“As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy.”
Maccabees 2, 4-7
The field trip I got from my mom as a reward for my first class degree turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. Just like the fact that I differ from most people. To start, there is the deformity of the back of my skull.
"This is just unbelievable. It isn't Marfan's syndrome, that's for sure. The back of Mira's skull is almost perfectly pyramidal, and in the peak of that pyramid is what seems to be a smaller, germinal brain, connected to the normal one with a little vein of some sort. This means that it could even start growing with time. It would be best to check every six months if everything stays as it should. We have no idea to what extent it could grow, or what damages this wayward organ could cause Mira." That's what Dr. Fruzsánszky told my parents when I was born. I've never missed any of my appointments, every six months I got it checked, but -thank God-, the tiny brain stood put ever since.
Then there is something else: my fingers are incredibly long, and many don't miss the opportunity to start staring stupidly at them. They are more than an inch longer than what is considered average. Good thing my toes are normal, so I don't need to wear bigger shoes...
The third thing is something I've been proud of for a long while: my half-Egyptian lineage. One could tell from the black of my hair, the dark tone of my skin, maybe even my nose. Yeah, many said I resembled my dad more than mom, who was a typical Hungarian woman. Nobody would have ever thought of the real reason for these characteristics back then, especially me.
My father...died very suddenly, in a car crash before I was two. His parents outlived him, and insisted his burial be held in his home, in the village where he was born. Mom and dad met each other in a refugee camp; it was love at first sight. Father then moved to Hungary, but he met his fate soon after.
Now mom told me to - while putting my knowledge as an 'Egyptologist-archaeologist' out at interest- meet my never before seen grandparents, and visit the grave of my father. She had no means to do this before herself, mostly because she didn't have that kind of money. She scratched the fee together for me through the years of my studies, though, so I decided to fulfill her wishes, that was the least I could do, the least I owed her, her, and the memory of my father.
The trip was long and backbreaking, but luckily my room I had reserved was waiting for me in Cairo. I stopped at the exit of the airport, cast a look around, then, with my eyes closed, took a sniff into the Egyptian air. "I'm here, at last!" I thought, with a triumphant smile on my face. Still, one thing's for sure: had I known what was to come, I wouldn't have got on that plane.
Finding a taxi was easy, I told the driver to take me to the nearest exchange office, then off I went, straight to the Delta Pyramids Hotel.
"Delta Pyramids is a four star hotel located in the Giza-district, twenty minutes from the town center, near the pyramids. All our rooms are furnished in oriental arabesque style with bathrooms having bathtubs or shower stalls, air-conditioning. Most rooms have a stunning panorama of the pyramids, and are equipped with televisions, DVD players, radio, telephone, and refrigerators. Services: restaurant, roof terrace (with a stunning view on the pyramids), bar, café, dry cleaning, medical services... " I closed the brochure with a hum, and slid it back into my bag while heading to the place described. I wanted to find out how much of this was true. After a little while I was in front of the supposedly four-star hotel. Before me towered a gigantic building, with countless windows. These waving pieces of glass were only separated by some waving orange stripes between them. Next to the gates a sign showed the name of the hotel: Kaoud Delta Pyramids. I didn't beat about the bush; as soon as I entered I rushed to the reception, and asked for my room keys right away. I couldn't wait to rest a bit, and finally eat something after that three-days-old sandwich they served on the plane. The room didn't leave me disappointed. It was absolutely perfect Full comfort was there waiting for me, with my own TV, telephone, refrigerator, and shower. There was also a lamp, desk, a built-in cupboard, and even two smaller armchairs. I flung my bags to the bed, and called for room service straight away.
After a plentiful lunch and some rest I called a taxi. I thought it was time to visit the birthplace of my father.
"Where to, lady?" asked the driver in English. His smile was really warm and friendly, so I returned it with the irresistible, charming smile of my own.
"Beni Khalil" I said briefly, but my friendly driver turned about in his seat, and looked at me with a startled look of his enormous, dark-brown eyes.
"Are you sure, miss? That place..."
"Yeah, I know," I interrupted. "It's one of the poorest villages in all of Egypt. I'm aware of that."
"Have you ever been there?" he asked, with a bit of irony in his voice.
"No, not once," I told him amiably.
"Then you should listen to me, miss, and avoid going there. That village is pestilence itself, I tell ya'. I sure wouldn't take my children to live there. That would be the last place," and, to top what he just said, he poked the top of his seat with his index finger a few times; "I don't like that place, even though I wasn't raised in a wealthy neighborhood myself, as you can see. Otherwise I wouldn't be a taxi driver. Or, who knows..." he added, thinking; "I like driving my taxi, that's for sure. But still, why would you want to go there? That place isn't for such fine ladies as yourself. Believe me."
