Chapter Four

In that moment, I had forgotten about these past two days and how my life took a complete turn. After what seemed like an eternity, my mind finally wasn’t questioning the events that happened and somehow in this foreign town with these two strangers, I felt at ease.

I stood there tired and helpless but wide awake; completely at the disposal of the man standing in front of me whose name I now knew. Before he turned to walk back to the table, Ahmed put his hand out as a gesture to guide me to our seats. I slid my soft pale left hand onto his and he grasped it lightly while striding us back to the table he was sitting at. His touch was soft and his hands were warm next to mine.

All this while, I did my best not to look at him and instead focus my attention at our surroundings. His friend was conversing with the hotel manager in the corner of the room. I turned my neck back to look at him as I sat in my seat and somehow I could feel the gaze of the man sitting in front of me. This time I didn’t hesitate and looked back at him mainly for the reason of wanting to know more about him. He somehow read my mind and as I turned to look into his eyes he gave me a soft smile and said “I hope the travelling wasn’t too much for you”. I stared into his handsome face while keeping my face collected and replied “It was just fine. Why did you bring me here?”

I don’t know why I asked so abruptly but maybe because it was in the back of my mind that I had to let it out. His subtle smile had not left his face but his eyes changed to look now at the table instead of me. “My companion and I set out of Cairo to travel to Luxor for business two days ago. We had boarded the train when we began to hear sounds of crossfire and hurried to look out of the window at what was happening. During all the chaos, people began entering our cabin and soon we could not find each other in the midst of all the confusion. When things got settled, Zahir found his way back and we began our journey but the collapse of the train left us stranded and we had to leave quickly in order to stay clear of any harm”.

He paused as the waiter brought over a glass filled with a light red liquid. Zahir, whose name I now knew, was still standing with the hotel manager and conversing lightly about something serious. After we took a few sips of the sweet drink, Ahmed once again began narrating the events of the past two days “The middle of the desert is a dangerous place to be and the power line of the train had been cut thus no communication could be made with any neighboring stations. Staying put and waiting for help would have taken at least a week when the next train would have come by but we would either be starving or attacked by wild animals by then or would have become infected with the virus even if one person on the train was a carrier.”

I knew when I walked towards this man in the moonlight last night that I had made the right choice instead of walking back to the train. But a part of me trembled at the thought of choosing otherwise and being stranded in the desert right now instead.

 “Have you found out about what happened to the train?” I asked. He shook his head lightly in disappointment, “Zahir is informing the hotel manager about it so he can send for help. We also let the man at the cargo station know so that he could send reinforcements. We have managed to find someone who could take us to Luxor. We leave tomorrow.”

All the while we were conversing, I waited for him to tell me why he chose to bring me along with him on this journey and whether or not I was to accompany them tomorrow or if this dinner was a last goodbye. As I tried to get my thoughts in order, Zahir came and sat to the left of me on our four seater dining table “Good evening. I hope I was not long” he said curtly.

The waiter brought about our dinner which included rice with roast chicken and a chickpea salad. I thought that we’d be eating in silence given our long day of travel but instead, Zahir’s cheerful and buoyant character kept the conversation going. “We must apologize for the kind of introduction and preceding events that led us here. I wish it were better but unfortunately times are difficult. I have notified all I could of the train but the circumstances are not allowing anyone to forge risking their lives on private transportation to help those stuck”.

The virus was the cause of many deaths and people choose their own safety and those of their families before anything else. It was the leading cause of unemployment in the country and also the reason why most private owned businesses had shut down. The crime rate was higher than ever before and day by day people had been dying of starvation.

We conversed for a while discussing the economic situation and the war that was going on in the country. All this time no one disclosed any personal information nor asked about it. It struck me a few times to ask them about their lives and travels but every time I tried to, some other topic of discussion came up.

After our meal was over, we got up to go back to our rooms. Ahmed walked me to mine and the whole while I meant to ask him why he had brought me with him. But when we got to my door, I turned to look at him and caught him watching me carefully. My treacherous heart once again gave me away by beating so hard that I thought all other sounds had muted. It was just as I got the courage to open my mouth to say my final goodbye to him that we heard the sounds of gunfire so loud that it made me gasp and my body tremble.

It all happened so fast. Ahmed flung himself to open the door of my hotel room which we closed and locked shut after us. He picked up the coat from my bed and ran to open the windows of my room as I heard the stomping of feet get louder and quicker. “Trust me” he said as once again he put his hand out for me to grasp. For a split second of disbelief I stood there taking in the scene of this handsome man standing in the balcony of an unfamiliar place once again looking at me to follow after him in the middle of this muddled night and so I did.

