I look up, up, past the faded, torn, uselessly fluttering pendants strung across the sky, past the ferny leaves of an unnamed tree, through an opaque sky suffused in pollution to a single, resilient star above Cairo. A tiny yellow butterfly flits through the sheesha smoke of the cafe, dipping and dancing in intoxicating scents of cherry, peach and apple. A stray dog limps by in the shadows, barking at the rattle of a passing taxi. Cards shuffle at a nearby table, diamonds and hearts and words exchange hands, implacably. The metro tracks rumble as a train shuffles onward, bearing the veiled sighs and weary eyes of another day. Somewhere, a cat snarls, mewls and silences.
A sliver of Cairo, one of millions. I could be here 20 years and see nothing, Travel from the verdant streets of Maadi to the dusty tombs of the dead, from the congested chaos of Nasr City to the quiet arrogance of Zamalek. Circle the city in a day, get lost in the call to prayer and the bright lights glittering against the Nile, the donkey cart straining across the highway, piled with tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchini and bright peppers, the black Mercedes, tinted windows and shiny facades, purr past. But I have only a few months, a handful of moments, a dearth of time and a glutton of desire . But that, I suppose, could be said of life as well, at the end. Looking back, calculating and evaluating, regretting and smiling.
I was in bed, it was one of those rare moments of imperfect contentment, too hot to sleep, too engrossed in a novel to want to, when I looked at the hour. 3 am. And it brought me to another world, another time, another clime. I looked at myself, then, curled beneath blankets as snow fell outside my window, nose buried in a book. I wanted to say hi, do you recognize me? This is you, 6 years older. I thought of you, just now, remembered how you used to spend your nights wrapped around a book. You'll take a break, for a few years, run around the world losing yourself and, yes, finding yourself too. But, one day, there you will be, somewhere in the stirring sands of a distant desert, falling in love again with words on a page, startled when dawn taps you on the shoulder with an apologetic smile. I didn't say anything, though to that girl. And she didn't even notice me, silly thing. Too caught up in the Da Vinci Code. Watched her for a few moments, cheesy grin pasted on my face, before I returned to the much more expedient task of finishing The Book Thief. I wondered, fleetingly, what future me might be watching, what secrets she could whisper in my ear. But I didn't notice a thing, too caught up in my book.