Misr memories

Mahmood is maybe nine or ten or somewhere older but you can’t be sure with kids like him who know the world once their eyes can focus on it.

He should’ve been in school all those times he ran up the stairs to ask if we needed washing or ironing done.

Did Mahmood ever sleep? Late nights, early mornings, there’s Mahmood running up those stairs and that, delivering and collecting laundry.

Teachers, if he had any, would’ve probably written him in as a pleasant child on an end-of-year report. He had one of those smiles often described as quick and easy, and an arm that readily extended for a respectful handshake.

I wonder what Mahmood is doing today.

I wish I could remember the name of that taxi driver we flagged down on two separate occasions.

What are the chances, in a city of many millions, that we’d meet the same soul for a second round?

The first time was outside the train station. His taxi was stock-standard Cairo-battered, held together by the Will of Allah. His fare was fair for the distance so we jumped right in. He was a wired chap; lots of energy coursing through him, manifesting as odd twitches and classic ants-in-pants syndrome as he wiped down his dashboard while navigating the streets. He asked us if it would be okay for him to stop the cab so he could clean it. We were in no hurry and perhaps we were a little charmed by his brand of crazy. He ran a rag over half his taxi, got back in and drove us to Madinat Nasr. His taxi broke down just as he dropped us off outside Wonderland. He was the kind of person you remembered easily in prayer.

A few weeks later, we flagged down a taxi in Heliopolis. It was one of those new black and white metered ones, a Chevrolet with plastic still on the seats. And the same driver from the train station. He recognised us; the odd agnabee couple with broken Arabic tongues. His energy levels notched all the way to the top. He made a good show of setting the meter to zero before he pulled off. He offered us sweets while searching for a CD. He popped it in and set the volume up. It was Sean Paul. I didn’t have the heart to say that I really preferred Umm Kulthum. We were his guests and he played a wonderful host. Our hearts soared at the upgrading of his taxi, at his deserving good fortune. In that moment I asked God to always accept this man’s prayers. Never had I wanted more for a total stranger.

I wonder if he is in Tahrir Square today.