Friday, September 26, 2008

The Maadi Metro supermarket is a little more cramped than the one in Zamalek. More people have driven rather than walked or taken a cab here. At the entrance, a woman begs with two little girls. One of the girls wears a dingy white blouse with lime green, flared pants, her hair short and coiffed by filth, tinged with red, a tangled, stiff helmet.

I watch her through the glass. The man at the register nods and shrugs, looking a little nervous, and the three baggers do the same. The computer is still loading, stalling everyone.

But – I’m in no hurry, I think. Do I look as if I’m in a hurry?

The men are apologetic, anticipating a kind of impatience and disdain. At the Korean restaurant down the street last week, a British man with a handlebar mustache, smoking a cigar, didn’t get his beer fast enough and clapped and snapped in the air and called to the Egyptian male waiter: “Honey!” It's an extravagance -- this impatience, similar to the kind I've displayed in the last few entries. 

The men at the Metro market cash register – in the most Egyptian way possible, which is to say, barely – brace for my impatience. 

People are standing and waiting. We need change and cigarettes and detergent. Blonde, pasty people in shorts, black people in bright garb, Egyptians in designer sunglasses. The oversized cars wait in the street – too small, too strewn with garbage, too full of poor people who position themselves exactly where it is hardest to say no, when we emerge with our bounty of groceries.

Today, most of us say no. It is hard to say why – there is no real explanation or pattern concerning anonymous generosity or lack of it.

The computer is working. The groceries are added up and bagged. We emerge from the market and the girl with the stiff coif is upon us, wanting a pound – one pound, madame, one pound – for a package of tissues. We say no, hailing a cab. “Madame, madame, one pound.” Is this like brushing away a fly with your tail? The cab driver, an old man with prayer beads hanging from his rearview mirror, speaks softly to the little girl as her pleas increase. Peace now, he is telling her. Peace, he is saying as she sticks her arm in the window – “Madame, one pound, madame” – and he drives us off.



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