Oliver felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him awake. A voice he recognized, but couldn’t name, was shouting at him in Arabic, “Awake! We have arrived.”
Oliver opened his eyes. The van had stopped in front of a two story mud brick building with a rusted tin roof. He saw more brick buildings in the distance, each with a small array of solar panels bolted to the roof. A small crowd of children and dogs surrounded a well at the center of a gravel paved plaza a hundred or so feet down the road. Streets radiated off from the plaza in five directions, running between the buildings in narrow strips of dusty gravel.
The voice came again, a little louder this time and he felt a slap on his right shoulder, and Oliver snapped his head right to see Zaid holding the van door open with one hand as he shook Oliver’s shoulder with the other. “Good, you’re awake. Hadiya and elder Layla are already in the house. They will be wanting to speak with you.”
Oliver pulled the door handle and slid out of the van. He stretched his back, legs, and arms tiredly, feeling a dull ache settling in. It was only mid-afternoon and he had already been attacked by an undead warrior, knocked out by a professional killer, kicked repeatedly in the ribs and gut by a disgraced Egyptian spook, and used for target practice by an enraged mercenary. His body was in desperate need of some good rest and a fistful of painkillers, and the short nap he had taken in the van had only served to make his muscles seize up and drain him of adrenaline.
He swung the van door shut and stalked around the front towards the open door of the mud brick house, his body aching the whole way.
A woman who looked remarkably like an older version of Hadiya opened the door in response to Oliver’s knock. She was dressed in a simple dress of white cotton that hung from her shoulders to her ankles. Delicately embroidered hieroglyphic designs ran down the front of the dress and across the shoulders and sleeves. The beginnings of wrinkles creased the corners of her eyes, which glinted at Oliver from behind large multifocal lenses.
She spoke to him in a strongly accented English. “Welcome to my home, Mr. Lucas. I am Duha, mother of Hadiya and daughter of the elder Layla.”
Oliver bowed his head and replied, “Thank you for having me. I appreciate your mother sparing my life.”
Duha stepped back and waved for Oliver to enter, saying, “You are our guest. Please, come in.”
He stepped into a combined kitchen and dining room. An electric stove and refrigerator stood against one wall, under several rows of shelves built into the brick wall. Water pipes and electrical conduit ran along the baseboard of the room and disappeared through a hole knocked into the ancient bricks and patched with plaster. Small statues of the gods of ancient Egypt stood in nooks set into the walls around the room.