The streets of Zamalek were eerily silent. Had I just entered a zombie movie? Were monsters going to emerge from a tower block to chase me down Ismail Mohammed Street? There would be no one to stop them. No bawabs, no shopkeepers, no other pedestrians. I seemed alone in Cairo.
It was six in the evening. A week ago, this time would have been seven, but time had abruptly changed, bringing the Ramadan evening meal an hour closer than it would have otherwise. Clever, these Egyptians.
Shops were dark. Those that were open were abandoned, their products seemingly unattended.
I'd expected things to be a little different during Ramadan, but the quiet in this normally teeming, chaotic city was unnerving.
Then I caught on--there were no taxis. Cab drivers honk like crazy. What goes through their heads? "Ah, a person standing on a corner! Perhaps they are attempting to cross the street, but it's far more likely that they will raise their hand any minute and hail me. Maybe I better honk to let them know I see them. Then I'll slow and stop, so that if they are attempting to cross the street, all the traffic behind me will join the honking and swerve around me, ensuring that the pedestrian cannot cross. Maybe they'll be more inclined to hop in my taxi."
I've heard of single taxis going down the 26th of July Street at four in the morning, when no one is in sight. Yet still they emit cheery beeps every twenty feet. Best to tell the world you're around!
And where were all the taxi drivers? Same place the help at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf had disappeared to. Same place the shopkeepers were. Doing the same thing as the three guards on the corner of Ismail Mohammed and Gezira Wosta. They were all in break rooms or hidden corners in their places of employment, tucking into rushed meals with their colleagues. They'd been waiting all day, working their shifts, unable to sleep off the the hunger as so many do. The guards, like workers all over Cairo, just sat down on the spot at a makeshift table.
Tonight the streets would be throbbing with people.
But at ten minutes after six, more than fifteen million people sat down to supper.