We were sardines for the first three weeks, 38 men squeezed into a 10-by 3-metre can, marinating in sweat.
Then, finally, on September 4, they allowed us a half-hour of exercise.
To be released into that ocean of sunlight, that vast periwinkle sky, that choir of crows - we couldn't stop running, round and round the yard. Some of the others had flip-flops from their families, but Tarek [cellmate Loubani] and I were barefoot - we barely had pen and paper and soap from our weekly 10 minutes with the embassy.
We ran and ran, not caring that the concrete was griddle hot, a molten ice rink. Four blisters the size of toonies, puffed like pancakes, bloomed on our soles.
That night, it was our turn to give a lecture to our cellmates. Tarek described working as an ER doctor in London's Vic and Gaza's Al Shifa. He didn't mention his ongoing experiments with quad copters (researching alternative methods for delivering blood samples) and 3D printers (manufacturing medical implements), his radical sideways uses of new technologies that could potentially ease the brutality of the Israeli blockade. Sometimes you have to keep it simple.
I talked about the four films I've made that are, ironically, set in prisons, joking that that's the Canadian way - first we make the films, then we do the field research. I didn't mention that the four are queer love stories. Sometimes you have to keep it simple.
Tarek decided that we should end with a song. Neither of us can sing. He decided it should be Que Sera Sera. We were shaky on the verses but got the whole cell singing the refrain. He explained it as a parable of fortitude, of survival, of resistance. What will be, will be. Inshallah, shallah. Songs can let meanings fly free, beyond Doris, out the bars.
For Tarek, it perhaps served as a secret serenade to his inner geek. For me, it perhaps subbed as a coded campy coming-out ballad. Songs can let meanings fly free, beyond Doris, out the bars.
In the days and weeks that followed, whenever I was sitting alone, feeling blue, crushed perhaps by another extension of our detention without charges, one of the others, Masry or Ala or Ahmed, would throw a comforting arm around my shoulder and say, "Oh John, que sera sera."
We are now free, and eight of the others are, too. But 28 remain behind bars, held without charges. So do 600 others arrested on the same day. So do thousands more, for the simple crime of protesting the infamy of General Sisi's restoration of military dictatorship.
So is Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist arrested on December 29 and locked up in solitary close to our former sardine can. I wish I could tell him that freedom is sometimes blisters on your soles, but the Cairo winter is probably too cold for running barefoot on concrete.
I wish I could tell him that freedom is sometimes an arm around a shoulder and someone quoting Doris, but he's probably not allowed any contact with Ala, Masry, Ahmed.
It took thousands of you, singing as hard as you could, to win us our freedom. We need to sing again, for Mohamed, for all the others, today.
It took thousands of you, raising your voices as loud as you could, to win us our freedom. You were brilliant. We need to sing/write/march again, for Mohamed. It's extremely urgent - the prosecutor seems determined to make an example of him. Read up on his case, then email Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @HonJohnBaird. Today.