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SKIN/ Steve Street ANDERS CHUCKED EVERYTHING—wife, friends back home, even his grown kids after they'd helped him straighten out his complicated international paperwork—to marry an Egyptian woman, a registrar at the exclusive international prep school he worked for in Cairo. He was an American, near fifty when he did this. He'd beenjust a mediocre combatant in the university wars in his own country, too fond ofhis subject to want to hone it into an effective weapon, and when his application to this foreignschoolwas accepted—and againwhenhe sawhow farhis dollars would go in the Third World, how well he could live there—he couldn't believe his redeemed life. His American wife, actually his second, had come along for an adventure of a couple of years, tops; she'd soon had enough of being light-haired in a public full of dark-haired men, and she said so daily, at least once. So Anders hadn't even brought up the issue of staying until he'd cinched things with Laila, the registrar, and the way he finally informed Ellen of what he'd decided to do was particularly abrupt and ugly. She flew home under sedation, and in their small expatriate community not one person was on his side. But the expat turnover rate was so high that he and Laila had to miss only about six months ofparties and one headmaster's annual reception, and by their second attendance as a couple they were regulars, with their own set of mocking but fond names for everybody there. The pounds Laila had put on within whatseemed toAnders like weeks of theirlavish wedding (she had an uncle in a ministry, and her family owned several blocks of Cairo) hadn't damped her trilling voice or dulled her wit, and back in their Zamalek apartment she made Anders laugh in a way he hadn't since—well, he didn't know if he'd ever felt so full and glad. He thought of the years he'd spent in anguish and worry, and though he could remember the reasons why and knew them for good reasons, he couldn't imagine getting so wrought up again over anything. "I've become an Egyptian," he sometimes thought with satisfaction, though he had enough cultural sensitivity not to say it aloud, even to Laila. This was before the Gulf War and spectacular acts of terrorism linked to Egyptian groups, but what he meant didn't really have to do with nationality or politics, anyway, or even religion. Laila had the country's golden complexion but was Coptic, not Muslim, so he hadn't even had to convert, though he would have. (He'd been quite taken with a demeanor he thought of as Islamic: a certain clear-eyed patience The Missouri Review · 43 and proud humility, an invigorated calm.) What he meant by "becoming Egyptian," though, was another attitude entirely, one somewhere between the Sphinx's smile and the deep, easy laughter of the legless man who sold him the Herald Tribune, a feeling of having been let in on the vast joke of the world at last. Butwhen he tookhis shirt offon the night after their third annual headmaster 's reception, Laila's laughter stopped. "What is that?" she said, turning him so he could see something on his right shoulder blade in the mirror of her dressing table: a mole. "Oh, that. I've always had it." He pitched his shirt toward a big wovengrass hamper in a corner of their bedroom. "Not always of that color." The shirt missed, and he thoughthe must have drunk more than usual that night. He crossed the room to pick up the shirt and drop it in the wicker hamper. "I'll get it looked at, LyIe. Next time I see Mustafa I'll ask him." "You must call Doctor Mustafa tomorrow." The objection that came to mind didn't seem important enough to voice, and whenhe'd set up the appointmenthe forgot about it, too, until his secretary reminded him on the day itself. Doctor Mustafa's assistant shaved the mole off forbiopsy,but itwas the doctorhimselfwhophoned Anders at work a week...


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