Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Saturday, 2 April 2011 11:58 UK

Taken for a ride in a Cairo taxi

By Owen Bennett-Jones
BBC News, Cairo

A man walks past a taxi rank in Cairo

Any correspondent knows that you have to take care of yourself when you arrive in a new city - after all, someone may try to take advantage...

Given the choice, I prefer to walk. More instructive, more stimulating and healthier too, I guess, but in Cairo the other day I was so thoroughly lost that only a taxi could get me to my hotel.

Ali, his pot belly rubbing on the steering wheel, introduced himself with a beaming smile and a spurt of speed.

And so began a fairly typical exchange.

"Alexandria, the pyramids, I can take you anywhere. I work all day and all night. I have four children."

"Thank you, Ali. Not today but maybe another time."

"Where are you from?" he said.

"Wales. I'm from Wales."

"Australia?"

"No, Wales. It is near England."

"Ireland?"

"No, Wales, it is a colony of England."

At last, a flash of understanding. A sympathetic nod.

"Very good, very good. I have two cars. If we go to Alexandria, we'll take the other car. It has a sunroof."

Double joy

We fell in to a silence and then, as we got near the hotel, there was a boy ahead, his face smeared with dirt, walking in the middle of the road with a few bedraggled bunches of flowers in his arm.

With the car all but stationary, Ali haggled as the boy walked to keep pace with us and eventually he bought a bunch.

"So, Ali, who are they for?"

"My wife. She is in hospital."

"Oh, dear."

"No, no, she has given birth."

"When?"

"Today."

"Today!"

"Just three hours ago," he said.

"Why aren't you with her?"

"I am going to her now," he said.

"Well, congratulations!"

"It's twins!"

"Twins!"

"Yes," he said, shaking his head with a rueful smile. "Twins."

"Double congratulations."

We were near the hotel now and, as I sorted out my money, I doubled the tip.

"Good luck with the twins, Ali."

"Thank you, thank you."

And then I saw the flowers. They lay strewn on the floor by the gearstick even more battered than when he had bought them.

It is the thought that counts, I know, but he could hardly give them to his wife like that.

And I just wondered - gift or prop?

I gave him a knowing smile.

He returned it in full measure and, as he drew away putting the money in his pocket, he gave me just the faintest of winks.

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