Al Simhara… dawn over the pyramids…
There are no roads to the school compound, and riding her broom would look suspicious. But there are horses – beautiful Arabian horses.
Taïga would love it here… She’s always asking about a horse or at least riding lessons…
But the grey mare assigned to her doesn’t seem to want to be ridden. It turns its backside towards Granny trying to look menacing, stomping its hooves and flattening the ears. Granny has to resign herself to ask for a little help.
The horse is finally tacked and ready…
A foot in the stirrup and Granny heaves herself up. ‘Easy girl… still now…’
Granny barely has the time to mount, before the mare sets off, galloping towards the pyramids! Granny is doing her best not to fall.
The mare gets tired of galloping –or maybe is it Granny’s riding skills resurfacing- however, they settle for a slow but steady lope. Almost two hours later, they enter the oasis sheltering the Qasr al-Hayr al-Sim Academy.
Ouch… I wonder what to do with the horse?
But before Granny has the time to ask, a young boy comes running.
‘Ahlan sadiqati! Hey friend! I take good care of horse, Madam! It safe with me! I’m Hassan, and I feed it and water it. Only 10 dirhams! For 20 I brush too! You OK? 20 dirhams? Yes?’
Granny laughs. ‘I’ll give you 50 if you show me the way to the Academy!’
’50? I show you!’ The boy looks around him, then he gestures to another, smaller boy. ‘Moustapha, come take horse! I give you 5 dirhams, feed it and water it! I have important business with the lady!’
He turns towards Granny again. ‘Come! I show you the way. Come! Asre’ee! Hurry!’ The boy turns left around the corner. ‘Ta’alay ma’ee! You follow?’
Granny follows. The boy turns left again, and again and again. ‘Onzori! Look! You have come to entrance Academy! 50 dirhams please!’
Reluctantly Granny digs out 50 dirhams from her purse. ‘You little thief… We’ve just made a complete tour of the building!’
‘You didn’t ask! Shokran! Araki fi ma ba’d – see you later!’ With a happy wave, he runs away.
I just hope he hasn’t stolen the horse…
‘As-salāmu `alayki. Welcome to Qasr al-Hayr al-Sim Academy. I’m Fahad, can I be of assistance?’
Granny turns around. A rather fat man is standing with his hand outstretched in a welcoming gesture.
‘Wa `alayka s-salām. I have an appointement with the director… Sekhmet Hawas.’
‘You must be Madame Grey? We were waiting for you.’ The man wrinkles his nose. ‘Maybe you would like to… wash your hands? It’s a long ride from Al Simhara…’
Granny gets the hint. ‘Yes please, washing my hands would be… lovely.’
The man takes her to a bathroom.
Yuk… I’m reeking! Quickly she checks outside. Nobody in sight. Good. Let’s take care of my appearance.
She draws her wand…
Unfortunately there’s no way to get rid of her aching back…
She even puts on some lipstick!
When she finally is ready, Fahad is nowhere in sight.
Now, where’s the office?
Wrong door… again! Let’s check if I can see the office from up here…
The site is magnificent, the numerous school buildings are nestled in an oasis of greenery, within sight of the pyramids and the Sphinx.
Granny walks over to the other side of the terrace.
Oh, there it is! I’ll just use the big pyramid as a landmark, ha-ha!
Granny walks briskly, in spite of the heat, across the yard to the school office.
‘Marhaban Miss Grey. Welcome! I’m Geb Hawas, I’m a student here. Please have a seat, my grandfather will receive you in a minute.’
Sekhmet Hawas is proud of his new computer. ‘We have Internet access by satellite, very modern!’
Granny can’t help overhearing the two children…
‘What are you doing here, Meret? You know you mustn’t come to see grandfather when he’s working! Now leave. Asre’ee! Hurry up! ’
‘But he promised me he would show me how to play Tumblebugs on his new computer!’ Granny smiles to herself…
Sekhmet Hawas goes on and on about the advantages of a good computing system… Granny looks surreptitiously around her. The office is spacious and opens on a small but well-kept garden. The smell of the flowers are almost overpowering.
‘…Abdelilah El Bayed! You know Abdelilah El Bayed? He was a student here!’ Mr. Hawas beams at Granny.
‘Abdelilah El Bayed? Eh… the chemist Simbel prize?’
‘Yes! And also Majed Al-Nour, who leads the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He graduated here, and now his children are among our best students…’
After lunch, Granny has a cup of mint tea with two of the teachers – Farid Kamel, the History teacher and Shadia Rashid, Arabic literature and poetry. Granny and Farid are discussing the pro and cons of Ernest Simmingway’s “Another Shade of Sim”. Shadia agrees with Granny, but prefers to stay out of the heated discussion – as a woman she’s not even supposed to have read such a sulfurous book…
Mena Lufti, the housekeeper, interrupts the debate.
‘If you please come with me, Mrs. Grey, I will show you the lodgings!’
The rooms are newly repainted in a pleasant shade of blue, and the beds seem comfortable enough… Mena is talkative, and her English is good. She makes Granny laugh a lot with her funny anecdotes about the students…
It’s time to leave if Granny wants to get back to Al Simhara before sunset.
‘Shokran, and we hope to see you soon again Miss Grey.’
The next day, Granny does some sightseeing and in the afternoon she visits the market looking for souvenirs. She would like to bring a little something back from Egypt and the relic merchant seems to have quite a lot of something’s.
‘Hal a’jabaki? Do you like it? It’s Sobek, the king of the Nile! A very special ancient relic, from the Den of Lost Souls… I give you special prize. Bargain prize!’
‘You tell me how much you want to pay, eh?’
Granny and the relic merchant starts discussing the prize.
‘Ah, Mr. Hawas! I’d like to bring a little something back to Midnight Hollow, but I got a feeling I’m being fooled…’
‘La taqlaqi, Mrs. Grey, don’t worry! Tell me everything.’
Granny explains to Sekhmet Hawas what she would like to buy.
‘وعليكمالسلامورحمةاللهوبركاته , Sekhmet!’
‘كمهوثمنه؟…’ Granny listens to the fast exchange in Arabic without interrupting.
Sekhmet Hawas and the merchant negotiates for a while, and finally they settle for a genuine bargain prize.
‘I will take both. Do you understand? Ithnaan. 2!’
‘Sobek and canopic jar? Khod! Here you go!’
‘Thank you, Mr. Hawas. I’m very grateful, how can I thank you?’
‘By accepting my invitation to dinner tonight, Mrs. Grey!’ Granny blushes, but accepts…
‘Yes, Missy! I bought you something I’m sure you’ll like… How is Taiga and you getting along without me? … Fine… Tomorrow morning, at 8 a.m. Yes, it’s a direct flight to Paris…. No, tonight I’ll have dinner with a friend…’
The full moon rises over Al Simhara… Sekhmet Hawas takes Granny to a wonderful little restaurant, where they discuss Egyptian history, antiquities and horses over a tasty Tajine and succulent balaclavas, dripping with honey… Tomorrow Granny will leave for the last country on her list…
Granny settles comfortably in her seat while the plane circles slowly, offering a last view of the desert Madinah and the ocean. She spent a wonderful evening with Sekhmet yesterday and promised him she’ll come back. Soon…
Part I – End of Chapter 26