Sunday 27 September 2020

Chapter 5 - London, Sunday 29 July, 1990

Yes, John, it was a very strange day.  We were all hanging around, as if waiting for something to happen.  Which of course, I was.

At least you know why I got up so late that day.  I was exhausted.  And I suppose in some way I wanted that next day to be over - I couldn't cope with all the possibilities that were going through my head.  As you said, I tried to read, but in the end I just found my eyes going over the words while other stories - of kings and queens, of underground lakes and cities, of the past and the future - unfolded behind them.

Time seemed to crawl by so slowly, just like when you are ill in bed, or perhaps waiting for a letter, or the phone to ring.  

Eventually, we went to the station.  It was a relief to be doing something.  In retrospect I have to admit too that I was glad to be getting away from Cairo - as you were, but for quite different reasons.  For you, Luxor clearly represented the real heart of the trip.  For me, it was just a name, one that I vaguely remembered you talking of.  I little suspected that I too would find cause to love it.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Perhaps because I found the silence and stillness of the hotel more and more oppressive as the day wore on, the bustle and the noise of the station were a relief, like someone daring to say something that has been pent-up inside them for ages.  People were scurrying everywhere, carrying their cases and bundles.  And you were right: those strange low hoots of the trains were indeed like huge bellowing animals, raring to be let out of their pens, to roar down the tracks.

Our train had just come in, and we had found our compartment. I couldn't wait for dinner: I was thirsty, and went off to get a drink.  I walked through to the main concourse and bought a can of something from one of the newspaper stalls which also sold sweets and drinks.  As I was passing through to where our train was standing, my mind starting to relax pleasantly, and all the tensions of the previous day beginning to ease, I heard a familiar voice behind me.

"Janet - "  Omar.  I turned to face him. "Forgive me, I was not myself yesterday.  I was too excited by the occasion, of your meeting my...."  He glanced quickly about him.  "Please forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive, Omar.  As I said yesterday, I am touched by the honour you do me - "

"Touched - "  He seemed to clutch at the word as if it were a lifeline.

"Deeply touched.  But, what I said yesterday has not changed today.  I am sorry."

"Janet, I realise now that I was foolish yesterday, that I was trying to impress with, with what you saw.  This was wrong, this was not what I meant to say.  Everything has been so rushed, it should not have happened in this way."

"It would have made no difference, Omar."  I said sadly.  

"I believe - I feel, know, that it would.  There is so much that I have not told you - no, not about - what you saw, but about me, and you.  After I left you at the hotel last night, I drove around aimlessly, going over again and again what I had said - and not said, cursing myself for my stupidity.  I see now that it was my foolish pride that prevented me from saying the things I should have. must understand, for too long I have been surrounded by people who have reflected back to me the things I wanted to hear, not that I should have heard."

Behind me, that low bellowing of the train.

"Omar - my train - I'm sorry, I must go, I - "

"My dear Janet, I must say something to you - it is only a moment's speech.  Janet, Janet, I love you.  Forget everything I said yesterday, everything you saw, just hear this: that I love you."

"But Omar, how can I forget what I saw - it is your life, your destiny?"

"You are my life and destiny - we are meant for each other, the stars say it, my eyes and my heart say it.  You shake your head - you do not believe me.  Very well, then, I will prove it: I will renounce my throne, deny my birth, my heritage, my past - for you Janet, if you will just be mine."  His eyes shone, his breaths were quick and shallow.  My heart felt as if it would burst - I felt so proud, so happy, so sad - so everything.

"Oh, Omar, I am not worth this."  What could I say, how could I match his generosity?  "You cannot renounce your past - it is you - you would die without it like a plant without roots."  I wanted to reach out, to touch him, to hold him again.

"Let me but prove it to you or perish in the attempt.  Without you I shall assuredly die, in any case - my whole world will come tumbling down."  He was becoming more and more agitated.  Passers-by began staring at us.  

"Forgive me Omar, this cannot be,"  I said with as much self-control as I could muster.  I was trembling violently.  "I should never have encouraged you, but I was weak, I was flattered, I was a stupid, vain woman.  It was wrong of me.  But now I know what I must do.  My train is leaving - please, let me go, Omar."  I started to move towards my train.

"Janet - "  He seized my hands, and pressed them to his lips.  "Janet - "  His eyes filled with tears.  He seemed to shrink before my eyes, no king-in-waiting now, but an unbearably hurt man.  My heart went out to him, I thought 'If only...' but I knew it could not be.

"I must go...goodbye, dear Omar, you must leave me now, please - I will never forget you."  I turned and walked with faltering steps to our carriage and got in.  I stood in the corridor, shaking away the tears, trying to regain my composure.  The train let out its huge mournful cry once more, doors slammed everywhere.  I saw Omar half-walking, half-staggering towards me.  With a jolt the train moved off.  Omar stopped as if struck by a blow.  His hands hung down by his side.  Tears rolled slowly down his cheeks.  Then he was gone.  I went back to our compartment.  You were working on your travel journal, John.  You looked up briefly, then went on writing.

Egyptian Romance - list of chapters

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