Egyptian Wood

"Fuck you and your monkey." Percival Wittersbottom-Finchley spat out, adding "Kus anta ou K'qerd," for good measure.

The Egyptian merchant yelled back, refusing to be insulted by a jaundiced boy, as his besmirched primate screeched atop his shoulder. "If you want the record, then it will be twenty-five piastres."

"Ten. I'm not buying your sister."

"Then my children will starve. Twenty."

"No, then I will go to a real record shop and buy the White Album for five English Pounds Sterling, and then you will starve yourself. I know the game- you've got some camel bitten son in the back making tinny copies from one record you bought four months ago. It's probably so scratched that John Lennon probably sounds like Merle Griffith."

The sun scorched through Gregory's blond hair until he could feel his scalp starting to peel. The souk was especially hot that afternoon as Ramadan forced everyone to seek shelter from the sun, Greg felt irritable just watching the others dehydrate away, but he studied the exchange of insults and money sums thrown back and forth. He finally settled back under the shade of an awning as the other boy- British, upper class, privileged- continued to haggle like an old grandmother from the country until they agreed on a price: 13 piastres for the Beatles's White Album.

"I was still overcharged," Percival groaned, holding the record against his chest. "Come along then, House. At least, you are halfway civilized."

The boy went back out under the sun, smiling as he followed the adult 15 year old around the marketplace, watching out for donkey dung and begging children until they found themselves in a garrot over a hookah bar.

"Did you get it, Whit?" A freckled, bespeckled boy of 14 asked as he relaxed on a bean bag chair.

"Of course, Beenie, I am lord and savior over these heathens." Whit proclaimed.

"How much?"

"Seven piastres."

" You lie,Whit."

"As allah's my witness. House here will tell you."

The two other teenagers turned to the American boy, wanting him to squirm under their gaze. "Six, in fact. I saw him palm the last piastre when Dahoum wasn't looking." He grinned.

"A little friend of all the world, you are, House." Whit pronounced as a king as the younger boy pondered the sentiment.

"Go on, then. Play it." Beenie said, eating a stolen apple. "I'll set up the hookah."

Greg... House felt proud setting up the turntable as the other boys all took hits off the pipe. He was deemed too young and American to truly be part of their society (and forbidden to actually inhale), but he was tolerated and treated as a bemusing curiosity to the point where they once dressed him in a stolen school uniform and taught him their accent- passing him off as the visiting nephew of a British ambassador to each other's fathers and foreign dignitaries on a dare.

The air was already heavy from the fumes below, but the marijuana smoke soon overpowered everything but the music. The sun began to set as House found himself watching the city from the window. As the stalls all shut down and everyone prepared for the fast to end, cooking spices and meaty odors wafted through the streets, making him hungry too. Food appeared from nowhere (just like the electricity), and they all ate their fill of figs and chicken and dates until the record had to be flipped for the sixth time.

"For fuck's sakes, Lizzie, not the Obladi song again." Whit sighed.

"You take that back- this is the Beatles. Philistine." The red haired boy yelled, throwing a pillow at Whit.

"What did you call me, Dour?"


"Bani elKalab."

"I know what that means, Arsehole." Dour replied, throwing the pillow back. Another took its place until all four boys were fighting in a big pile with House quickly ending up on the bottom, his lip bleeding and shins kicked.

He had just punched Dour in the elbow when a Muslim woman entered the room and threw a bucket of dirty water over all of them. "Go... hhome" She ordered, her eyes piercing as the boys broke apart.

"I need to go anyways." House told them, his American accent returning as the record finally ran out and skipped over the paper. The teenagers nodded sagely, knowing that the party was over as he ran down the stairs and out into the streets of Cairo, safe from real harm by his youth, quickness, and luck.

By the time he reached his house again, it was almost eight. Dinner was gone, and his father was no longer raging angry for him being past curfew, for smelling rather suspiciously like the souk, for missing dinner, for the backtalk in English and Arabic and the few Dutch words overheard under the boy's breath.

As he huddled on their roof that night, hoping for any wind to come and cool him under the burning starlight, he rather thought that his father had been worth it for once- the Beatles was the greatest band in the world, the souk in Egypt always had something interesting, and that he was going to be Whit when he was 15.