Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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I've spoken to Ruth quite a bit everyday that I've been in Cairo. The one day I took breakfast in the dining room we ate together but normally we sit and chat in the lobby and watch the BBC. Aging expat spinsters who drop offensive commentary from the cuff while watching a news broadcast is something I can appreciate
I came home late one night to find her in the lobby silhouetted by the old television. She looked and saw it was me then shook a pointed finger to the BBC. Raking her hands through her thick shock of white hair she bore a pained scowl, "Oh it's ghastly, really." It was my cue and I was quick to not disappoint, "What's that, Ruth?" She shook her head staring at the carpet then looked up flashing slits of her pale gray eyes and bounced as she spoke. "Oh it's the Pope! I'm such a protestant maybe that's what wrrrrong with me! I don't know but for the love of all that's sacrrred the Poles are prrrayin' for a miracle! They want the Lord not to let the poor man die. Let him die for God's sake the man's been all but dead for months now!!! They're mentally ill, they are! Aye, maybe I'm too much of a protestant I am! BUT! I'm not crazy I-can-tell-ya-that! First we had that deathwatch of the poor, poor girl in Florida and now we've got this one! It's-ghastly-it-is! They should just die get it over with! It's ghastly!"
I was dropping off my laundry at reception the next morning when I heard, "He's dead ya know!" "Oh yes, I heard last night before I went to bed" I told her. "Oh yes, it was terrrrible", she shook her head. "Terrible! They were out there crying in Krakow disappointed because the Lord let them down
The next night before coming home I picked up some pastries for us. Ruth was already having her nightly cup of tea and then while telling me how she didn't really care for sweets told me, "Aye, but I do like a cake." I asked her, "So, Ruth is the Pope still dead?" She nodded slowly washing back the pastry with her Lipton's and placed the cup quickly back on the saucer. "Aye, indeed he is, and the Poles are still praying I'm afraid. Some of 'em are wantin' him to be made a SAINT! I-cahn't-stand-it!". She shook, then calmed herself and continued, "They bury him like a pharaoh ya know? AYE-they-do! They bury him in three caskets and they put a cloth o'er his head! No, they do you'll see! It's-all-pharaonic-I-tell-ya! They'll even put his staff in with him so that Saint Peter'll know who he's talkin' tah! I mean cahn ya stahnd it?"
When I returned from Luxor she had to hear all about it
I ran out and picked up a kofta sandwich and some rice pudding for myself and "anything that's not Egyptian" for Ruth. No sooner had the elevator door opened up than I heard her, "Oh, it's on come and look at 'er!" I walked in front of her to place the bag on the table as she shooed me aside almost mentally inside the television she was. She was scrutinizing and planning her words carefully it was clear. I hunched forward slowly and quietly opening the bag I awaited what gem she might toss my way. "You know, Christina I hate tah say it, Oh I do hate it so but yer right -- she almost looks human! Look at the hats! They're fahn-TAHS-stick!" We spent the rest of the evening discussing royals from England to Jordan and Ruth had an opinion on every single one of them.
After our serendipitous meeting at the pharmacy I walked her to the cash machine and we hailed a cab to take us to the Marriott
We shared a cab ride back and parted ways as I still had some last minute errands to do before leaving. I came back hours later and there she was lit in the glow of the tube. "Are you going to eat here with me, Christina?" I apologized that I couldn't since I had to start packing and get ready for my flight. She nodded looking at the floor, "Aye, and don't forget that you have to eat at that Hotel Europa when you get to Prague, it's fahn-TAH-stick I tell ya." I assured her I would but said that I'd still see her before I left. I went upstairs and packed and repacked all the vintage caftans I'd bought into an extra duffel bag she'd given me. With about thrifty minutes to spare I went down and asked the front desk if Ruth was in her room
I went back up to my room and opening up the French doors I stepped out onto my terrace to say goodbye to Cairo. I spread my arms across the balustrade of room number 47 and looked out and down as the speeding traffic and across at the green glowing minaret and sighed. We'd gotten off to a bad start, Cairo and I but I leave with affinity replacing the animosity. I closed the doors and gathered up my luggage and headed down the stairs. I paused by Ruth's door but didn't knock again. Surely she's said far too many goodbyes in her lifetime, I thought and I moved on. My car was waiting downstairs the clerk told me. The bellhop was putting my luggage in the boot of the taxi and I starred up at what I thought must be Ruth's room and said a soft goodbye and gave a little wave. I looked up as we rounded the statue of Talaat Harb until the skyline blotted out the Lotus Hotel and we sped off into the night toward Cairo International Airport.
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