We climbed down the ladder next to the balcony onto the pavement. As soon as our feet were on the ground, the light from my room shone with shadows of men drawing nearer each second. We ran into an alleyway in the dead of the night, not turning back even once.

Chapter Three

It was a cold night. I felt as if all the blood in my body had frozen and my mind blocked out all other noises except my heart which I could feel pumping cold blood every second. My nerves were all attentive and working at a high volume to contemplate what had just happened.

No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t come up with a possible solution to get out of this mess. I wished I could go back in time and change the course of the day. So I just stood there praying and hoping that somehow things would change. I wasn’t usually like this. My parents were always proud of their smart and confident daughter who never gave up on anything.

But this time, I just lost whatever reasoning I had and watched the two men walk into the night. Their silhouettes shining with utter confidence at where they were going. How could I trust them? Why did they bring me here?

I couldn’t turn back because I thought that there was nothing to go back to but also because I felt frozen in time. It felt like ages just standing there watching them and as I was, the tall striking man I was sitting in front of on the train a short while ago, stopped and looked back at me.

The moon shone in his face from the most perfect angle that it made me gasp for air and my breathing drew in harder. His face was perfectly sculpted. His suit looked black in the night which was actually navy blue. The top two buttons of his white shirt were open and his hair had a disarray that made it seem as if he was a figure made by the most brilliant sculptor.

He looked at me with patience but so much composure that I would walk to him and to my surprise I did. It felt as if someone was tugging me and made me notice nothing else but him until the point where I was so close that I couldn’t take another step for accidently coming in contact with him.

I stared in his black eyes which were the color of the night sky. He looked back at me and even though his looks didn’t change, I felt a tenderness whether it was in his eyes or his aura I didn’t know.

Meanwhile, his companion did not stop nor look back and was a bit ahead of us as we stood there watching each other.

“I apologize for dragging you out like that”, he said to me in his low and soft voice. “The night is getting cold and we need to rest soon. Please come with us” he said as he took a step back and tilted his head to the side for me to go ahead of him.

It took me a few seconds to tear my eyes away from his and when I did, I began walking where he wanted me to. I could feel him close by and my senses told me that he was watching me intently or maybe it was just me hoping for him to.

After almost half an hour of walking along the desert, his friend turned back abruptly and said “Can we please rest now? I think this is far enough for us to begin making a fire.” He began to scavenge for sticks and some branches he jerked off of dead trees. He used those and the lighter he had in his pocket to make a fire, nearby which we would sit.

Before I knew it, the man next to me had taken off his coat and put it on the desert sand and made a gesture for me to sit on it. I obeyed. I sat looking into the fire, with my arms hugging my knees.

He sat a few inches away from me to my right and his friend across from us. I noticed he had a small brown satchel with him from which he pulled out a bottle of water and offered me but I politely declined. After a while, when his friend was asleep and snoring on the desert sand, I could feel my eyes close as well.

When I woke up, it was morning and I could feel the scorching heat on my face. Somehow, I fell asleep lying down and the sun was in full form in the sky. I immediately looked around and found nothing but the desert and the man who was sitting next to me last night. His back was towards me so I got up and started brushing off sand from my clothes. I took off the coat I was wearing to reveal the white dress I had worn underneath. It came a bit above my ankles and was made of delicate thin material with long angel sleeves. It had a white lace bodice and subtle black needlework with flowers on the front. In the middle of the chaos last night, I had lost my bonnet and my long black hair was now falling down in thick waves that ended a bit above my stomach.

As I picked up his coat and mine and put them against my arm, he turned around and looked at me. His eyes were wide but his expression showed nothing of what he was thinking. I looked at him and smiled for I did not know how else to greet him. He walked closer to me and when we were just a meter apart, I heard someone panting heavily, “I couldn’t find anything to eat but I did find a road not far from here which may help us get somewhere” said his friend.

With that, we set out into the desert and after sometime, found the road to which we turned right onto, parallel to where the train would have been headed. It was almost the evening when we came across a two story building made of clay that stood tall and had openings without any doors to its two sides. It stood up with pillars made of the same clay and gave the effect of a ruin that was yet to be demolished by time.

We walked in through the corridor and found a young man standing in one of the counters to the side of the big lobby. He was scrawny and had a thick black mustache that took up half of his face. He was the same height as I was and could not have been above 30 years of age.

He told us that this place was actually a pit stop for cargo vehicles and that we could get a ride in an hour from a truck headed to town. He was kind enough to offer us some bread and water while we rested our tired feet on the seats in the middle of the hall. The truck took us to a town which we reached right when the last bit of night fell.

