The bus pulled into Cairo after a long overnight journey from Luxor. It was August and the place was choking with heat, pollution and sweat. The bus had been fairly comfortable, but we’d been split up – the bus too full for us to sit together – and we’d both been hassled by our neighbours during the night. The busdriver had played hindi films at full volume for most of the night too. How we ever slept, I don’t know.
Being back in Cairo was a shock after the slightly more laid back (but still manic) south. We sat down with our bags at a cafe and tried to pull ourselves together over some thick Egyptian coffee.
We’d been travelling in Egypt for a few weeks and had done the traditional sights – the valley of the kings, the felucca trip up the nile, abu simbel, temples, temples and temples. We’d also spent a bit too long in the Bedouin camps of Dahab on the Sinai peninsula – back then there were no luxury five star hotels and dive boats. It was just hippies, Bedouins, and guys like us – lost, looking for something, no idea where to find it.
Our relationship had found a place, and a pace. We'd talked about it at length and knew that this was something good and something rare. Equally, neither of us wanted to get into anything heavy and neither of us wanted to put too much pressure on the other. We were no more than a typical fledgling couple on holiday - enjoying each other's company, learning more about one another and making the most of the sunshine and the exotic surroundings.
In Cairo, we checked into a cheap hotel and went to bed. I slept for what felt like days, but it could only have been a day, couldn’t it? I woke up and the room was dark. I was alone.
My head felt like it was attached to something else – a washing machine, a printing press, a tank of sharks, anything but my body. I could hear him snoring softly, but the oppressiveness of the heat and the stale room stopped me from moving nearer to him. I felt dreadful, the combination of heat, sun, sleepless nights and exotic substances had finally caught up with me. I knew the only way out of this was to go back to sleep.
When I finally woke again it was light outside and the sun was coming through the curtains, burning up every ounce of oxygen out of the room.
Paul was nowhere. Nor were his bags.
There was a note.
He’d gone home.
He loved me, but he wasn’t gay. It was all too much for him. This wasn’t the life he wanted. He didn't want to take this path. He’d had a girlfriend back home for goodness’ sake. How could he ever explain this to the folks in the UK?
He’d taken advantage of my exhausted state and gotten himself on a plane back to London.
I never saw him again.