Winning or Losing?

by Louisa Harrison (United Kingdom)

The last thing I expected Egypt


'Please stop darling'. Mum was gently pulling at my hand, whilst the market stall owner's eyes sank a little lower. At aged 12 I understood the concept of bartering. It was just a fun game. A game I nearly always won. What wasn't so clear to me, was that the owner was trying to make a living. I was verging on insulting him, but in desperation he was going to give in. Back in Egypt again, aged 20. Those dry dusty streets with the baking heat piercing each in-breath. The sound of prayers surfing the air as you wake up each day. There's something special about Egypt. Falling in love with every explosive smell or colourfully, ancient street. Feeling melted with each smile from a local or when they drop to their knees in prayer, in the middle of the day. It was a tasting menu for the Arabic world. Towards the end of the trip I found myself bartering again. I was buying a fairly large amount of the ornate glass perfume bottles. The shop keeper was huffing and muttering under his breath the more I kept lowering or sticking to my price. I was winning. I'd forgotten again that this was a man, about his livelihood, and his pride. I was back to that little girl, except this time, no one was advising me to stop. Eventually he was shouting at me to leave his shop. He was angry and insulted. I had lost and now I shouted back and rushed out. Storming off down the road, the adult in me came crashing back. I'd realised that I'd gone way too low and I felt a dumper truck of guilt. I was ashamed. I sat down at a nearby cafe and pondered on the uneasy interaction I'd just caused. That's when the shop keeper came strolling over towards me. 'Do you have a mobile phone?' he asked softly. 'No!' I lied. He had followed me and was going to lecture me on how rich I was, if I admitted to owning one. 'So this isn't yours?' he asked with a knowing look, holding out my mobile phone that I'd left behind. My mouth opened and closed rendered speechless. He placed the phone on the table. 'I am a Muslim. We do not steal', he stated then meandered back towards his shop. That was the last thing I had expected. The next day I returned to his shop. I thanked him endlessly, with the only Arabic word I knew, 'Šokran'! I bought all the perfume bottles from him. This time at full price. No bartering. Perhaps the last thing he had expected. Now wherever I go in the world. If given the opportunity to barter, I think of the shopkeeper and remind myself it's not about winning or losing.