It was built nicely and felt as if its residents would have been upper middle class folk who had enough earning to get by. But there were barely any people on the roads. Our truck driver gave us directions to a hotel nearby where we could find shelter.

The hotel was tall and built with solid brick. It had five stories and was well furnished with carpets, large vases with beautiful paintings of flowers on the walls and a beautiful staircase with gold rims. The old man sitting to the right at the counter gave us a kind smile as we walked in. He was short and stout with a white beard and mustache and a full head of white hair. He had on a pair of glasses with string attached to the ends that went behind his head.

The men paid him for three rooms after which he took us up to the rooms on the third floor. My room had a balcony and looked out onto the town. To the right, it had a queen sized bed with white bedding and two side tables made of black wood on either side of the bed. There were lamps on either table and both were turned on to reveal the room. The bathroom was to the left and was quite spacious so that it had a closet within it full of towels, tissue rolls and a pair of slippers.

The old man handed me the key and closed the door so that I could have some privacy. I walked onto the balcony and as I opened the doors, a light breeze grazed my face. It was calming in a way and made me close my eyes and take in the air.

A while later as I was resting on a chair in the corner, there was a knock on my door. I pulled it open to see my companion standing in front of me, now changed into a light blue dress shirt and grey pants and looking as strikingly beautiful as he was in the moonlight.

His hair was combed back and his eyes were big and bright. He was holding a brown box which he held out to me and said “You can come down for some dinner on the first floor when you are ready”. I took the box from him and with a nod of his head, he left me and disappeared downstairs.

I put the box on my bed and looked at it curiously yet with caution. I opened it and found a light grey silk gown with light blue beading on the front. It was delicate and looked as if it would fit me perfectly. A sudden realization that I may be making him wait at dinner made me rush to the bathroom where I drew a bath that helped calm my muscles.

I had a petite frame and my skin was pale white that made my hair seem as dark as night. As I brushed my hair, I saw my thin heart shaped face in the mirror which seemed tired but my eyes were wide and excited.

I got dressed and headed out, not even waiting for my hair to fully dry. I left it open and even though I tried to comb it enough to straighten it, I was sure it would become wavy again in a while.

The dining hall on the first floor had a candle lit on each table and was big enough to accommodate at least fifty people. The balcony door to the left was open, revealing the night. The young man who was at my door just a while ago was sitting at a table in the middle of the room and when he saw me, he immediately rose and walked towards me with poise and charm that made me hold my breath in for a few seconds. When we were close enough to each other, I heard his friend from behind me say “Ahmed! Everything is ready”.

Chapter Two

I suddenly felt the blood rise to my cheeks as I sat there observing him and instantly turned away before our eyes could meet and intrigue me further. His mere presence was intimidating and I had never felt this way before. As a young girl, my parents always had guests over because of my father’s rank in the army and the art of conversing with daunting men such as army chiefs or colonels was never a problem for me. But this person had an aura about him that sent shivers down my spine.

I looked away to the left where a woman was sitting with her sleeping daughter. She was sobbing and it pained me so much to watch and made my heart sink as I remembered what had happened just a few hours ago. I forgot where I was and put my hand on my face to hide the sorrow.

I couldn’t sleep and the feeling of devastation made me weak and sick to my gut. I closed my eyes and felt them ache as they lay there shut. I sat there for a while with my hand to my head trying to push the negative thoughts to a corner of my mind. I had to focus on what to do after getting off the train while hoping and praying that my family was somewhere nearby. 

The cabin I was in had 24 seats with clusters of four seats each and three clusters on either side of the train. They were decorated with red velvet cloth and each cluster had a circular black wooden table in the middle. The floor of the train was carpeted with light beige wool which made the cabin look more alive as yellow lights shone against it from the ceiling. Our cabin was the first one to the right and the seats beside each one of us were empty.

The train conductor had rid the cabin of all those people who did not have a ticket or money to compensate for the seats and had ushered them to the next one. It was to make sure that any person carrying the disease would not be in contact with the elite. This cabin was quite spacious and I felt relieved that I chose to wear my diagonal shoulder purse which clung next to me during the chaos. For if I hadn’t, I may not be this cozy at the moment. I still had enough money to help me find my way for some time till I reconnected with my family again.

After a few minutes, a man some inches short of the one sitting in front of me and a bit fuller in weight wearing a dark blue shirt, grey coat and beige pants approached us. “Thank goodness I found you! Who knew this was going to happen” he said in a low but boyish tone. He had a round tender face with short dark brown hair patted down to one side. His complexion was much fairer than the other mans who know felt a bit tanner and more masculine than this one.

