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Near me, not by me

This is the best picture I never took. To understand what that means, you have to know what it's like riding a bus in Cairo. Once you're on, you're pretty much immobilized. They are jam-packed.

I was in Egypt on assignment for this newspaper. I could see the young girl pictured here and thought she would make a good picture. The schoolgirl contrasted pleasantly with the workaday bus riders. But I simply couldn't move into position to take the shot.

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In my experience, when a good image appears, one has less than 30 seconds to capture it. People, especially, are constantly shifting positions and changing expressions. In this case, the girl's expression is one of interest - the novelty of seeing a foreigner on a bus, cameras and lenses dangling. Most tourists take taxis.

I couldn't move. So I handed a camera with a wide-angle lens across the aisle to a woman sitting in front of the girl. She took this photo for me, based on what I tried to describe with hand signals.

As it turned out, I couldn't have done better myself.