I was glad that Bill had tailored the private jet flight to the fact that there were just three of us and that the flight took a little more than four hours. With the realization that Bill was planning on collecting residences – Biarritz has not been forgotten – I was dreading flying in the same huge plane with bedroom and dining room that took us to New York. Why? Because this would have made me feel uneasy about how Bill was evolving, whether he was heading toward megalomania. Bottomless funds. No price too high, whether you really needed it or not. No one to reign him in: Would the trustees reign him in? Would that make the trustees the Deep State and so launch him into social-media ranting, buying a platform to let it be known that he was the Savior of the Planet? Billionaires gone rogue are everywhere right now: sign of the times like inversion heatwaves. And then he will need security: Bodyguards will become part of his “family.” The “family” will become his entourage. A plane like this will then always be too small. His day will begin like the lever du roi of Louis XIV, opening his eyes to the smile of a chamberlain, ordering his day propped up on extra pillows, an invalid of great wealth.

I’m watching Bill. I watch him change. The Bill right off the Eurostar had not yet tested his limits or lack of limits. Or evolved any theories other than his “Death of the Three Cities” theory. I am aware that I am going to Cairo for Christmas with a Bill I’m not sure I know.

            Still, I can see that he knows and accepts that he can’t buy René’s affection. Or am I wrong? What does it mean to a young guy crazy about photography to have been gifted the iPhone Bill bought him? Bill did seem to accept that René would come back to Paris when he was good and ready. Would a megalomaniacal billionaire have had such patience?

            Bill has of course had a very nice lunch catered, one that we can eat comfortably at the table between the pair of armchairs facing each other. We are served by a young woman in a smart blue uniform. Somewhere in the galley is the chef in chef’s whites, who greeted us as we boarded.

It is like eating in a booth in an old-fashioned restaurant. Howard Johnson’s. My grandfather would only eat in a restaurant where he could have a booth. Makes me smile now.

            We have already shared a charcuterie board. Bill has varied from his obsession with only drinking Bourgogne to have us served a bottle of Saint Joseph just like on our New York flight. I suppose because we’re always meant to be flying in a bistro.

The poule de Bresse truffée last night was another matter. In my memory of Bill’s culinary feats – and he has always been a better cook than me – it sits aloof on its own pedestal. It was a gastronomic first for Bill. He had never eaten or cooked anything like it, especially not half-drunk on Krug. Serges declared she had, of course, but had effused over the glories of Bill’s version. Serges did need to cite the Bocuse recipe that includes boiling and that takes two days. I only know what Bill served up: It’s already unforgettable, a benchmark.

            Back in the high-altitude bistro, our main course is selle d’agneau. We can pick each lamb cutlet up by the rib and nibble on it. Snacking, at one point we are giggling. René poses, voguing his cutlet in the air, and sipping Saint Joseph with his other hand. I think fast: Should I take a pic? Yes. I whip out my smartphone. René mugs for me.

            “Enjoy, messieurs, because this is the last of la cuisine française for now. We will be in Hany’s hands. I think he’ll make sure we eat only Egyptian dishes. I hope that means more than hummus and foul mudammes.”

            The foul mudammes triggers memories. I always loved those fava beans stewed in oil and garlic and other spices – depending on the cook – stewed at least overnight. René knows hummus but asks about foul. I jump in and explain, cutting Bill off, unfortunately: too late.

Bill listens to me calmly. “Now, that’s a description from a man who loves his foul.” I toast Bill’s praise, as the two of them burst out laughing at me.

            “You two should have your own show!” René now has his iPhone out and takes a shot of me, my glass waving, and Bill grinning at me.

            “We’ve known each other most of our lives, René.” Bill gives me this look that is closer to amazement than affection. “I’m hoping he’ll keep me grounded.”

            Oh! I feel that remark as it sinks in. I put a smile on my face as my mind darts from one potential situation to another. For a billionaire, all is possible. I assess whether I’m panicking. Not really. No. It is not personal like a doctor announcing a cancer diagnosis. I laugh at myself.

            “You’re grinning.” Yes, I know I am. “You will keep me grounded, you know. It’s just how it is between the two of us.” What can I do but nod? Where’s my parachute? I think that, and then I say that. I crack them up: They are splitting their sides. I keep a steady smile focused on them as they do that.

            “I told you: You two should have your own show.” René repeats himself. Sweet. But he doesn’t know the half of it.

            I’m not sure I do either. And, of course, there is no parachute.

            “Did I tell you? We are not flying into Cairo International. There is a new airport. Don’t laugh. It’s called Sphinx Airport.” Bill is testing us? René does burst out laughing. I don’t. I state that I’ve never heard of it. “As I said, it’s new. I think since 2017 or something. It’s in Giza, as you might have guessed. It’s very efficient. Hassle free. Or at least that’s what the charter airline tells me. So,” he turns to me, “everything about this trip to Egypt of ours will be at least slightly new. We’ll be in Garden City in thirty-five minutes, so they say. There will be a car waiting for us.” Wave after wave of memories of the madness of Cairo International passes before my eyes. Sounds too good to be true. “It does sound too good to be true. Just like our own felucca yacht from Cairo to Luxor. But I found this charter airline that lands at Sphinx.” René of course chuckles. “But Hany is the one who has arranged the cruise.” Bill now focuses on me. “I almost hope the cruise is a mirage. We’d fly down to Luxor day after Christmas, and you’d come with us, no?” I have to smile and nod. Of course, that would be nice. But I need to be home to celebrate the new year. “I know. I do know.”

            I open my eyes. My mouth feels pasty and then dry. Bill is still dozing. René appears engrossed in watching something on his iPhone. I ask him what he’s watching; I startled him. “You’ll laugh. Death on the Nile.” I do laugh. That wakes Bill up. He clears his throat. I notice only now that there is a bottle of Badoit mineral water on the table and three glasses. One is half full: It’s René’s. I pour myself some water. Bill blinks at me and then checks his watch. “Look out the window!” We do. Down below I see tan desert. “I think we must fly in over the Pyramids. René, you probably won’t be able to make out the Sphinx.” René makes a funny, pouty face. Bill chuckles. I go back to looking out and down. It’s a small plane. I feel as if I could reach out and touch the desert. And then I see them: the Pyramids. René has spotted them as well. I wish I had my smartphone out: The expression on his face is charmingly amazed. And then he just unashamedly says, “Wow!”

