The restaurant was all wood and glass with deep leather chairs. It was about half full but still they seemed alone in their corner booth. Kendra was relieved Bianca forced her to pack one of her slinky black dresses. It was perfect. She’d pulled her hair on top of her head, clipped with an antique hair clip, and let it fall around her face in tight curls. And she had to admit, she’d become quite adept at the make-up applying business. It was only eyeliner, mascara and lipstick, but if Asra’s reaction was anything to go by, she was doing alright.
“Beautiful,” he said when she came out of her room. “I must keep my eye on you. Someone might steal you.”
“Nope. Not a chance,” Kendra said.
They had the restaurant’s signature dish, smoked tomato soup, which was amazing. Kendra ate the hugest prawns she’d ever seen in her life dipped in garlic butter, while Asra settled for a tender loin steak with escalope of foie gras.
After dinner, Asra and Kendra walked through the busy night time streets of Cairo. Egyptians were night people. Shops stayed open to the early morning hours and residents took advantage of the cool nights to get out and move around their city. Cairo was a city of extremes; the wealthy in long limousines and the poor beggars sitting on the street. They walked through the cramped lanes of Old Cairo, through remnants of the Roman walls that had once protected the city while the warmth of the day waned and a cool, gentle breeze began to blow.
Asra took her hand and they walked down a thin, cobbled lane. At the end, they ducked into a tiny café, only four tables in total. An elderly man, in a galabeya rushed to them when they entered. To Kendra’s surprise, he grabbed Asra up in his arms.
“Asra! Oh Asra, my son! Where have you been all of this time? I thought you’d left this old man forever.” He noticed Kendra hidden behind him. “And who is this lovely woman with you?” The man kissed Asra on both cheeks and grabbed up both his hand and Kendra’s. He led them to a table in the corner as he spoke.
Asra turned to Kendra. “This is my uncle, Khalid, my father’s youngest brother. Khalid this is Kendra Miller, she’s here visiting your beautiful city.”
“You are most welcome my dear. I am gone right now to get you some karkade. I’ll be back now-now.” He disappeared behind a curtain and was back in minutes.
He came carrying a tray loaded with three mugs of hot red hibiscus tea and a plate of delicate spinach pies. He sat down with them and immediately started scooping spoonfuls of sugar into his glass. Kendra had never tasted karkade and sipped a bit of the sour drink before adding a few spoonfuls of sugar herself, no where near as much as Khalid was adding though. It had a nice rich taste that she liked. She must remember to take some back home for her mother and Fred. They would enjoy it she thought.
“So how is your father then Asra?” Khalid said. “Still troubling you to run the business over there?”
“Yes, as always, you know how he is.” Asra changed the subject, Kendra thought a bit too quickly. “And how are the politics going, Khalid?”
This was enough to keep Khalid talking for the next thirty minutes. He had strong views about what should happen after the interim government put in after the revolution was replaced. Asra and Kendra listened attentively. Asra making comments here and there. Kendra liked seeing the easy way Asra had with his uncle. He claimed his family was problematic, but she could only see love and respect between uncle and nephew.
“And whatever happened to that Coptic girl Marea? I don’t see you with her anymore,” Khalid said, his voice lowered fractionally.
Asra stood up without answering. Kendra stood too but was confused by the sudden end of the conversation. Asra put his hand on his uncles shoulder. “I’m sorry Khalid, we need to go. I’ll stop and see you again next time I’m in Cairo, when I have more time, I promise.”
Khalid walked them to the door. He kissed Kendra on both cheeks. “Enjoy this city, you have a good guide here. Asra knows this place like the back of his hand.”
“Thank you, I will,” Kendra said. “And thanks for the tea.”
Back on the street they walked in silence for some distance. Kendra felt something she couldn’t quite pull away from her other thoughts. Was it jealousy? “You’ve never told me anything about your past girlfriends. Is Marea one of them?”
Asra walked without talking. He held Kendra’s hand and led her around a wall into a small alcove. The wall had a ledge-like bench built into it and towering on two sides were the minarets of two different mosques. Though the noisy crowded streets of the city were only inches away, there was a serene silence in the tiny alcove. Asra sat down and Kendra sat down next to him.
“This is a lovely place to sit when the call to prayers comes. The voices echo on top of each other like the layers in a beautiful song,” Asra said. “One of my favourite places in the city.” Kendra thought he was avoiding her question but decided not to push him. But then he continued, “I wish Khalid hadn’t brought her up, I thought we were over the ghosts of ex-lovers, you and I. I guess not. But yes, Marea was my girlfriend. She’s a professor of comparative literature at the American University of Cairo. We met at Kings College. But she lied to me and we broke up. It was three years ago now, I’m over it, but my family still thinks we might get back together, including Khalid. We were together for a long time, they got used to her. It was never anything serious, mostly off and on really. More a relationship of convenience. She was Egyptian, I was Egyptian. When you’re away from the familiar, this matters. But it’s over now, there’s nothing, nothing left of that relationship, you don’t need to worry about her. Okay?” He kissed Kendra’s nose and she laughed.
“Yes, okay. I’m not jealous or any thing, I was just curious.” She was almost sure she was telling the truth. “I want to know about you, everything about you.”