"I passed this street three years ago and saw guys doing this, and I decided to join them," he said amid the sparks and construction clatter of a building rising behind him. "There is no other way. I have no money. I can't get married. How can I raise a family? . . . I've been arrested two or three times, but the prosecutors release me. I come back because there's nothing else."
Essawy was a barber for 25 years. He had his own shop for a while, but the number of customers dwindled and he couldn't pay the rent.
He showed up at CityStars with a shoeshine box and a lot of debt. He polishes shoes and parks cars, moving his brushes and watching the street, talking about his two daughters and two sons.
The barber in him projects a regal air and, despite the black jeans and a pullover shirt misted with dust, he seems to have kept part of himself separate from his predicament.
"I'm here from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day," he said. "I'd like to have a job with a good, fixed salary, but there are none."
A police car passed. Shoppers filed toward the mall's Magic Galaxy wing, not far from an atrium shaped like a pyramid. A truck screeched, a driver shook his hand in anger. A man selling belts from a pushcart edged through the traffic and waved.
Essawy waved back. "That's my brother."
Noha El Hennawy of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.