            Bill is right. We breeze through customs. Bill buys our visas for us. I’m glad to see that they are still giving visas on arrival. The first time Bill and I went ­– our impromptu escape from French family Christmas – we had to go to the Egyptian embassy, leave our passports with them for a few days, and then come and pick them up. The visa took up a whole page and contained paper stamps and scribbles: impressive, or meant to be, and I thought at the time, very Nasserian, very war-footing. Now it’s all tourism and smiles.

            The car is waiting for us. I look back at the entrance to this Sphinx airport. It has a portico of columns topped in lotus shapes like Karnak. Of course. Still, it’s nice, I think less cattily, and the air is breezy, clear, and quite warm still. It is late afternoon. The sun in Egypt always sets around six-thirty. We’re that close to the equator. The driver tips his cap to us and opens the door. We clamber into the back. Plenty of legroom. He shuts the door behind us and jogs around to get in on the driver’s seat. And then we’re off.

            In minutes, I know we’re in Egypt. Images rush back. Cars honk. The roadside is clogged with small stands. Giza is a small city unto itself. René has a window seat. Bill is in the middle. René is glued to the world he is seeing. Yes, René, this is the so-called Third World. It’s dusty. It’s crowded. It’s noisy. People are dressed in jeans and shirts, or in long galabias and turbans. From my side, I see few women, and the ones I do have their hair covered with the Egyptian version of the hijab. When Bill and I visited, no women wore hijabs. These were Nasser’s women, women of the Revolution, liberated! I don’t remember ever seeing a woman with a hijab, let alone the scary burkas where they only peek out at you and the world through a slit for the eyes. I feel sadness.

            Our driver is skillful, but the traffic is heavy. I suppose this might be Cairo rush hour. And then we are stuck. He turns around, “Maalesh!” Bill laughs and shrugs and repeats “maalesh,” what can you do? “You speak Arabic, sir?” Bill shrugs: “Shwaya-shwaya.” A bit. Yes. I think: It will all come back, the little we both have picked up. I feel I’m settling in. I don’t care if the car is not moving. We are riding in airconditioned luxury. That would not have been possible when Bill and I first visited.

            René has turned to watch Bill and the driver exchanging what amounts to little more than banter. He looks surprised, impressed, confused. I can see that he’s a bit shaken by what he’s seeing out the window. His eyes say to me: These people are poor. Yes, René, poor in a way that Europeans rarely if ever are, I would answer. But he says nothing. He would not want to offend our driver. And then René returns to watching the beehive of life now so close as we sit in the traffic jam that we could get out and walk and be in this world. I can see then that René has already gotten used to it all. You do, and so quickly, because these smiling faces connect and embrace you with their carefree love of life. Maalesh. Why worry. Because unlike India I don’t think I’ve ever seen any sign of starvation in Egypt. Eternal Egypt known for its bounty.

            Pyramids of lemons, mosaics of courgettes and aubergines, rivers of cucumbers: the display on one cart after another is a masterpiece of tradition. The car inches forward and stops. Stacks of flatbread. Piles of pomegranates. I love the idea of pomegranates, the beauty of their color, the jewels of their seeds, but I never buy them. I suppose because the seeds get stuck in my teeth.

            And then we start to move steadily again. “I bet this is the Nile,” he turns to say to Bill.

            “And you’d be right. This is how the Nile looks in Cairo. It’s hemmed in by buildings and traffic. But when we sail down the Nile, it will look totally different, probably more like you expect it to look: people working the fields on the banks and palm trees waving in the breeze.”

            “Yeah, right!” René makes a chortling sound. “I know how rivers are in a city. Still, it is the Nile. Wow!” He’s gone back to looking out the window at the traffic on the bridge we are crossing and then beyond to the river and the city along its banks.

            “You know the address in Garden City,” says Bill to the driver, to which he gets that lovely Egyptian reply, “Aywa!” Yes. Bill chuckles: “Good!”

            We are off the bridge and driving down the Corniche south. I recognize where we are. This bank of the river is home to the grand hotels: The Kempinski Nile, The Four Seasons – hotels which I always thought of as enclaves, bubbles of Western wealth, divorced from the real life of Cairo. I suppose that’s still true, but I don’t know. I didn’t know about the Sphinx Airport. I haven’t been to Egypt in decades. Traffic on the Corniche is running smoothly. And then suddenly we take a left. And just as suddenly we are driving under trees along curving ample streets: Garden City.

            René turns to look at Bill and me: “Whoa, this is a switch!”

            “It is. It is because it’s essentially a European architectural project: Garden City. It has no other name that I know of. The aristocracy and the wealthy flocked to this urban garden, built mansions, palaces. I think the royal family was the first.”

            “Is there a royal family?” René would identify. In the Netherlands, they quip that the Belgian royal family is the only thing that keeps the country from splitting in two. Every once in a while, when there’s a political crisis, Dutch right-wingers invite the Flemish to join with the Netherlands, while the likes of Le Pen invite the Walloons to join her France. That’s always enough to get the Belgians to patch up their differences.

            “There is, somewhere, but not on a throne in Egypt. You’ve heard of King Farouk?”

            “Not sure.”

            “He was forced to abdicate by the army in 1952. Egyptians hated the Brits lording it over them. They wanted to the Brits out. To get the Brits out, Farouk had to go. They toyed with putting his child son on the throne and then scrapped that. Nasser went from colonel to president. The CIA got too pushy, too Brit-like, and so Nasser invited the Soviets in to help build his dream, the Aswan High Dam.” I’m enjoying Bill’s lesson to René. These events happened when Bill and I were just kids, but they were recent-past events we learned in school, points of reference. Now points of reference are very different. Few people remember the old ones, so they cease to be points of reference. Life proceeds by forgetting the past, no matter what you do. Mourning usually is left behind, fading before life’s ongoing pleasures, for most people. Farouk is now only remembered, if at all, as a caricature of obesity.

            Already I see that René has moved on from Bill’s brief history lesson. “Some of these buildings are awesome. Antwerp has some crazy old buildings like this.” René is right to see the similarity, although these wedding-cake palaces are a sandy brown color and not blackened red brick. I recognize Garden City only because I was once in a taxi that took a shortcut through it. I remember, like René, being startled by the luxuriance of its tree-lined streets with their gentle curves.

