Mr. Ibrahim rang my doorbell the day after I arrived in Cairo. He explained that he could get me beer. Or water. Or anything I needed in quantity. If I ever needed him, I should ring door 16.
A few days later, before I could think of what I’d need, or figure out which floor apartment sixteen was on, he rang again.
I looked through the peephole and saw him there in the same gray, tattered galibayya (the long dress traditionally worn by the poorer men in Egypt). His handshake was cool and moist. His nose, red and bulbous. His hair close shaven. A broad smile. And an approach that was all salesman, hand extended, grinning ear to ear.
We spoke in English, and he tabulated my order. A case of beer in bottles. Two cases of water. The price included a premium, which I assumed was his delivery charge.
The order came. The beer was in cans. He apologized.
Ibrahim made the rounds of AUC faculty who live in Zamalek, the designated “gopher.” A convenient service and his persistence is certainly dependable. At our weekly happy hour, other professors and I would talk about how he has inside information because he shows up at all of our places. Some believe he may have ties to state security, and he’s keeping an eye on us as he delivers booze and other sinful beverages to all of our homes.
A few days later, another ring. Ramadan was fast approaching, he said, and beer wouldn’t be available for four weeks. I’d better get two cases, he suggested. Two cases in bottles, I firmly explained. Sakara Gold. The price was higher because of Ramadan, but would go down after the feast, he assured me.
Whiskey? No. Wine? No.
Two days later, at my door were two cases of beer. A case of Sakara Gold in bottles. Another of Stella in cans.
When he came after the feast ending Ramadan, I said I didn’t need anything. In spite of having guests over and taking lots of cans to parties, I still had way too much beer in my kitchen.
Ibrahim seemed to know when I would get home, because he would ring just five minutes after I walked in the door. I was most often in the bathroom when the doorbell rang. I have no idea where his house is (he didn’t appear to live in apartment 16), but he always seemed to be nearby when I got home. That added fuel to the suspicion that he knew too much about us.
He came again and I sent him away. Nothing today, shukran.
The last time I ordered from him, he got the beer and water right, but showed up with a giant case of toilet paper. 48 rolls. He insisted that I needed it and he was doing me a favor by bringing it.
There’s no way I’ll use that much toilet paper, I told him. 48 rolls. With no women in the apartment, that’s nearly a lifetime supply. I only had five more months here.
So, you won’t have to buy it again, he said.
I bought it. It was only six bucks.
A couple of weeks ago a younger man rang the bell. “Ibrahim?” he said. “Anything from Ibrahim?” No, I told him. I’m going away for a while. He looked sad. His shoulders slumped as he walked away.
Tonight, the bell rang again. The same young man was there. I’m Ibrahim’s son, he said. Do you need anything? I have a case of Stella downstairs.
Fine. Please bring it.
He returned with the case of bottles, and I ordered two boxes of bottled water for tomorrow. As I was paying him, I was about to ask him how father is. I hadn’t seen him in a while. Before I could ask, he said: My father is died. Ibrahim is died. But I’m the son. I’ll be doing this work.
I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. I handed him money and offered my condolences.
And I went to the closet to look at the case of tissue. 42 rolls left.
Rest in peace, Mr. Ibrahim.