Trusting Sayf

Maryah Converse

 

“Do you trust me?”

I stared at the text message. I had known Sayf, an Egyptian refugee aid worker by day and photojournalist by vocation, for almost a year. In my first months in Cairo, we had run into each other often at parties thrown by mutual friends in the Fulbright Program that neither of us were part of. The Fulbright scholars were long gone, evacuated months ago when the revolution broke out on Tahrir Square. I hadn’t seen Sayf much since then, but we had been saying for weeks that we should get coffee and catch up before I left Cairo at the end of the month.

“I’m getting paid on Saturday for some work I did for ‘Der Spiegel.’” Sayf’s German was as beautiful and natural as his English, something we had in common. “I have a tradition when I get paid, something I like to do with a friend. Do you trust me?”

I thought about Paul, the tall, geeky younger guy in my Egyptian politics class. I had been lusting after him all year. The last time Paul had said, “Trust me,” I didn’t. He and some other classmates apparently ended up in a cabaret bar full of Russian prostitutes. They said they had a fun time, but I was glad I hadn’t gone along.

Sayf knew his city much better. I couldn’t believe that he would do something like that to a khawaaga like me—a white foreign woman expatriate. Even though I had been on Tahrir Square every morning of the revolution and Sayf had recently been making a name for himself escorting adrenaline junkie foreign correspondents to contested locales, he still knew I had a mere mortal’s tolerance for risk.

Over my years in Palestine, Jordan, and now Egypt, I had come to distrust local men. I became used to their attempts to take advantage of my tourist-sized bank account or to talk their way out of the region with a quick marriage. It was hard not to see myself as a trophy, and I guarded myself carefully against that feeling. When I had first met Sayf, I had been leery of his intentions, but ten months later, although I didn’t know him as well as I knew Paul, somehow I trusted Sayf more.

So I picked up my little blue Nokia and texted back. “Sure. I trust you.”

“Great. Where do you live? I’ll pick you up at seven.”

To my surprise, I balked. A week earlier, I had been followed by a tall, thin, ginger Egyptian from the nearest corner grocer on Tahrir Street and up three flights of my narrow, dark stairs. It was a five-minute stalking just so he could touch my ass for a fraction of a second. I whirled around, slinging my two-liter bottle of water in a plastic bag toward where his head should be. He was already most of a flight back down.

Sayf was a man respected by Fulbright women, cynical aid workers, and female foreign correspondents, even after the horror of the night Mubarak fell. I never felt uncomfortable around Sayf. It was quite the opposite. He put me at ease. Even so, I wasn’t ready to tell him my building number.

“I’ll meet you at the end of Mohammed Mahmoud Street, outside the old AUC library.”

My program had been on the downtown campus of the American University in Cairo, until violence had erupted on the 26th of January in Mohammad Mahmoud Street, the northern edge of campus. The library, its contents already moved to the new campus in the suburbs, had been broken into during the early days of the revolution. Soot still scored the walls above some of the windows. We weren’t meeting on the downtown campus anymore—no one was. It was easy to find, though, and conveniently in the middle between the quiet oasis of the side street Sayf lived on and the busy main drag of Tahrir Street where I lived.

§

Though I trusted him not to take me to some out-of-the-way brothel, I still had no idea what to expect of the evening. I stood staring at my wardrobe for a long time.

Sayf was a foodie, in a Cairo way, a connoisseur of street food, partial to out-of-the-way restaurants with home-style ethnic cooking, but tonight he had money to spend. I needed a neutral outfit. It had to be fashionable enough for Indian food between the embassies on the Nile island of Zamalek yet modest enough for working class sha’abi food across the river in Dokki or the sidewalk Chinese place where would-be sheikhs studying at Al-Azhar enjoyed the foods of their Szechuan grandmothers.

Finally, I settled on loose-fitting black pants, a slim-fitting pink tee, and a black shirtdress, unbuttoned. I stepped into comfortable shoes and shoved a lightweight, multihued pashmina in my bag to cover several eventualities. With a quick swipe of my fingers through my straight, brunette hair, I was ready and weirdly nervous for coffee.

It was ridiculous, I knew, to be nervous. Sayf and I had been friends for almost a year. I had gotten coffee a dozen times with his friends and mine in the tiny outdoor cafés in Mahrani Street, clustered around rickety little metal tables on uneven pavement, occasionally interrupted by fire-breathers, peddlers, or beggar children. We were just meeting over coffee to catch up, after the crazy post-revolution weeks when he had been busy night and day, fixing logistics and translating madly for the BBC and ARD, and before I left Cairo for the foreseeable future.