            And then the car comes to a stop in front of a gate that surrounds one of these mansions. I expected it would have to be something like this, but now stopping and getting out, looking around and up at the trees, peering beyond the fencing and the gate into the formal garden of oleanders and palms, I can hardly believe that we are invited to inhabit this palace to celebrate a Western Christian holiday. In answer to my next thought, Bill says: “If I remember there is an intercom. The days of the baboush in his hut at the door are long gone.” I give Bill a big grin, and then he walks to the gate. I see him press a button. I hear static, but Bill evidently hears a voice and words: “We’re here!” I hear a crackle of a response. And then there is a click and the gate swings open. And then there is Hany emerging onto the great verandah, beaming like a lighthouse at us. “Marhaba!” he yells with a laugh. And then he is dancing down the stairs like Fred Astaire. Bill and I both burst out laughing. Where’s René? I turn and see that he’s helping the driver unload our luggage. Bill also turns and sees that. He’s at René’s side in a flash and is handing the driver a euro note. Is he crazy? Bill is giving him a hundred euros. I see the driver’s face freeze. And then he recovers: “Shukrun, ya rais, ya bey, alf shukree.” He does his obeisances without a second’s hesitation, as if a reflex inbred. And then he gets back in the car and drives away.

            “Bill! I saw that. Are you crazy? You’re going to spoil our natives.”

            “Oh, do you want a hundred euros?” Bill pulls out his wallet.

            “Right.” Hany’s laugh is short. “Let’s get that luggage up those stairs.” I was thinking that this was not going to be much fun. Where are all the bellhops? I’m sure that in Hany’s days of yore there would have been the young lads of the domestics to do this for us.

            “Do you think we’ll destroy the stairs if we just drag our bags up over them?”

            Hany hesitates. Suddenly he sees that possibility. “Oh, they’ve survived worse. Let me help.” For some reason he grabs my bag before I can do anything and has the stick pulled upright. Good choice, Hany; my bag is definitely the lightest.

            Now what? I’m standing with nothing to carry up the stairs but myself. I look up. There’s Maryse. She’s wearing a charcoal gray jumpsuit, belted in a burnished gold something that I can’t quit make out. Are jumpsuits back in style? Were they ever out of style? No clue. Maryse is always dressed one step back from bling: tongue-in-cheek on her part? She’s just emerging from the first floor of the mansion. I realize that the ground floor must be the servants’ quarters or would have been. According to Bill there’s only the cook and the chauffeur. “Bonjour, mes amis!” I’d forgotten what a lovely voice Maryse has, strong but caressingly honeyed. I wonder if she can sing?

            A “Bonjour, madame!” explodes out of Bill like a gun blast. He is looking up at her, surprised by the force of his own voice. René gives her a little wave; he’s compensating for Bill’s bellowing. Bill is at the bottom of the stairs looking up. “I’m looking for the elevator.” Maryse laughs for him, that tinkling of bells.

            “Do you need help?” And then she’s bounding down the stairs. She gives him the bisous on each cheek. “You’re looking better than ever. Come on. We’ll both grab hold and pull the thing up. Oh!” She takes hold of it. “You don’t travel lightly. What’s in here?”

            “Three bottles of Krug, for starters.”

            “Mon dieu! My mother-in-law will think she’s died and gone to heaven. But you’ll see.”

            “Maryse, c’est maman, tout simple. Et elle t’adore, tu le sais.” Maryse gives Hany a melting smile. I can well imagine she has won over Hany’s mother. Interesting that Hany and Maryse are speaking French with each other. I didn’t notice that in New York. On parle français? I say to Hany. “Ah, oui. Maman speaks French and Arabic. She can speak English, but she won’t on principle. She always insisted we speak French to spite the Brits when they were our occupiers.” Ah! I grin at him. I knew that French was the language of the upper classes in Alexandria, that they went to French schools, were taught by French nuns, but I’d always thought Cairo was anglophile. Not in Hany’s family, evidently.

            While we’re talking, René has already carried, not pulled, his suitcase up the stairs. He’s standing at the top of the stairs looking down at us. He’s grinning. Like he’s said twice about Bill and me and our own show, he’s finding us all entertaining. And I guess that’s how we are. I clamber slowly up the stairs. They are wide and not steep stairs, a breeze compared to some of the Dutch stairs I encounter. I step down one stair to meet Hany and take the stick handle of my suitcase. You shouldn’t have, I say to him. “But I did.” His eyes sparkle at me. “Good exercise. I still know a few people here. And they want to take me to their health club in Zamalek. Maybe after Luxor.” So, a cruise down the Nile is really happening? “Yes and no. I have found a suitable boat. I’m still negotiating, let’s put it that way.” I must look surprised. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll manage it for us.” And then I tell him about my plans for New Year’s Eve back home. “Oh?” He looks confused. “I didn’t know. I guess I need to talk this over some more with Bill.”

            Hany has moved on to Bill: kisses on both cheeks and then the American bear-hug thing. I need to let Hany know that he should count me out of the equation. Don’t disappoint René, I’ll need to say to him. Isn’t the cruise down the Nile from Cairo to Luxor for René? He was watching the movie on his iPhone in the plane while we older dudes napped.

            Hany has his arm around Bill’s shoulder. “Time to go inside. Maman is waiting for you in the grand salon.” We move to follow Hany and Bill. Maryse has taken hold of my arm. I look for René. He’s within arm’s reach. I grab hold of him so that it’s the three of us, me in the middle, making our entrance.

            From the outside, the grandeur of the mansion, I expected something impressive but nothing like what I saw as my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness. We are in a three-story anteroom with a grand escalier descending in a gentle curve like a cornucopia. Columns of different styles from Classic Greek to lotus Egyptian. Tall panels of different kinds of marble framed in burnished gold, which I imagine was not so burnished in its heyday. I can feel that René is squelching the “wow” that wants to come out of his mouth. True. It’s not every day that you enter a palatial home like this, one where we are guests not tourist visitors.

            Hany takes his arm off Bill’s shoulder and stops. “We do our best to keep the place in repair. Mainly we try and have it cleaned regularly. For that we use the cleaning service from the Egyptian Museum.” He lets out a little laugh. We murmur our amusement. Maryse gives my arm a tug; I turn to see her grinning at me, and then she rolls her eyes, trying to get me to laugh. I grin but don’t. René moves out of reach and into the center and walks around the anteroom, looking up, down, and around, almost dancing, before coming back to us. He lets it out: He mouths “wow.” Maryse bursts out laughing. “And what’s so funny?” Hany almost sounds cross, but he’s grinning.