"Please," I suddenly bent forward and stared deep into his eyes, all the while trying to remain nice "Could we just go? I won't pay for just standing here."
"Of course." The dark-skinned fellow with a somewhat comical figure finally turned forward and, after adding a short grunt from under his nose, we drove off.
Soon I arrived to the dusty little village where my father was born. Its name is Beni Khalil, one of the two hundred and sixteen villages of the Beni Suef region. The inhabitants are mostly of Coptic religion, and since Coptics are very few in Egypt, they are the most disadvantaged group there. They receive less support, and the rate of illiteracy is also much higher than elsewhere. Still, they are known to be the descendants of ancient Egyptians, since the name 'Copt' comes from the Greek word 'Αἰγύπτιος', meaning Egyptian, the word Arabians used to call them after conquering their country. To be honest, I felt really sad for them.
The small village of about a hundred people consisted of only two streets. Houses parallel to the linking road clearly showed the poverty these people face. On the right there was a shackly little shop and a greengrocer waiting for customers, with goods that were far from being fresh. On the left stood a booth that seemed to offer general goods, in front of it were some samples of what they offered to sell to the curious who wanted to step inside, and take a look at the rest. There were some pots and pans of some sort, but tires and vases, too. Although I wasn't sure about the function of the latter, it brought back memories of one of professor Gyenge's classes, where he showed us various remains of finds brought to surface on excavations concerning ancient Egypt. One of these was a canopic jar that was in a particularly good state, brought from one of the tombs in the Valley of Kings by enthusiastic archaeologists.
"So, the canopic jars were used to store the organs of mummies in ancient Egypt," I heard professor Gyenge's words in my head. Shivers went down my spine as I glanced on this supposed vase, that somehow resembled the bottom of the jar the professor had shown us years before.
Shaking my head, I tried focusing on the small houses in front of me instead. After taking another look around in order to find my grandparents more easily I entered what seemed to be a tiny grocery shop, to ask the cashier for help. I thought, if this is such a small village, then everyone must know everybody else.
"Do you speak English?" I asked expectantly, but the vendor just stared at me, as if he was seeing a ghost. So I had to gather all the Arabic I knew.
"Mumken tsaadni? Can you help me?" I tried again.
"Aywa!" nodded the turbaned guy, and sent a wide smile in my direction. I told him I was looking for my grandparents, who lived in the village. The cashier told me embittering news. He told me they were no longer alive. A few years ago my grandfather died, and grandmother soon followed him. There was only one place where I could have visited them; the cemetery.
Their graves were untended and desolate. I knelt down to them, and started weeding them out. And then I noticed the third one. My father's grave. "Nadim Haddad Lived: 28 years." This was all that stood on it; I felt disappointed because he left me, and I never got to meet my grandparents. With heavy sighs and struggling with my tears I tidied the three graves. In a few hours I was done, and bought a bunch of flowers and a few wreaths, and covered them all. After saying prayers for my ancestors, I gave thanks for being able to be there with them.
Before I returned to my room I couldn't refrain from gazing at the Nile, since it was flowing lazily only a few hundred yards away.
It was beautiful, still somehow I couldn't feel as happy as I had anticipated. At home, on the bank of the Tisza I thought about how great it would be to see the Nile, the river I’d heard and read so much about. But now the death of my grandparents and the sight of father’s grave brought me down so much, I could have hardly felt anything even a little bit rejoicing. I dolefully turned my back on this infinite mass of water, and went back to the hotel. While trying hard to cope with my feelings I decided to carry on with my field trip as planned.
Just as I was about to leave the hotel I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my chest, and shortly after in my behind as I landed on the floor. I must have flown more than a yard from the enormous force that knelt down to me afterwards, and asked if everything was alright. Though I still had problems with breathing, I nodded in approval. The tall women with blondish-brown hair helped me up and put my clothes straight. Still feeling a bit dizzy I gave the young American woman dressed in khakis a short once-over. I presumed she was American judging from her accent at least.
“Excuse me," said she entreatingly; "but that guy...
I think he was following me...”
“What guy?” I asked, while looking dazedly at the exit the woman was pointing at.
“I don’t know, he looked just like as if he’d come from ancient Egypt. His clothes...his face...only thing even weirder was his head, it was so long...and on his neck there was some kind of amulet.”
She was gazing at the space behind me as she tried to recall the figure, then she shrugged, and looked at me remorsefully once again.
