So there I was at The Old Cataract, the hotel where Agatha Christie penned her novel Death on the Nile. I entered the gardened swimming pool area, which sits below a wide veranda with its famous cliff-top view over the rock-strewn Nile at Aswan.
I found the blind young woman relaxing on a poolside lounger.
“Hello, I’m Anson Hunter,” I said, approaching her.
She turned up her blonde head and her reflective dark glasses sent flashes like empty mirrors.
“Thanks for coming to meet me, Anson. I know you’ve taken groups around Egypt in the past and I am wondering… will you allow me to hire you as my personal guide for a week or so? I want you to be my eyes in Egypt.”
“Are you sure you need me?” I said.
“You’re thinking a guide dog might be a better idea, perhaps Anubis, the dog god of the necropolis?” she said. “No, it’s you I want.”
It’s hard to believe now that even though I was standing right over her at the poolside, I was probably just an elongated smudge in her vision. Her female Egyptian assistant, who had emailed me, explained that Dr Constance Somers has degenerative retinitis pigmentosa and is now ninety percent blind. I think that’s being generous.
“Me show you Egypt?” I said, squinting against the southern Egyptian sunlight. “How does that work?”
She smiled. “How do you show Egypt to a blind person?”
“I wasn’t thinking that.”
“Then what? You’re wondering how you’d nursemaid a blind woman around Egypt? Don’t worry. As you know, I have an assistant, Saneya, to look after me when I really need help. She’s up there on the veranda trying to read a book, but watching me in case I get up and dive into the shallow end of the pool or something. Mostly I manage pretty well on my own with my cane, except when I’m walking in a crowded street in a city like Cairo and somebody bumps my shoulder and I’m spun around, then I don’t know which way I’m facing anymore and that can be interesting.”
“That’s not it, either,” I said, glancing at the long white cane lying on the grass beside her lounger. “At the risk of stating the obvious, you’re a trained Egyptologist as well as being the world’s leading space archaeologist.”
“And that’s your concern?”
“Yes. What could I possibly show you?”
“You’re different. You don’t see my condition, all you see are my qualifications.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly true, I thought. I saw other things about her.
I’ve been spending a lonely time at sites lately, poking around Aswan on the trail of one of the sons of Rameses, so I couldn’t help but notice the litheness of her figure revealed by the stretchy scraps of black spandex and imagine secret areas of humidity beneath. The tremor of tightness I felt in my stomach gave way to a twinge of guilt and I felt bad for looking.
This was like stealing from an unattended store.
There’s a voyeuristic aspect to staring at someone who doesn’t know it and the experience is further tainted by a sense of guilt when you’re looking at a person with a disability, albeit one as attractive as all hell...