|Right Off the Donkey
Author: Bingo PM
Now this is a story all about how, my life got flipped, turned upside down. Now, I'd like to take a moment, just sit right there, I'll tell you how I fell off a donkey and got quite a scare. ONESHOT. Set in Egypt.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor - Words: 5,378 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 17 - Published: 04-07-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2793972
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: A bit different from my usual stuff – I was in the mood for something light and fluffy, so I found this lying around my laptop, polished it up and finished it. I hope you enjoy it ... and I hope it makes you smile x)
PS: Set in Egypt. At this time.
Right Off the Donkey
You could 'cause you can so you do
We're feeling so good
Just the way that we do
When it's nine in the afternoon
Panic! At the Disco, Nine in the Afternoon.
"It's so hot," Ahmed rasped next to me.
"I know," I whimpered.
"I think I'm melting," he whispered, his voice still raspy. Give him an inhaler and he could sound like Darth Vader. "I just sweated out all the water in my body."
"I can tell," I said, wrinkling my nose. I think everyone within a three-mile radius could tell. He smelled worse than the rotting corpses we'd been ogling at in the Egyptian Museum.
"I need water," he said desperately, making a sudden lunge for my backpack. I yelped and tried to dodge. You know something? Dodging is pretty hard when you have a backpack so stuffed it looks more like a back ball. Especially when it's stuffed with food because your mother was sure you'd get hungry on the bus ride. And a jacket, because your mother also believes the weatherman's insistence that it will, someday, actually be cold. So, really, it was a wonder I managed to walk at all with that backpack threatening my balance. As it was, I nearly toppled over when I dodged, and stepped on our teacher's foot.
No, damn it! No!
"Sorry!" I yelped as Mr. Shafie gave a scream that would have kept the Monsters Inc. factory open for years. Several tourists looked over their shoulders at us to see what those nutty Arabs were doing this time.
"Ow! Ya sh – f – om ..." Mr. Shafie spluttered. His face turned red with the effort not to swear in the midst of twenty eager-eared students.
"Sorry sorry sorry sorry!" I wailed, horrified. "I didn't mean it! It was Ahmed's fault!"
Mr. Shafie took in deep gulps of hot air. "That's all right, Laila. I know it was an accident."
His mouth said so, but the dirty look in his eyes told me I was getting an F for crushing his bunions. That was expected. Mr. Shafie was lovely that way.
My face was burning as I looked back at the class. Most of them were too bored to notice my little accident. Ahmed had already gone to beg someone else for water –I heard him wail, "I'm melting!" like the Wicked Witch of the West four times – and the three girls walking together at the back were busy texting on their respective iPhone, Blackberry and Nokia ("Connecting People"). Two of the boys were trying to look like they weren't stalking a Russian tourist who looked suspiciously like Giselle. Another group was busy posing for pictures to put on Facebook (no, really. I distinctly heard "Oooh, and another one for my profile picture!" as the camera clicked), and the rest were walking along glumly, most probably cursing our luck. The other class got to go to Dreampark. We – the lucky ones – got to go to the pyramids! Again!
Yeah, the pyramids are big and awe-inspiring and all that, but they get a bit old the fifth time the school asks (no, orders) you to go on a field trip to see them. Because, really, visiting the pyramids is a bit overrated. It happens a bit like this:
Class Status (upon catching first sight of Khofu, the Great Pyramid, in the bus): Much awe.(cue chorus of "oohs")
Class Status (upon getting out of the bus): Excited, preparing cameras. It is at this point everyone suddenly realizes it's pretty hot out here in the sun.
Class Status (upon getting close to the pyramids at last): More awe. Big rocks pretty. Yes, very much so. It's all very dramatic and thrilling.
Class Status (still at the pyramids): Beginning to fidget. It is around this point they realize that looking at the pyramids is all they're going to do. So they look.
Class Status (still at the pyramids): Still looking. Beginning to sweat, and get thirsty. At this point, they come to realize water is sold at ten pounds a little bottle. Everyone unanimously decides not to drink.
Class Status (still at pyramids): Still looking, and sweating.
Class Status (still at pyramids): Even more looking and sweating.
Class Status (still at pyramids): They look, and they sweat.
Class Status (still at pyramids): Someone suggests walking to see the Sphinx. The Sphinx looks far. Everyone unanimously votes against it. Perhaps another time. More looking and sweating ensues.
Class Status (still at pyramids): The teacher finally realizes the futility of pointing out interesting facts about the pyramids. Yes, we know. We've looked and we sweated, and someone has even forked out a tenner for water. It is unanimously decided they have looked and sweated enough.