            “Hany, is there a way we can get one of the bottles of Krug chilled for this occasion, seeing Maman after all these years?” Bill has opened his suitcase from the top enough to slip his arm inside. He pulls out a bottle and brandishes it.

            Hany takes the bottle with a smile and walks to a darkened recess underneath the staircase. There he sounds like he’s calling for someone. The response seems immediate. He gives instructions in Arabic and then returns to us empty-handed. “Where there’s ice there’s a way, Bill. Your wish is our command.”

            Before we can react, he heads toward a tall double door, grabs the handle, and opens both wings wide. Hany is a showman.

            This will be the grand salon, we’re seeing, chandeliers fully lit and sparkling their prisms of crystal so that the room is gloriously illuminated, perhaps overly illuminated: Persian carpets, great armchairs with lion’s paw feet, brass basins out of which sprout tall palms. There’s a colonnade of Corinthian columns positioned around the great rectangle of the room, and behind them at the edges are floor-to-ceiling French doors, draped with heavy silken curtains gathered to each side, which look out onto the garden surrounding the mansion. It’s the look of another era, one that no doubt predates even the building of this mansion. It is nineteenth-century imperial. It predates the Belle Époque.

            I have the feeling that the room is rarely used and that, when it is, like today, only a corner of it is arranged for an intimate gathering.

            In one corner with two Louis XV gilded settees, two Louis XV gilded armchairs, a large circular brass tray serving as coffee table sits a thin woman in black robe trimmed in gold, an elaborate kaftan as maybe Yves Saint Laurent would have dreamed up for her, her hair up in a gray chignon, and she’s sitting bolt upright. She is looking toward us as we enter. “Mais, venez, venez. Je vous attend! Bonjour et bienvenue!” Her voice is sharp, her accent impeccable, and there is a strength to her vocal cords that should come from a bigger woman. She seems to be going to stand as we enter but then doesn’t. Her face lights up as she recognizes Bill. “Ah, Monsieur, comment allez-vous? Qu’est-ce que vous faîtes, quelle magie, pour ne pas vieillir comme moi?” Bill bounds forward, and she extends her arms upward to grab him and receive his bisous on both cheeks.

            “Vous êtes trop aimable, Madame, comme toujours, et généreuse. Merci de nous accueillir chez vous. Je vous présente deux amis.” I’m gestured forward first to meet Madame. I take her proffered hand and am tempted to kiss it but don’t. Too cheeky, I think. Next comes René who does kiss her hand. Bravo. And that elicits a gorgeous smile from this elderly grande dame.

            An elderly man in galabia and kaftan, an Upper Egyptian style turban wrapped around his head, enters carrying an ice bucket with that bottle of Krug sticking out of it. Could it be cold enough already? And will this no-doubt devout Muslim pop the cork. Yes and no. “Shukrun, ya Ahmed.” Hany thanks the elderly factotum: I suppose this is the man also referred to as the chauffeur. And then I know there is also a cook and housekeeper; we don’t see her yet, but of course she is his wife. And they live no doubt in the ground-floor quarters. I’m thinking that, when there are no visitors, this mansion echoes with emptiness upstairs and down. I feel a sadness about the place, nostalgia for a world long gone that I never knew personally but whose relics are everywhere in Cairo and in Alexandria.

            Madame stands up. “And what do we have here?” Her tones are crystalline British. I see the delight on her face. I wonder why she’s switched to English. Hany shows her the bottle before he pops the cork. “Oh, Bill. My dear Bill. What a great pleasure! Ça fait vraiment belle lurette.” Her eyes grow watery. Is she remembering grand receptions when she was a debutante? But it’s just emotion; I can see that. And I can see that she indeed knows Krug. “I don’t think this house has seen a bottle of Krug opened in over fifty years. Tu vois, ma belle maison? On te gâte!” She does a little turn looking around the sumptuous room, addressing it like a person, with love, the kind of love felt for familiar places full of memories. I suddenly feel the full richness of this place where Hany grew up, where he was no doubt born, where perhaps she even celebrated her own marriage, and then just recently that of Maryse and Hany.

            So, where are the glasses? The elderly man in the galabia had only brought in the bucket of iced champagne. I see Bill looking around. Off in a corner of this room I find Hany at a great mahogany cabinet with glass windows. He opens it and takes out six glasses: coupes. Coupes de champagne! I see he’s fumbling. I go over. “Thanks. You take three, and I’ll take three. They’re very fragile, pure crystal.” Crystal with fine etchings of clusters of grapes. Bohemian crystal? “Yes. They were a wedding gift.” A wedding gift for his mother and father? So, how old could they be? Easily for than fifty years. I handle them with great care. They feel like they could shatter in my fingers.

            I give Bill and René a coupe. “Ah, Madame, qu’elles sont belles, vos coupes.” Madame raises her coupe toward Bill.

            “My glass awaits your pleasure, Bill.” Bill laughs nervously, grabs the bottle out of the ice. Water drips on the Persian carpet, but he doesn’t notice. He fills her coupe and then goes around to all of us. I realize that you can only do a splash of champagne in a coupe, really. Bill puts the bottle back in the ice. “I thank you all for coming to Egypt to celebrate Christmas with an old lady!” What do you say? Bill shakes his head, no, and raises his coupe.

            “À votre gracieuse invitation, Madame.” We raise our coupes in toast and then they’re all empty. Bill realizes only then that his job will be never ending. He goes to the bucket.

            René is there ahead of him. “Let me do something. I’ll keep our glasses filled.” I know Bill is thinking this is my Ganymede talking. Luckily, nobody says anything like that. But Bill is smart enough to demur to René’s offer.

            “Merci, jeune homme,” says Madame as René fills her glass first. She is obviously relishing the champagne: Her glass was totally empty. She may have a strong, even powerful voice, but her body, standing there in its black and gold silk kaftan, looks frail, a kind of “sparrow” like Piaf. Is she used to drinking alcohol at all? “J’adore le champagne. But unfortunately, we’ve just been through a nasty bout with the Muslim Brotherhood, and it’s not so easy to come by. You go to receptions here now and you’re presented with a glass of karkade.” She immediately realizes that a few of us have no idea what karkade is. “A beautiful kind of cold tea, bright crimson, made from hibiscus.” She scrunches up her face. We all laugh. “So, you see?”

            “We always had wine at the table when I was growing up. My father knew a Greek family that had a vineyard in the Delta.” Hany turns to his mother: “Do you still order from Vagoulis?”

