A writer struggles with his sanity in Cairo, while embroiled in a mysterious power struggle that threatens his personal safety. His life becomes a series of hallucinations and violent incidents that recall a disturbed past.
On the blistering balcony I stood, my fidgeting hands shielding my eyes from the sun slanting in over the makeshift rooftops of straw. A cigarette dangled from my lips, and a near empty glass of whiskey was on the balustrade before me. In the fierce light the liquid was turning a hue of urine yellow. As if in response to it, I looked down into the swelter of people, expedited in their movement by donkey, mule, and horse carts; and cars. The machines swerved in and out, their horns blaring, with the people on foot breaking into sprints at yellow lights. They would be run over if caught in the change to red, and a nearby policeman would casually mark down the license plate, as he had no machine to chase down the culprit. Likely no serious charges would ever be filed, and the cop would smirk at any passers-by attempting to drag the body out of the road, while the vehicularized hurled obscenities at the unnecessary delay. I reached out for the remaining whiskey, grateful for the numbing sensation it provided; some antidote for the clamorous din of Cairo.
From inside, through the shuttered doors, escaped the smells and sounds of cooking. I sniffed the hot juices and meat aroma, and listened to the crackling and sputtering of the juices and oil, like water and acid intermixed.
"Yes!" came an animated voice from within"(One had to practically shout to be heard). 'This is good meat, worthy of the rattlesnake thief." I could see him through the small kitchen window, marinading another. He massaged the oily white body traced with veins, like red needles piercing a ball of fat.
"And who would that be?" I inquired, smacking at a species of bug I could not figure out, a yellow and red buzzer with short wings.
“Rodel! He is a countryman of yours recently arrived. He has imported rattlesnake from Texas, in hopes I will be sufficiently happy with the delicacy to add it to my menu."
"So why do you say 'thief?" I paced around the balcony, too embarrassed to go in and pour myself another whiskey. I had had two glasses already.
"Well, it is one thing to use the fruit of your own land in your own country, but I believe it is something entirely different to bring it to a whole different place where it is not indigenous."
"That is an interesting point, Habib, but does not your cooking of it also speak of thiefdom?" I smiled, bemused.
There came no immediate reply, just the perturbation of the juices. I silently cursed myself. His wife had died only a few months before, and he could become upset by the merest barb of a snake tongue. “Well,” I thought, “what is one to do?”
A sharp snapping sound made me swivel around, as I was a little inebriated. My eyes were blurry with the dizziness for a moment, then I smiled. It was a maid shaking the wrinkles out of a sheet, her arms and head stretched out of a window, two apartments over, one up. She had her hair fastened in a black scarf. I could see the strain on her face.