Class Status (on the way home in the bus): Exhausted and dehydrated. Occasionally twitching when someone says the word "pyramid" "tour" or "Sphinx".
In all fairness, a visit to the pyramids is usually more fun. There's loads to do: ride camels, ride horses, ride donkeys, go into the tombs, all that crap.
Unfortunately, our school is far too cheap to fork out the necessary money and chaperoning for this to occur. Therefore, all that happens is – we look, and we sweat.
So here I was, walking along, having possibly crippled my teacher's toes (ew. Ew. Bad mental image) forever, with the rest of my unenthusiastic class trailing behind us. To be honest, I hadn't wanted to come on this trip at all.
I'll admit it. I hadn't wanted to come along for one main reason. And no, not Ahmed's BO (... although that would be my second reason).
The reason I hadn't wanted to come along was because I'd downloaded the entire first season of Gossip Girl, and I really really wanted to spend my Saturday ogling Chace Crawford.
There! It's out in the open! I am sad. Sadsadsad. Pathetic, really. I might as well be one of the girls glued to their phones behind my back. Might as well come out, shouldn't I? A closet Gossip Girl fan. With fantastic pirating skills – but a Gossip Girl fan nontheless.
Shameful stuff. I know.
So, instead of hiding out in my bedroom glued to my laptop cuddled in bed with lots of chocolate or something equally unhealthy (God, that sounded good right now. Maybe ice-cream. Mmmm ... ice-cream ...) I was instead walking with Mr Shafie while the rest of my class – minus two guys stalking the Giselle-lookalike; we'd lost them some time ago – proceeded not to enjoy themselves.
"So, Mr Shafie .." I'm not particularly a teacher's pet (I'm not anything, really. Sometimes I consider creating my own stereotype: The Nothing Kids. You know, like emo, minus the hair, the cutting, the clothes, the attitude and the music. Which leaves nothing, geddit? Except, maybe like a bald naked emo. Ew. Mind, censor yourself!). "How's your wife doing?"
I find it's always healthy to ask about a teacher's wife. I was especially worried about Mr Shafie's – because, you know, she was his wife.
Mr Shafie coughed, turning a delicate pansy pink. "My – my wife?"
"Yep," I chirped. That's me: cheerful chirpy Laila. Annoys the heck out of everyone. In two languages.
"She's ..." Mr Shafie's cheeks deepened to red. "Well, she's ... filing for divorce."
My God, woman! Saved!
"Aw," I said, faux-glumly. "That sucks. Ma'lesh, Mr Shafie. I'm sure you'll be fine."
"Oh, I will," he assured both me and himself. "I really will. It's just – she was such a wonderful cook! She made koshary better than anyone I know – even El Brince Ali's, down the street."
(Koshary: an Egyptian meal of rice, pasta, this amazing sauce and a bunch of other stuff that is simply magnificent. Nothing quite hits the stuff like good koshary – and the dirtier it is, the better it tastes, much to the indignation of all housewives. Which is probably why Mr Shafie's wife was such a catch if she made it better than street koshary. Either that, or she had a filthy kitchen.)
"Ah, the loss of food," I said with understanding. "There, there, Mr Shafie."
"Exuse me, sir," a deep voice interrupted our chat. "Sir, are these your kids?"
Mr Shafie, deep in his thoughts about his wife's koshary, did not hear.
I poked him in the arm. It was rather plump. No wonder his wife upped and left him.
"What, Laila?" he snapped, turning at me, and I motioned towards the security guard who had been calling him. Big security guard, too. Big and brown, with an afro. He looked a lot like a Hulked-up version of Ahmed.
"Sir, these kids were harassing a tourist," said the security guard, grinning – why was he grinning? – as he motioned to the two boys we'd been missing from our group who were slouching behind him, Hesham Mohamed Something (who looked sulky and disgruntled; I'm sure he was itching to BBM his friends about the injustice of it all) and Adham Something Mohamed (Sigh. Adham. Okay, he looked grumpy too. But he's Adham! Adham of the searing wit and hazel eyes. Adham of the soccer and karate and water-polo team. Adham who was my best friend in the world for all of kindergarten and still lent me lunch money sometimes when I asked nicely. That Adham).
"Harassing a tourist?" Mr Shafie looked scandalized. "Oh, dear God. Is she all right?"
Don't ask me how he knew it was a she. Well, okay, we were talking about Adham and Hesham. It was obviously a she.