            “Hany, darling, Monsieur Vagoulis died decades ago. Even before you moved to New York for your job at the UN. You don’t remember?”

            “But the vineyard?”

            “I have no idea. We have lost touch. Ahmed keeps me supplied with Stella beer. He goes to the Coptic shop down the street. They survived the events of 2013. The window was broken, but the thugs did not go inside. Of course, not, the idiots. Alcohol is haram.” She bursts out laughing, but there’s a bitter edge to it. Hany just smiles.

            “Madame, on va arranger ça!” Maryse has been silent all this time but now moves to her side and puts her hand on Madame’s arm.

            “Ah, Maryse, ma fille. Dis-moi Maman. Je t’en supplie.” Maryse leans forward and gives Hany’s mother a kiss on the cheek. I see instantly that they are really and truly fond of each other. I wonder if Madame only met Maryse here this time for the marriage? And then, I’m curious how that marriage was, where it took place, who was there, was it religious or just civil? I’ll just have to wait.

            “How was the marriage?” asks Bill. Good grief: It’s the ESP working again.

            Hany turns to Bill. “Oh, it was beautiful, really. Right in this room. We invited everyone.” Everyone? “Maman still knows a few important people in the government. Well, they are retired, but no one in truly retired. There were moments of great anxiety when Morsi was president. But fortunately, that was not for too long.” Hany smiles then. We all summon up smiles. But who is happy with Sisi? I don’t ask. I decided many minutes ago to keep quiet and just listen.

            Madame steps forward and puts her hand around Hany’s forearm. “It was not easy here, living here in Garden City. Those days of demonstrations in Tahrir Square were only up the road, you know. I never left the house for a month. We kept the gate not just locked but chained. We were lucky. Not everyone was.”

            Madame looks around vaguely and then turns to sit back down on the Louis XV armchair where she’d been ensconced as we entered this lofty room, with its tall jade-green silk drapes synched at each of the five French doors going out, I suppose to the verandah that seems to circle this floor of the mansion.

            “Mes chers amis, I look about this grand room, and here we are occupying a little corner. Like church mice.” I want to laugh at church mice, but Bill does that for me. “Ah oui.” Her face brightens: “We did have a nice big party here now, didn’t we, mon petit?” Oh course, mon petit is Hany. Not so petit. He has taken his tweed sport jacket off, but he’s not wearing that startling white shirt that fits his torso like a glove. It’s a light blue shirt, something straight out of old-time Brooks Brothers, with lots of spare fabric. I suppose body-flaunting is not what one does in Cairo. And there he is with a wife! They do look very happy together playing that role, just as happy as they were as business partners. A perfect arrangement for the conservative families they both come from. I wonder if Hany has met his father-in-law in Geneva yet? “C’était glorieux. I was a young bride in the last days of Farouk. The life after the war was splendid here in Cairo. The Egyptian pound was worth more than the British. Everyone wanted our cotton. I think maybe this was the best of times in Alexandria too. We have cousins there, or we did have cousins there. They were Egyptian, but they left with the foreigners after Nasser put Farouk on his yacht. They could see there was no reason left to live in an Alexandria that was no longer cosmopolite.

            “Do you know Alexandria, mon cher Bill?”

            “Yes. A bit. But of course, not that Alexandria.” He nods towards me: “He does too. We had a French friend who worked at the WHO as a translator who was stationed there. It was slowly crumbling back then.”

            “Oh, mon cher, I think it is still crumbling, at least those grand old buildings, the city around the Hotel Cecil. But there’s a whole new Alexandria of tall, modern apartment buildings along the Corniche overlooking the sea. Somehow, they have decided to let the old beautiful buildings fall to ruin. Of course, look here in Garden City. Plenty of ruins here. I try my best to keep this house in repair. It is not easy.” She pauses, looking out and around this grand salon that could be a ballroom for hundreds, “No, it is not easy. It is hard to find people who can do proper repairs, n’est-ce pas, mon petit?” Again, addressed, Hany smiles over at her. Maryse gives her hand a little stroke. “I know you two will not leave New York City. Why would you move to this fading world? But I hope you have children, and that my grandchildren will come and spend little vacations with their old grand-maman.”

            “Mais bien sûr, Maman. What a privilege for kids to see this world of yours! My mother would have loved this house. You do know that my father thought you were quite the beauty!” Madame’s face lights up first, and then she starts laughing. “Maybe you should take up his invitation to see Geneva.”

            Madame puts her hand on top of Maryse’s. “Your father is very charming. I can imagine that he is not alone in Geneva…” I watch Maryse blush slightly before she pouts her lips. “Un bel homme comme ton père, voyons. But women are different. I have no desire for an autumn love affair.” I’ve been watching Hany’s face during all this. Was he alarmed at the idea of his mother having an affair with Maryse’s father? Think so, because now he’s smiling again, a serene smile I never saw on his face in Manhattan. It’s not surprising that Hany in this grand house where he grew up would be a different person, at least different from the one I met in New York, where he was a real-estate barracuda with the shiniest set of teeth.

            The infamous “awkward silence” now descends.

Hany’s mother in her mansion in Garden City Cairo is much as I expected, a charming relic of a bygone era, yet keenly aware of politics. I’m sure she has strong opinions about Sisi and the current regime.

This confirms my plan to just be a “fly on the wall.” I don’t think Bill has any strong convictions about Egyptian politics. I vaguely remember there was a massacre by the army of Morsi followers who refused to vacate Tahrir Square. I’m certainly not going to bring that up. I’m no friend to Islamic politics or government, or to government with any religion involved. Nobody I know is. It’s one of the things Bill and I sometimes talk about when we talk about things happening in the US. The Religious Right. Trump. Bill is the one who always brings the subject up. We’re of like mind, but I don’t see the point talking about it. Neither of us live in the US anymore.

            And then I think: What if Hany does somehow convince Bill to buy something in Manhattan? Because I’m sure he and Maryse have not given up on Bill. Then I suppose Billionaire Bill will have a stake in US politics. How far would he go with that? Would he fund pressure groups or a congress person.

            I’m back in this mansion in Garden City. No one seems disturbed by the silence that has descended over us. Perhaps it’s the champagne, but each of us seems lost in their own thoughts.

Here we are: the two gilded settees opposite each other, with a large engraved brass tray in between, where the ice bucket sits, Madame seated once again on the Louis XV great armchair she received us in. We have scattered to the remaining seats, with Hany and Maryse in the settee where Maryse can reach out and put her hand on Madame’s hand poised on the arm of the chair.

