This story is © Arne Sommer 1998/2000/2002.
Cairo is a nice place to spend a million bucks I suppose; if you are in the process of buying an Egypt company. Be that as it might be. I was fed up after weeks of polite small-talk about everything besides the point; yes or no, and the amount.
The secret to this kind of thing lies not so much in politeness as in the ability to cope with utter boredom. Five years had given me a lot of practise. My speciality, if that is the right expression, is walkabouts. It kept the boredom at bay, and had the added benefit of getting me under the skin of the place. Showing off a little understanding of the local culture had saved us quite some money in fact.
Part of the trick is to blend in, as much as possible, but without looking as a-foreigner-trying-to-blend-in.
As it was, I rounded a corner in a rather dismal myriad of alleyways, not expecting to find anything out of the ordinary. A couple of unkept men raised their heads towards me in surprise, and I got a glimpse of some guns beneath them.
I suppose that five years of trawling back alleys in strange places had been pushing my luck. An illegal arms dealing had to pop up sooner or later. I didn't look like a tourist, but my foreign skin couldn't fool the intense scrutiny I got. The local fundamentalists had a habit of killing them every now and them. Foreigners, that is. Mainly tourists, but this lot didn't seem so picky.
This reminded me in some ways of an, until know, long forgotten incidence; somewhere. I could not remember where. My company had been negotiating a take over of a local entrepreneur, unsuccessfully as it turned out. I was taken along to look for skeletons in the cupboard, so to speak. There were none; the cupboards were quite empty. Neither skeletons, contracts nor money. I got to them by inspecting their projects one by one for a day or two.
I usually rode by taxi, but smaller distances are just as well done by foot. I had rounded a corner just as this one, and came upon a couple of men robbing an elderly woman. Without thinking about the consequences I had intervened, despite their knives. They fled, one with a broken hand and the other limping. I helped the woman to her feet, feeling the blood on my broken lip in surprise. I did not feel any pain. She grabbed my arm in thankfullnes. "Go with God", she said with sincerity. She stared at me for a moment, before letting go of my arm. "Go with God", she repeated while I left her.
I really hadn't done anything remarkable before, nor later for that matter.
I had stopped, and they looked as intent on me as I looked on them. Then I heard the sound of shoes on the cobble-stones behind me. I didn't dare to look away from them. The sound stopped right behind me, and I couldn't stop myself from turning around. A middle-aged man smiled lightly at me. "You'd better come with me." It felt like the right thing to do, so I did, forgetting all about the gunmen.
We walked through some alleyways before reaching a main street. He stopped before me, still smiling. I looked upon him in wonder. Something wasn't quite right. "Who are you", I asked. It suddenly seemed important to know. Something clicked in my mind, a sudden memory of the sincerity so long ago. "Go with God", I murmured in wonder, not really seeing where it was leading. He smiled in acknowledgement. "You did. You just did."
He turned slowly away from me, and started walking down the street. Slowly, oh so slowly. It took ages before I lost sight of him.