That is exactly what he said. “You can’t get a better view than this. Come see.” If I had my wits about me, I would have seen it for what it was, the bellhop version of “Would you like to see my etchings?” But I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was shit-faced drunk. I needed a place to sit down before I fell down. Even the sound of the tumblers turning in the lock reverberated in my head. The door sprung open and as soon as I stepped inside, he closed it swiftly behind me. I reached for the light switch but he slapped my hand away. “You can see them better in the dark. They’re illuminated.” And then I felt his hand shove up under my skirt and his fingers fussing with my thong.
“Don’t!” I protested. He pushed me back onto the unmade bed. I wondered how many others he had invited in here to ‘see the sights.’ The too many Greyhounds I had consumed at the downtown Cairo bar earlier were barking in my esophagus. If I threw up, he may be repulsed and leave me alone. Maybe. He began to force my legs apart and climbed on top of me. “Don’t!” I moaned, grappling with my hand behind me for something to use to defend myself. My fingers wrapped around something that felt cool, like marble, with a sharply pointed tip. I brought my other arm behind him to ballast it and managed to swing it down into his skull.
He rolled off me and I flipped on top of him and brought it down again and again. Then I dropped it. Blood was everywhere. This had international incident written all over it. I stumbled over the object I’d used to defend myself. It was a brass miniature of the Pyramid of Cheops. I hurried to the small bathroom adjoining the darkened room and threw up in the toilet, hoping nobody in the hall could hear me, flushed, then pulled a towel off its rung and went back to wipe away my fingerprints. Then I slipped out into the hall. Hearing footsteps, I slipped into an alcove and held my breath.
The person approaching was another bellhop I’d seen when checking in. I wondered if he too sidelined as an unofficial “tour guide’. There was no gaga tourist following on his heels
though, but I waited to make sure. He might have told somebody to meet him in that room to
“see the sights.” If so, he was in for a rude awakening and not an amorous one. He looked both ways, as if on guard, and I hoped he couldn’t hear my heart pounding, because I sure could. When he stepped into the room I’d just left, I turned and tiptoed, then wobbled my way back to my room, bracing myself for what I surely expected would be screams as soon as the other bellhop flipped on the lights, praying that nobody had seen me.
I collapsed on the bed, which had been neatly made, covers turned down, by hotel staff and braced myself for knocks on my door to come soon after, but all I heard was the soft scurrying of feet retreating down the hall that lulled me to what I thought was sleep. Then the
scurrying wasn’t so soft and woke me with a start. There was noise and a lot of it: distant sirens, a scream, an angry shout. I couldn’t garner the equilibrium to get out of bed to look out, to see what was happening. I knew what had happened and I had a pretty good idea what would happen to me if anyone found out. Even thinking made my head throb. I needed a quick antidote to the last few hours. After taking a few deep breaths, I managed to hoist myself into a sitting position, then swung first one leg, then the other, off the bed and leaned against the mattress until I felt steady enough to support my weight. I had to get out of this room, this hotel, this city. But how was I going to explain my sudden urge to check out when I was booked for two more nights? Family emergency? I didn’t like the view? What would be my answers to the almost inevitable barrage of questions that would bombard me? No, I didn’t see or hear anything. I was in my room all night. I couldn’t say what time I got there because I didn’t know what time the maids made the bed and I could easily be snared by that lie. Did anybody see me? I couldn’t remember. No, nobody saw me except the bellboy. That damn bellboy.
It’s not like I wasn’t warned against taking this pleasure trip. A single woman traveling
alone anywhere in the Middle East could be the target for all types of abuse, I was told. But up until tonight nobody had bothered me beyond whispering “Blonde!” behind me as I strolled down what the map called Talaat Harb and trying to touch my hair. I could ignore that and I did. I was aware of male eyes staring at me as I later strode into the hotel bar by myself, a liberated woman indeed, and ordered drink after drink. I had needed this trip to clear my palate after a bad breakup. Instead I felt like my mouth was full of sourness.
Rinsing my mouth didn’t do much to alleviate that but maybe rinsing my whole body
would help; I turned on the hot water tap and then the cold and stepped into the shower, tilted my head back and let the water stream all over me. If I stood there long enough, maybe it would wash my guilt away. It didn’t. I struggled to put my clothes on, putting my left leg where my right leg should have gone in my jeans, then the right leg in the left, then peeling them off in a tangled mess and holding them in front of me so I could do it right. A knock on the door made me drop them in a heap. I wanted to drop in a heap too.