            This love of Louis XV in Egypt is almost legendary and usually very garish. But these pieces of furniture are antiques, not the gross copies so loved by anyone who can afford them in Egypt. I remember once, decades ago, stumbling into a narrow street in the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, which was a kind of factory for these armchairs and settees.

            René periodically stands and makes the rounds of our coupes, but now I see that this time he is very carefully measuring how much each of us gets. He holds the bottle up in the air: “Empty.” Bill stares at him and then the empty bottle held on high and shakes his head oddly. I have no idea what the head shaking means.

            Ah: “There are two more bottles. And one should go into the collection of Madame,” Bill nods to her and she, as one might expect, regally nods back. But does she have a wine cellar? I have my doubts, but maybe she does. “Should we have another one to enjoy later during our visit?”

            Maryse answers: “Whatever you want, Bill. It would take a while to chill another one. And I think we will soon be going into the dining room. But maybe first we should show you your rooms?” Maryse has taken control. She puts her empty coupe down on the tray and stands up.

            We follow her example. Only René still has a bit left in his coupe; he downs it and places it very carefully on the brass tray.

We follow her out into the vestibule. Our bags are gone.

“Hah! They’ve brought them upstairs.” Who has? The only person we’ve seen is the elderly servant named Ahmed. “Nadra has gotten a few of her nephews in to help, I see.” I wonder where these little elves were when we arrived and needed to negotiate the staircase to the verandah. Nadra? I’m assuming she’s the elderly cook and housekeeper. I’m assuming she’s married to Ahmed and that they live in some kind of apartment on the ground floor. But we see no one. The mansion is eerily empty. The vestibule is dark, and it takes a minute for my eyes to readjust after the intense brilliance of the salon. Again, it is startlingly lofty: I can barely make out the ceiling. It seems molded in some ornate French style. The walls are paneled in long rectangular moldings inset with different kinds of marble but not easily distinguished in the darkness. I can imagine that as you get closer to the ceiling, you’d find decades of dust.

I remember Hany mentioning repairs done by workers from the Egyptian Museum, but I doubt that they bother dusting.

            Maryse already has a hand on the banister and is mounting the grand curved staircase covered with an Egyptian-carpet runner in patters of tan and brown. Bill follows her and then myself. René doesn’t bother with the banister and is only one step behind me. And then he catches up. “Are you okay?” Do I look exhausted, out of breath? I’m not. These stairs were designed for an easy climb at any age and several times a day. They’re not steep. I tell him I’m holding on to the banister, because I’m not taking any chances and I’m doing what Maryse is doing. “You’re right. I just feel I need the exercise. Stretching.” I give him a grin. He grins back.

            At the top of the stairs, we find our suitcases all lined up. Two opposing hallways lead off this deep landing, large enough to be a vestibule in itself and decorate with two large Chinese vases on ebony, maybe, pedestals. Maryse leads us down the left hallway. It’s lofty but narrow and dimly lit by sconces of lotus-shaped glass. I would guess that originally this was gas lighting, which would have been lovelier than the low-watt bulbs in them now. I wonder about the bathroom or bathrooms.           

The bedroom assigned to me is next to the one assigned to Bill. Further down from mine is one Maryse tells us is assigned to René. “If you’d like your own room, René, it’s yours.” Maryse, why are you doing this to René? René bursts out laughing. Maryse then joins in.

            “Do you and Hany have separate rooms?” Bill looks severe as he asks her this.

            “I’m afraid not. We share this quite impressive lit matrimonial. It is a massive piece of mahogany furniture, a four-poster bed with a canopy of red velvet. You must see it. And you have one too in your room,” she says to me. “René’s room is a children’s bedroom. In fact, it was Hany’s room as a kid.”

            “I’ll pass.”

            “Oh, but you haven’t seen the bed in Bill’s room. No lit matrimonial. I’d say a bit cramped.” I immediately suggest Bill and I exchange rooms. “Good. I’ve done my duty then. Room assignments were arranged by Madame. I don’t think she’s going to check and see if we’ve followed up.” Bill seems to be taking her too seriously. He’s frowning.

            “I know Egypt is a socially conservative country but…”

            Hany has been standing quietly listening to all this. “Relax. Maman insists that I’m the boss when I’m here. She made these arrangements in cahoots with Maryse. I think Maryse was humoring her.”

            “Why rock the boat? My dad has not one but two girlfriends, mistresses you might say, as if he had two wives. He keeps them in separate apartments. He has too much money.” She’s chuckling now. It’s a strange sound, this chuckle, and it doesn’t suit her, or doesn’t suit the image I have of her. It’s a bit gross, like a dirty joke. She sees me eyeing her and stops.

            I ask her about the bathroom. “Actually, what was initially your room had its own ensuite bathroom. Now it’s for Bill and René. Sorry. There’s a very big bathroom further down the hall. Do you want a chamber pot for your newly assigned room?” I laugh and tell her I’ll think about it. I think she may have just winked at me; the hallway is dark, so can’t tell for sure. “So, I’ll leave you gentlemen to it. Back downstairs in the dining room in fifteen minutes?”

            “I’ll be waiting at the foot of the stairs to escort you,” adds Hany.

            I open the door to my room and pull the wheelie suitcase in after me. It is totally dark. I feel beside the doorway. There’s a switch. Suddenly it’s stark light from high up in the middle of the ceiling, almost like a raw single lightbulb in its harshness. It’s a simple, small crystal chandelier. I go in, leave the suitcase, and go over to a desk with a lamp and turn it on. The bed is wide but is evidently not what Maryse would call a lit matrimonial. Still, it’s not some narrow twin bed. It’s a late nineteenth-century version of a boat bed. I love it. Well, I like the look of it. I go over and sit down on the edge. This makes for a creaking sound, but it doesn’t collapse. It feels comfortable enough. I wonder how old the mattress is? There is a bedside stand with a small lamp on it; I turn this on too. I get up and turn off the ceiling light. Ah, nice. And then I realize that I have French doors leading out to some balcony, but tall metal shutters attached on the outside have been shut. I can’t see out. There is no light from the garden. I go over and open the French doors and fumble with the latch on the shutters. I manage finally to get it loose and up, and then I push to see if I can get the shutters open. They look like they might be a bit rusty, but that couldn’t be: Cairo gets hardly any rain. No, they just have not been opened probably in a decade or more. I realize I have to be a bit careful. I push and then push harder. There’s a faint scraping sound, but then they open. I can then fold them back a bit. Oh, this is beautiful. It’s a full balcony overlooking the gardens below. The sporadic honking of Cairo traffic is audible but muffled and distanced by the winding of the streets thick with old, tall, gnarled trees. The sun is setting fast. There’s just a glow to the sky now. And then I remember those sunsets on the verandah of our hotel in Luxor overlooking the Nile and the Western Cliffs on the other side of the river, where the sun would descend nightly to its rest like the pharaohs entombed there. Sunset and sunrise in Egypt hardly vary with the seasons: that equatorial thing.