"She's fine," said the security guard, nodding several times. "But the Ministry of Tourism disapproves of such behaviour and I'd like to ask you to keep a special eye on these two."
"The Ministry of Tourism itself, eh?" I said, fighing the urge to laugh (it doesn't seem very funny, but if you'd caught sight of that guard's afro and the serious, importantly casual way he'd slipped the 'Ministry of Tourism' into the conversation like he was the Minister ...).
Mr Shafie, the guard, and Hesham stared at me blankly. Okay, my Arabic isn't that bad. So I talk a little fast sometimes, that doesn't mean they have to give me that look ...
(On the upside, Adham grinned at me! At me! Grinned! Woo!)
"Yeah, well, thank you, Officer," said Mr Shafie after an awkward pause. The security bloke puffed up even more at the word 'Officer'. Seriously, a blue shirt does not an Officer make, Mr Shafie. "I'll take care of these two."
Adham and Hesham winced.
"And I want you both to walk right next to me!" roared Mr Shafie, sending spittle right into Hesham's ugly mug and Adham's lovely one. A few droplets clung to his thick dark hair. What a shame.
I'm aware I'm biased, yes. But look, I like Gossip Girl, so clearly I have a few faults.
"But – " Hesham began.
"RIGHT NEXT TO ME!" screamed Mr Shafie in terribly accented English. A few tourists gave him horrified looks. I smiled weakly at them. "Like Laila's doing. See Laila? Stick close to her."
I went bright red as Hesham glowered darkly at me. Adham narrowed his eyebrows slightly, then relaxed.
"Yeah, okay," he said agreeably.
I went even redder. If only.
We walked in silence for a while. I observed Hussein's struggled efforts to check his Blackberry under Mr Shafie's watchful eye. Adham seemed perfectly at peace, walking next to me steadily – I was struggling not to lag behind, actually. Have you ever tried walking in sand? It's the workout of a lifetime. Your feet sink in with every step, you get sand in your socks, and the faster you go, the more you feel like your thigh is in hell and your femur is made of jelly. Add to that a heavy backpack (seriously, ma, now that I think of it, packing a jacket on a school trip to the freakin' desert was a really dumb idea! How did I even let that one go?), very uncomfortable new Converses (which had started out purple, but gradually turned ... sandy) and the sun beating down on you – I raised the hem of my sleeve and was a little horrified to find a tan line at my elbow. I'd gotten a tan in two hours! I was darker! Save me, Fair and Lovely. Please.
What's worse was how embarrassing it was to be walking next to the guy I'd been crushing on for quite a while now, aware that I was getting hotter and messier and sweatier by the second (not to mention darker. I was serious, Fair and Lovely. All those ads better not be lying), and sure my face was becoming shinier and altogether more disgusting.
And I hadn't looked that great to begin with. I mean, sure, I'm not ugly. I've got nice light brown hair. Brown eyes. An okay complexion (that's what I figured at the time, anyway, God knew what that sun had done to my face). I'm a bit short. A lot curvy, but nothing sucking in my stomach and a good pair of black jeans couldn't fix. I look okay – I console myself that at least I look better than Bette Midler and she's fine – but not quite as ... put together as most girls. The ones with the shiny lip gloss and eyeliner and straightened hair. Nothing against them, of course. But they do look neater than I usually do.
Adham gave me a sidelong glance. "You okay?"
Uh. Right. Just pretend everything's fine. Just keep walking, just keep walking.
"Fine!" I squeaked. Adham didn't usually make me nervous – but then, I wasn't usually walking next to him alone at the pyramids.
Well, alone plus two. Hesham and Mr Shafie had just started an argument about Hesham's Blackberry. Mr Shafie seemed to believe Blackberries were the devil's work – not such a far-fetched testament, in my opinion, but then Mr Shafie blamed the degeneration of today's youth on Facebook (also the devil's work, apparently) so God knew how distorted his judgement was.
I was just in the middle of Adham making me nervous (cough. Squeak. Cough), when I saw him.
Eeep, ack, Oh Em Gee, and other utters of astoundment!
There was a guy – tourist – on a camel – who looked exactly - I kid you not, exactly – like Chace Crawford!
My mouth hung open. My eyes grew wide. A line of mental drool hit my shoes.
Such a sight of male awesomeness is rare in Egypt. Who would chance upon a hottie of such fine foreign degree on a school trip? I was in awe.
Mr Shafie and Hesham had gone ahead, still immersed in their argument.
Adham lagged behind with me. I was staring at The Chace, frozen in my spot.
