Cody moved out the next morning, after enduring several of Mum’s “goodbye” hugs and promising her that he would call home every day. (Privately, I thought that promise was a bit too much to keep.)
We were impressed to learn that he had already gotten a job and rented himself an apartment in the city. Of course, I told him that we would always be happy to help him financially whenever he needed it. In the meantime, I was proud of my little brother for being so independent.
I had not expected Mum to recover from Cody’s departure as quickly as she did, but was pleasantly surprised to find her back to normal within a few days. Being the gifted musician that she was, she had lately taken an interest in the piano, which none of us had touched since we bought it with the new house. Quite apart from the fact that it was finally being used, I was happy for Mum that she had found a new hobby to distract her from the loneliness she was suffering ever since Dad had died.
“I am exhausted,” James announced, as he threw himself onto the couch beside me. It was evening, several days after Cody had moved out, and he had just returned from work.
“Hard day?” I asked sympathetically.
“Brutal,” he replied. “I swear, I’ve never seen the place so busy. The wait for a table was thirty minutes, I didn’t get a break all day.”
“That sucks,” I agreed sympathetically.
He sighed, and gave me a tired smile. “At least I had seeing you to look forward to.” He leaned over and kissed me tenderly. Smiling, I kissed him back.
“You know,” I said as we pulled away, “I think you need a holiday.”
“Nah, I’m alright,” James replied. He looked at my disappointed expression, and chuckled. “Oh, you mean you want a holiday.”
I laughed – he’d got me there. “I do,” I admitted. “I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. I think it would do us both good.”
James was quiet for a moment, obviously thinking. “Okay,” he agreed at last.
I gasped. “Are you serious? We can go to Egypt?” I hadn’t expected him to agree so easily.
“Sure, why not?” he smiled. “Just you and me?”
“Sounds perfect,” I was beaming from ear to ear as I threw my arms around his neck and pressed my lips against his. “I love you, James.”
He smiled against my lips. “I love you, too.”
James insisted on making all the preparations for our trip, in spite of my protests that he should let someone else do the work for once. The trip was booked and paid for by the next day, and it was finally a reality – we were going to Egypt!
Two weeks later, our plane touched down at the airport in Al Simhara. We were transported to our campsite in an airport shuttle bus, where we hired a two-man tent and a pair of motor scooters to get around town.
After we had finished pitching our tent together, I took the opportunity to stand up and look around for the first time since we had arrived. The sparkling sand, stretching into the distance as far as I could see, was liberally dotted with exotic plants and trees. Preserved obelisks and other ancient statues decorated the campsite, and I could even see the giant pyramids looming on the horizon. It really was a beautiful area.
“Excited?” James asked as he emerged from the open tent.
I grinned at him. “Very. I can’t wait to start exploring. I wonder if they have any good fishing spots here?”
James laughed. “Trust you to bring your fishing gear to a desert. I’m sure there are some ponds around the place.”
“I hope so.”
“In the meantime, though,” he continued, “I think we should explore the main town a bit. I hear the markets are pretty good.”
I nodded in agreement. “Right behind you.”
To say that the market was ‘pretty good’ turned out to be a drastic understatement. I spent the morning wandering around the stalls, completely absorbed in examining the artefacts on display.
They sold everything, from partially destroyed sculptures to canopic jars recovered from burial tombs and replicas of ancient fans.
Although communication was difficult, given my lack of skill in foreign languages, the shop owners were very friendly and happy to show me all of their saleable items. Of course, the most valuable artefacts were kept for museums or preserved in the original tombs, so those sold in the market were fairly common, though still undeniably beautiful.
My favourite stall was in a small garden around the back of the main marketplace, where an old woman sold various necessary items for adventurers and tomb explorers. I didn’t plan on exploring any tombs on this particular trip, so I had little interest in the merchandise itself, but the garden was definitely the loveliest place I had encountered so far.
Around midday, when the sun was at its highest, I heard James call me over from the other side of the marketplace.
“What’s up?” I asked when I reached him.
“I’m hungry,” he replied. “Want to get some lunch? There’s a food stall just over there.”
“Sure,” I grinned. Now that he mentioned it, I was feeling pretty hungry myself.
We walked together to the restaurant in the corner of the market and were seated at an outside table. James was especially excited to sample the culinary side of Egyptian culture, so we both ordered what the menu described as a traditional egg dish for lunch.
