CAIRO — The boys sat in front of the train station, sipping orange soda, watching, as the girl, so pretty in her embroidered head scarf, long denim skirt and makeup just right, slipped out of a car driven by a young man who smiled and drove away.
She walked toward the ticket booth, stopped and turned. The man's taillights were gone. The girl wasn't getting on a train, not this night; she headed down the street and disappeared beneath the trees, perhaps to a secret rendezvous with a lover, or maybe just to meet some friends.
The boys with the orange soda could only guess, but they laughed anyway because on a night like this, clear and a chill in the air, that's what you do in Cairo. You watch people hurrying in and out of the train station in a city so crowded that lives seep into one another without anyone really minding; a big, loud family clamoring for a sliver of space in the desert.
Like the man in the dirty tunic selling vegetables in crumpled bags, or the young cleric reciting from the Koran as he slips through the turnstile, or the suit with the briefcase and brow of sweat, or the mother shooing flies from the baby in a blanket, or the guy with no money and nowhere to go except into the night, because, if you don't dream too much, the night is free. You can skate along the Nile, wander the alleys, and, if the smog shifts, you can glimpse the Pyramids in the distant spring sky.