I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Egyptian immigrants. When I was seven, my parents decided to move back to Cairo, Egypt. We lived with my maternal grandmother in Heliopolis area. Our apartment was on the third floor in a building sandwiched between a local park, The Merry Land, and the municipal court house. It was also adjacent to the sole supermarket of the nineteen eighties, Supermarket Express. This establishment more resembled a bodega than supermarket, as it occupied the lower two levels of an apartment building. Although small in size, Express was large in stature. It stocked a plethora of imported goods. Every Heliopolis resident knew Supermarket Express. Anyone who was anyone shopped there. My sister and I would save up our allowance money for weeks in anticipation of our scarce shopping sprees. We would waste it all on candy and bubble gum. We couldn't find the familiar Hershey bars, so we satiated our chocolate cravings with exotic European flavors of Lion and Smarties. My family couldn't afford to regularly shop at Supermarket Express, so it was always a treat to roam the store and reminisce about our memories of the US.
Our weekly groceries list was replenished from the local produce vendors who roamed the streets of Heliopolis , pulling wooden carts and singing their daily offerings in a voice so proliferating it radiated to the far realms of tenth story apartments. My mother would stick her head out of the window and shout out her order. The goods were delivered by an ingenious transportation device that comprised of a green nylon rope tied to the handle of a deep round basket. The rope was long enough to allow the basket to gingerly descend three stories to the street where merchants took their payments and placed the goods. Retrieving the basket wasn't always an easy assignment, depending on the size of the order. My mother was tasked with the obligation of fighting gravity and pulling her purchase up the very same three floors the basket had descended earlier. I spent many hours running to and from the local grocery story, Al Gameeya. My mother would send me on hunting expeditions to gather pantry items. We'd often run out of tomato paste, garlic, and onions. I would concede to her demands, often numerous times a day as she discovered missing ingredients with each step of the recipe. I always ran the entire distance, flapping my arms and raising my knees as high as they'd go. My long braids danced around my head and smacked me in the face. The fresh air would enter my lungs as I gasped for breaths through smile-parted lips. To this very day, every time I walk along the familiar path, I dream of running the whole way as I did in the past.
It was customary for the neighborhood kids to congregate during summer afternoons and play along the surrounding back streets. They rood bikes around the block and had impromptu soccer matches with stacked up debris marking the goal posts. Between the hours of two and four PM, mothers scooted their children out the door to play in the street while they enjoyed their afternoon siesta. My sister and I were not allowed to join these daily get-togethers. We spent the afternoons quietly cooped up in our glassed encased terrace, listening to the animated screeches and squeals emanating from the street. We laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling, daydreaming and reading Little House on The Prairie, with brief interruptions from the cable cars passing by at irregular intervals bringing with them the sound of metal chugging on gravel and the toot of a whistle signaling the station right across our bedroom balcony. I was always amazed that my mother could nap despite all this ruckus, yet the sound of our hushed footsteps would awaken her in fits of angry rage.