Another knock and then I heard something metallic clinking in the hallway and the door
squeaked open. A hip-heavy woman clad in black began pushing a cart through the doorway.
“Can you come back later…please?” I thought it odd that she was here so early when it had been apparent that my bed had been made sometime the past afternoon while I was out. She scowled and backed the cart back into the hallway and I waited until I heard the wheels squeak further down the hall and locked the door. Not that it mattered since she had used a key to open it. Who else had keys?
I didn’t want to wait around to find out. I scrambled into my jeans, yanked them
over my hips and zipped them, then pulled a T-shirt out of my suitcase and pulled it over my
head without even looking at it, jammed my feet into my espadrilles and flicked my fingers
through my hair. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I took a quick look around to make
sure that nothing I had was left behind and slammed my suitcase shut.
I took a deep breath. Compose yourself, I commanded myself. Don’t look nervous.
Don’t look frazzled. Easier said than done.
I rolled the suitcase into the hall and closed the door behind me, pocketing the key that I couldn’t wait to rid myself of. I heard footsteps and saw the flash of a bellhop uniform before I saw anything else. Bile rose in my throat until I recognized that this was not anybody I had seen last night. He held out his right hand like a policeman at a traffic intersection signaling ‘Stop.'
“I’ll carry that for you, madam,” he said, reaching for the suitcase handle.
“No, that’s okay, I can do it. It has wheels…”
“Hotel policy, madam,” he said with a sly grin, angling, I was certain, to earn extra
baksheesh. I followed him down the hall, leery of any sudden movements he might make, any
unexpected detours. There were doors to rooms along the entire carpeted route and some, I was sure, offered a spectacular view.
When I saw the front desk a short distance away, all shiny teak and tassels, I wanted to
kneel before it in supplication. “I’m here to check out,” I managed to croak.
“You’re booked through Saturday. It’s Wednesday,” the desk clerk said. “Is everything
“Yes, fine, just a change in plans”
“There will be a surcharge, I’m afraid,” he said. “An extra…”
“I’ll pay it,” I pulled out my Discovery card and gnawed on my lip.
The desk clerk took the card, then wordlessly slipped away from his post and walked around the corner where I imagined he was processing my payment. Other guests began to approach the desk to check in and inquire about restaurants and day tours. The clerk came back with my card and a man who I could best describe as Sphinx-like at his heels. He signaled to me to walk to the far end of the main reception area under a huge fake minaret. “May I see your passport, madam?”
I felt like I was going to faint. “Yes, yes…of course.” I reached in my bag with my
shaking hand and groped until my fingers wrapped around my passport. “But you all saw it when I checked in?”
“We’re rechecking everybody’s passports,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was lying or not.
“Why?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.
“There was an unfortunate incident here last night. I hope you weren’t disturbed?”
“I was sleeping after a night out in the city. I didn’t hear a thing.”
“One of our bellhops met an unfortunate end,” he said, staring at me. I felt I could wind
up with radiation burns from that stare.
“What sort of end?” I asked, knowing full well it was from the pointed tip of a brass replica of a pyramid that smashed his skull.
“He was bludgeoned to death. We just want to know if any of the guests saw or heard
“I didn’t,” I said, my mouth feeling dryer than the desert outside. “I’m afraid I over- indulged last night, came back, and passed right out.” I braced myself and met his stare head-on as I asked the question I dreaded the answer to. “Do you have any suspects?”
“One of our bellhops believed he had robbed him and was heard to have threatened him.
And it was possible he entertained a female guest.” His eyes bore into mine as he lowered his
voice. “He was the subject of some complaints in the past that were being investigated. Nasty business. His job was to be terminated. Somebody beat us to it. The police are sorting things out. If somebody saw anything amiss, it would help their investigation greatly. But you did not?
I shook my head. “I was out cold.”
He handed me my passport with what seemed like a knowing smile and I shoved it back in my bag. I took my receipt from the front desk clerk and backed toward the front door, pulling the suitcase along and reached out to keep my balance as the door opened. I whirled around to get my last look at the view to my right and it was spectacular, the limestone pyramids bathed in a surreal pink light. A tassel-laden camel tethered to a post outside the entrance for the purpose of giving tourists rides sneered at me. I smiled at him as I made my way to a waiting taxi.