"Laila?" he said doubtfully. "Are you ... okay?"
I gripped Adham's arm, hardly aware of my own actions. "Don't you think he looks exactly like Chace Crawford?"
Adham looked at me in disbelief. "Who?"
"The guy on the camel!" I squeaked (I was surely under the influence of hormones, for why else would I reveal my secret Gossip Girl habits? Much argh'ing). "Right? Right?"
Adham turned his head, screwing up his face as against the sun as he looked. "Seriously? You like that sees on the camel?"
I gasped at him. "Don't call him that!"
"What?" said Adham defensively. "He looks like a sees to me."
(Sees: Egyptian insult for namby-pamby (i.e, girlish/ feeble) males. Pronounced like cheese with an s.)
"That's an offensive degrading statement unfit for The Chace," I said irritably. Now that I had seen The Chace, thoughts of Adham had flown out of my mind like dry leaves (he was still cute and all. But the guy looked like Chace Crawford!)
"I have to talk to him," I said, half to myself. Adham was looking at me in disgust. It was a lucky thing he'd known me in kindergarten, otherwise he might have gotten the wrong idea.
"Fat chance – " he began.
"Mr Shafie!" I cried, running after the limping figure of my teacher. "Mr Shafie! Can I please ride a camel?"
"This is a really bad idea," Adham insisted. "Mr Shafie, I thought we weren't allowed to ride– "
"Adham!" I hissed, narrowing my eyes at him. He rolled his hazel ones at me. If I hadn't been so busy with The Chace (who was still lolloping on his camel like the tourist he was) I might have been a little awed at how easily we were talking. I hadn't talked to him in years – okay, since we'd entered first primary – and here we were, bugging each other like old friends.
Mr Shafie, had – after a lot of begging from me – finally relented to talk to the camel guy to get rides for the whole class ... anyone who could pay for their own ride, at any rate (and was I ever grateful for not spending my allowance on McDonald's like I always did ).
Nobody else had caught up yet, except Ahmed, who had picked up a bottle of Aquafina water somewhere and was hugging it to his chest like it was the ring to his Gollum. He was eyeing the camels with some interest.
"Do they spit?" he asked hopefully, moving closer to one of the camels the camel guy had tethered to a post nearby. I kept a keen eye on The Chace ; fortunately he seemed content with parading his camel back and forth in front of Khufu's big ole' Great Pyramid while his friends took pictures.
It's a little embarrassing that I was more awed by The Chace than one of the Seven Wonders of the World behind him.
"Nah, they don't spit," said Adham calmly.
"Yeah, only llamas spit," he assured Ahmed.
"Cool, then," said Ahmed happily, poking the camel lightly in the neck.
The camel spat on him.
"What the - !" he shrieked as Adham roared with laughter. "What the hell was that?"
"Okay, guys," Mr Shafie called. "I made a deal with the camel guy. We get a discount!"
Adham looked unfathomably annoyed. Hesham, on the other hand, perked up.
"So do we get to ride?" he said with some interest.
"Yeah," said Mr Shafie proudly. "I got it all worked out."
I blinked. The Chace was coming closer! My heart's pace was quickening. Even up close – and high up – he looked exactly like his namesake. Even better. Thump-it-ay-thump!
"Mr Shafie, can I go ride?" I asked eagerly. If I hurried, I might be at the camel guy's the same time he was! We might make eye contact – or even more phenomenal – talk!
"Sure, Laila," said Mr Shafie generously. "You asked first. It was your idea. So you get to ride first."
"Eshta!" I squealed. A term meaning both cream and awesome even I don't fully understand. But there's Egyptian slang for ya.
"I'll go with her," muttered Adham behind me. "I want to ask the camel bloke something .."
"So which camel is mine?" I called as I ran ahead. The Chace was ten feet away. Ah. Ten. Feet. Away. And I wanted to skip this for Gossip Girl, where scenes of Chace were marred by those stupid other people!
"Uh, about that," Mr Shafie called back, coming towards me. "Like I said, we made a deal with the man – to get us all a discount – "
I stopped dead in my tracks and blinked. The camel guy was coming towards me, sure enough. With a big smile in his sunburnt face. All smile, no teeth. He smiled wider – ah, wait. I found one tooth.
"What on Earth is he holding?" I demanded. "Surely that's not –"
"Yep," said Mr Shafie with a grin. "Great deal, don't you think?"
My heart sank abruptly as my ride gave a great big Hee haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw.
