I had been living in Cairo for a couple of months when I caught wind of a mechanic who specialised in classic British bikes. His name was Zein Hussein and after a bit of sleuthing, an address was procured for his garage. One free afternoon a friend and I took a taxi to a working class suburb called Saiyeda Zeinab to track down Mr Hussein and see what kind of bikes he had.
Like many taxi rides in Cairo, the driver didn’t know exactly where he was going but after a few enquiries shouted out the window to passersby and a bit of vague gesturing on our behalf we settled on a direction and took off. A short time later we spotted the Brookes Animal Hospital which was our cue to leave the cab and continue on foot. We entered a narrow street that smelled of manure and looked around for the garage. We found Zein’s place just around the corner, a small tiled garage barely big enough for a couple of bikes and assorted hardware.
Edited version originally published in Rod & Rifle magazine.
The bush around me was quiet. Peering down the game trail into the dusk I knew I wouldn’t see anything. By the river I sat to watch the light fade. I laid back in the gloom of the bush edge and looked up at beech leaves falling silently like snowflakes. A grey robin joined me. I had seen them throughout the day, until I had the feeling it was the same bird each time. The sky purpled and then darkened as I glassed the flats. Over the valley the moon rose, nearly full.
I sighed, standing on aching knees, cold now from sitting in damp clothes, frustrated at the last three days. It was too early for roaring in the Kiwi Burn. The blood rushed to my feet and I was momentarily light-headed. As I walked back to the hut the feeling returned to my legs and the moon illuminated the tussock as if by streetlight. In the morning we would walk out. We were going to Fiordland next.
A wedding had been the reason to return, its timing at the end of March the deciding factor. For two years overseas I had missed the bush. An old friend from home was keen to hunt the South Island with me while I was back. Then, shortly before leaving Cairo, a serendipitous phone call; we were offered a wapiti block after another party pulled out.
I had plenty of time to reflect on things on the flight back. The plane was two thirds empty, probably an accurate reflection on the current state of tourism in Egypt. I read a National Geographic article speculating that genetics might explain why some people are compelled to seek out distant horizons. I cogitated on my restless genes as the golden light of a beatific sunset suffused the cabin.
A year ago I was also leaving England in a haze of emotion intensified by a hangover. The anticipation of the unknown was replaced this time by weariness and wariness.
Listen Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.
I had read it before but couldn’t resist the offer of a free book. To be sure it had seen better days; a rumpled paperback copy of The Sun Also Rises. Certainly of no pecuniary value; as well-travelled as an old suitcase, its loose leaves stuck back in place at different times with tape and glue. And like a battered steamer-trunk it bore the marks of its passage around the world; a price written in some unknown currency, the stamp of a second-hand bookstore in Delhi, and an inscription inside the front cover explaining its most recent rehabilitation. The message read:
The mother of all piss trips
Bought and repaired 13/11/2011 for INR150 from a street vendor in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India by J B Pearce and S G Stephens
The book had made its way to Nepal in a fellow traveller’s backpack. Now I was its guardian, for the time it would take me to read its yellowed pages at least.
Daily news reports of more violence in Homs; grainy video shows explosions and be-rubbled concrete. I was there, I think. But really, was I? The name familiar but the town recalled now only in the broadest brush strokes, memories reduced to a series of vignettes.
The fun had to stop at some point and since it had already stopped being fun sometime ago, I’m glad it happened when it did. Yes, the funemployment is over and I have a job. Is this the end for the Stranger? Hardly, from adjusting to smoking in the office (very Mad Men) to interviews at country clubs, life has never been odder. Read the rest of this entry »