Fear and self-loathing in Al-Qahirah

The tug on my arm comes from a lower angle than any of the previous thousand hassles I’ve had on Cairo’s streets today, so instead of shaking it off with a forced smile I look down. To see a boy, small and dirty and curly-headed and beautiful, no more than seven, rubbed black with the besmirch of downtown.

Then something odd happens. He grasps my forearm while I’m texting someone – I’ve learned five minutes previously that a girl I’ve been seeing is leaving London before I return, so no feminine welcome home for me in September – and *kisses* it. Not a child’s kiss, but the sort of moist, lingering suction normally available only from a trained professional.

I shoo the yearning-eyed child away and cross the street, still texting.

Hours later the scene replays itself in my mind, and I realise what was really happening there. Child prostitution, the kind born of a poverty so desperate that a foreigner’s sweat-and-sunblock-soaked arm represents the end of the rainbow. I shiver involuntarily, and swallow thickly.

Because of course, ‘swallowing thickly’ is probably what that boy is doing to some fat euro right now. I just hope the boy gets a *lot* of fat Euros for doing it.

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