On Wednesday last week, a Novelist was visiting campus. About a month earlier, he graciously contacted me about speaking on campus, as visiting writers sometime do, and I put him in touch with a colleague who arranged everything. Unfortunately I was unable to attend his talk, but heard from my colleague afterwards that everything went well.
On Thursday, the following day, I was meeting another campus visitor, a Professor who had some meetings about international exchange programs and was also giving a lecture. I had never met him before, but arranged to meet him downtown so we could ride the bus to New Cairo together from Tahrir. (He was staying in Zamalek.) I took the metro downtown and arrived to meet him at around 9:30. As I was walking the half-block from the subway exit to the corner, I see a familiar face walk by. It was the Novelist! I had never met him, but his picture was on posters that were hanging up in the office, so I knew it was him. Incredible, since my first order of business for that morning was to send him a thank you note. However I can be shy and a bit slow, and by the time I realized it, he was gone.
So I get to the corner and the Professor sees me and asks, since we had never met, “Ira?” We shake hands and start to walk back in the direction from which I had come in order to catch the bus. Toward the end of the block, I see the Novelist again. I excuse myself from the Professor and now that I had spent the past few minutes regretting not introducing myself, I approach. I greet him by name. He then greets me by name. WTF? My picture was not on any posters. How did he know me? The Novelist explains that the Professor, who is standing beside me, saw the Novelist a few minutes before I arrived and thought he was me. Before I arrived, the Professor approached the Novelist and asked “Ira?” The Novelist said, “no,” but then went on to explain that he knew an Ira in Cairo and realized that it was probably the same Ira for whom the Professor was waiting.
The Professor and I chatted with the Novelist for a few minutes before running off to catch the bus. Encounters like this can make a city of 18 or 20 million people feel like a small village.