"But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?"

Last night I had a panic attack. I felt my pulse going up. It’s usually around 58 beats per minute. Now it was higher. I could feel the throbbing in my chest. I was watching the Yankees beat the hell out of the Red Sox. At first I put it down to that. No, it couldn’t be that. Smoltz was pitching and, as everyone knows, he’s a work in progress. I didn’t expect the Sox to win.

It was a Thursday night. O.K. Work on that, I thought. What happened to me on Thursday night a week ago? When I remembered, my pulse jumped up another notch. I was at George and Gaby Whitehouse’s home listening to Mahmoud Khodier talk to twenty prospective travelers about the trip he wants to lead into Egypt and Libya. Nancy wanted to go just to see. She said I didn’t have to come. But I couldn’t see how I could stay home. It was a five-minute walk from our house to theirs. They are friends. They know Nancy and I always do things together. If I had stayed home, it would have made a statement. I wasn’t in a statement-making mood. Of course, I went.

Mahmoud Khodier is a tour guide. George and Gaby touted him as one of the best they have ever encountered, not idle praise coming from a couple who have been in the travel business for thirty five years.

The slide show Mahmoud put on was impressive.
He punctuated the trip into Egypt with stunning photographs of Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Whales, the Dakhla and Kharga Oases, and, of course, Luxor.

In the darkened room I pictured the tour as an anti-Moses trip. Moses led the Jews out of Egypt. Mahmoud leads them back in. He also intends to visit Tripoli and Leptis Magna in Libya.

Nancy fell for it hook, line and sinker, of course. But she’d fall for a trip anywhere in Africa. Well, maybe not Zimbabwe.

“Do you want to go?” she turned to me.

Like in the E.F. Dutton commercial everyone in the room stopped talking and turned to listen.

So that was it. The evening was a setup. If I had said no, she would have said, “Well, I’m definitely going.”

I would have had to back down in front of all those people.

If I said yes, it would have been a lie.

So I said, “It’s up to you, sweetheart.”

Nancy turned and gave Gaby thumbs up.

Later in the evening Mahmoud leaned over to me and whispered in my ea
r, “You are very diplomatic.”

So is he. He knows as well as I do that I’m a puppy, a wuss, a combination of the two. I’ll let you figure out what that is.

Egypt, I’m told, is safe. But when I ask my friends about Libya, they shrug their shoulders. What the hell is that supposed to mean? How I wish I could just stay home and out of harms way.

Ever since the gathering at George and Gaby’s, Nancy has had enough sense not to push it. She hasn’t mentioned Egypt or Libya once. She doesn’t have to. She knows she is going and that I won’t be able to stay back.

She goes about her business as if the meeting with Mahmoud never happened. But she can’t hide her elation at another trip in the offing even if it might end up offing me. She has stopped biting her nails. She has turned the patio into a flower garden. She placed little vases with suction cups on the French doors that lead to the patio. She has filled them with black-eyed susans, geraniums, alstroemeria, zinnias and tuberous begonias.

While an upcoming trip has a salutary effect on the décor of our patio, I suffer my panic attacks in silence. I drown them in a wineglass. Every time my heart bangs it
s head against my thorax, I take a swallow and hope for the best.

There is a consolation. Septimius Severus was born in Leptis Magna.
(This photograph of the Roman Theater was taken by Luca Galuzzi; http://www.galuzzi.it.) Marcus Aurelius named him senator in 172. In 193 he was named Emperor after hurrying to Rome to crush the Praetorian Guard who had sold the Emperorship to Didius Julianus. Julianus was, mutatis mutandis, the first "Queen for a Day." 25,000 sesterces had bought him sixty-six days of Emperorian glory. But no sooner did Septimius Severus step foot back in Rome than the Roman Senate crowned him Emperor--the Praetorian Guard be damned--and in virtually the same breath condemned foolish Julianus to death. His last words were reported to have been, "But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?"

Doomed to follow Mahmoud into Egypt, I know how he must have felt.

It will be amusing to see the place where Septimius Severus was born and raised. I only hope that, like him, I will get out of there alive.

(I’ve written a bit about Septimius' awful offspring elsewhere in this blog. You can check it out: http://travelreluctantly.blogspot.com/2007/08/occasionally-when-i-travel-i-experience.html.)

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