I checked myself in the full-length living room mirror one last time, assuring myself that I had obscured enough of my curves and showed little enough skin to be socially acceptable. Before I stepped out the door, I threaded the cord of my earbuds under my T-shirt and plugged into my iPod. I pulled up my playlist of Arab Spring rap as I hurried down the dark stairs.

§

Across the street from my apartment building was a sardine store—presumably they sold other fish, too—and at the end of the day, they threw their unsold product onto the sidewalk. Feral cats were always waiting, drawn by the eye-watering odor of briny, rotting fish. I hurried past, holding my breath, and kept up my power-walking pace down the secondary street. After that, the various aromas—both savory and stomach-turning—of the rest of downtown Cairo were far less pungent.

Walking the streets was almost unrecognizably better since the revolution, but I still avoided the major roads like Tahrir Street when I could, lined as they were with restaurants, tourism agencies, and curio shops. Practically every storefront had a young man leaning in the doorway who would see me, the khawaaga, coming down the sidewalk. “Come and look.” “Have a cup of tea?” “I make you a deal.” This I understood, even if I hated how they crowded into my personal space to get my attention.

Others would whistle or look me lewdly up and down. “Beautiful, beautiful,” “Very nice,” and “What’s your name?” By day, sunglasses helped me avoid accidental eye contact that made the come-ons bolder. Night or day, one earbud distracted me from fuming about the creepy come-ons too long.

I turned into the mostly empty Mohammed Mahmoud Street, where the storefronts still had broken windows and boarded up doors, and there were scorch marks on the sidewalks. There were also murals on every section of wall. Young protestors had come out almost immediately after Mubarak’s fall to whitewash this street and paint it with messages of love, unity, and Egyptian pride. My favorite section of wall said, “Welcome,” “Thank you,” and “Love” in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and even Chinese. Others read in large, looping Arabic calligraphy, “I love my country” and “Raise your head high, O Egypt.”

I waited where the street ended at Tahrir Square. It had only been three months since the fall of Mubarak, but the city had already almost returned to business as usual, though a revolutionary spirit still lingered. There were still a few tents and clusters of protestors lingering on the once-grassy central island of the Tahrir traffic circle, still hacked into the base of the light poles to charge their mobile phones and laptops. Traffic proceeded in its usual swirl on weekdays, and some of the nearby shops had reopened, although those directly facing the square remained mostly shuttered and boarded up.

I saw Sayf, cigarette in hand, coming across the open space in front of the massive Mogamma government administrative building. Like Paul my classmate, Sayf was tall and rangy. He wore his dark hair longer than most Egyptians, framing his face in a halo of loose curls. I waved, but Cairo’s traffic was as intimidating as ever. I waited for him to come across the fast, busy Kasr al-Aini Street to me.

Sayf brushed each cheek against mine, usually a greeting between women or Europeans, which would have felt intrusive coming from any other Egyptian man. Instead, it was sweetly intimate, Sayf’s clean-shaven jaw warm and dry against mine. His curls smelled of balsam shampoo and cigarette smoke. A momentary touch, and then he stepped back out of my personal space. His dark eyes swept down over my outfit and his eyebrow quirked up. “This is very conservative.”

I shrugged, tugging at the unbuttoned edges of my shirtdress. “You didn’t tell me where we were going.” I gave him a quick summary of Paul’s ill-advised adventure.

Sayf’s eyes widened. “I would never do something like that to you. I hope you know that.”

I shrugged again, smiling faintly. “You wouldn’t tell me what to expect, and a khawaaga can never be too careful. So, where are we going?”

He stepped back towards the road. “We could walk—it’s not far—but I think I’d rather take a taxi, if that’s okay with you.” He flagged down a cab, and then, although the custom in the region is for men to sit in the front with the driver, Sayf sat in the back with me. We made small talk about school. He slipped into Arabic, drawing our driver into a conversation about how traffic flow still hadn’t recovered from the revolution.

We turned onto the Corniche Road along the Nile, shaded by enormous banyan, sycamore, and feathery red flamboyant trees. While Sayf paid the driver, I was drawn across the sidewalk to the wrought-iron fence. The sun had just set, leaving the sky a soft lavender deepening towards indigo, and the lights of the city were beginning to glimmer on the surface of the Nile.