“He was following me, and I got so scared I started running. Then I headed for the first place safe, here. That’s when I ran into you. I’m sorry, did it hurt?”
“Oh no, not at all,” I said trying to calm her down, still I let her lead me back to the dining hall and help me on one of the seats. She left me, but returned soon after with two glasses in her hands. She sat down facing me, and put the glass with something that looked like orange juice in front of me.
“Are you sure you’re alright? If there’s anything...”
“Why did you think that man was following you?” I asked suddenly, looking at her heavily-freckled, makeup-less, suntanned face. I’m also a fan of natural beauty, but a bit of makeup every now-and-then would do no harm for a lady.
“Why? Due to the simple fact that he was following me step-by-step for about fifteen minutes. When I turned at a corner he did, too. When I crossed a road he also crossed it. When I stopped for a moment, he did the same. Isn’t that enough evidence?” I agreed.
“Why didn’t you ask for help? How come nobody else noticed that you were being followed?"
“Don’t be silly!" she said, waving resignedly "Nobody cares about foreigners here, I might as well end up impaled in the middle of Ramses square, and nobody would care. Sorry for being impolite, by the way...I’m Sarah Henderson," she said, offering her right hand; "I’m from Canada, came here more than two months ago. I’m leading an excavation, or at least I’m trying to.”
“Mira Haddad.” We shook hands. Her eyes got fixed on mine for a brief moment, then she looked at me in surprise. “A malformation,' I told her; "Same with my skull, it’s hard to notice because of my long and thick hair, though.”
“I’m s..sorry, I just...”
“No problem, I already got used to it. So, are you an archaeologist?”
“Well, not a soldier, that’s for sure!" she laughed, referring to her clothes; "Although I did choose a bit warlike outfit for my work today.” Suddenly my eyes started twinkling.
"We've been digging for more than two months with my colleagues. I came to town to get us some food and mineral water. We were short on them, so I thought it1d be a good idea, but that creep blew my plans. I don't get frightened too easily, but this...really scared me."
"I can imagine," I nodded, while I tried to figure out why on Earth would anyone dress into ancient types of clothes and follow others around in broad daylight. I spent the next few gulps of my soda with that thought. "I'm an archaeologist too, by the way," I said after a while.
"Really?!" she asked with a surprised expression. "And where are you from?"
"From Europe, Hungary to be exact."
"So you're also..."
"No, no," I waved; "You can calm down, I don't mean any competition. I just graduated this year, and wanted to come for for a short field trip, and to meet my never before seen grandparents."
"My father was born here, in Egypt,"I said, to top her amazement some more; "but he died when I was very little. He went to Hungary many years ago, met my mom, so...here I am, the legacy of their love, to reveal some parts of my past. I...wanted to try, at least...but I missed the opportunity...I came here to find that my grandparents had already died. So I'm left with the sights of Egypt..."
"I see."- she nodded expressively, acknowledging my sad sigh. In the last few minutes I realized a sudden change in the way she was looking at me. Her eyes seemed to show some kind of admiration. "You know, deep inside I feel like an Egyptian, too," she whispered, leaning closer from across the table. Maybe she was afraid that the empty seats and tables around us would hear her, and make fun of her for what she just said. "I envy you. You're lucky to have such magnificent ancestors. This is what my life's all about, and this is never going to change. It's been almost five years since I graduated, but...the truth is, I never got the opportunity to dig anywhere really promising. Not to mention to lead an excavation!"
"So, if I get this straight, this is your first time as a forewoman."
"That's right," she nodded with a large dose of enthusiasm; "I got the permission from the Antiquities Authority of Egypt two and a half months ago."
"Wow, you didn't waste your time then."
"Well, of course not! Do you have any idea how much of a privilege this is? I picked up the boys right away, and then we came here. The last few years all the excavations I was involved in had already been emptied to the last grain of sand. The only reason I got into them in the first place was to get some practice, and to get my name listed in as many expeditions as possible. That's how I got closer and closer to the main role. The permission itself is proof that I finally managed to get higher on the ladder, and is a sort of acknowledgment from members of the Excavations Committee. It's valid for a year, but if I can find something serious they said they'd extend it."
"And where are you digging exactly?"
"About twelve miles northeast of Amarna,
in the Arabian desert."
"In the desert?! But..."
"Yes, I know. Nobody would start digging there. That's why we did."
"How could you ever convince the committee?"
"Troy?!" I repeated, once again feigning a parrot. The look on my face must have been quite a sight, because the woman started laughing.
