"What It Means When a Crowd in a Faraway Nation Takes a Soldier Representing Your Own Nation, Shoots Him, Drags Him from His Vehicle and Then Mutilates Him in the Dust"
"The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water"
"On Wanting to Have Three Walls Up Before She Gets Home"
"Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance"
"She Waits, Seething, Blooming"
"Your Mother and I"
"Notes for a Story of a Man Who Will Not Die Alone"
"About the Man Who Began Flying After Meeting Her"
"Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly"
"After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned"
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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October 09, 2005
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Excerpt from How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers
I'd gone to Egypt, as a courier, easy. I gave the package to a guy at the airport and was finished and free by noon on the first day. It was a bad time to be in Cairo, unwise at that juncture, with the poor state of relations between our nation and the entire region, but I did it anyway because, at that point in my life, if there was a window at all, however small and discouraged, I would-
I'd been having trouble thinking, finishing things. Words like anxiety and depression seemed apt then, in that I wasn't interested in the things I was usually interested in, and couldn't finish a glass of milk without deliberation. But I didn't stop to ruminate or wallow. Diagnosis would have made it all less interesting.
I'd been a married man, twice; I'd been a man who turned forty among friends; I'd had pets, jobs in the foreign service, people working for me. Years after all that, somewhere in May, I found myself in Egypt, against the advice of my government, with mild diarrhea and alone.
There was a new heat there, dry and suffocating and unfamiliar to me. I'd lived only in humid places-Cincinnati, Hartford-where the people I knew felt sorry for each other. Surviving in the Egyptian heat was invigorating, though-living under that sun made me lighter and stronger, made of platinum. I'd dropped ten pounds in a few days but I felt good.
This was a few weeks after some terrorists had slaughtered seventy tourists at Luxor, and everyone was jittery. And I'd just been in New York, on the top of the Empire State Building, a few days after a guy opened fire there, killing one. I wasn't consciously following trouble around, but then what the hell was I doing-
On a Tuesday I was by the pyramids, walking, loving the dust, squinting; I'd just lost my second pair of sunglasses. The hawkers who work the Gizeh plateau-really some of the least charming charmers the world owns-were trying to sell me anything-little scarab toys, Cheops keychains, plastic sandals. They spoke twenty words of a dozen languages, and tried me with German, Spanish, Italian, English. I said no, feigned muteness, got in the habit of just saying "Finland!" to them all, sure that they didn't know any Finnish, until a man offered me a horseback ride, in American English, hooking his r's obscenely. They really were clever bastards. I'd already gotten a brief and expensive camel ride, which was worthless, and though I'd never ridden a horse past an amble and hadn't really wanted to, I followed him on foot.
"Through the desert," he said, leading me past a silver tourist bus, Swiss seniors unloading. I followed him. "We go get horse. We ride to the Red Pyramid," he said. I followed. "You have your horse yourself," he said, answering my last unspoken question.
I knew the Red Pyramid had just been reopened, or was about to be reopened, though I didn't know why they called it Red. I wanted to ride on a horse through the desert. I wanted to see if this man-slight, with brown teeth, wide-set eyes, a cop mustache-would try to kill me. There were plenty of Egyptians who would love to kill me, I was sure, and I was ready to engage in any way with someone who wanted me dead. I was alone and reckless and both passive and quick to fury. It was a beautiful time, everything electric and hideous. In Egypt I was noticed, I was yelled at by some and embraced by others. One day I was given free sugarcane juice by a well-dressed man who lived under a bridge and wanted to teach at an American boarding school. I couldn't help him but he was sure I could, talking to me loudly by the juice bar, outside, in crowded Cairo, while others eyed me vacantly. I was a star, a heathen, an enemy, a nothing.
At Gizeh I walked with the horse man-he had no smell-away from the tourists and buses, and down from the plateau. The hard sand went soft. We passed an ancient man in a cave below ground, and I was told to pay him baksheesh, a tip, because he was a "famous man" and the keeper of that cave. I gave him a dollar. The first man and I continued walking, for about a mile, and where the desert met a road he introduced me to his partner, a fat man, bursting from a threadbare shirt, who had two horses, both black, Arabian.
They helped me on the smaller of the two. The animal was alive everywhere, restless, its hair marshy with sweat. I didn't tell them that I'd only ridden once before, and that time at a roadside Fourth of July fair, walking around a track, half-drunk. I was trying to find dinosaur bones in Arizona-I thought, briefly, that I was an archeologist. I still don't know why I was made the way I am.
"Hesham," the horse man said, and jerked his thumb at his sternum. I nodded.