Sayf leaned against the fence beside me, lighting a cigarette. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Below us, the cobblestoned bank of the Nile sloped down to a boat launch. A dozen wooden feluccas were tied up there, white masts bobbing against the dark river. Out on the water, two more swooped across the Nile with big triangular sails and white hulls low to the surface. I had grown up sailing lateen-rigged Sunfish on the Susquehanna not so different from these. “I have to finally take a felucca before I leave.”

“I’ll take you. I know a guy.” As he smoked, Sayf wasn’t looking at the boat, the river, or the sunset. He was looking at me with a small smile on his face. “Next Saturday, I’ll take you.” Not for the first time, I was struck by his dark, feathery lashes, almost as if he kohled his expressive brown eyes. He was saved from looking the complete Lothario by a wide, adorably gap-toothed grin and a penchant for irreverence.

I turned to lean one hip against the fence with a smile of my own. “Of course you know a guy. You know everyone.” I glanced back at the moored felucca below us and one mid-sized motor boat at the end. “You realize this is where we met? At that party on that motor boat during Ramadan?”

His smile broadened. “You said you hadn’t wanted to come back to Cairo after being a tourist here, but you seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

Turning away from the Nile and leaning back against the railing with him, I sighed slowly. “It’s not easy to be khawaaga, especially before the revolution. When I lived in Ramallah, Nazareth, Amman, I could blend in better, could sometimes even be mistaken as a local. My Arabic accent was just hick enough to be authentic, my clothes conservative enough, and in the Levant, my lighter hair and blue eyes aren’t uncommon. But here I’m always a foreigner, always a mark.”

“You haven’t been here as long,” Sayf pointed out. “You could learn to speak Arabic like a Cairene.”

“True.” I stepped away from the railing. “So, my secretive friend, what’s the plan?”

Sayf waved vaguely toward the far side of the street. “Over there.” He stepped up to the curb and started eyeing traffic. At the moment that felt right to him, he stepped into the street, and I hurried to follow.

I hated crossing the street in Cairo. It was taking your life in your hands, and there were few rules to how or when to cross. I kept Sayf between myself and the speeding cars. It was a coward’s move, but one I had perfected over the ten months I had lived in Egypt.

Consumed as I was with the visceral terror of crossing a main Cairo thoroughfare like the Corniche, I didn’t realize where we were going until Sayf walked me into the soaring, white marble entryway of a five-star hotel.

Immediately, I understood his dismay at my choice of clothes. I was conspicuously underdressed in this gleaming lobby full of tall, slender, Slavic blondes in stilettos. This particular resort hotel chain had a reputation for being popular with the Russian Mafia and vague associations with high-end escort services. The lobby had a sleek, modern look with lots of blank surfaces, right angles, and minimalist flower arrangements.

Sayf took me up to a high glass counter. “Two Turkish coffees to start,” he said to the elegant blonde behind the counter.

Under the glass were rows and rows of perfect little cubes. To me, he said, “Truffles. What do you think?” Together, we picked out half a dozen. The server measured them out on a gleaming little electronic scale, such as I had seen for weighing silver in a jewelry store.

She assembled them on little plates on a gleaming tray. “Please, go have a seat. When the coffee is ready, I will bring everything to you.”

We settled on either end of a boxy, plush couch with matching throw pillows. “So,” I said. “What have you been up to? I noticed on Facebook that you’ve been out to the Libyan border a few times.” It had surprised me how much I worried about him when he was on such a jaunt.

“Yeah. I haven’t been over the border yet. The authorities won’t really let Egyptians go. But I’ve taken a few aid workers and foreign correspondents out there, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Libyans coming across the border, getting their stories, some pictures. It’s really dangerous where they’re coming from, but I’m hoping to cross eventually.”

“That’s … I don’t know how you do it. I wouldn’t have the courage.”

“I’m an adrenaline junkie. Most journo’s are. Lots of aid workers, too.” He shrugged, and then he shook his head. “Actually, that’s not it. In the 2008 Hanukkah War, I was working with an aid organization affiliated with a hospital in Gaza.” He reached his left hand around towards the base of his spine. “The Israelis hit the place and I was injured. Centimeters from severing my spine. I should have died, but I wasn’t even paralyzed.”

