The thermal blanket that covered the skies of Cairo trapped the smog in the atmosphere and caused the temperature to soar. The woman who stood by the bus door was covered from head to toe in a black burqa and black gloves, with only a slit for her eyes to see through. She was suffocated by the body heat of the sweaty passengers who crammed inside the bus like a can of sardines. The sticky sweat rolled under her armpits and between her thighs and intensified her feeling of heat. The bus maneuvered through the congested traffic and hobbled to the stop. She fought her way out and almost tripped when a passenger stepped on her long burqa’s tail. Instantly, the street was flooded with passengers who raced out from the belly of the bus. In another instant, and challenging the existing laws of physics, the bus was filled with double the number of passengers who showed high acrobatic skills in climbing it, scrambling inside, squeezing their way in and trampling over the passengers who were already on board.
The bus moved away from the station emitting from its muffler an enormous black cloud of burnt oil. The woman coughed as she hurried away from inside the cloud. The traffic light turned red, but none of the cars stopped. She looked right and left, collected her courage and attempted to cross the street, in spite of the moving cars. A speedy car appeared in front of her and almost hit her. The car broke, its tires screeched and the driver yelled at her from behind the steering wheel. She bounced back on the sidewalk defeated by the congestion and inhaled deeply to relax her heart that raced in her chest. A police officer with a whistle in his mouth appeared from nowhere and succeeded to stop the cars, but the light had already turned green and the cars started to move again. The woman dodged the cars and weaved her way to the other side maneuvering between cabs, mini-buses, pedestrians, scooters, bikes and a donkey cart overloaded with baskets of fresh produce.
To celebrate her success in crossing the road, she dashed to the sugar-cane juice store at the intersection and rested her body against the cold ceramic tiles that covered the inside and outside of the store to catch her breath. Inside the store, a guy behind the counter fed the rollers of the squeezer with long stems of sugar cane. He turned the switch on and the rollers squeezed the juice into a container and the pulp fell off. A young boy picked the crushed pulp off the ground and dumped it next to where the woman stood. Flies buzzed over it. The icy cold tall glasses of the golden sweet juice covered with white foam looked so inviting. In spite of being late, she stepped inside the crowded store and stood in line and waited for her turn. When she got in front of the counter, the guy behind it handed her a tall glass. She picked it with her gloves and walked to the corner of the store. The curious eyes of the guy behind the counter followed her as she removed her face cover and gulped the juice. Their eyes locked for a moment and then she smiled and winked at him. Before he recovered from the surprise, the woman covered back her face with the veil, slammed the glass on the counter in front of him and hurried out of the store.