"These rich people, they think they are better than everyone else."
Mr. M, the real estate agent, was not very happy. We were walking to my hotel, to get my passport to sign the contract for the apartment. He was humiliated, having been sharply reprimanded—and threatened—by the wealthy owners of the flat I was considering renting.
"If you do not want to rent this flat, and I have brought my old father all the way here for nothing, HE is going to be in trouble." K the owner had jabbed a finger at Mr. M, who unbeknownst to me had inflated my interest in the place in order to get the parties together in the same room.
I'd stalled for time, said I was taking it and then left the room to go and get my passport. And to think.
"My driver will take you," said K.
Mr. M had accompanied me. We couldn't find the driver so he'd suggested we walk.
"Shouldn't we hurry?" I asked.
"They will wait." Mr. M. was steamed. Making the rich men wait would assuage his wounded pride. "We are giving them MONEY. They will wait."
He calmed down as we'd walked. He told me a thing or two about rich people, then he reminded me a few times that everyone else was lazy and he was not, because he had worked in Kuwait for many years.
I calmed down too. It was every man for himself. The agent was making things up, saying anything to close the deal, like many agents do in all countries. The owner had not meant to surprise anyone, had just brought along his father because his signature was required.
"Mr. M., what would happen if we did not go back? If I did not take the flat?"
"NOTHING. What can they do to me? They are not better than me. No man is better than another because of his money." He waved his hand dismissively. He was almost daring me, spoiling for a fight.
Ah, one less thing to worry about. If I bolted, the real estate agent would not be mortally wounded.
So I had been cornered. Only my pride was hurt, and my wallet. But in the end, if I moved in, what was $400 over two months? An hour in a balloon over Masai Mara. Enough for two-and-a-half annoying wheeled suitcases. A plane ticket to San Diego. And quality of life was important. It was the best apartment I'd seen.
I was annoyed that I had not had a chance to negotiate, that I was paying a premium for the place. But in the end, I'd remember I lived in a decent place in Cairo, not that my cheapskate's pride had been offended.
When we returned, the real estate agent left the room for a while to get a photocopy made of the contract. K took the opportunity to tell me how unlike other Egyptians he himself was, that the others were all lazy.
Yeah, yeah. And all Americans are loud and tacky except me. I've heard this one before.
I had my laptop open to the currency exchange page, to back up the amount I'd decided was the Egyptian equivalent of $1200. Two emails rolled in, to my surprise. I glanced at the little Airport signal bars. I was on the downstairs cafe's signal, ever so faintly.
The neighbor, sporting an Indian appearance and a British accent walked in.
"This is the man who you will share the ADSL with," explained K. "He will collect 62 pounds from you in two days and the router will be installed."
I grinned. Now we were talking. Maybe rich guys weren't so bad after all. I looked around at my new flat, which was above a 24-hour restaurant, down the street from the gym, and in one of the nicest parts of town.
My pride would recover. I picked up the pen and signed.