Street in Cairo in 1906

I had moved to that flat over two years ago, and since, even the least ill-intentioned of taunts brought me to tears. The apartment was only comprised of the one room, where I had a small table to work on my computer and a window to the outside world. Aside from that, there was a bathroom opposite the room and a narrow, short and obstacle-ridden corridor leading to the entrance.

My landlord lived right underneath me. Sometimes, while sitting on the toilet, I felt observed and wondered whether he might have installed some camera inside of it. That better not be the case, though, if he cared to keep being able to pee while standing up.

I had been looking for a place to rent for a while before I stumbled on this apartment. I found it advertised on the website of a pizza restaurant. “An apartment for a beaver in Cairo’s old city, applicants are asked to keep their cool.” I called the number provided below, but it seemed to be out of service. Hence, I left a message on the site, providing my contact details. A few seconds later, I received an email reading, “I will be waiting for you at the entrance to the subway station El-Malek El-Saleh at 8 p.m. sharp.” “How will I recognize you?” I responded. “I will recognize you.” I was appalled by this last message and what it implied, while intrigued at the same time.

My husband was so engrossed in the TV that he didn’t even pay attention to the excuse I gave him to leave the house. When I was already but a few meters away from reaching the arranged meeting point, I heard a voice whisper from behind me, “This way.” I turned around and saw the wizened face with sunken eyes of an old man. “How did you know it was me?” “Because of what I do for a living.”

He started walking and I followed. He was short and looked skinny. After a while, we reached a house that stood alone at the end of a side alley. The old man had to fight the rusted lock to get the key to turn in it, but eventually, the door swung open with a painfully high-pitched squeak. He then smiled at me and said, “And here we are.” I replied, “Looks like it.” I couldn’t afford to dislike the place, considering that I had already run out of options. The good news was that I could move in right away.

The few residents we bumped into on our way up the central staircase stopped to stare at us as if we had just committed a crime in front of them. I told the old man it was important for me to have a good Internet connection. “You work as a freelancer?” he asked. I nodded and he stated, “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” I decided to ignore him, although, deep inside of me, I knew he was right, even if I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time.

It was probably the work as a freelancer what made me lose my marbles. At some point, I could no longer draw a clear line between reality and fantasy and started feeling the presence of the people I worked for and with through the Internet everywhere, especially when in the need of privacy.

One day, while in the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of something that I first mistook for a mouse. After closer inspection, I found out that it was actually a computer mouse I had misplaced, instead of a furry animal. I hence decided to pick it up, only to discover, due to how slimy it felt to the touch, I had been wrong both times and it was actually a piece of shit, literally the one I had just excreted. To add insult to injury in the most prosaic of ways, I received a reply from Mr. Dibanker—to whom I had been messaging via Skype—telling me I reeked.

My mother used to catch mice by their tail and throw them against the wall. Thankfully, we are estranged now.


Written by Sana Abdlaziz.