‘Hey meester, want Pepsi?’ asks the skinny boy of ten. Dr Christopher Irving, a tall, pale academic in his late twenties, though looking forty-five already, gazes at the huge pyramid ahead of him and tries to decode its secrets. He has already inspected the undecodable Sphinx in the burning sunshine. ‘Meester…’ ‘What?’ he asks, annoyed. ‘You want Pepsi?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ ‘Go on meester, very chip.’ ‘No, thank you.’ ‘Chip chip.’ ‘Bugger off.’ Mercifully, a huge yellow coach arrives with a hiss of brakes, and the skinny boy runs towards it. Another hiss, and the door opens, disgorging enormous Bavarian tourists from the coach’s air-conditioned luxury. They look red and disagreeable. The largest of them, a vast woman munching a huge sandwich, treads on the skinny boy’s foot. ‘Hey meester!’ he squeaks. The mountain of a woman hasn’t even noticed him and advances towards the pyramid, her giant form forcing both men and ponies standing nearby to give way. Even the resolute camels shift their ground a little in the sand. From beneath Dr Irving’s broad hat, sweat pumps down his forehead and trickles onto his glasses as he continues to gaze at the pyramid in the midday sun. He is dressed in baggy khaki shorts and hiking boots, and at his waist hangs a water flask from which he takes a refreshing swig. He surveys the tourists around him. Apart from the Bavarians there are other Europeans, Americans, Japanese and Indians, all colourful and touristy. And all are being besieged by guides and men selling rides on camels and thin ponies. Lots of skinny children run around, trying to make them buy bottles of Pepsi-Cola from ice-containers slung over their bony shoulders. ‘Hello meester what is your name?’ Dr Irving looks down. Another skinny boy has materialised at his side. And next to him is an even skinnier, smaller one. ‘What?’ ‘Hello meester what is your name?’ ‘Doctor Irving.’ ‘Oh.’ The boys look at each other. ‘Now bugger off.’ ‘First name meester?’ ‘Doctor. Bugger off.’ The smaller, skinnier boy looks impressed by his friend’s skill at English. The skinny boy ploughs on. ‘What time is it meester?’ Dr Irving glances at his watch, groaning. ‘Five past twelve. Bugger off.’ The skinny boy beams uncomprehendingly. At his side the skinnier one decides to give it a go himself and pipes up enthusiastically. ‘Hey meester…’ ‘What?’ ‘What time is your name?’ All his years in academe have not prepared Dr Irving for an encounter like this and he simply cannot decode it on any level. Can’t even manage a ‘Bugger off’. He shuffles about awkwardly on one foot before drinking from his flask again. The Bavarians have done the pyramid. In five minutes flat. The air-powered doors lock them into their coach once more, and it whisks them away to yet another hefty European lunch in their Cairo hotel. Dr Irving notices the Pepsi boy rushing in his direction again, so he brushes aside the other two and strides towards the corner of the Great Pyramid.
The stones along the corner edge have been re-enforced from quoin to apex with more resilient blocks, so Dr Irving begins his ascent rapidly. The boy calls after him. ‘Hey meester what about Pepsi?’ ‘No no, go away!’ he retorts, almost running up the first fifty feet of the pyramid. The boy looks after him with the confidence of one whose ancestors sold Pepsi to tourists 4,500 years ago. He starts to climb too, though each re-enforced stone is almost half his height. ‘Meester!’ he calls. Dr Irving is furious. This is meant to be his private encounter with Cheops, with Khufu. The deconstruction of the past. When he makes it to the top of the pyramid, he might even have an Ozymandias moment. People might look on him from below and despair. In the years to come, fellow academics might look on his works and despair of ever catching up with him intellectually. He strides on in the awful heat. ‘Meester!’ Now Dr Irving makes a fundamental error. Desperately trying to lose the boy, he starts climbing over to his right – away from the re-enforced corner blocks – and heads towards the centre of the huge wall. But the ancient stones crumble beneath his hiking boots. With one bound he destroys work carried out four and a half thousand years ago. He drinks greedily from his flask as the skinny boy runs diagonally across the vast triangular layered wall forty feet below him, beaming up at him. ‘Meester…’ Dr Irving groans and continues upwards, but the stones crumble beneath him in the terrible heat and he advances slowly, horribly aware that nowhere on a pyramid can the midday sun be evaded. As he drinks more water, sweat pours from him, staining his tropical clothes. He tries to climb but feels weak. His lips are parched and his head pounds. He drinks again, draining the flask. The boy is only ten feet away now, his dark eyes smiling helpfully. ‘OK meester?’ he asks. Dr Irving sinks onto, and into, the crumbling stone, his whole long body burning in the sun. The skinny boy advances, producing a dripping bottle from his ice-box. It glimmers in the sunlight. ‘You ready for Pepsi now meester?’ he says, twinkling. Dr Irving shuts his eyes. ‘All right,’ he answers quietly. ‘How much?’ He opens his eyes again and looks at his watch, noting that the haggling begins at precisely 12.36.