B herself

Posted on October 1, 2007


About a week ago I was invited to dinner at a new friend’s apartment in Zamalek. I was given the address, and off I set, on foot. I clip clopped along with my laptop and gym bag (I have started going to the gym, with no perceptible effect other than an increased knowledge of the programming choices of MBC 2 and the blow to my credit card). I arrived at the street number my friend indicated. Naturally, six men with no perceptible connection to the building were sitting out front on lawn chairs as if they owned the place. I hate loiterers. Probably because I can’t loiter, because that would make me a woman of ill repute as far as Egyptian society is concerned. Anyway, I asked one if this was building number 21. He assented, and asked whom I was visiting. Joy, apartment 4, I said. Ah, he said. First floor. So I went and knocked on the door. To my astonishment, a middle-aged man answered. He was just as astonished to see me there. I asked tentatively if Joy was there and he said yes and led me past an Egyptian family who were sitting watching TV and drinking coffee in post-fitar tradition. They responded politely, if hesitantly, to my murmured stunned greeting as I went down the corridor behind the man to a room where he opened the door, informing Joy that someone was here to see her. I looked, and there was a girl who was almost, but not entirely, unlike my Joy. But, for a few seconds, I wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps my Joy leads some kind of double life and wears the hijab only at home? And is also younger than I thought? And perhaps I had misheard that she lived alone…Time stretched by as we stood there looking at each other before I began backing away towards the door babbling apologies and explanations where I assumed would be immediately disbelieved. The entire family trouped behind me as I scurried towards the door. One aunt invited me to drink coffee with them, since I was already there. The rest gathered around me in a circle while I repeated, “21b, 21b!” They nodded. “This is 21,” the mother said. “We know that Joy. We’ve heard of her. She orders a lot of delivery in the middle of the night.”

Back out on the street, I was taking no more chances. I asked no less than five people where 21b was. It wasn’t next to 21A. Egypt doesn’t make sense like that. “B!” I shouted. “21B!” Obviously I got, “This is 21A…but I wish it was 21B,” and other such original remarks. Finally Joy opened the door to her apartment 4, and she had the right appearance, the right friend was present, and there was wine. It wasn’t until much later (today) that I remembered that Joy isn’t Egyptian – which could have avoided embarrassment had I remembered it when first being ushered into the bosom of the totally unknown Egyptian family.