            I turn around and find a bedroom that is probably unchanged from before the Second World War, a guest bedroom back then, certainly. It has very high ceilings just like all the rooms in the mansion that I’ve seen (the ground floor must certainly have lower ones) but, it’s furnished with massive European nineteenth-century things like a great carved oak armoire and writing desk with multiple rows of little drawers so that it feels oddly cramped even if there’s a great deal of space between the pieces of furniture. The room is ugly and glorious at the same time, musty and spotlessly clean.

Hany is an only child. René had been assigned his boyhood room. Now, a married gentleman, Hany no doubt has a suite in the other wing of the floor where no doubt Madame has her quarters as well. This mansion is a world unto itself. I can well understand that Madame never left during the Arab Spring demonstrations in Cairo, but I wonder how often she ever leaves this mansion, this world. I picture her as living in a past that she has managed through force of will to extend into the present and future. Never leaving the mansion would make that possible.

            I wonder if she has ever visited her son in New York.

            I hear Maryse’s voice from the hallway: “Messieurs, à table.” A summons to dinner. Wasn’t Hany going to fetch us and lead us to the dining room?

            “There you are! The first to respond to my call.” She steps forward and gives me the two bisous. “Did I already do this? I can’t remember. It’s so nice to see you hear in this house. I know Bill has been here before, but what do you think?” I tell her the mansion is magical, a place out of time. “Isn’t it, though. And isn’t Maman a darling? She reminds me a bit of my own mother – may she rest in peace – but with a spine of steel. My mother was putty in my father’s hands. Yes, he has a mistress, maybe two of them – I mentioned that already – and he had one when my mother was still alive. She shrugged it off. She spent her days in Genève playing bridge. She ignored the signs until too late. Breast cancer. She died too young.” Maryse is telling me this in a firm, steady voice, dry-eyed. I wonder how close she was to her mother? Perhaps she looked down on her because she gave in so easily to her father. Maryse is definitely Daddy’s girl and probably just as tough. “You’ve been to Egypt before. You know the food then? Maman thought to ask Nadra to produce a royal feast.” I tell her that when Bill and I first visited Egypt there were very few restaurants and fewer tourists. What restaurants there were specialized in kebab. “Oh, times have changed. Zamalek is full of great restaurants. We’ll go. Hany has already told his mum that she needs to get out of the house more and that he’s going to get her to go out to some of those restaurants. She didn’t say no. She just smiled. Come on.” She suddenly grabs my arm. Bill and René have appeared in the hall. “Okay, gentlemen, let me lead the way.”

            In fact, the dining room is in that mysterious, to me, wing of the house where, on an upper floor, Maryse and Hany have their bedroom as does Madame. It is similar to the grand salon in décor and also has great French doors that open up onto the verandah and, beyond that, the gardens. These doors are also curtained like those in the salon, same color silk. But along the inner wall is a great buffet, heavily carved with pillars of dark-stained oak, probably, with a black-veined white marble surface. There are two bottles of a white wine and six large bottles of Stella beer, that Egyptian beer I remember so well, that only seemed to come in very large sizes. And the dining table is covered in thick white linen and is large enough to sit thirty people or more. We are just six. Madame is seated at the head of the table, Maryse moves to her left and Hany to her right, while we are left to choose our places. I sit down from Maryse. Bill sits next to Hany and René next to him. Our places are set with great china plates, white with Chinoiserie borders, and a full array of silverware lined up on either side. Each place has a large and a small crystal goblet, the same crystal pattern as the coupes. I don’t know why the full table is covered with linen but it is. It leaves me feeling that there might be a platoon of guests, maybe ghosts, yet to come. But there are no places set for them.

            At Hany’s place is an open bottle of red wine. Bill is leaning over to read the label. “What does it say?” I can see that the label is old and disintegrating.

            “Interesting. While you were settling in upstairs, I thought I’d have a look in the old cave. Not much there anymore but bottles like this one. It’s from the vineyard we were talking about earlier, which no longer exists.”

            “That’s why I can’t read the label.”

            “Let’s try it. I opened it and it didn’t smell corked. But these are not French wines made for ageing.” Hany pours a bit into Bill’s glass and then some into his own. They pick up their goblets and start sniffing. “Smells old. Not promising.” What does “old” mean, I’m thinking? I’d like to try it, but it doesn’t look like that’s in the offing unless they decide it’s drinkable.

            “Right. Musty.” Bill takes a sip. “Oh, interesting…”

            Hany takes a sip and bursts out laughing. “Oh, this is horrible. It’s a step away from vinegar.” He bounds up and goes to the buffet. “Which is why I opened these two bottles. You may be surprised, I was, but Egypt is now producing decent wines, spurred on, I read, by the tourist trade. Gianaclis.” He brings the bottle over two the table and switches it for the ancient bottle, which he puts on the buffet. He sits down. “Pour that into the small goblet for the time being,” he says to Bill. Bill does as told, and Hany does likewise. I could grab Bill’s small goblet and have a taste. I’m tempted but then don’t do it. Hany pours some of the Gianaclis for Bill and waits his approval.”

            Bill sniffs. He looks pleasantly surprised and then he takes a sip. “Well, well. You’re right.” Bill looks at me. “You’ll be amazed.” Maryse is smiling at me. I pick up my large goblet and stick it out across the table. Hany reaches out and fills my glass. He then fills Maryse’s goblet. What about Madame? She sees me looking at her questioningly.

            “One of those bottles of Stella is for me, when Hany gets around to it.” Hany jumps up and hands the wine bottle to Bill. Bill fills René’s glass and then tops up Hany’s.

            Hany is back to Maman and fills her goblet with the beer and sets the bottle down before her. “I thought you might change your mind.”