"You know, sometimes the most precious jewels are where no one would think to look for them." Suddenly I felt somewhat enlightened, since, as the story goes, Troy was found accidentally. Before then scientists debated whether or not it actually existed. Still, I didn't want to sadden her with the fact that Heinrich Schliemann did have some hints on the whereabouts of Troy before he found it, and the discovery and its acknowledgment was a whole life's work. She probably knew that already.
"So, have you found something?"
"Well, not yet," she said, shaking her head with disappointment. "We have one trench so far, and we've done quite a lot, but..."
"You know, the whole thing will only get even a bit interesting if we find something worthwhile...while there are no results, it's all just vain digging."
"That's true. Well then, good luck for you."
"I hope we'll meet again soon, it's been a pleasure talking with you." "The pleasure was all mine." And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I felt the need for some rest after this little flight, instead of taking the stairs I chose the the much less tiring elevator. I stepped out and headed toward my room, not even lifting my sight on the lamps decorating the narrow corridor. While searching for my keys on the bottom of my purse I muttered nervously, and looked up just too late. Someone suddenly banged against me. I taltered, not so much from the push, but rather since I wasn't expecting something like that to happen again, especially not only a few minutes after the first. The guy caught my arm, and helped me regain balance. I was thankful for his swift reflexes.
"Whoah!" he said, and gave my face a curious, close look. He was obviously a simple tourist. He wore shabby jeans and a navy blue T-shirt, with the words 'Blue Jeans' on its front. His forehead was covered by a baseball cap, I could only see bits of his blond brown hair from under it. His small blue eyes flashed from under the bill, as small blue jewels on his youthful, clean-shaved face. I wouldn't have guessed him older than twenty-five. There was a soft, arousing cloud of perfume around him, it seemed bit out of register with his simple clothes. "Well, well... Aren't we immersed in something?" he grinned.
"Y... yeah" I answered, still confused by our collision.
"Now that I've run into you like this, let me introduce myself," he said with a suave smile, and offered his hand. "William Clements"
"Mira Haddad" I said, shaking his hand. His handshake was firm but gentle, to the point where -had I not seen who was standing in front of me- I could have thought he was a woman. At the same time I glanced at his hand, and I was suddenly sure that these hands had never faced any hard work, they were so tended and delicate. "I presume you're from America."
"What brings you to the land of Egypt?"
"Oh, sort of a thirst for adventure," was his ominous answer; "I want to discover the undiscovered."
"Okay...well then, I guess I'll just..." I noticed him staring at my hands, so I went to my door with swift footsteps. I was tampering with my keys and lock when I looked at him again. He was still standing there, looking at me. I irritably let go of the keys and the doorknob, and gave him a questioning look. "What is it?"
"I..I just..I.." stammered the young man in confusion, as I turned back to the door with a sigh, and finally managed to open it. I turned back before slamming the door.
"Its a malformation. I was born that way." I threw the keys on the table next to my bed and lied on the scented sheets, my chest still aching. I buried my face into the soft pillow, and closed my eyes.
I was awoken by restless knocking. My eyes opened so suddenly as if they'd never been shut. I jumped to the door, and let the impatient guest inside.
"Is there something wrong?" I asked a bit worried, but as I looked at her face all my worries vanished. Although Sarah was excited, she didn't look like she was in any sort of trouble.
"No," she replied "only if me wanting to take you with me sounds like something wrong." Her smile was huge, and after a moment mine was, too.
We left with a rental van, off to the excavation. The others must have grown pretty impatient,
because one of the men wearing a cowboy hat and stale clothes and some dust on his face yelled at us just as we stepped out of the car. Shortly after he was already next to us.
"At last! I thought you went to Alaska for that goddamn food! Where the hell...who the heck is she?" That last part was meant for me. He was a man with a rugged face, and a bristle of about two days. He looked at me with dark, rigid eyes.
"Sam, this is Mira Haddad. Mira, he's Sam Thorson," started Sarah the ceremony of introduction. "Mira just got her degree, she's never been on an excavation before. I thought she might be of use to us, and in the meantime she could get some experience." The guy with the hat looked at me even more sourly than before, then furiously told Sarah they didn't need anyone to slow them down. Sarah whispered something in his ear that seemed to calm him down a bit, then he returned to the others with the pack of groceries in his hands, not forgetting to look daggers at me as he passed by. "He'll get to like you," she said with a smile, although I wasn't at all sure about this. To be honest I felt great with the small group, except for the thornbush.guy, Sam Thorson, of course. Max Bolton and John Zippel, two of Sarah's other colleagues were a lot nicer to me. Max wore a bandanna, a t-shirt and shorts, all in khaki, John was sweating in brown pedal pushers and an undershirt, with a sundown protecting his head from the stinging rays of the Sun. They were both middle-aged men, none of them even the least bit attractive. Huge military tents had been put a few yards from each other. While we got to the first one we've had an intimate chat with Sarah.