"A donkey," I said hollowly as The Chace approached. "You got us all donkey rides."
"Indeed!" Mr Shafie clapped his hands together. "Isn't this school trip fabulous fun?"
Oh, the school was going to pay for this all right. Stupid cheap-ass school. No doubt all our money went towards the puffed up teachers so their wives could make them lots and lots of koshary.
I was in a very uncharitable mood. Adham's diabolical chuckling next to me did not help.
"Well, get on then!" said Mr Shafie cheerfully.
I sighed at my poor donkey. The thing looked like it was going to fall asleep at any moment. It was a dirty white color, a bit flea-bitten. I had the feeling this was the donkey the camel guy reserved for cheap not-tourist people. I bet if I'd been blonde and white he would have given us a shinier donkey.
Oh, well. All donkeys are equal (but some are more equal than others. Like Eeyore).
I'd ridden horses before, so getting on the donkey was easy enough. Once I was on – and a bit worried at the grunts my donkey was making (it was exaggerating! I'm not that heavy, you sizest donkey!) – I suddenly realized how dumb riding a donkey actually is when you're older than three.
The donkey kind of wobbled along. I jiggled on its back.
It felt remarkably stupid.
The donkey wobbled some more. I became focused on trying not to slip off as it began hobbling a little faster – perhaps hoping to escape from its miserable career – and so it was a while before I suddenly realized The Chace was back at the camel guy's and getting off his camel.
WHAT! No! No! No! I thought in horror, desperately trying to turn my donkey around. "Get back, you stupid thing! He's getting off! Get back!"
My donkey stopped dead and refused to budge.
"Oh, God," I moaned. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry I called you a stupid thing – you're a lovely donkey. You're amazing. I love you."
The donkey hirrumphed a bit and hee haw'd in a little voice.
I tugged at the shoddy reins helpelessly. The Chace was paying for his ride! He was getting away from me! Nooooooooooooo!
"I swear, you stupid donkey," I threatened, groping for something to say. "If you do not turn around this instant I will find the fattest kid in class and make them ride you all day!"
To my rather bewildered surprise, the donkey got moving in the direction of its owner again.
Typical Egyptian. You don't get anywhere unless you start the threats.
Or maybe it was just scared by my tone and wanted to go back to its owner. Whatever it was, my donkey was getting along pretty fast.
I grabbed onto to the slippery saddle. It was actually getting along uncomfortably fast.
"Uh, guys?" I said, my voice a bit quavery as the donkey hurtled past Adham and Ahmed, who were chortling about something-or-other. I was started to slide off to the side. Holding on was difficult – everything was so small on a donkey! I was scared I'd grab its neck and kill it by accident.
Not to mention how bumpy it suddenly was. Donkey plus sand equals –
"Whoaaaaaaaaaa!" I yelped as the donkey took a sharp left, aiming for its owner. Or another donkey. Everything was getting kinda hazy. I kept being jarred up and down. I couldn't even see The Chace anymore! Oh, woe and panic! Where was he?
I found out soon enough.
With an excited Hee! my donkey suddenly took another sharp turn, this time to the right. I'd been sliding off pretty badly at this point, and the turn proved too much for me. With an almighty lurch – I fell off the donkey.
Right onto The Chace.
"Oh my God!" wailed The Chace, right into my ear. "My God! Get off me, you crazy native!"
My humiliation surpasses description at this point, so why don't I skip my feelings and just relay what happened in an entirely impartial matter-of-fact manner?
I made several strange noises dolphins may or may not have understood, and promptly got off The Chace. Who had a British accent, by the way! But back to impartial and matter-of-fact.
The Chace said – yelled, actually, "What is wrong with you? Didn't you see me standing behind you?"
"I – er – well, I ..." I eloquently responded.
The Chace brushed himself off – looking brilliant as he did, might I add, although my liking for him was fading fast. "Honestly, you people are insane. I've got sand everywhere now. I hope you're happy."
His tone was rather horrible. I half-wanted to give him some Oh, no you don't! attitude, but I was a bit too mortified for human communication.
"Bloody retards," he spat at me, finally getting up.
"Hey," a harsh voice spoke up from behind me. "Don't talk to her like that. It was an accident."
I looked around in shock. Adham was standing there, giving The Chace a murderous glare. Egyptian guys are big on chivalry and all this guy-fighting-man-pride stuff when they want to me. At the time, I was honestly more surprised he was bothering to do so for me.
I was also a little surprised to hear Adham's perfect English. Back in kindergarten, it hadn't been so great. The improvement was kind of impressive, actually. Fine. Really impressive.
