The bearded stranger was a friend of my brother but my brother was in Nigeria. When the stranger turned up in my home town we welcomed him. My father took him for lunch and in the evening the family all entertained him at our sports club. And in the afternoon I was pleased to drive him around our town in my taxi. I had time to show him the sights because not many people used my taxi: it had a reputation.
Our town is al-Mansoura is in the Nile Delta and is famous for its women. When an army of Crusaders, led by the French king Louis, invaded Egypt, the French nobility stayed for a long time in al-Mansoura. For this reason, we say, our blood is partly French and our women are beautiful.
We drove to the university: they wouldn’t let him in. We drove to the museum: it had pictures of the Arabs defeating Louis’ army and wooden furniture saying it was Louis’, 700 years old. We drove into the country, along the road which runs beside the river Damietta. The countryside is flat, the fields are green, the roads are lined with trees and canals. On the roof of every hut sugar cane leaves are laid out to dry in the sun. Away from the town, the air is fresh: we are freed of the smell from the fertiliser factory.
When I dropped him at the bus station, so he could get back to Cairo, he was really grateful for my family’s hospitality and that I had spent so much time away from earning money in my taxi. No problem, I told him, it was a part-time job for me. And anyway few people ever hailed me for a lift: the taxi had been really cheap to buy after it had been dragged out of the Damietta last year with three corpses in it.