"Actually I was the lucky one who got appointed by the Cambridge University for this task," chirped Sarah joyfully "I got to choose the location, but naturally all that we might find will go to the university's department here in Cairo."
"So they're not meant for the museums?"
"Well, after a while they'll get transported. The university hands everything to the Cairo Museum of Archeology. After five years each and every piece is made public property. The university only needs them to examine them until they find anything exciting, or until those five years pass. It's a win-win situation for everyone. Scientists can examine the finds to find out new things about this era, the museum gets new items, and visitors get to view the novelties after staff restores them."
"So you're interested in the New Kingdom? The age of Akhenaten? I guess that's the reason why you started the research here, near Amarna."
"That's right," she nodded.
"And what did the university say when you told them where you wanted to dig?"
"Well, at first they didn't want to hear about it, but I tried hard, and managed to convince them, with..."
"Troy," I said, finishing the sentence for her.
"Exactly," said Sarah, smiling with pride. The sun had already set when I got tired of all the conversations and the examination of the site. I've had enough of dust and sand for that day, so I went back to the hotel, but promised them to return the next day. With aching limbs I lagged towards the elevator. It seemed like this was a day of crashes, so I had to get a last one at the end of the day when a short red dress hopped into me as I stepped out of the elevator. Above that dress long blond hair, green eyes and cherry-red lips formed into a surprised face.
Arms white as snow lent on my shoulder as two long, lilly-white legs in red court shoes tried to leave each other's company and finally untangle.
"Oh, pardon!" squeaked the lady with a strange accent from below the cloud of her sweet perfume. I helped her stand up, and tried to force a smile on my tired face. The young woman looked at me, and cleared her throat. I presume I wasn't the most pleasant thing to look at, with my wind-blown hair and a layer of dirt. "I tripped in something," she said, and we both looked at the floor, covered with marble plates. One of them was slightly higher up than the others, I was lucky so far to avoid bumping into it myself.
"No problem," I said with a sigh, and went to my door.
"Is there anything wrong, my dear?" she asked turning back, looking on me once again.
"Oh, nothing," I said flicking my wrist; "I...was just on an excavation with a group of archaeologists, and...that's where I got all dirty."
"Oh... I see... Tell me, would you mind accompanying me to the bar? I'm heading there now." I was dead tired, but it seemed like today was also a day of getting acquainted, so I told her I'll be there after taking a shower.
"So, are you from France?" I asked, after joining her. We were sitting at a table, drinking some ice tea. The bar itself had a pleasant atmosphere, there was no crowd, although quite a number of people were inside, many sitting and cramming at the counter, some sat at tables enjoying their drinks.
"Yes. I'm Jaquelin Gerard," she nodded, offering her hand.
"Mira Haddad, pleased to meet you," I said, offering my own. She also noticed the abnormal length of my fingers, so I told her what I'd told two people before. I was surprised that she didn't draw her hand back immediately. I thought these French madames were all queasy. Still, she was as kind and social as before.
"So, what kind of group have you been with?"
"The foreman is called Sarah Henderson, and to be honest, I met her today. I told her I was an archaeologist, too. Well, to be precise, I just got my degree, and I've never been on an excavation before, so she offered me to join them while I'm here, and get some experience.
"And where are you digging?"
"Twelve miles from Amarna, in the Arabian desert," I said. "I'll be there tomorrow as well, to help out. Although this wasn't the original reason for my coming here."
"What was it, then?"
"A field trip, and to visit my never before seen grandparents, because my father was born in Egypt, but died when I was only two...and so did my grandparents, so I'll never get to know them."
"I'm sorry," she said, waving her head in compassion; "I really am. But you should be happy you can do something you love while you are here, something you have studied for so long. Coincidence got you an excavation."
"Oh, I'm happy for that," I said with a smile, and it just didn't occur to me then that such coincidences could not exist. "And what brings you here? I thought fine French ladies like yourself avoid the land of Kemet. No offense."
"Oh, none taken. I am here because of my father," she explained;
"He simply adores Egypt, and I... well,
I must help him with that."
"You must? Why?"
"Because he is injured," she said, with a pained expression; "He suffered an accident last year, fell off a horse, and he has been in a wheelchair ever since. Doctors say there is no hope for him to ever stand up again."
"My, this is horrible..."
