Even so, I wait a whole hour before giving up. I use the opportunity to drink water and have one of the power bars that my colleagues at Maadi British International School packed for me. I’m on a mission, you see -- to go for help, discover someone in charge, or maybe see a sign that the apocalypse isn’t utterly final.
I haven’t managed any of those things yet, but I do find a toilet that hasn’t been flushed. I use it before making my way back outside.
Since the moment I left the shelter of the school, I’ve felt precariously exposed any time I set foot in the open. This time is no different. It’s not so much that I feel eyes follow me, but that I’m hyper-aware of their absence and the unnerving emptiness all around me. My padded footfalls on the concrete sound ridiculously loud. Even my breath seems too harsh.
Silence has always freaked me out. I was born in the heart of Cairo, a sleepless, immensely crowded city, that –unless very recently – was one of the noisiest places on earth. I don’t like silence when it stretches between people, and I didn’t like it now, as it whispers in the dust along the abandoned Ring Road.
Where are the cars? Bicycles? Donkey carts? Airplanes roaring overhead?
They’re all gone.
And everything smells so foul. Even this far out in the suburbs, something rotten hangs in the air, like the stench of a refrigerator left open.
It’s not long until I find the clog of cars. Despite our petrol fields being accidentally bombed by our allies during the Medusa war, Egypt has been slow to accept electric powered traffic tunnels. “Habit trails” just don’t work in the expansive desert the way they do in Europe and Asia.
From my vantage point of the bridge, it’s a strange sight. Rounded, multicolored forms covered in a thin film of dust stretch along the highway, reminding me of a dry river bed of stones. The similarity to the serenity of a Zen garden erodes in a flash when I notice pale forms flitting furtively through the highway’s valley.
A strange impulse drops me to the ground. I don’t want to be spotted, though I couldn’t tell you why. Carefully, I edge up to the chain link fence to peer down. A person could almost mistake them for human, and I whisper a prayer to Allah that somehow I did not.
One of them wears a gallibaya to cover his or her head, but there the similarity to a peasant fellah stops. Silver strands of hair reflect oddly in the bright sun.
Allah protect me.