"Khush, khush," he cries, gesticulating at the Egyptian-made Fiat trying to squeeze out of a tight parking place. "Come on, come on."
After tortuous maneuvers, the driver inches into the clear and the moment comes that Salim Metwalli has been waiting for since he ushered the vehicle into a narrow opening in Cairo's Nightmare Alley hours earlier.
The window in the driver's door glides down. A hand protrudes. Salim's brown hand stretches out to meet it and 10 piasters -- about 14 cents -- change owners. Another deal has been consummated in the singular business of Cairo's self-appointed parking attendants.
Throughout the Egyptian capital's commercial center, ragged men like Salim Metwalli trot up to parking automobiles, make a show of guiding the driver in and stake their claim for a 10-piaster tip on departure. Cairo wags call them "space allocation engineers." Other residents simply call them pests.
Such make-work sometimes infuriates foreigners used to parking on public streets without the shouts, gestures and outstretched palms of men like Salim. sBut they are part of economic life in Cairo, capital of a country where officially the unemployment rate is zero, but where there are more men willing to work than there is productive work for them to do.
Wherever you go in Cairo, supernumeraries are on the job. Little tea stalls on each floor of office buildings often are staffed by two persons. Visitors to government bureaucracies can see rows of desks behind which sit employes busy reading newspapers or chatting with their neighbors. As many as four plainclothed guards sit in a cubicle at the Foreign Ministry entrance verifying the identity of visitors.
Many unneeded employes are beneficiaries of a government pledge to employ any university graduate, whether there is an opening for him or not. Others, like Salim Metwalli, are just part of the scramble to earn a living.
For the last 10 years, Salim has been one of a pair of sentries who have assigned themselves the rights to parking spots in what many call Nightmare Alley, an otherwise unnamed passage between Sheriff and Gawad Husni streets just behind Qasr el Nil Street in the heart of Cairo's business district.
On most days, he patrols from early morning until the end of the home-for-lunch rush about 3 p.m., stacking up between $1.40 and $2 in five or 10-piaster tips. Over a month, he brings home about 45 pounds, almost $65, more than many salaried employes earn.
In return, Salim tries to be helpful when drivers arrive to park. When the alley is crowded he pushes cars around to make room or create an escape route for victims of double parking. In summer, he rolls down the window for departing drivers. Those who get to know him can stop in the middle of the alley and leave their keys in their ignition with confidence that Salim will park the car when a spot opens up, then deliver the keys to the driver's office before going home.
Home for Salim is one room in a four-story house in Cairo's Shobra district near the central train station.
By U.S. standards, the house would be called a slum dwelling. It houses about 50 people all sharing a common toilet. Like Salim, his wife and their four children, the other residents also eat, sleep and live out their family lives in single rooms rented for $10 a month.
Flat loaves of coarse, unleavened bread at a penny a loaf are the big item in their diet. "We also eat a little rice, a little beans, a little macaroni and little taamiyah," said Salim.
Taamiyah, sometimes called falafil elsewhere in the Middle East, is a deep-fat-fried ball of crushed chickpeas with spices. Meat is on the menu at Salim's house only about twice a month.
Salim, 37, is not what you call poor in Egypt, however, with an income more than double the estimated annual per capita income of $368 dollars. His monthly take-home rose by 50 percent when he left a factory job 10 years ago to take up the post in Nightmare Alley, but now he is again looking for something better.
"What else can I do?" he asked. "If I could find other work, I would leave this street immediately. But you have to have money. You need it for rent. And the little ones, they eat it up."