"An accident?" said The Chace in disbelief. "She bloody bombarded me!"
"She fell off," said Adham coolly. "She didn't mean it."
Well, okay. This was more than a little humiliating.
"She's a menace, that's what she is!" declared The Chace, turning to leave.
Adham's perfect English took a turn for the worse as he reverted to Egyptian-style English and proceeded to cuss the guy out.
(Isn't it always so impressive when everyone seems to know English swearwords? I hardly know three Arabic ones.)
And then there was a minor scuffle, an attempt to hit The Chace by Adham, an interruption by an extremely indignant camel-guy, and before long The Chace had gone back to his friends, none the worse for wear except that his neck was slightly redder (due to how worked up he had gotten over Adham) and his clothes slightly sandier (because I'd knocked him into the sand. Cough).
Fortunately, Mr Shafie had missed the entire ordeal. I sat down on a dune as the rest of the class took turns riding the donkey – God, did I hate that donkey – and hugged my backpack to my chest, willing my face to un-red itself.
After a while, Adham came and sat next to me.
Without The Chace as a temporary distraction, I was suddenly aware of everything that had happened. Right, so Adham had done his manly-duty and defended me. Because I was a clumsy idiot, and not in a cute way. And now he was probably coming to gloat over my stupidity.
I figured I should thank him.
"Uh, thanks," I mumbled. "For that."
Adham nodded. "Sure, no problem."
Well, this isn't at all awkward.
"So d'you still like that guy?" asked Adham, a grin on his face.
I went redder again. Adham's tact had always been on the non-existent side.
"No, obviously," I grumbled under my breath. Looks can be deceiving. And now Gossip Girl would never be the same again. If I couldn't watch Chace, what would I watch? Ew, not Dan. Ew.
"Yeah, I kind of figured."
"Um, your English is really good now," I said at last. "I didn't know you'd gotten so good."
To my surprise, Adham seemed a little embarrassed. He ran a hand through his hair. I tried not to think too loudly how good-looking he was (because, you know, I'm impartial and matter-of-fact. Not).
He said, "Well, I guess I kinda owe you that."
"You know, how back in kindergarten, you always explained the cartoons to us because you were the one who understood English best?" he said after a pause.
I thought back. "Sure." Not that there was much to explain in Tom and Jerry. I hoped he wouldn't remember that.
"I was so impressed by that when I was a kid," he said, laughing. "I kind of made up my mind, when we went to first primary, that I wouldn't talk to you again until my English was as good as yours. It was really stupid, but there you have it. I sort of forgot about it, but by then I'd gotten used to improving my English, and ... not talking to you ... and it sort of carried on until now."
I was a little overwhelmed by this confession, from Adham. He'd always seemed like such a typical athlete guy – who'd known he was this ... ambitious?
So I said the first thing that came to mind.
"I mean," I covered for myself. "That's ... really cool. You were a smart kid. Except," I felt obliged to add, "in the not-talking-to-me part. That was dumb."
"Yeah, it was," he agreed. Then he hesitated. "I've been regretting that a lot ... especially recently. You're kind of awesome, you know? In your own weird way. You've been impressing me since kindergarten – even now, all the stuff you do in class. You're always so – yourself."
I gaped at him. Surely this wasn't leading where I sincerely hoped it was. Ahh. Eek.
"Thank you," I mumbled. I didn't know what else to say.
"I really like you, you know," he finally said.
Except he didn't say it like that. He said bahebek. Which means I love you. But we both know it mean I like you. Because, at the time, that's what love was to teenage guys. They were in love every week.
But to me, it meant the world. Because I hadn't expected it, and because it was exactly what I'd dreamed of.
God, did I love that donkey right now.
"I kind of like you, too," I said at last, in English. Because I didn't want to say I loved him in Arabic, because that would make me sound a lot stupider than he had. It was just one of those things.
"Even though you looked really dumb falling off that donkey," he said, in English, "I'm glad you did."
I burst out laughing. It was a nice moment. If this had been in America, we would have kissed right now.
Mr Shafie, unaware history was being made, chose that moment to unleash an enormous burp a few feet away.
The moment was gone, but even while we laughed, Adham's eyes held mine a little longer than normal, and he brushed his hand over the top of my head lightly. It wasn't exactly a kiss (more of a pat, to be honest) – this was Egypt – but it was just as good.
It was better than that. Because it meant something. It was the start of something. And suddenly, I was really fond of the pyramids.
And, you know. Donkeys.