"Yes, it is," she nodded; "No matter how wealthy you are, some things can not be bought.... So, to be honest, I just came to escort my father, taking him wherever he wants to go. I really love him, and I don't want this accident to take his fervor away. I am the only one he can count on. He has nobody else left for him. We lost mother many years ago, and I have no brothers, nor sisters. And it will stay that way... Egypt is his everything, he loves making photographs, and loved riding camels when he still could."
"And you? Don't you like being here?"
"To be honest, I don't want to be anywhere at all. Except for one place, at home, in the arms of my fiancé."
"So you have a fiancé?"
"I had one. Two years ago he disappointed me greatly.
"He cheated on you," I gave a rapid reply, but it turned out my conclusion was premature.
"I could have handled even that better than what's happened," said she, with an angry flick of her wrist. "That bastard had been a member of a gang for years, the Black Dogs. They smuggled jewels and all sorts of antiquities, then laundered the money. They were a petty little gang, still it took a while for police to get them, and the moment his cell door was sealed shut, the door of our relationship got closed, too, forever."
"But, as I understand, you're still in love with him."
"Yes," she sighed. "I should have got myself through it by now, but I just can't do it... still, we can never be together again. I couldn't be with him after all this."
"I understand," I said, thinking about how I never felt anything like that. And, at that time, I didn't regret it.
I was woken by a slight noise. The Moon peeked through the open window with its round, luminous face. Its light cast a weak, delicate line into the room's darkness, revealing half of my bed. The noise came from the other side, untouched by moonlight. I sat up and watched the darkness, shivering from tension in every inch of my body.
"Is anybody there?" I asked, my voice shaking with fear. I started to think my imagination was playing tricks on me, when suddenly a dark veil flung into the edge of the moonlight. Pulling my legs up under the sheets I felt as if my heart missed every second beat. "Who's there?" I asked, with a voice even fainter then before.
"Do not be afraid," a voice answered, still I felt I was on the verge of dying from shock alone. I paused for a moment thinking of what to do, and recalled that I had put my nail-scissors on the small cupboard next to my bed. My right hand reached for the cupboard by its own will, grabbed the scissors silently, and drew it to myself. Not like it would have been of much use in case of an emergency.
"Please, put those scissors down."
I suddenly felt a soothing, unintelligible wave of feelings rushing to my head.
"How do you..."
"Please," he repeated. I didn't know exactly why, but I obeyed him, put the scissors back, and waited. I didn't have to wait for long. The hand of the unknown visitor reached through the rays, toward me. "Come with me." After a moment of hesitation I slipped my hand into his enormous palm, which had a soft, warm touch.
I stood up, he gently grabbed my hand, and led me outside to the small balcony, that was just big enough for the two of us.
Strange feelings were running through my head.
I knew I should have been afraid, but I felt no fear whatsoever. From the moment I touched him some unknown process started in my thoughts, bringing unmatched calmness, something I had never felt before. Long after that of course I realized the reason of these emotional waves.
Outside he let go of my hand, something I wasn't happy about because it made this feeling fade a bit, but luckily didn't make it disappear. He stood next to the fence, and put his hand on top of it. It was just then when i realized that the stranger was covered by a gargantuan cape, and his figure itself was also gigantic. "My god!" I thought; "This man must be more than seven feet high!"
I couldn't see more of him than his hands, everything else was covered by the black cape that stretched as far as the ground. On his head was a cowl; the whole phenomenon resembled what druids could have had looked like. The stranger looked up to the sky -at least that was what the cowl's movements indicated. Wind was whispering through the foliage of trees, and brought the scent of flowers from the hotel front to the balcony. It was a tad cool, still I wasn't cold, despite my only clothing being a slim nightgown.
I stopped a bit more back, and watched him curiously. I waited patiently, it seemed like he enjoyed the soft touch of fresh air, and the illuminated beauty of the city, with the Moon also adding its light.
"Look, Mira," he said finally, after long silence;
"Look up to the sky, and tell me what you see." I didn't bother asking him how he knew my name, it was evident that he knew who he came to, but I had no idea how he knew me. I tried to focus on his question instead. Really, what is it I see when I look to the sky? I had done it many times in my life, but never gave it too much thought...only one word came to my mind.
"Infinity," I whispered, and shivered to the thought.
"Yes," he agreed; "the universe is indeed infinite. And though you can pronounce the word itself, you can not truly comprehend its meaning. You are not able to. The universe is ancient, Mira. Its age can not be counted by humans of today. You think you can see far enough into it, but what seems so vast for you is only a tiny spot of it. A mere grain of sand in an infinite desert. You have much to learn to understand this.." I looked at him wondering.
