Magazine article New Internationalist

The Return

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Return

Article excerpt

It was late summer and I had^ust returned from a short trip to Prague where I'd gone for the funeral of an old friend and had more fun than I've had in Cairo in ages. Prague was green, moist and smelled like a florist's; beauty greeted my eyes wherever they fell. The people I met were politically aware and selfreliant, interested in music and literature and proud of their playwright former-president. I understood why Curtis Jones, my co-inspirator of 30 years, had decided to live and die there. He was a radically outrageous performer and wit. The Czechs love rebels and heretics as much as they love a party.

Stepping off the plane I warily sniffed Cairo: the familiar aroma of sock and tuna casserole. When I reached home, the heat was so' intense in my shut-up flat 1 literally had to fight my way in. There was no room in this breathless space for a pair of human lungs. I threw open the windows only to find a vacuum that sucked the very water from my blood. Faint, I mixed a bit of sugar and club soda and knocked it back to boost my blood pressure. I closed the windows, turned on the air-con and, clutching a bottle of mineral water, slept fitfully, dreaming of Prague. When I awoke I saw things in an unaccustomed way. I work at home and am as attached to my flat as a clam to its shell, but I suddenly loathed its confinement.

I arranged to see a friend on the other side of downtown. Dressing for the street, I passed over the gauzy blouse I'd worn in Prague and chose something more opaque, with longer sleeves, and pinned it more safely together at the bust. Outside I greeted my neighbours, the vendors and shopkeepers that sit beside their ramshackle enterprises inhaling noxious traffic fumes day after day. The man on the corner who sells belts had removed his sunglasses and I understood why he'd lately stopped greeting my waves and nods: his eyes were white with cataract and unless I spoke up he didn't see me.

I stopped to buy sweets for my friend and discovered that the local bakery had 'modernized'. Nuts and dried fruits formerly sold in bulk were pre-packaged. Even the sticky sweets, that had long been displayed on massive round trays and carved into pieces on request, were now imprisoned in prefabfJoxes with foil bottoms, covered with lids and Ceram wrap. …

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