            “I told you. I prefer beer. I have become used to it with Nadra’s cooking. We don’t drink wine in this house anymore.”

            I take a sip. I am surprised. It’s fruity but dry, nice aroma. I don’t remember any Egyptian red, but I do remember the white: It always tasted like it wanted to turn into a sherry. Unpleasant. Like Madame, I drank the beer when I was here.

            At the back of the dining room is a great Coromandel screen, a backdrop for Madame at the head of the table, giving her an aura of Empress Dowager of China. Sounds are now coming from behind the screen, sounds of feet on steps. Out comes a boy of around thirteen or fourteen in a dark blue uniform like a bellhop, without the characteristic cap. He’s carrying a large tureen wrapped in a thick cloth. Must be hot. He sets it down in the middle of the table.

            “Shukrun,” says Hany. “It’s the foul. I know you love foul, Bill.” So do I, but I’m not being addressed. The kid disappears behind the screen, sound of feet scampering down stairs. Now we know the kitchen is down there. There’ll be more to come. Yup. I hear feet on stairs. Another kid who might be the first kid’s brother arrives with a huge tray: the mezzes. But, no, not quite. There are small bowls and dishes of vegetable stew and tahini and tamiya, the Egyptian version of falafel. But in the center is a platter: stuffed pigeons.

            Feet on stairs: The first kid is back with a large tray of salads. Both of the teenagers start spreading the small plates around in the center of the table. The platter of pigeon is set before Hany as if it were a roast he needed to ceremonially carve.

            When I open my eyes, I see a murky vision of outer space but with no stars; deeper, I can make out the shape of a rose or maybe a lotus. I close my eyes again and feel the hardness of the horsehair mattress underneath me; I think it’s horsehair because of the odor, a flashback to a settee of my great-grandfather. I finally slept on my back to avoid the pain from the hardness of the mattress, no matter which side I chose to sleep on. I probably snored as a result, but I’m alone in this room. I prop myself up on my elbows. I’d pulled the shutters halfway closed last night before going to bed. Now they are letting in morning light. I can make out everything in the room: the massive oak armoire, the equally massive desk with its bank of tiny drawers.

            I wonder if they are back yet. Hany proposed taking Bill and René out to Giza to see the sunrise. Seems that he had actually already arranged this with the authorities at the Pyramids. Hany expected their approval and got it. I bet the sight was spectacular.

            I was included in the invitation, but the idea of getting up in the darkness before five in the morning put me off. I told them that, and then I suddenly felt very tired; I excused myself and went upstairs to bed. So, I’ve missed this excursion.

            I’m regretting it now, because I’ve slept badly on this old mattress.

            Get up.

            I put on the polyester robe that Bill likes to make fun of. Should I shower and shave? I open the door and peer out into the hall. It’s lighting is exactly the same as yesterday. And now I violently need to pee. I didn’t get up once during the night to do this. The toilet is in the bathroom. There’s no separate WC. Right or left? Right. I see the door. I pad down the hall to the door and open it. “Hi!” It’s René in his boxer shorts, and he’s shaving at the washbowl. I tell him I need to pee desperately. “Go ahead!” He nods toward the toilet.

            I position myself so that my back is to him. As I’m peeing, I hear him splash water and then let the water drain out of the basin. “It’s all yours. There’s breakfast downstairs in the dining room. See you there.” Funny, I thought they had an ensuite bathroom. I guess I was wrong. I didn’t ask him how the Pyramids were. I resented finding him in “my” bathroom. Was I rude? I was in no mood to chat. And then he was gone.

            I’m not hungry yet. A bit thirsty. Should I shower and shave right now? Yes. I head back to my bedroom to get my toiletry bag.

            I announce “Bonjour,” as I enter the dining room. Silly. There’s just Hany, Bill, and René. But then I hate saying “Good morning.” They turn to look at me.

            “Sleep well?” asks Bill with a comic twist to his question. I lie and say, yes. I note that everything – plates, knives and forks and spoons, the tureen of foul from last night, croissants and baladi bread, white Egyptian cheese, black olives, a small bowl of what looks like orange marmalade, and a great block of butter – is set out on the buffet. On the table are only cups and saucers and two great pitchers, one probably tea and, hopefully, the other coffee. There’s also a little pitcher, probably of condensed milk, if my memory is working. “You missed quite the display. Seeing the Pyramids emerge out of the darkness is quite something. The flatness of the desert gives a glow to the horizon.” I bet.

            “It was awesome,” adds René. And, I think, finally an apt use of that word. I bet it was. “And then we went inside the Great Pyramid. Whoa!” Oh, do I ever remember doing that, scrunched over, proceeding like a worm up the slope of the tunnel, and then emerging into the towering height of the square chamber dubbed the King’s. I add that I had felt this strange feeling of compression and release at the same time. “Something like that. It was intense.” René looks at Bill; Bill nods. Bill and I had seen it, been there together, back then.

            “I’d never been inside.” I must be looking at Hany in disbelief. “Really. I’ve been to the Pyramids hundreds of times, with friends, family picnics, but I’d never been inside. I guess we thought it was just for tourists.” And? “It was very, well, spooky.” I laugh. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling. Maybe it’s the body sensing the pressure of all that stone.” I tell him I remember the feeling myself.

            “Ya Hany! Ya rais!” Ahmed has suddenly emerged from behind the Coromandel screen. Hany twists his head around and then turns his chair. Ahmed salutes him with a hand to the front of his turban and then proceeds to tell him something I can’t begin to make out. My now very rusty Arabic was never good enough to follow conversations. Hany looks steadily more worried. Ahmed finishes.

            “Bill, we have a little problem. For our cruise to Luxor, an old friend of Ahmed’s in Luxor, who has a tourist felucca with three cabins for sleeping, is having a problem here in Cairo. He has already sailed his boat up here. It arrived this morning. But they won’t let him dock. I don’t know who “they” is, but it sounds like a local mafia. I think that both of us need to get over there and try and settle this somehow. What do you think?”

            “You know best. I’ve finished my breakfast.” Bill stands up. “Let’s go now. Is Ahmed going to take us there?”

            “That’s the idea.” Hany gets up. “The two of you enjoy your breakfast. We’ll keep you posted.” Hany is addressing René and myself. I was just starting to eat some of the foul with a piece of my baladi bread, delicious and sparking memories. René looks like he may have already finished.            

And then Bill and Hany are gone. They’ve followed Ahmed and disappeared down the stairs behind the screen.