I left my building and looked for my kittens. None of them were there. There's usually a black car parked outside whose tires they like to hide behind, but it was too dark for me to see underneath. So I climbed the stairs and crossed the green cigarette-strewn footbridge over the tracks to Sakanet el Maadi. This area of town tries very hard to be American, but it never quite succeeds. From half a block away, I could hear Pizza Hut still throbbing with the bass of some third-rate techno song. Right after I walked by, a moped with KFC painted in bright red on the rear sped past me and smashed into a slow-moving black-and-white taxi. No one seemed hurt, but the driver got out of his cab to yell at the delivery man and the delivery man got off his moped to yell at the driver. A man on a bike with a massive plate of bread balanced on his head rode through the altercation. I was worried that he would fall; and the plate did tip precariously, with all of the bread sliding and piling up against one side; but somehow he made it through without dropping a single piece.
I turned down a side street and saw a group of boys playing soccer with a tan mud-caked ball. They were very good. Some of them seemed to be showing off, bouncing the ball off of their knees and head before going in to score. A little boy in a red Spiderman shirt sat on the curb, watching them play. As I got closer, I noticed a crutch propped against the wall beside him. A few minutes after walking by, I thought (but I wasn't quite sure) that he may have been the boy I saw on the metro on my way home earlier. This boy threaded his way through the crowds of people on the train car, somehow avoiding hitting anyone with his crutch. He would stop and prop himself on his good leg and hold out tiny ziploc bags of black and blue and red bic pens, selling them for only one pound. But I didn't see him get many takers.
Eventually I crossed under the bridge into el Maadi. Here the McDonald's fade into nameless open-air koshari shops with flies buzzing around the food and groups of men smoking Cleopatra cigarettes out front. It's far enough into the city that the sky is totally black, without even the few stars that I can see from my balcony back in Sakanet. There are three men here that sell shoddy electrical appliances (mostly lamps) with shops side-by-side. A few days ago I played them off one another to save a few pounds on a fan. Tonight two of the shops were closed, with rusty iron bars lowered in front of the doors and windows. The three men were in front of the third shop. They were kneeling on a red rug with gold embroidery, praying.
The traffic was much louder here. Cars kept honking their horns for no reason that I could know. I had to turn my ipod up (Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate). I get enough stares for being foreign, but using my ipod seems double them. I try not to do it often, but tonight I made an exception. I suppose that maybe some of these people have never seen an ipod before.
A group of women wearing full black jilbab were setting up lanterns in preparation for Ramadan. One woman stood at the top of a tall wooden ladder while two stood below her. The wind would gust and the two women would grasp the ladder to steady it, but it still seemed to sway more than was safe. A few of the lanterns were already lit, casting a soft yellow glow on the scene. It illuminated (very slightly) a nearby rubbish heap. A group of brown dogs with fox ears stood on one side of the heap, snarling at a group of grey and black and spotted dogs on the other side.
I turned around and walked back by the lamp shops. The men were done praying and the shops were open again. All of the lamps outside were turned on, big faux-gold ones and tiny plastic ones with supposed hieroglyphs painted slipshod around the base and lots of Ramadan lanterns. In the center of it all was a rainbow disco ball; it didn't spin so much as cast all of its colors onto a nearby tree before slowly rotating halfway around its axis and then immediately jolting its lights back to the tree. Above it all, a pair of ovals joined together like eyeglasses were mounted to the upper wall. They flashed green, which I thought was a little ironic.
When I returned to my building one of my kittens (the white one with little black and brown spots) was lying in the road. She wasn't moving. I panicked more than I probably should have. I ran into a shop across the road, trying to puzzle out in my mind how to ask for a vet in Arabic. But when I left the shop, she was gone. I guess she was just sleeping.