"It's the ducks and chickens raised in houses that are infected. But when the police come they take all the meat no matter where it came from. I have to hide when I see them."
He skinned and sliced, handing two breasts to a woman; his sticky fingers reached for money from his shirt pocket.
"People aren't scared," he said. "They understand this bird flu scare is all a trick to kill the business of local chicken producers so importers connected to the government can make big money. That's what this is all about."
Behind a window with a pastel shutter, Ali's mother sits on a bed in a room decorated with plastic flowers and a poster of Mecca. She is dressed in mourning black, except for the glint of pearl on the pin in her head scarf. The needle prick in her arm, where they drew blood to give her son, is weeks old now. She blames the doctors and hospitals for not figuring out what was wrong with him until he was too far gone to bring back.
"He had a fever," Ismail said. "I took him to five doctors who said it was only a throat infection. They gave him antibiotics. Another doctor said he had pneumonia. We took him to a private hospital. They said his lungs were full of fluid that needed to be sucked out, but they didn't have the tools. We took him to a state hospital. It took them three days before they drained the fluid."
Her son started fading. A doctor asked if the family raised poultry at home. She said no. The flat was too small and cramped and her husband's father had forbidden it years ago. The health inspectors came to investigate; no one else was sick. They widened the search to the neighborhood and Ali's grandfather's village in the delta. Nothing.
Ismail sat near her daughter, Noura, 8, and her 7-month-old son, Ahmed. A woman carrying groceries peeked in and headed up the stairs. The sun was high over the littered alley.
Noha El-Hennawy of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.