After I'd been waiting by the pianos for half an hour, the real estate agent's assistant showed up. She motioned to me to follow her to the other office down the street. She was sweet. We couldn't communicate very well but between my limited Arabic and her limited English, she'd managed to ask me what number my hair color was, so that she could get it for her 15-year-old daughter. I'd tried to explain that it doesn't work that way, that it depends on the head of hair, but finally I gave up and wrote Wella Ash Blonde. Which it may or may not be, but I'd seen them use that a few places in Africa, and it more or less had done the job.
Finally, forty minutes late, the agent showed up. He had a conversation with the assistant and then turned to me.
"She has a flat with a Nile view and internet, only $900. Do you want to see it?"
"What? I thought we were meeting the doctor."
He turned back to the assistant, and had a lengthy discussion.
Finally, he said, "She is getting the keys tomorrow. I will believe it when I see it. We will see the doctor, but he called me at 3:20 and said that we were so late that he was going to sleep, and we should not wake him for one hour."
We were late?
His mobile phone rang. He answered and started talking. The office phone rang. He answered that one too. He had a phone in each ear when two young American Arabic students walked in and asked if he had something downtown for 2000 LE. He was talking to them too, and so was the assistant. I sat quietly and read the printout in the corner. It was a bill to someone for one thousand two hundred dollars, a fee for having found a house or condo for someone on the Egyptian soccer team.
Finally, he hung up both phones. The two Arabic students left. He sat quietly for a minute and then said, "Come on. Let's take a walk."
We walked to another flat. This one was small and lovely, and the floor had been varnished within the last week. The kitchen was tiny and new, with marble counters and a circular sink and a coffee maker still in the wrapper. The painters were inside finishing up. It was really nice, but too early to know if it would have internet. But it was right upstairs from a wi-fi cafe. No view.
"The problem is that he wants $1500 for this small place. I told him that is crazy, that you'd be better off at the Marriott. If you like it, we can try a thousand."
"It's very nice but we should stick with what we have already."
He nodded. A bird in hand and all that, y'know. We left.
"I would like to invite you to Dido's. It is the cheapest and best pasta in town. Let's go. We have to waste time."
I glanced at my watch. An hour since the doctor had said to wake him in an hour. Uh, okay. And I sure was getting a lesson in time-wasting. Days of time-wasting, chasing flats that did not fit the criteria I'd described, and now an entire afternoon spent on paying a man rent. What WAS the point?
He had pasta and I ate a few pieces of bruschetta. Struggling to make small talk, I asked him how I could tell a good employee from a bad employee when I was interviewing.
"You must ask them..."
He paused for dramatic effect.
"Do they want to work or do they want to sleep?"
Ah, helpful. I'll try that. Right after I use my friend Marc's line of "What is your third most important reason for wanting to work here, the first being pay and the second being benefits."
Finally, it was time to wake the doctor.
The housekeeper gave us the keys and went to wake him. The apartment-with-a-view was across the hall from the doctor.
We were sitting at the dining room table filling out the contract when the doctor walking in, in his bathrobe and slippers.
He sat down and started reading the contract. I had 6,010 Egyptian pounds on the table. I got to the blank about when the lease was effective.
"I am writing Tuesday."
He glared at me. "No, it starts now."
"No, a day for cleaning."
"This flat was cleaned two days ago."
"No, there is rubbish in the kitchen."
I showed him.
"Ah... that will be gone."
"And these doors."
I pulled open all the doors in the kitchen. They were falling off. Inside there was a jumble of crap.
"That is nothing. It is fine."
This deal was getting worse and worse. Note to self: Follow instincts. When they say they'll do something and you know they won't, trust your instincts.
Okay, fine, but I could clean a kitchen. Not to worry.
"And the ADSL. When will that be turned on?"
"A man will come by and do it for you. You sign a contract with him."
"There is no internet included? I am not taking this flat."
"Okay." He got up.
The agent tried a last ditch save.
"No, no, your son said it is included. It only needs one piece."
"Well, you can try it." As in "not my problem."
Out walked the doctor. The agent looked baffled. I felt sorry for him.
We got into the elevator.
"His son said it had ADSL." His voice quivered a little.
"I know. I was with you."
He couldn't quite wrap his head around what had just happened. A man in a bathrobe had refused to clean a thousand dollar flat and had reneged completely on the as-advertised bit.
"He said it. I am not lying. He said it had internet."
"Yes, I know. I WAS WITH YOU. It is OKAY." I didn't think the agent was lying. I really did hear it from the son too.
He was in shock all the way down the elevator. Then he couldn't get away fast enough. I think he was mortified.
"I am taking a break from flat-searching," I told him. "Tomorrow, no flats."
"Please be in touch. I am at your service."
He left, and I went to look at a room across the street at the Flamenco Hotel. It was lovely, with a desk and a Nile view balcony and included internet. I'd talk to their sales manager tomorrow.