life regained its bemused trajectory. Every few months, Mom went in for scans and received astonishing reports-nothing. Last New Year’s, I drank one too many glasses of champagne in celebration of another cancer-free report J By then, it had been over a year, and I toasted to hope.
I returned to Cairo. The day after my return, an e-mail popped into my inbox, “Cancer’s probably back, her scans showed a suspicious lump.” Really, God, I mean, is this really fair? At least you could have had the courtesy to wait until I was home for the summer. I don’t like being a mere voice on the telephone, half way around the world, a disembodied daughter unable to even offer a hug.
We do what we can with what we have. I am always amused that my mother thinks my stubbornness came from my father, when she can deliver the most adamant oratories for her cause. She managed to schedule an earlier surgery than the doctor wished, my school was cancelled so I could spend the wee hours of the morning on Skype, and the males of my family sent me hourly updates on the day of surgery. The cancer was a different form than the original breast cancer, a less virulent variety, and renewed hope sprang anew. In typical Mother fashion, she is now in Las Vegas with Dad, gawking at Sin City while I listen to the mosques draw the sleeping from bed in the stillness before dawn.
I love the dark of folds of this night, when lights extinguish and I fumble in the dark to crawl beneath my sheets. When only blacker shadows of my room’s possessions anchor me to this world, something faint and shining glimmers on the nightstand next to my bed. My precious sand dollar, a tiny chip broken off from an edge, gleams white and solid on its other face, somehow impervious to the rain of dust falling in my room.