"Why are you telling me all this?" I asked. The stranger lowered his head, then sighed. What a sad sigh that was. He looked up again, and gazed at the city lights.
"Do you believe that you are not the only living beings in this infinite universe?"
"You mean us, humans?" I asked, and he nodded. Suddenly, a smile came to my face. "If you're asking whether or not I believe in UFOs and such, my answer is no. I don't believe aliens exist." The stranger paused once again. Lifting his face to the stars he folded his hands into each other, as if he were praying.
"Tell me, do you believe in God?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered without hesitation, still, I couldn't see what his point was.
"This must mean you had met him."
"Well, no..." I answered, his question took me by surprise; "No... never."
"Yet you believe in him."
"Yes, since belief is something you have in those things you cannot see. If I ever met God I would know that he exists, and not believe. Those are two different things."
"That is true. But, having never met God and believing in him, why would you not believe in other creatures you claim you have never met?"
"Why should I believe in them?" I argued; "Belief in God is completely different than those little green men, flying around with their saucers!"
"Oh, sure it is," he said, but I could tell from his voice he was smiling. "The only question is, which God do you believe in? The one that created you, or the one that created me?"
"What do you mean? Tell me, who are you, and why did you come here?"
"Who I am does not matter now," he answered in undertone;
"Why I am here, is of much more importance."
"So tell me already, why are you here?" I asked, I really wanted to know what this was all about..
"There are some people in this world who were not born without a purpose, but with a task assigned for them. A task that is vital for everyone else. These people...either fulfill their destinies, or they do not. If they do, humanity gets one step closer to a better future...or a worse one. This depends on how they do it. If they do not, then another chosen one will take their place, and maybe do what the former one did not, until the list of chosen ones comes to an end. Some are meant to be used by others, too, for their own purposes. These highly important people are rare, and you are one of them. You can be on the side of good, or evil. Where you stand, is your decision. My task is to show the chosen one the right path, to make you understand why all this is necessary."
"Uh-huh," I nodded, as if all he said would have been trivial; "So you're trying to tell me that I'm some kind of chosen one, who has to complete a task, and you are here to help me with this. Correct?"
"I am glad you realized it on the first try." He bowed gallantly, as people in Japan use to. I tried to sum all this up, but somehow my conscience struggled with everything I've heard in the past few minutes. Since my brain couldn't comprehend all this it just started to laugh, and so did I.
"Wow, this was some joke you tried to pull on me," I tittered; "but now, tell me: how the hell could you come here if my door's locked and the balcony is impossible to reach, and what do you want from me exactly? Who the heck are you?
"First of all, I will let you digest what I have told you," he answered, in the least joyful manner; "Until then, here is some advice. First one: go home, and carry on with your everyday life. This is your task as chosen. The second: do not wait until it begins, you might not survive. I will contact you soon." he added, and then vanished, as if he'd never been there. I was unable to think, and fell asleep almost instantly.
I awoke with an aching head. It was as if an army of ants were running around inside, even when I started eating breakfast, one of the sandwiches I had put into the fridge the day before. I wanted to forget the last night, and what the stranger told me. If I knew what was to come in the next few weeks, I would have taken the his advice, and would've booked the next ticket to Hungary that instant. Sarah and the others had been up to the neck in work by the time I arrived.
"I was waiting for you!" I had no idea where her enthusiasm came from so suddenly, but soon it became clear. "You're not going to believe what we found! My God, this is what I was waiting for!" she said, looking a the sky, putting her palms together for a moment in front of her; "We found a huge stone tablet."
"A stone tablet?"
"Hmm.. we still don't know what it actually could be," she whispered, as if she was keeping it a secret from the sand all around us; "We found it last night, after digging a few feet more. Then we couldn't help but keep working until late with our lamps, and went on right after sunrise. By the way, where have you been? I was expecting you a bit earlier, it's already past ten."
"Y..yeah, breakfast took a bit longer than expected,
I didn't get much sleep. So, what kind of tablet is this?" I asked avoiding the topic of last night, and tried not to notice Sarah's suspicious look.
"What kind, what kind...I told you, we don't know yet. So far we've cleared about seven square feet of it. The only thing we've found is evenly polished solid stone. We couldn't find its edges yet."
"Are there any inscriptions?"
"No," she said, shaking her head with disappointment; "This was the first thing I wanted to find out, too.
All we know is that it's more than likely artificial. What do you think it could be?"