A chill crept up my own spine. I remembered sitting that New Year’s Eve in a small café in Amman with Palestinian friends, late at night, the café poorly lighted, the Turkish coffee hot and strong. Outside it was pouring rain, and even with fires and propane heaters on high, the deep chill had settled inexorably against our bones. Conversation was subdued, the mood as grim as the weather. My friends were all worrying about their relatives in Palestine. I hadn’t known anyone in Gaza, but I had seen pictures of the casualties.

Sayf must have seen me wince. “I still do physical therapy, but the doctor says I’m cleared for anything. I should have died, though, so it feels like I’m on borrowed time. When I take people to the Libyan border or the Gaza crossing, I know that the last two and a half years have been a gift. I’m not afraid to die. I should be dead already.”

I shook my head slowly. “I think what you do is amazing. I’ve thought about journalism, but I don’t have the guts.”

“What do you mean? You stayed in Egypt through the revolution, went down to Tahrir Square every day. That’s courage. And you wrote those articles about what you’d seen, the people you had talked to. They were good.”

“That was serendipity. Right place, right time, and a friend who knew an editor looking for exactly my story. If I had known what would go down in Cairo, I wouldn’t have come, wouldn’t have stayed.”

“But you did stay.”

I shook my head. “It’s not the same. And if I hadn’t had Paul and the others in my program to go down to the Square with, to keep my enthusiasm up and the fear at bay….” I shrugged. “I wouldn’t have done this on my own. But Paul was absolutely right when he said that we would be able to make our careers on being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. When I get back to the States to my teaching job, they’ve already asked me to start putting together a 300-level seminar on the Arab revolutions for next spring semester.” I leaned back on the arm of the couch. “So I should take advantage of this moment to say, tell me everything you’ve learned about Libya!”

§

We talked until long after the coffee and truffles were gone. Finally, Sayf sat up on his end of the couch. “I’m having a great time, but I’m starving.”

“Yeah,” I said, suddenly realizing I was hungry, too. “Where do you want to eat?”

“If you trust me, there’s a little place I love.” Sayf was watching my expression. “It’s not really a restaurant. I mean, it’s a restaurant, but it’s not meant for us. There’s a big Sudanese population here in Cairo. They’re not always made welcome, so they’ve built their own community here, and they take care of each other. They have this place where they cook for each other. Sudanese food like their mothers cooked back home. It’s mostly single Sudanese men in Cairo, but I think someone’s wife does most of the cooking.”

“That sounds amazing. Let’s go.”

He grinned, looking down over my open shirtdress. “I guess it’s just as well you wore that thing, after all.”

I shrugged. “In this town, a khawaaga’s got to be prepared for anything.”

Sayf smiled at me for a long moment, his dark eyes mesmerizing with their long lashes and the intensity of his regard.

Then I started to get self-conscious. “What?” I asked.

He shrugged, shook his head. “Let’s eat.”

§

Sayf snagged another cab and took us over Tahrir Square and down the busy Talaat Harb shopping street. At a particularly busy corner where wrought-iron fencing kept the people on the sidewalks, Sayf paid the cabbie and we negotiated our way along the curb to a break in the fencing.

He turned to me for a moment and asked, “Trust me?”

“Yeah.”

He led me into an alley, and then around an abrupt corner into a narrower alley. We passed a family of five coming out, tall and slim and kohl-dark. Sayf nodded. “As-salaamu ‘alaikum.” Peace be with you.

Wa-‘alaikum as-salaam,” they all muttered back, looking confused to see us.

Sayf led me through a wrought-iron door painted robin’s-egg blue and into a large, brightly lit room with whitewashed walls and long plastic tables spread with checkered red plastic tablecloths. The clientele were all men with deep mahogany and cocoa skin, tall and skinny with loose-fitting caftans. They seemed confused to see us there, especially me, but the server knew Sayf by name. Young and awkward with a touch of wary hero worship in his sharp black eyes, he shook Sayf’s hand and gestured to a table. They spoke rapidly in the Egyptian dialect. I understood they were talking about food, but couldn’t follow the details.

As we sat down, Sayf explained, “They don’t really have a menu, so he’ll bring us a variety of what they’re serving today.”

The food came out in plastic bowls and dented metal dishes I had seen country housewives across the Levant use to cook and serve their families. Each dish came covered in thin, spongy bread, on a scarred plastic cafeteria tray with a spray of parsley and green onions plopped between the bowls.

It was all delicious. It was all delicious: roasted chicken, stewed vegetables, and oily potatoes accompanied by some sort of bean paste we scooped with spongy bread. We guessed at the spices and the shredded vegetables in the soup.

