The Old Lady With the Cats:

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Do you smoke?” The tout said, avoiding the question.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where the old lady lives? The one with the cats?” Kenzie asked the man selling cigarettes on the street corner.

The vendor was a swarthy character with rough stubble and dark, shifty eyes. He wore an out of date Adidas tracksuit – Kenzie was an expert.

“Do you smoke?” The tout said. “I have a good deal here,” he continued, avoiding the question and holding up a packof twenty.

“I’m trying to give up. The lady?” Kenzie insisted. He was tempted but didn’t have the confidence to barter with the vendor. A couple of months ago he would have taken his arm off. Nevertheless, the cravings had subsided and besides, he’d promised his granddad

The man lost interest and Kenzie decided to move on with his search. The next person he came across, an equally shady individual, was selling lighters. The small plastic items bore logos of such things as football teams and rock bands. He smiled to himself and recalled the old sayings his granddad was forever quoting. Something about chickens and eggs – or was it carts and horses? He couldn’t quite remember and bypassed the man, without even asking.

His next opportunity didn’t arise until a few hundred yards later. A pretty young woman in a hijab was selling yellow and white flowers. He repeated his question and was met with a radiant smile of which he had never experienced. He wanted to buy the whole basket on the spot.

“Yes of course I do. We all know her.” She made no attempt to impose the flowers on the inquisitive foreigner

“In that case, if you tell me, I will buy the whole basket,” he said, smiling smugly. However the response was not what he expected her features, previously a work of perfection, collapsed like an upset jigsaw puzzle

“And what, may I ask sir,” she countered in perfect English, “am I supposed to do for the rest of my day?” Her comment threw him the most curved of balls.

“Pardon?” The single word reply was all he could manage.

“Yes, and what’s more, do you have so many conquests that you have to buy a whole basket of flowers?” She had a point, he pondered. Perhaps he should move on to the next unfriendly local. This task was beginning to get to him. He nodded politely at the pretty vendor and made to leave.

“So, you don’t want to buy my flowers?” She called after him. He stopped in his tracks. There was a stalemate under the hot Cairo sun, as they stood a few yards apart, staring at each other. “Don’t you want to know about the old lady and the cats?” the young woman broke the silence. Kenzie had forgotten about his original mission. He turned and approached the flower seller, summoned up all of his resolve, and hit her with a couple of words in her own language.

Nam, wa nam.Yes and yes”, he replied, cringing with embarrassment. However his effort was greeted with a smile like the sunrise over Giza. The woman’s next words were an omelette of undecipherable syllables. She seemed to know immediately that he’d winged it

“Who taught you that?” She chuckled. “Duolingo?”

“No my granddad,” he responded indignantly, “it was he who asked me to find the cat lady.” The standoff was well and truly over.

“I see. We mustn’t let your grandfather down,” she said, nodding her head.

“Thank you.” He’d considered using shukran, but thought better of it. “May I purchase two flowers?”

“Fatima,” the woman replied.

“Pardon? I don’t understand.” He was struggling with the language.

“My name, it’s Fatima,” she burst into laughter. Kenzie’s face turned from puzzlement to humour as he joined in her mirth.

“Kenzie. Pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand, then looked at it as if it belonged to someone else, and shoved in his pocket. “Well Fatima, I’ll take two flowers for whom I have homes. In return, may I have the address of the lady please?”

“So, your conquests have reduced from a basket full to a mere pair?” Fatima declared in a mocking but friendly tone.

“That very much depends on the recipients,” the man replied, mirroring her countenance. “One being the old lady with the cats.” He handed her a note which had more than enough zeros to cover the cost of the brace of blooms, and picked two large examples

“Follow this road, take the third left and then second right. On the left, in about three hundred metres, you’ll see a blue wall with the door in the middle,” Fatima instructed her customer, reaching in her pouch for change

“Thank you. Please, keep the change. Also this is for you,” he smiled, as she took the flower from him with a look of surprise. Before she had the chance to protest about either action, Kenzie made off in the direction of her pointing finger.

Heeding her directions, he made the final turn, needing no further instructions, instead following the feline column to the door in the sky blue stucco wall.

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