The Commuter

It was overwhelmingly hot and the metro was packed as usual. The agonizing heat and lack of space made the world as small as her own discomfort.

The other passengers, covered in many bright layers of clothing yet used to extreme temperatures, nevertheless seemed fascinated by her as always. It was obvious: the lightness of her whole appearance was something here only found on screens or paper, and she was almost certainly the tallest girl any of these women had ever seen.

They were casting modest or less modest glances at her, children were staring, teenagers giggling – the latter annoyed her often more than gazing men.

As usual, she felt like a movie star, because people were looking at her, and because people were looking at her.

She glimpsed out of the window. Normally her thoughts would have started to wander, but here she was fully occupied with her physical existence. Conscious of her every movement, she tried to visualize what she looked like – turning her head, her light eyes blinking, following the images sliding by, looking back again, what would she be thinking of? – because she knew it was what many were seeing at that very moment.

Movie stars are as much looked at in daily life. That, unlike films, reality allows interaction, was evidenced whenever she caught a pair of eyes. She had already determined smiling as the best response: arousing sheer embarrassment towards oneself and sympathy towards her.

Every stop, several eyes dared a last look, several new ones entered.

She chuckled inside when noticing a woman trying to hide her snapping a picture in an interesting maneuver that combined crossing her legs, moving the bag on her lap and lifting her phone to the right angle.

All became black outside. The closing credits came rolling in. Upon exiting she joined the male-dominated crowd, swarming towards the light.

The sun on her skin was as palpable as the warmth of an oven with spits of kebab. She put on her sunglasses to avoid any more eye contact and started taking firm steps, while circumventing missing parts of the pavement, the stocky bodies around her, low-hanging tree branches and shop signs.

It was a runway with obstacles on all levels that stretched out in front of her, fringed by eyes, many of which hadn’t noticed her yet. But that was only a matter of time.

She tried to walk the way she would have walked if she had done it thoughtlessly, rapidly enough to show that she knew where she was going and that the surroundings were familiar to her. The image she was aiming for had travelers and anthropologists on the other extreme of the scale; looking like a local was an unattainable goal, but a long-term expat seemed feasible.

“Welcome to Egypt!”

Of course it wasn’t working.

She kindly offered him a quick smile and continued her daily way, as if unaware of being observed. Caught in moments that would go unnoticed but as the introduction of the main character, only the spectators knowing that it is indeed the beginning of a film, and that there must be some fine adventures ahead of her.

Based on my experiences of commuting in Cairo, where I studied Arabic in May and June 2015.

Image © Linda

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