I leave the cafe just in time for the sunshine to turn to rain. And this is not African rain.
African rain is like British hailstone, only it’s made of hot pelting rain, not ice. However, African rain normally floods everything for about an hour and then stops.
Today’s rain is European rain. It’s less intense, but it goes on for hours.
I walk around Algiers in it nonetheless, beginning at Rue Didouche Mourad and walking through the impressive raised streets and squares, past the imposing University building, and eventually reaching the port area underneath the Casbah.
It is at this point that the European rain decides it doesn’t like being European any more. It wants to be African. And it’s good at it.
As the rain ricochets off every surface it touches, including my head, I look about me in desperation. It’s at this point that I see one of the many stray cats curled up, dry as a bone, and fast asleep on a large outdoor windowsill under a shop’s covered walkway.
I sit next to the cat. A policeman and a couple of other men sit on the adjacent windowsill, without an accompanying feline.
I watch the cat dream, whiskers twitching, curled up happily. This homeless creature seems quite at home on a dry windowsill in Central Algiers. I prod him (or is it her?) tentatively with my finger. I like to think this is because I feel cruel waking such a content creature. In reality I fear startling the cat and getting bitten or scratched.
Eventually the cat wakes with a great yawn. I am always amazed when cats yawn: how do they fit their large mouth in a such a small head?
I need not have worried. The moment the cat sees me she approaches (I have no idea why, but I have now decided the cat is female). I scratch her head and stroke her where her tail meets her spine: my own cat loves being stroked in these places. So does she. She comes closer ands rubs herself against my leg and torso. The man on the adjacent windowsill smiles. ‘J’ai un ami a nouveau,’ I say to him. I have a new friend.
We smile. The people in Algeria always seem to smile. Mostly when they’re laughing at me wearing my shorts. ‘Mr le Francais … tu n’a pas froid?’ Are you not cold, Mr Frenchman? ‘No,’ I say, ‘Je suis Anglais … Anglais du Nord,’ as if being Northern English is the answer to all of my eccentricities. Which, of course, it isn’t.