“What do you think?” I asked him, after we had taken our first few mouthfuls of the food.
“It’s good!” he announced enthusiastically. “I’ll need to get a recipe for this while we’re here.”
I nodded as I swallowed my own mouthful. Then I put my fork down.
“So, what’s on the agenda for this afternoon?” I asked.
“Well, I know how much you’re dying to do some fishing here, and I’d like to find a bookshop, so I was thinking we could split up and explore a bit.”
“Are you sure?” While I was definitely looking forward to hunting out some good fishing spots, I also wanted to spend some time with my boyfriend.
“Yeah,” he smiled. I finished my meal, and we both stood up. Noticing my concern, he reached out and took my hands in his. “It’ll be fine,” he told me. “We’ll meet back at the camp tonight, okay?”
“Okay.” I returned his smile, and squeezed his hands tighter. “Have I mentioned that I love you?”
A mischievous grin lit up his face. “Only once or twice… I’ve almost forgotten…”
I laughed, and pulled him towards me for a kiss. “I love you,” I whispered. “I’ll see you tonight, okay?”
He nodded, and I walked away.
The first place I went to explore was the Great Pyramid. I wasn’t planning on actually going inside, just on being there so I could say I’d seen it with my own eyes. It was much bigger than I had expected, even having seen it in the distance when we’d arrived that morning. Standing at the foot of the massive structure, I could barely even glimpse the top. Even the entrance was enormous.
From the pyramids, I was on my way to the Sphinx, when something else caught my eye. a few hundred metres away across the sand was a small group of trees, their feet littered with rocks and bushes – and in the centre, the tell-tale glitter of still water.
I hoisted my rod and fishing box into my arms, and made a beeline for the water instead. Perhaps I would find some unique species of fish here for my collection.
The secluded pond turned out to be a perfect spot for fishing – I could see at a glance that it was teeming with life. The moment the rod was in my hands again, I felt perfectly at ease. I was in my element.
As luck would have it, I did catch several new animals, including frogs and even a few small crocodiles, that I hadn’t even known could be caught would a simple fishing line. I would have to go back to my fishing books when I got home.
I was enjoying myself so much that I completely lost track of the time. It was well after sunset by the time I remembered that I had promised to meet James back at the camp soon. Panicked, I packed away my fishing equipment, loaded everything into the back of my scooter and sped off down the hill to the main road.
By the time I reached the camp, James was already waiting for me by the fire pit. I walked over and sank down into the chair opposite him.
He smiled when he saw me. “Hey.”
“How was your afternoon?”
“Great, actually.” I told him about the fishing spot I had found, and the new animals I had caught there. “I want to catch enough here to take home and stock the pond in the garden.”
“Sounds good, Bee,” he smiled.
“How was yours? Did you get the recipes you wanted?”
“Sure did,” he confirmed with a grin. “Those and more. Their English book range was a bit limited, but I managed to get a few books of Egyptian recipes that I can read.”
“Have you eaten yet?” I asked.
“Nope, I was waiting for you.” He pulled a couple of fire pokers out from under the pit and indicated a crate on the ground at his feet. “I brought food, so we can cook it over the fire.”
“Sounds good,” I grinned. I pulled a sausage out of its packet in the crate and skewered it on the end of my poker. “I’ll start with this one.” I looked up at him after a moment, and couldn’t help but burst out laughing when I saw the amount of food he had loaded onto his own poker. “You got enough there?” I asked.
He grinned at me. “What? I can cook it all at once this way.”
I giggled. “Whatever you say, ‘Monsieur Chef.'” I reached into the crate and pulled out a handful of sausages and some extra pieces of fruit and vegetables, securing the whole lot on the end of my poker and pointing it towards the fire.
“See?” he said, holding his poker up after a few moments. “Perfect.” The sausages on the outside were certainly a good deal browner, but I wasn’t too sure how evenly they could be cooked.
I laughed. “If you say so.”
We ate as much food as we could, until we were too full to take another bite. Then we leaned back in our chairs and just relaxed by the fire.
“Are you having fun?” James said after a few moments.
I smiled at him. “Definitely. I’m so glad we decided to come here.”
I picked up my empty poker and began to idly prod the coals in the bottom of the firepit.
I looked up at him. “Yeah?” He was staring at me with an unusually soft expression and a small smile gracing his lips, as though I was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
“I love you.”
I smiled. “What a coincidence.”