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Along the Corniche

Along the Corniche

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Published by Pete Willows
I wrote this short story in Cairo.
I wrote this short story in Cairo.

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Published by: Pete Willows on Oct 10, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/10/2010

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Along the Corniche
  Nick had only lived with his step-father for six months in west Texas, when he learnt thenew family was moving to Egypt. The oil company Nick¶s step-father worked for, had secondedhim to an off-shore drilling operation with offices in Alexandria and Cairo. Nick, who wassixteen, had never been outside the United States, except for a family vacation to the µCanadaside¶ of Niagara Falls ± but that didn¶t really count, since he was only ten at the time. And hismother told him Canada was pretty much the same as the United States ± only cleaner and more polite. So when Nick got news he was moving to Egypt, he wondered what it would be like ± hehad only just started to adjust to life at the step-ranch that belonged to his step-father, where helived with his step-sister, who had no interest in teaching a step-brother like Nick how to ride thestep-horses«When the plane touched down on the Cairo airport¶s tarmac, Nick looked out thewindow: abandoned aircraft, covered in dust and randomly scattered along the runway made himapprehensive ± he wondered why the planes would be left that way. The ten hour flight from New York passed more quickly than Nick had expected, and he secretly wished he would nothave to get off the plane. And that somehow, he could fly back to America with his mother whilehis step-family remained behind. After all, didn¶t somebody need to keep an eye on the ranch? Nick leaned forward and looked at his mother and step-father seated two rows in front of him: they were talking excitedly. Jaclyn, his step-sister, seventeen-going-on-thirty, leaned across Nick to look out the window. She spoke, ³see all that dust?³Yeah?´³Get used to it.´³What do you mean?´
 
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 ³I mean it¶s not going anywhere. So you¶d better get used to it.´Jaclyn had a catty way of talking to Nick ± as though she were all grown up, mature andcomfortable in her self. She also had an annoying way of introducing fragmented ideas ± like³get used to the dust.´ Nick felt embarrassment at having taken her bait.In the airport terminal, a well-dressed well-spoken middle-aged Egyptian man held up asign reading Nick¶s step-family name, and the man whisked them through customs andimmigration while other travellers queued: Gulf Arabs, serene in white galabiyyas and redchequered head-scarves, their wives concealed in black face veils; Maghrébian businessmen insilk Armani suits; Frenchmen dressed in khaki and carrying photographic equipment, as thoughthey were on an archaeological dig. The driver took Nick¶s family to a pink granite villa, southof Cairo, in the leafy gentrified suburb of Maadi. And that is where and how Nick¶s new life began.#Three months after his arrival in Cairo, Nick was sitting in the garden behind his villa ± shrubs and trees were in blossom. The gardener had climbed the mango tree, and was knockingmangos to the ground with a long stick. As the day heat abated, Nick heard the far-off call to lateafternoon prayers echoing and reverberating from the top of a distant minaret. A few secondsafter the first muezzin began calling the devoted to mosque for prayer, a second started ± this onecloser. Then, a third: the triangulation of the prayer calls sounded auspicious to Nick. As themuezzins finished their round, the low-pitched sound of croaking bullfrogs began ± this, from the pitch of shaded grass in the middle of the boulevard that ran in front of the villa. Nick was doing his algebra homework when Jaclyn, his step-sister, strolled into thecourtyard and sat down on the patio swing next to him. She was dressed in English riding gear 
 
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 and had just returned from her after-school ride at the sporting club. Nick did not look up; hecontinued factoring the algebraic equations. Jaclyn let out a sigh, indicating her need for attention, and then summoned the maid ± a very tall and very narrow Sudanese woman, namedKateya ± by ringing a small dinner bell on the patio table. When Kateya arrived, Jaclyn orderedtea.Jaclyn stood up and poked Nick in the ear with her riding crop. He flinched and swattedthe crop away. She spoke, ³Nermine says you just sit in the back of religion class, like a totaldweeb, and never talk to anybody.´³Look, I just got here. I don¶t know anybody. You¶ve lived here before. What am Isupposed to do? Walk up to everyone and introduce myself, while I hand out business cards?´³Nermine also says you ask the teacher weird questions, like a total dweeb.´³Look, I don¶t even know who Nermine is«´³Yes you do. She¶s the girl you look at when you think she¶s not looking.´³I¶m not looking at her«´Jaclyn shot in closer like a pit viper and pulled the pencil from his hand, ³then who is ityou¶re looking at?´ Nick snatched the pencil back, ³not Nermine, okay? So tell her to stop flattering herself.´³Oh yeah, as if she¶s flattered by having a geek like you stare at her ± besides, do youeven own a hairbrush? You¶re getting to that age where you¶re going to want to talk to girls. Solet me give you some advice, mister. Girls like guys who look as if they wash themselves, shave, brush their teeth and put on a clean shirt«´³Look at the way
 you¶re
dressed, for Christ¶s sake. You look like some sort of fieldmarshal-cum-dominatrix. Do you take that riding crop to bed?´

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