§

When we were done, Sayf looked up, caught the server’s eye, and sliced the side of his right hand across the palm of his left, Arabic for “check, please!”

I reached for my bag. “Do you want to split this one?”

Not meeting my eyes, his voice tight in a way I had never heard Sayf speak before, he said, “I always hate this part.”

Just like that, my shoulders and chest tensed with a sudden realization. I was on a date. “Ya, Habibi!” I exclaimed, louder than I had intended.

Startled, Sayf met my wide eyes.

I looked away. Hands tensing on my thighs, body canted forward, voice low, I asked, “Are we on a date?”

He turned his head, giving me the side-eye. “Aren’t we?” I could feel him watching me, but when I glanced up, I still couldn’t meet his eyes. Then he laughed, long and hearty.

Our gangly server came over then, still scribbling on his little notepad. Sayf handed him a guinea note, too large, saying, “It’s for you, Habibi. Be well, you and your brothers and sisters.”

I wasn’t really listening, though. I was scrubbing my suddenly damp and clammy palms on the unbuttoned skirt of my shirtdress. My mind was racing. This was a date? He’d been suggesting for weeks that we meet for coffee. He knew I was leaving the country at the end of the month. Why would he ask me out on a date?

If this was a date, I thought, I shouldn’t have worn this ugly thing. I should have worn nicer earrings, spent time on my hair. Did I have mascara at home? Lip gloss in my bag? Probably not.

Shit. I was on a date. I was on a date with an Egyptian.

Maybe that was why I had been blindsided. I had only recently started to consider that my personal rule about never dating an Arab was … well, racist. Realizing it, though, had only been a start. Changing my behavior was a step I hadn’t yet given due consideration.

I heard my name and realized, with a shake to clear my head, that it was not the first time he had said it. “Yalla?” Sayf asked.

Yalla. Let’s go.” I grabbed my bag and got up just as Sayf did. I smiled at the young waiter. “Allah ya’teek al-‘afia.

“And blessings on you,” he replied.

§

On the curb, Sayf’s eyes on the busy street, looking for a cab, he said, “Used to be, this was early for Cairo. Then, I would have said we should go get coffee and sheesha in Mahrani Street. But it’s almost curfew and SCAF doesn’t mess around.” He meant the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who had taken over governance of Egypt after Mubarak.

A cab stopped, and Sayf opened the door for me. “Slide over.” Like before, he ignored local custom and sat in the back seat with me. Should I have known since that first cab ride of the evening that we were on a date?

To the cabbie, Sayf said, “Tahrir Square.” Then, he switched to German. “I should take you home before curfew. But I’m going to take a chance and say, we could have coffee at my place.”

It took my brain a long moment to catch up. First, I had to make the switch to German and recognize that he was protecting my reputation by making sure the driver wouldn’t understand us. Then, I had to translate the word for curfew, vocabulary I had never needed in Heidelberg. Slowly, I said in German, “I have class tomorrow. I should be going home.”

“Just coffee,” he said. “There’s no pressure. But it’s too early. Damned shit curfew.”

How far did I trust him? Pretty far, but this would be … different, unchaperoned, and I was khawaaga—a white woman alone abroad, too often perceived as a rich target.

Looking into his face, I could see that he was nervous, which was somehow the signal I needed. “I trust you,” I said. “Let’s have coffee at your place.”

He waited silently, as if offering me an out.

Yalla. Let’s do it.” The small knot of tension in my stomach slowly transformed into a growing hum of anticipation.

He gave the cabbie new directions.

§

In his building, Sayf had the scariest dark little cabinet elevator. I would have preferred the stairs to his fourth-floor apartment, but he said his back injury was hurting and promised we would make it up in the elevator.

His apartment was full of heavy, dark wood furniture, ashtrays, and crumpled cigarette packs. Even with all the windows open, the smell of tobacco smoke lingered everywhere. Sayf made Turkish coffee, and we sat with our little coffee cups on either end of a small, almost Victorian, wooden couch. I could feel the springs under me through the thin cushions.

Sayf pinned me with an intense, but also amused look. “You really didn’t know that this was a date?”

I felt my cheeks heating and wanted to look away, but couldn’t. “You said coffee. You’ve been saying, ‘Let’s get coffee,’ for weeks. That’s what you said. Just coffee.”