He did not get a response from his companion who was busy reading a journal so instead he looked around at the train. I found myself watching the man sitting across from me again. He had a short stubble on his chin all the way up to his cheeks. His face was slim and strong-built with slightly arched brows ornamenting the upper portion of his face. He was engrossed in the black leather bound journal and added no input into what his companion had said.

“Two plain teas for the gentlemen. Would you like anything miss?” the waiter asked me with a kind smile as he set aside the teas on the table. “No thank you” I said in a bleak voice which I wasn’t sure he heard or not. He must have understood it as he nodded and trotted away.

The cabin was mostly quiet now with occasional screeches of the train moving on the track. I rested my head against the seat and closed my eyes. “We will be off the train in a few hours. I need you to make sure we have everything ready for tomorrow” said a deep smooth voice and it wrenched me to open my eyes but I made definite to keep them shut tight.

“You don’t have to worry. All the paperwork is ready like you asked”. “Good” he replied. With that, the train slowed down and came to an abrupt halt. I immediately opened my eyes and looked around. There was no conductor in our cabin and it was still too dark to see outside the window. Within a minute, the door to the cabin slid open and the train conductor announced that there was a problem with the track and we would have to take a short pause while they sorted it out.

He left back out the door while people remained in their seats chattering constantly. I felt my heart beat faster but I looked away and noticed the man sitting in front of me was now looking straight at me. I felt a sudden shudder but tried to remain composed. “We will be here for a while ma’am. You may want to eat or drink something” he said to me coolly keeping his face expressionless.

“I will in a while thank you” I replied curtly and confidently. He kept staring and his gaze was so strong that it was hard to look away. His companion, who was watching us curiously, paused for a while then said “It is a pleasure to meet you madam. Would you like for us to ask the waiter to bring along our dinner?” I smiled at his nice tone and cheery face and asked him to please do so.

While we sat in our seats and ate, we began to converse again. “Madam, I must apologize for not introducing us sooner, my name is…” the man diagonal to me wandered off as the train began to stir and come back to life as it started the journey again after a good half hour.

The train however, began rolling faster than before and in a while the screeches became so loud that it was hard not to cover my ears. All of a sudden, the train jerked slightly backward and a split second later it began to go at a much faster speed. All this while, I kept my ears closed but eyes wide open. The man sitting in front of me immediately got up, opened the sliding door to the end of the cabin and disappeared behind it. His companion was sitting in his seat bracing for support against the arm rests.

The lights of the train blinked countlessly and after at least fifteen minutes of this chaos, the train stopped and came to a halt after slowly and tirelessly dragging itself against the tracks for some seconds.

We were in complete darkness and the cabin was full of loud sounds of people shouting and looking for their loved ones. I sat there, dumbfounded and waited for what was to come next. I felt the warmness of the tears roll down my face as I clung hard to my purse. Within a minute, I felt a warm hand jerk me up from my left arm and made me rise to my feet. The man who sitting across from me was standing right next to me with a small flash light in his left hand which was pointed at his partner.

This was his signal to get up and follow us out of the cabin through the door and out the steps down the left of the corridor of the train. As soon as we got off the train into the night, and began walking forwards, I looked back and from what the little moonlight I could make of the scene made me gasp. The train only had two compartments left and all the ones behind ours had been cut off.

The man was still holding my arm as he walked ahead into nowhere and after a few minutes, he turned back to look at us. “There’s no point staying here anymore. We need to find shelter before any jackals decide to show up.” And with that, he let go of my arm and walked ahead again. His companion had said nothing and followed him immediately without question. But I couldn’t.

I stood there in the night watching them walk onward in the dark shadows of the Egyptian desert.

Chapter One

I watched the water droplets roll down my window while light strokes of thunder illuminated the sky. It was a dark night and it had been raining for several hours. I turned to look at the clock on my dresser which indicated a quarter passed midnight.

My room was dim with subtle light coming in from under the doorway. The window next to where I sat was to the left of the room next to a sofa chair upon which I sat in my long white satin robe. It was made of fine material and had lace detailing on the hems of the sleeves of the same color. The room was decorated with heavy cherry wood furniture including a voluptuous bed which stood facing the dressing table that carried expensive perfumes, fine powders and a jewelry box made of glass with a renaissance picture on the top.

To the right side of the bed was a closet that was overfull with clothes peeking out through the doors even though it was so spacious that it could carry an entire family’s supply of clothing. It had crystal knobs which when opened displayed a walk in room which had barely any space to stand in given the amount of belongings it contained.

The walls of the bedroom were a light cream color with light pink and grey flower wall paper on the wall behind the bed. The ceiling was tall and had one magnificent black chandelier with yellow bulbs in the middle.

