I land in Frankfurt at 2:30. My flight to Cairo doesn’t leave until 7. The first coffee shop I pass has too long of a line. I keep walking and order at the next one. The barista is young and good-looking, and he speaks broken English with a thick Austrian accent. My passport falls out of my bag as I order. He glances at it and grins. “Donald Trump!” he says. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t vote for him.” He hands me a coffee.
I strain my eyes out the plane window, trying to see the city as we land. It’s late. There are only small patches of light surrounded by a vast expanse of desert, invisible in the night sky. The airport has closed when we arrive. The terminal is quiet and empty except for two women with their heads covered, mopping the floors. They hand me toilet paper as I walk into the restroom, and I tip them in American dollars because I don’t have Egyptian pounds yet. Their eyes light up at the sight of it.
I exit through customs into a hurricane of human voices. Men who I hope are taxi drivers do their best to wrestle my suitcase from my hand and lead me toward the exit. “La shukran,” I say, hesitating on the pronunciation. “No, thank you.”
You are there in the eye of the storm.
I’m distracted and exhausted, and I almost walk right past you. You step in my path. “Ready for this?” you say. I throw my arms around your neck, which embarrasses you. I don’t care. Neither do you. “Let’s go,” I say. You take my bags, and I do my best to follow you through the dense crowd until we reach our taxi. I’m suffocating and exhilarated by the noise and the lights. Suddenly we are in the car, and the chaos outside is muted. My face is pressed against the window trying to take it all in. “It’s dark,” you say. “Too dark to see.” But I don’t notice the darkness.
You take me to dinner at an outdoor Lebanese cafe where the staff all knows you. You order me a coffee. “Right away,” you say. “She’s American.” “You’re American,” I say. You smile like you’re not convinced. It’s midnight. The place is packed. It’s winter in Egypt, so the dining room is covered in a billowing white tent. I’m not entirely certain I’m not dreaming this.
The desert wind is surprisingly cold as you walk me back to the apartment. You give me your coat. “Watch out for the dogs,” you say. “What dogs?” “The strays. They’re desert dogs. They’re everywhere. Be careful.” You point to a bush as we cross the road. There are two skinny dogs huddled up together, sleeping. They are the color of the sand. They don’t even raise their heads as we pass. They look peaceful.