I’ve always believed that pure loneliness occurs most in large groups, that feeling of being present yet not there, on the outside looking into my own life where I was another passerby. Entering Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili bazaar, I felt exactly that. People zoomed in and out the aisles that were as layered as the Amazon Rain Forest while I stood in the middle of the madness, fighting for my sanity.
Of course, if I hadn’t lost it after years of being homeless, I doubted I would now. Brushing my thick, curly hair aside, I sighed. Homeless, once again. It did have its perks, though. When it was time to move, again I wouldn’t have to worry about saying goodbye. I could grab my things and go, leaving behind an empty carcass of a house or apartment that we never filled to begin with. At least that’s what I’ve always told myself. When you’ve moved as much as I have, you start caring more about how to get from Point A to Point B and less about the journey itself.
The Sun’s hot rays darted upon me like lasers, and I regretted not wearing sunscreen. Sure, as I always told my mom, I was just dark enough to where I didn’t burn. Still, the Sun had no problems with peeling my skin as easily as one might a Clementine.
Sweat leaked through my t-shirt, plastering it to my body. I started to walk toward a cluster of shady trees but before I was halfway, the squeal of one of my new classmates interrupted me.
“Aziza,” she said, her golden locks bounced as she ran to me. In her hand was a tiny vial of perfume. She sprayed it in my direction. “Isn’t it delightful?”
I grimaced as some of it hit my mouth, “Ew, what is that?”
“You said it’s some kind of French perfume, right?” she yelled, turning toward the vendor.
“Lacie that stuff is so watered down there’s no telling what it is. If it’s French, ask him what’s the brand. I bet you he doesn’t know.”
Lacie ran over and returned with a frown on her face, hands empty of perfume. “You were right, it’s probably a phony. The man started stuttering when I asked. How’d you know?”
I shook my head, “The city might change, but the marketplaces don’t”. I pulled out my phone. “When’s the assembly?”
Lacie shrugged, “Who cares. Look!” she said, pointing to a tiny alleyway separate from the rest of the bazaar. “There’s a jewelry booth, let’s go see what it has.”
“Lacie, I don’t th–
But she was already gone. Her Tory Birch flats tore through the sand as she raced past the crowds. That girl is going to get herself snatched one day, I thought to myself as I traced her path out the bazaar.
Sketchy didn’t begin to describe the tiny alley. On either side were high-rise stone buildings that loomed over the alley giving it a sense of eeriness it didn’t need. My leather sandals gritted against the pavement as I walked through it. I didn’t understand how she’d managed to see the tiny booth ahead of me since the only lights came from the sun, partly shrouded by the buildings, and a tiny light bulb hanging from the booth.
“I swear she was just here.” Lacie muttered to herself as she paced back and forth.
On the booth was about every type of jewelry one could think of, however a jewelry booth without its vendor wasn’t much use to us.
“Come on, Lacie, I’m sure we can find anoth–
“Hello dearies,” said a voice from behind me.
Lacie jumped, “Where’d you come from?”
“Oh, me?” asked the old woman. “Didn’t you see me come from back there?” She pointed to the ragtag canopy behind the booth.
We shook our heads. I didn’t know where the woman had come from but it certainly wasn’t from behind that tiny thing.
The woman smiled as she showed off her jewelry. “Maybe a nice anklet?” she asked as she held up one made of blue beads. “Or, how about this piece?” In her hand was a copper-coiled snake bracelet.
Lacie’s eyes lit up, “It’s perfect.” She took the bracelet from the woman. “I’ve wanted one of these forever.”
The woman grinned, revealing a half-rotten mouth. “I’ll take thirty for it.”
“Thirty?” asked Lacie, her smile dropping from her face. “Do you happen to have a clearance section?”
“I don’t do clearance,” said the woman, snatching the bracelet back.
“Wait,” I said, seeing the disappointment in Lacie’s face, “what about ten?”
The woman shook her head, “Twenty-five”.
The bracelet looked nice but I could hear my grandma’s voice saying there was no telling how long it’d last after Lacie bought it. “Fifteen.”
“Twenty, but only ’cause it’s the first sale of the day.”
Lacie smiled, handing the woman the money as she took the bracelet back.
“And what about you, dearie? Anything for you?”
I looked back over the table, they were all nice pieces but nothing special. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something.
“What about this?” I asked, picking up a thin silver chain with a blood-red stone encased in silver, hanging from it.
“Ooo, that’s perfect. It suits you,” said Lacie. Her pupils enlarged so much I thought they might drop out their sockets.
Although I doubted Lacie knew what suited me, seeing as we’d just met this morning, there was something about the necklace that made me feel like I’d been reunited with a long lost friend. “How much for it?”
The woman crept from behind the booth, her eyebrows bunched into a deep furrow. “That wasn– That one– It isn’t for sale,” she said as she took it from my hands.
“Why was it on the table then?”
“I don– I–,” said the woman as she struggled to find her voice. “Unless…” She moved behind me. Standing on the tip of her toes, she clasped the piece on my neck before I realized what she did.
“Hey,” I said, swatting the woman’s hand away, “What are–
“Aziza, look!” Lacie had one hand pointing at my chest.
It was the necklace, its blood-red stone was now glowing through my white t-shirt.
“You can have it,” said the woman her eyes wide in amaze. “It is yours.”
“What do you mean, it’s mine?”
Her eyes glazed over as she placed her hands on my shoulders. She drew me close as she began to whisper in my ear. “Four days, six companions, the adventure of a lifetime. An agent of chaos is rising, this time no one country shall due. He wants to rule over your world then his world, too. You must find what you need; trusting in each other will be the answer. Be careful though, for when all is done: one will betray and one will die.”
“What the heck,” I said. I tried to pull away from her but her grip held fast.
“Your turn, little one. Your choice will decide our fate.”