The year was 1920 and a virus had hit the earth causing millions of people to become infected with a disease which had no cure. Doctors and scientists all over the world were trying to come up with ways to help humanity fight this plague but there had been no luck. All who were blessed to have the shelter of homes were confined to them like birds in cages locked away not knowing when they would be free again.

Fortunately my family had enough inheritance to pay for us and our servants so as to keep our house running with essentials. We had been quarantined before this virus spread to our country because of the strong links my father had in the army which gave away what was to come.

I was brought up in a fairly rich household and was the eldest of two. My younger brother had been born five years after me and I had just turned nineteen. My mother was a house wife who loved her husband and children very much and spent countless hours fussing over our wellbeing. My father was a high ranking officer of strong aristocratic blood as were his fathers before him.

Our country was also under war which had subsided for quite some time due to this virus. Whoever was infected, had flu like symptoms with an everlasting fever until it took the lives of many. It was known as covid virus and never had anyone seen such a danger as thee.

I got up from watching the rain; feeling restless and not being able to sleep, I walked around the room lost in thought. The world might as well have been coming to an end with war and disease and it hurt me to be confined in the walls of this house that could have homed at least 20 people graciously.

Lost in thought, I lay on my bed and played with a lock of my long black thick hair until my fingers could no more. I retired myself to sleep while watching the rain a few hours later.

I woke up startled to the bustling of energy in my room. My maids were standing side by side each one picking clothes, shoes and whatever else they could find and fitting them into one big suitcase. “What is happening?” I could feel the tiredness in my weak voice as I rose from my bed slowly. “Mistress your father has ordered us to pack your bag and for you to get dressed and come downstairs at the earliest”, said the younger and more vibrant maid while folding a navy blue silk nightgown of mine.

I was immediately alarmed and could not contain myself as I ran outside and down the hall to the staircase that led directly to the foyer where my mother was standing already dressed and helping my brother get into his coat.

“Sophia!” he exclaimed as he saw me, “we are going on a trip”. My mother turned around startled. “What’s the matter?” I asked gasping for air because of my sudden alarm right after waking up. “Dear, you must go get ready, we will be leaving soon. We need to take the train and make our way to a safer place since it is doing us no good being confined here” said my mother.

My father had planned us to move to the countryside where war and disease were irrelevant and we could continue life in simpler and happier ways without worries. We left in earnest and our chauffer took us to the station where we sat for a few minutes waiting for our suitcases to be taken into the first class cabin. It was there when my life changed forever.

It all happened so fast that no one could comprehend what was happening. Panic erupted as no one knew what horror had hit us. We ran from each other for means of not getting close to someone with the virus, and we ran from the gun shots that were so loud as if they were being fired right next to us. The station was suddenly full of people in despair running for their lives and while watching this entire scene I was late to notice that I drifted away and that’s the last that I had ever seen of my family.

I was amongst those who were able to get into the cabin of the train while the train was about to embark; unsure of whether or not it was safe. After an hour, news broke that we had been invaded by enemy lines and that we were to reach a safe harbor in a few hours. They were inspecting everyone and it felt like they did for a very long time. All this while, the blood in my veins had seemed to freeze, and my heart was beating so fast that I thought others could hear it too. The lady next to me could not stop weeping for she had lost her son. Her sobs made my heart ache so I moved to a vacant seat near the window. I had a look of someone who was petrified out of her wits and could not think at all.

Sitting in my long black coat and bonnet with hair frenzied and eyes wide open, I couldn’t imagine what I would’ve been looking like. I don’t remember how long I had been sitting like that for.

After a while, I realized that we had been in the train for quite some time as night had fell and cabin lights had turned on. A waiter brought over a cup of coffee for me which instantly made me want to throw up. I turned instead to look outside but I saw nothing. It was completely black.

Suddenly I felt the most alone I had ever felt and immediately forced myself to recall good memories. I had my eyes closed, remembering them hard when I felt someone sit right across from me.

I slowly opened my eyes. Seated across from me was a man who seemed to be in his mid-twenties. He was skinny but his built was very strong with the most perfect bone structure.  He sat upright dressed in the finest navy blue tailored suit with a white shirt. His jaw was strong yet subtle and the contours of his face were such that they lacked no imperfection. His features were sharp with big eyes as black as this night, a strong straight nose and proportionate face. His skin tone was ivory almost as much as mine and his thick black hair was combed back but it gave off a look of waves from the ends. All this, with the gentlest smile of but a shy adolescent. He did not look at me but instead focused closely far off in distance of the long cabin.