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In one alternate life, though, I saw my brother grow up beside me, study medicine, then come to America for an advanced degree. I would show him Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders. But I would send him back to Egypt to fulfill his destiny as healer of the poor.
* * *
Les Nomades was crowded when I arrived at eight. A lithe hostess in a black, lamé gown showed me to a private room on the second floor. Her gait was graceful like Alison’s in her youth. (I try to avoid erotic images now as well as stray memories.)
The twelve guests — local luminaries — eventually sat to a five-course dinner with matching wines. I huddled at the foot of the table, watching Kamal sip water from his glass. Twice, I saw a question flash in his eyes as he glanced toward me: just who are you? He must have seen no corresponding spark in my eyes.
After dinner, I walked up to thank him and take my leave. Stepping a few paces aside, he invited me to chat. We did so in English, he as a courtesy to me, I as a courtesy to my adopted country. He asked shyly:
Do you revisit Egypt often?
Never. I’m hopelessly out of touch.
He responded as a stoic warrior might to an arrow piercing his side:
But you’re obviously still interested in recent events.
It’s the experience I missed.
Kamal shook his head and we looked at one another for some time as if we had reached the end of an immense journey. Then he looked down at his scuffed, brown shoes. At that moment, I realized how little he resembled my brother Walid after all.
* * *
I stopped pacing my penthouse, picked up the Tribune from the carpet, and stuffed it into the wastebasket by the silent phone. (It had not rung in days.) Thoughts of Alison, always hovering near, drifted into my mind as I tried to settle back into myself.
Alison had wanted us to visit the Land of the Pharaohs together. But she understood, as I never have, the force of my avoidance, and never insisted on the visit. The enigma of my self-exile stayed crumpled in my soul. Still, as I stared at the newspaper in the wastebasket, with all its torn and wrinkled pages of dying news, I understood that I had no need to meet Walid Kamal at all. Things fall away from us — but the day of completion lies across the shadow line.