The cruise had docked for the night and the air was balmy, but boisterous. There were lights and people a short distance away - melody and mirth coming together in a mad frenzy that could only be a bride in white and a groom in black surrounded by colour and chaos. I was just a hop, skip and swim away from an Egyptian wedding. And it all started when my mother came dashing through my door.
“There is a wedding a little distance away. I know two girls who are going. Quickly! Get ready!”
“What do you mean, get ready? I am in bed. On the Nile. I am in bed on the Nile! Do you realize what a rare luxury that is?”
“Stop being so boring! Get ready and go!”
Truth was I didn’t just want to walk into a wedding in Egypt without an invitation. I wondered how we would be received? Unsolicited wedding entrances was just something I hadn’t bothered to look up before I boarded that flight from New Delhi. But my mother stood at the door, waiting. Suddenly, I could feel her excitement begin to seep into my bones. I got out of bed and into my ensemble for the evening – jeans and a t-shirt. I grabbed some lip gloss, ran my fingers through my hair and stared at myself in the mirror. There was no danger of the bride turning purple with jealousy.
Irresolutely, I walked towards my partners-in-crime. They were French. And spoke just enough English. Which did away with eclectic starts to small talk, given that our short journey to the sewan was peppered with various phrases explaining where we would be sailing to yesterday. I blinked. They consulted. “We mean tomorrow. We will be sailing to Philae tomorrow.”
By this time we were standing before the entrance to the sewan. I took a deep breath and hurried after my co-wedding crashers, and walked right into the middle of the celebrations. There was music and dance and many, many people. Some of them noticed us right away and came to greet us with warm, wide arms. “You Indian?” “You French?” “You blonde?” “You Amitabh Bachchan?”
“I mean, do you know Amitabh Bachchan?”
“Not really. He moves in glitzier circles.”
“Well, we Egyptians love him!”
And with that he grabbed my hand and pulled me in to dance. Everyone had formed a circle around the bride and groom who were holding hands and dancing. But not for long, because they had to be informed about the foreign, exotic trespassers. The French and I went ahead to congratulate them. The groom was most excited to see us, but the bride (and I remember her face all these years down) had eyes only for him. She held onto him and gently swayed. I smiled. They were beautiful.
I will remember that night for more than one reason. I was being welcomed into an intimate celebration of love, welcomed amongst family and friends, welcomed with such adoration in a land where I had arrived only days ago. It was also a night where the French and I received our first marriage proposals. My suitor took me straight to meet his mother. She kissed my forehead and told me I should marry her son. I was worth every camel she could lay her hands on. I smiled apologetically.
Before we left, tired and content with our fill of an authentic Egyptian wedding, my suitor walked up to me. He handed me a coin. “This is for good luck. And because, I always want you to remember me.” I took it, thanked him and turned away.
But I had only taken a few steps towards the cruise, when I turned. I stood under the stars, surrounded by the calm of the night and the secrets of the river. I looked at the coin in my hand. And wondered.