You could tell they were the sort of hands that had seen a few things. His veins popped from beneath his fragile, paper-thin skin. His joints were swollen and crooked from years of cleaning floors and fixing roofs, yet soft enough to have held a few babies and probably even more grand babies. I went to bed that night under a single flickering light hanging from the crumbling cathedral ceiling and wrote in my leather-bound notebook,
"I have just met my Egyptian grandfather."
Every day he greeted me with the same deeply wide smile and gracious nod of his head.
"Your hands," he would say with a trembling voice, "you must let me read your hands."
I smiled in response, unsure of how to respond to this eager custodian’s proposal.
I pulled aside the owner of the new hotel. New, as in, he had just opened it. But I can assure you - nothing about his hotel was new. Located on the fifth floor of a mostly abandoned building in Cairo, the only residents filling the empty halls were those creepy Egyptian cats you see in cartoons. The ones with the slanted, blatantly suspicious eyes. They crept along beside me, their meows echoing off the dust and peeling paint, as I climbed the winding staircase convinced I was walking into one of those wake-up-in-a-bathtub-full-of-ice-with-my-kidneys-missing sort of situations. There was a working elevator in the middle of the vast, open space but I didn’t dare take it. Nope, the dusty, cat-infested stairs were good enough for me.
Once I reached the top step, a handful of old men, my new grandfather included, were sitting on a sagging couch in the “hotel lobby” smoking cigarettes. They jumped up, arms open with smiles across their faces,
“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!”
And all my fears washed away.
Plus, it was clean (kinda) and I was a young backpacker on a very tight budget.
"Oh no," the owner reassured me, "you mustn't worry. He doesn't normally offer palm readings. You see, to him you are special. No need to pay, just sit in the lobby and have a cup of tea with him."
So that’s what I did.
It was the last of my four-day stay in Cairo. The owner of the hotel was in the kitchen preparing a going-away party for me. He was cooking up platters of his favorite, traditional Egyptian foods.
Things I must try before I go.
Oh, and could I please not go yet?
Also, could I please leave him a nice review on Hostelworld?
He had his 8-year-old nephew run down to the stand on the corner to buy us beer. Even a few of the creepy-eyed cats were making their way into the crowd. It was turning into quite the soiree.
Back in the lobby, I set my tea on the notched and wobbly table and watched with curiosity as the old man’s hands cupped mine, his furrowed brow gazing into the lines of my skin. He tipped my hand from side to side, examining the way the lines tracing into my palm curved and arched. Some connected in the middle like a fork in the road. Others reached towards each other but were left with a rift, like hands reaching into the sky. He touched a section at the base of my palm where the lines were broken into a dozen different strokes. He nodded his head with a contemplative grunt.
And then he told me things he never could have known. Secrets I've never told anyone. He knew about my fears and my past. He knew about my health. He spoke about the crippling loss of my mother.
"You..." he looked up at me with sympathetic eyes, "you do not love easily."
I looked down in shame and he lifted my chin with a single knotted finger. "But when you do," he added, "your love is loyal and it is fierce."
And then he said something that broke my naive little 26-year-old heart.
He said, "You will marry late in life."
I can't tell you what he said after that because my head was reeling with questions.
"Late? How late? As in five years, ‘late’? Ten? Technically, you're a traditional old man, so a single gal in her mid-twenties is already an old maid…"
But I said none of these things.
I smiled and I took what he said with a grain of salt, because who really knows what our future holds?
But there was also some part of me, deep down, that knew he was probably right.
I was always the too girl.
And the mother of all too - too picky.
Oh, if I could count the number of times I was told this with a shake of the head and a disapproving tone. But I wasn't being too anything.
I was just being myself.
And I wasn't waiting for perfection - I was just waiting for right.
So in the meantime, from that fateful afternoon in Cairo until the fateful day in New Zealand when I went on a blind date with a coworker's friend (my future husband), I lived my life. I traveled the world. I watched the sunrise and danced on tabletops and cried a million tears. And I played the game, going on countless first dates and looking into the eyes of countless strangers in crowded bars, always... always wondering... is he here tonight?
His name was Nael - my Egyptian grandfather. I think about him often as I consider the fact that next year, I will be walking down the aisle for the first time as a 35-year-old woman, technically a bit "late" by most worldly standards.
What if he’s right?
And you know what? I couldn’t be more grateful in this moment that he was.
Because I know, without a single doubt in my deeply lived-in life, that the person waiting at the end of the aisle,
is the perfect person in the world for me.
He was worth the wait.
He's not perfect and neither am I, but we are perfect for each other. And I'll never doubt that for a second,
because I've been on the other side without him for so long.
That's the thing about love. It doesn't care about age. It doesn't care if you're 16 or 60, whether you're on your first marriage or your fifth.
I can appreciate that sort of stubbornness.
It follows no path but the one carved out by destiny.
Which apparently, I once heard an old man say, can be as uniquely varied as the crevices of our hands.