I was in Villefranche. I was in Paris. I was at home. I was walking through Los Angeles. I was thriving and having something of a spiritual moment as the music washed over me. My eyes got all watery — probably some kind of allergic reaction to the curtains, you know? — and it was magic. I always forget how profound an impact music and stories make on us. This one has been in my life for so many years, and I had grown accustomed to the idea of never having this chance. So to be in that audience having this rare opportunity was a delirious delight. I did not take it lightly at all.
Land returned to view and I was delighted by my first sight of Saudi Arabia. The sands were red and lovely. I smiled to myself, getting over my depression, I was flying over regions of the world that nobody in my generation would have dared to dream about years and years ago. So many of them still believe that the Middle East is a dangerous place — and it can be — but so can small towns in America. There is danger everywhere, but it need not ruin our ability to explore or lessen the chance to broaden our horizons. The world is absolutely wonderful and I’m so in love with it. I’m so glad that I got over any cultural fear I had and let myself discover this beloved region.
Nobody bothered me as I stood there. All the touts knew me and knew I had my people. They were nothing but friends and strangers now. I was no longer a source of revenue. I was just a man. I was just Ben standing beside the Nile. I really don’t know how long I was there, but as I did, my life began to pass by in my memories. I was back at Egyptian Treasures with my dad and Donald, talking about Cairo and dreaming of treasure. I was on an ancient computer in elementary school furiously printing pages from the Theban Mapping Project. I was in Barnes and Noble buying discounted books. I was in the Louvre staring at hieroglyphs. I was screaming at textbooks. I was dreaming of the future. I was back on a rooftop in Giza with Lady M. I was wandering through temples with Abdul. I was breaking the Ramadan fast at the Khan el-Khalili. I was dreaming of digging. I was in raptures at the thought of the basements of the Egyptian Museum. I was drinking Stella again with Hassan. I was back by the Nile. And I was an Egyptian through and through.
I don’t mind aging so much. I joke about it frequently, but I feel as if I was “eighty before I was eighteen.” I was a grumpy old man for the majority of my life. I didn’t do anything terribly exciting or socialize or have a dozen boyfriends or wake up on a riverbank with no memory of getting there. Honestly, I can’t say that I regret that, but there are times when I wonder what I missed out on during the course of my tame youth. I feel younger now than I did back then. I still haven’t woken up on a riverbank, but that’s just fine. I have woken up in five star hotels, so that’s better.
Coming to the end, a well-uniformed security guard approached me and told me that I was sure to get a wife now. I smiled and chuckled to myself and replied, “Inshallah.” This pleased him inordinately, and so I was led on a long walk with him into more to those off-limit sites for a bit of baksheesh. Everybody’s charmingly corrupt in Egypt. He led me into a chamber with something to do with Alexander and went to find a man who was going to give me great good luck. I shrugged again, any luck was better than no luck, after all.
“It will eat you, Bin-ya-meen,” Hassan hissed, pronouncing my name in the most beautiful way.
I didn’t care a bit. What a story! I eagerly accepted the beast from the woman and couldn’t believe how strong it was. Tiny though he was, that little crocodile was nothing but muscle and teeth and scales. It was insane. He writhed in my grip, and I wondered how strong his bite was. Hassan was having none of this as Abdul photographed me and my new best friend.
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