Cairo. Dawn. Feral dogs roam in cowardly packs through the litter of the night before. No taxis: and I am late to a rendezvous about 3km away for a trip going to the desert. After a ten minute wait one lada hoves into view but I write it off as the front seats are both occupied. But it screeches to a halt and then backs up some. A black African in a suit with sweaty shirt and wide undone tie, cigarette smoking in his hand bids me to get in. It’s his ride but he’ll drop me off first he says with a magnanimous wave of the hand.
Hey thanks I say.
He says: I’m picking you up because you are foreigner not because you are white.
If you were Egyptian I would never pick you up. Never.
So where are you from I ask brightly.
Congo. Said so quickly I suspect he is really from Sudan but wants to keep it quiet.
Ok. We trundle along in silence, the driver, a middle aged Egyptian man stares straight ahead. He seems more foreign than the African for some reason and it is not just the language. I ask the Congo man- so what do you do?
Do you see me asking you what you do man? He replies.
I’m an ‘ustler. He says.
So do you hustle women? I ask.
No, man no not that. Never.
He offers me a cigarette. I decline. I realize he’s been drinking all night.
So you wanting me to ask you what you is doing here? He says with effort.
No. not really.
Ok man that’s good.
That’s good. This said almost to himself.
More trundling along in silence- getting close to my destination now. He asks: What’s your number?
I give him my mobile number with some trepidation. He sees this and laughs.
Can’t come and get you through your phone in your pocket- not yet anyway anyhow!
See you then- thanks for stopping. He waves this away with drunken langor. Then says:
Remember I pick you up cause you is foreign to this town like me not because you is white.