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Welcome to Cairo
by Carellin Brooks

Movements of beginning and ending

this bleached-blond shred

of memory

slapped down upon the keys

in the false weight of permanence

fourteen million people

was it twelve?

the boys who came to me

seemed much too numerous in their instability

bright teeth flashing, it was the only thing I could fix on, in the

Crazy taxi careering down the road

taxi black and white, checkerboard square

the taxis are cheap and I said two pounds

they laughed one pound

I said no no two said the driver still laughing

beep beep

the noise of the street curling in under my sleep

how much you pay for this lady you talk to me lady

lady sit here look here lady

ripe fruit in the mango cart

shell-studded poison, exposed orange flesh

the strokes when he cuts it are practised and hard

offered up to me on a calloused palm

the fruit is almost sweeter than i can stand

what makes them honk so much all the time

habit said the taxi driver in the punchline to the joke

the coffee is too sweet here, I learn to say no

no sugar, no essence, no one

in my hotel room at night

the cheap hotel

where the bugs crawl out of the drain in the sink

the taxi is crowded with the smell of the desert

the soldiers are hot in their white uniforms

they rest their guns between their legs

hello, hello, shifting their guns

the sodden black cotton of home

swaying against the balcony

i have fallen away from the earth

the taxi goes quick-quick on the bumpy road

early morning and the sky is an indescribable colour

there are signs on the highway, just like home

spider tracks of writing, far too intricate to mean anything


the money is crumpled and raw

they cannot find change in the small cafe

for such a large amount

again and again the flies settle and lift

they are thick and they move on the floor of the mango stand

in my room I stalk them, they fall between the bedspreads

the shutters bang

'That is why they try for foreign girls, you see:

it is so much easier."

(he had only spoken with his wife-to-be for three hours)

from the curve of the freeway I can see

the rooftops strewn with debris

(heaped and tumbled buildings rising one above the other)

the driver offers me a cigarette

look, he says

look at what we have become

there are tanks behind the gates of the mansions

the pyramids rear up improbable as oases

behind the highrises

"there is nothing to be afraid of;

we are only going to my friend's club

we will drink tea and talk of your home"

no thank you

no, i cannot

that blue in the light of the dusty sun

i feel much safer with black and white

welcome to cairo

welcome to cairo

welcome to cairo

in the apartment my fingers stiff with cold,

this is not how it was,

this is not how i wrote it

in the lined red and black book i bought in Lindau

no no no this is not what i meant at all

driving out into the desert

the car shivers under my seat

i shiver too

the desert is so big

the rotten teeth of the bedouin boy

he smiled anyway,

and i was always taught

not to pay attention to appearances

Tutankhamen smells like cheap perfume

the tea is too sweet,

as usual

the belly dancer on the late night show "i cannot watch

it is forbidden to look the second time"

she swings her hips, the screen is black and white

"come with me:

you must see the real egypt

I assure you that it is perfectly safe"

marooned in the square, your arms pinned by the two rescuers

you rolled your eyes you said your eyes said do not pay attention

to my rotten teeth

the two boys grabbed him in the square, shouted "thief, thief!"

and motioned me to go on

i still have trouble lying

her eyebrows are arched like marlene dietrich

perhaps it is marlene dietrich

nothing would surprise me this far from home

the street hot even at night

the women watch me shyly

when i go to someone's house

his mother brings us tea, the men sit on her chairs

they do not even look when they lift the tea from her tray

your first time in Cairo?

i drag on the cigarette and say yes

Welcome to Cairo

"You know, without the hair,

you could not tell you are a foreigner"

the finger snap, the pointing finger

sit down, sit down there

for the first time i refuse

the boy has shown you

"no you show me, show me

what it is you want"

i refuse

he knows already

i never thought their principles would be more important than

my money

i have learned to look at skirts and at scarves:

those long swathes of fabric hiding the women beneath

the most mysterious of all

have disappeared entirely

but for a square of face where their eyes can look out

and see where the rest of them has gone

i cannot make a message out of those eyes, no matter how hard i


instead i see the men

holding onto their arms

as hard as they can

i should know what they are saying

i want a veil, a veil like that woman's there

"ah that kind is only for poor people"


I consider putting a teatowel about my head,

quite seriously

you know where I am going?

which terminal, miss?

will you take care of me?

will I be safe?

do you know if I am going to die?

ah you were only in it for the drama

(I search their faces for my own)

the housecats run under the tables

in the breakfast room

when the people leave i watch them

jump up on the tables and drag down the butter with their claws

"Some of us go to the Cairo Hilton. To get away from it all."

"You might need to."

"It's not expensive. Nothing here is."

"Oh, and it's true, don't drink the water.

oh and it's true what your wife said to me

the driver thinks this would be the most beautiful city in the


if it wasn't for the war

she backed out of the room without saying anything

your english is very good, very clear

the men do not even notice as they sip their tea

wait, I need to hear what only you can tell me

(I no longer trust myself)

coffee thick like molasses

in the bazaar

where the tourists sit and drink from clean glasses,

those clean chairs

only i could afford

and how they heat the coffee and pour it out with a flourish

the driver lifts the bags out of the car

i will have to remember the colour of the sky dawning

and how the dust lay across everything

the rings in my bag clank and move

silver rings and dangling pendants

earrings made out of cheap filigree

boxes inlaid with mother of pearl

a wooden doll with a basket on her head

amethyst heads and some that are not

came[ stitched of smooth untanned skin

four soft undershirts, white and full

a box of candy

assorted flavours

lemon, raspberry, coffee and mint

i can get it much cheaper somewhere else

i can get it much cheaper somewhere else

i can get it much cheaper somewhere else

the bracelet is rich and heavy on my arm

solid silver, they assured me

that thin bronze where the plating is beginning to wear away

and in this cold room

in front of this black screen

crouching by the bed with the cover never made

typing into a portable sending words home in case i ever


or in case i didn't,

it was never clear

the wind is falling outside, it can fall all the way to Africa

and how can i follow it there

to the air hot and still and dry as paper

and the green fields by the side of the nile

where the car went speeding down to the sphinx

and the little boys rode their donkeys home

i spilled a cup once, on the floor of the shop

that startling display, the exuberance of the earth

across the cool tile floor

(I have not stopped sweating since I arrived)

I have not stopped shivering since i began

and this morning in the class on the television screen

the egypt they showed, the cairo of that street

it was not mine, it could not be mine

I think I have been cheated

out of a piece of silver I wanted very badly

here, take this, i am white and you deserve it,

still not much from my great store of treasures

but i say nothing when i give him the money

thank you miss i hope you have a safe trip home

thank you

(and the stale turkish coffee in the black coffee tin,

and the cheap grey caftan hanging from the cold closet rod)

(and the wind)

i will have to come visit again sometime soon

i will have to come visit again someday soon.


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