After a long, frozen moment, Sayf laughed. “Ya, Habibi! Coffee is never just coffee. Coffee is always a date.”

“I’ve never been on a date with an Egyptian before,” I said.

He laughed harder. “That’s not Egyptian. I learned that at boarding school in Switzerland!”

For a long moment, I was silent. He must think I was an idiot. I realized I was plucking at the buttonholes on my shirtdress. Breathing deeply, I flattened my palms against my thighs.

Smile softening, Sayf shifted on the couch, slouching a little, his warm knee pressing against my calf where I had rested it up on the couch. Softly, he asked, “You really didn’t know?”

I shook my head.

He threw up his hands. “I’ve been flirting with you for a year. Since the night we met on that boat. You didn’t know?”

“I’m terrible about these things.” While that was true, I knew it was only half the story. When Sayf and I had first met, I couldn’t have even entertained the thought of flirting with him. It wouldn’t have mattered how beautiful his eyes, how perfectly European he behaved. He was still Egyptian. “Can we talk about something else?”

§

We talked for more than an hour, and as we did, I kept asking myself the same questions. Had I changed? How much had I changed? Would I really consider dating Sayf? Every time his knee shifted against my calf, I wondered if I was really open to intimacy with an Arab—with Sayf. The curl of intrigued desire low in my belly said yes, but my brain still balked.

Finally, I said, “I’m glad I didn’t know this was a date. I don’t know if I would have done any of this or trusted you if I had realized beforehand that we were on a date. And I’ve had a really great time tonight, Sayf.”

I pressed my palms down on my thighs, straightening my spine on a deep breath. “But I do have class tomorrow, and I really should go home.”

As I got up, Sayf did, too. “The curfew, remember? You should stay. I have a huge bed. It wouldn’t be weird. You won’t even know I’m there.”

“No. Thank you, but I need to go home.”

“But the army—”

“I’ll be fine. I’m a young American girl. It’s probably never been safer for me to walk home at”—I glanced at my watch, eyebrows rising in surprise—“one in the morning. Nothing will happen to a khawaaga like me.”

Sayf stepped suddenly into my personal space, clasping warm, strong hands on my shoulders. The burnt tobacco scent of him intensified. “You’re not a khawaaga,” he said with sudden vehemence. “Don’t say that. Don’t let anyone call you that again. I’ve dated Arab women and European women and you … you’re different. You’re as Arab as I am European.” Then his mouth brushed mine.

I kissed him back. I had been wondering about this moment for more than an hour. When it came time to choose, I wanted that kiss.

Abruptly, he stepped away. “I really think you should stay, and I promise I won’t do that again, but I think you should stay.”

I knew if I stayed, I wouldn’t be able to resist another kiss and would be frustrated with both of us if I didn’t get it. Although I was ready to consider the possibility of a relationship, I needed time and space to think. “I really need to go.”

“When can I see you again?” he asked quickly, stuffing his hands in the back pockets of his jeans.

“It’s the end of the semester. I have a lot of papers to write, and in Arabic, which takes five times as long. It might not be until Thursday.”

“Thursday? That’s a long time.”

“I have a lot of work.” It was a thin excuse, and we both knew it.

He didn’t push it, though, as we moved towards the door. “Be very careful, okay?” he said. “Come back here if you have to. And text me to let me know you made it home.” He leaned in to give me his usual European air kisses, but this time he pressed his cheeks a little closer, a little longer.

§

It wasn’t until I was on Mohammad Mahmoud Street, halfway home through the cool, deserted nighttime city, that I realized how insufferably arrogant I had been to assume that, as an American, I would be safe.

Maybe I was right. I had passed several checkpoints, a couple patrols, and the soldiers had only nodded, never saying more than, “Good night, Madame.” That I had accurately assessed the situation did not make me any less the ugly, entitled American. I wouldn’t be surprised if I never heard from Sayf again.

I was wrong, though, at least about Sayf. When I was finally home, I pulled out my little blue Nokia to find that he had already texted me. “I’m not sure I can wait until Thursday.”

“Me, neither.”

 

Maryah Converse was a Peace Corps educator in Jordan, 2004–2006, and studied in Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. She has written for NewMatilda.com, Forage Poetry Journal, From Sac, New Madrid Journal, Pilcrow & Dagger, and Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. She pays the bills by grant writing in Manhattan, teaches Arabic, and blogs intermittently about the Arab world at desertmirror.blogspot.com.