The porter’s lodge of number three, Al-Hadiqqa Street is a bedlam of little girls with the terse Amm Rabia in charge. His wife, a disturbing woman with blind eyes, is barely half his age. The guardian of an open house, he watches reality from close to ground level in his corner of eternal spring. Al Fayyum runs through his veins. He always wears a turban and a jellabiya and only ever feels comfortable crouching, either on the ground or balanced on a chair. A legacy from life in the desert beside the oasis where he grew up.
Perhaps because of that, unlike other Egyptians, who only care about animals for eating, he always has at least some of the seven or eight that live in the house, or however many there are, lying on his lap. He throws his head well back to laugh and shows four pairs of squinting teeth distributed north and south in pink gums. At the same time he closes his eyes tight, wrinkling up his whole face. He’s not a man who likes to talk too much and he never talks about politics. Nevertheless, everyone passing by the door stops and takes a seat for a while next to him and he always has a joke ready to welcome them with. Some plain-clothes policemen take a seat and he quickly starts vigorously rubbing the car windscreen.
Since the revolution started the door is kept shut at night with chains and a large padlock. It’s the antithesis of what’s happening on the other side of Amm Rabia’s blue door. For the first time, on 11 February he smiled and spoke. His heart opened wide and happiness poured from his gaunt face as he said, ‘A hundred percent, no, a thousand percent’. That’s how he felt. It’s not that life changed much from one day to the next in practice, but hope had taken its place beside the column in whose shadow he sits.
Now the mornings, when he crouches with his back against it after having hardly slept, light up earlier in front of his watchful cat’s eyes; the mist seems to disappear and his gaze scrutinises the men and women who arrive, the police who walk with downcast eyes, the women chatting. And he takes one of the pussies on his lap and strokes it before starting a new day with a smile