It was a long wait at the train station, and now I had found my row, son in tow, but there were people in our seats. I’d heard of this happening in Egypt. I squared my shoulders.
“You’re in my seat,” I proclaimed, in what I hoped was an authoritative tone.
My tone had approximately zero effect. The interlopers trying to steal my way to Cairo stared resolutely ahead. More passengers were pressing in from behind me.
“Look!” I said, brandishing my tickets which clearly stated these exact seat numbers.
“I have the same seat numbers,” said a voice behind me. It was one of those matter-of-fact no-nonsense sturdy Egyptian ladies that you do not want to mess with. She was wearing a jaunty pink hijab, somewhat at odds with her stern demeanor.
Oi, is it possible they triple-booked these seats? I pictured my parents arriving at the Cairo airport early the next morning with no one to greet them. I trembled.
“Let me see those tickets,” said the not-to-be-messed-with Egyptian lady. Of course I handed them over, a split second after she snatched them from my hand. My 6-year-old son Oscar started getting a bit twitchy, sensing my tension. I could feel sweat starting to sprout from my pores. I glanced desperately towards the other end of the carriage where my husband was waiting with the bags.
“This is the wrong date,” the lady informed me, indicating the tickets. I stared at the Arabic numbers on the paper but my brain stubbornly refused to translate.
“I can’t read this,” I said to myself.
“It’s in English here,” said the lady dryly. “See, it says Apr 4, and it’s Apr 14.”
You know that sinking feeling, the dread, when you realize things are about to go horribly wrong.
Yeah, I had that.
The next few minutes are a bit of a panicked blur. I remember looking over the heads of the passengers trying to get past me, towards my husband, who couldn’t see me. At some point my son’s twitchiness turned to distress as we got pushed into the treacherous space between cars. Richard managed to make his way to us as I tried to explain our situation to various people, hoping to find someone who worked there or knew something. Oscar started crying in earnest and attempted to flee the train despite my iron grip on his slippery, sweaty hand.
Then the train pulled away.
Oscar screamed, I sweated, and Richard fumed.
“You will have to pay a fine and there will be no seats,” a man said.
Great, three hours standing on a train with three suitcases and a screaming child. Richard and I looked at each other in despair.
Then, the pink hijab lady came and saved the day.
“There are lots of seats here,” she said, regarding the ill-informed man disdainfully. “Come with me.”
She sorted out seats for us, checked on us during the journey, booked us a cab to get us to the hotel and even directed us out of Ramesses station, waited for the car and made sure we got in. All while wrangling a large family group with small children, pulling her luggage with one hand and carrying a baby in the other arm.
She brushed off our thanks saying she knows what it’s like, having been lost in Europe before.
As we piled into the car while issuing additional profuse thanks, I wished I’d gotten her name, but it is nice to know there are good people out there.