Dreaming of Cairo, so I thought, and I was on some concrete balcony at the edge of the desert, with the city in the distance, illuminated by explosions – and the death-rattle of guns and screaming missiles echoed across the void between me and… them.
I peered harder and saw that the explosions were fireworks, lighting up the sky with their crackle and kaleidoscope wonder. And the city was maybe Romford, somewhere not quite London.
I woke up. It was still night. Deeply so. A blackbird was singing. It sounded so frail and confused, so beautiful, and so full of dread.
The icon on the map says airport, but there are no airports in Zamalek. There are lights in the sky though, from over the river at Salah Salem to the Marriott where westerners eat ful. Helicopters, flares and buckshot bring fireworks. The reports say the streets are filled with protestors and their cars – taxi horns blare incessantly through the night. The code remains the same: one blast of the horn, possible danger; two blasts, imminent tragedy; three, almost too late. We are almost too late. The horns never stop. The bronze lions of the Qasr Al-Nil Bridge avert their gaze.
We are waiting for something to happen. It has been weeks. What will be the endpoint of this struggle? There is no point in asking. Not now.
Everywhere becomes a museum, eventually. We should know, we live in one. Grown out of the craters of the past.
There is a natural cycle. The museums are unhoused too, in turn, by new ideologies, new ideas. We watch and wait.
How long is the cycle?
Our theory is that the cycle is as long as it takes for everyone to forget, for everyone to imagine they’re starting afresh.
Fourteen days? Thirty years?
Times change so slowly.
They would shiver if they thought about it. In February, when the squares are full and the bridges heave with sighs, they want freedom, no less.
Have you visited there on holiday? asks a colleague.
They know they deserve a break. Is this just their week in the sun? How long before we know?
Autumn is too long. It is immediate change they want. Crowds touching the city of the dead, North Africa. A distant call to prayer. Soldiers in tanks shake hands with locals waiting, waiting. They call it ‘unrest’. The unrest of years.
The hotel lobby is cool. The internet connection is slow and staff are hovering, scowling, grumbling. There are no flights out of Africa for days – news reports say a week, airlines say nothing until next month.
At the rooftop pool the air is choking thick with smog and the ten-lane jam of traffic across the dusty bridges of the grey Nile is incessant. Horns blare all around, drowning a tuneless call to prayer.
No one reads their airport fiction. They gaze across the sandy sprawl of city, thinking only of maps of Northern Europe – and ash.