"I have no idea," I said, standing on the edge of the pit, examining the assumed tablet. The others down there were already busy working. Max and John looked at us for a brief moment; Max waved his hand, John flicked his sundown back a bit to greet us. I waved towards them, but my hand went to rest as my sight crossed that of Sam Thorson. I decided I won't be overcome by his grumpiness, I will not turn back because of him. I had no clue what his problem was, but I swore that his attitude would not frighten me, so I forced a huge smile, and greeted him with it. "Hello!" Sam just hissed arrogantly, and started waving his head. Perhaps he also mumbled something, but I couldn't understand what. Just like I had trouble understanding how this tablet got here. I wasn't even sure it was a tablet, since we knew nothing about its width. Although I was unexperienced, even I knew that a tablet without inscriptions, even so bigger than seven square feet under about twelve feet of sand could not be considered usual. "It might as well had been a corner-stone," I said, turning once again to Sarah.
"You mean the corner-stone of some building?" she looked at me inquiring.
"Yes. Maybe of a temple, royal palace, or..."
"A pyramid," Sarah finished my sentence. "It might also be the door to a burial chamber."
"Yeah, it might..." She analyzed the smooth surface for a while, then got up from her knees.
"I hope we can find out more in the next couple of days." I agreed with her. She must have found the case just as strange as I did. I helped them clear the surface for a while, and then headed back to the hotel, to get some lunch.
When I entered the hotel I found a man in a suit, banging his clenched fist on the reception desk. Due to my curious nature I decided to wait until the situation ended.
"I demand you see after it this instant!" yelled the man angrily with the frightened manager and the receptionist, who turned as white as a sheet, despite of his usually brownish skin showing his Arabian descent. He was speaking English, but I had a hunch that he wasn't American, at least from the way he dressed. Any American or European businessman could have worn a dark-blue suit with a necktie, but wearing a monocle is something one would expect mainly of an English gentlemen, along with his perky mustache, and his impeccable hair, split in the middle. Not to mention the walking-stick peeking from under his armpit. The whole figure was as if he came from some old, English movie. "That briefcase has to be found!"
"We will search for it right away, sir," assured the frightened manager. He lifted the receiver of the phone on the desk, and dialed a number. He started to talk with someone on the other end soon after, but had to move a bit further to hear anything else than the outraged Englishman. The receptionist followed him, like frightened little chicken follow their mom. I thought my time has come.
"Sorry to interrupt you like this," I walked next to him; "May I ask what the problem is?" Since fine Englishmen usually don't bawl at young ladies, I was pretty much surprised.
"Who the hell are you? And why do you think my problem is your business?"
"Well...sorry... I was just...wondering if i could help you." This seemed to soften him a little, he gave me a friendly look with his small, brown eyes, a look a bit even longer that what the manners of such a gentlemen would allow.
"I'm sorry, miss..."
"Mira Haddad," I offered him my right hand, and awaited the consequences. I prepared for the usual explanation part, but this time was a pleasant surprise. The gentleman only commented on the unusual length of my fingers, and without waiting for a response, he introduced himself.
"Lord Richard Edwington," he said amiably, and kissed my hand.
"Are you from England?" I asked, a bit confused.
I wasn't used to this kind of hand-kissing.
"Well, of course." he nodded, as if he were saying "how could you ask such folly my dear, of course I am." "I come from a noble English family, and took the title after my father. We have a vast estate in Birmingham, three restaurants, and numerous shops all across England." he said flinging his arms open, grabbing the walking-stick with one of them, to emphasize his family's greatness.
"Remarkable," I admitted.
"Thank you," he bowed politely, then drew a somber face and looked at the hotel manager, who was still on the phone. "Not everyone appreciates rank, and noble descent, of course. And you, Miss? Where do you come from?" turned the man toward me, in an amiable manner once again.
"From Europe, Hungary. Due to a coincidence I'm part of an excavation..." I couldn't finish my sentence, the manager returned to the desk and started explaining to the lord that his luggage got mixed with those of another guest, but its already on its way.
"Great," murmured the lord, and took a nervous look at his watch; "Then have it taken to the dining hall, I am yet to have lunch. Care to join me, my dear?" The last part was addressed to me. I just realized why I have returned to the hotel, and the growl of my stomach also told me it was about time to put something into it. I couldn't say no to the invitation.
I ordered a light lunch, I didn't want to fill myself completely before returning to Sarah.
"So you are assisting at an excavation, if I heard correctly," gave the lord back the words he took away, during lunch.
"Yes, not far from Amarna. The forewoman said it was a promising place, and she might be right," I said, and proceeded to tell what they have found under the sand. The man was already trying to listen closely to what I was telling him while eating his lunch, but this made him really curious.
"And what do you think it might be?"
"I have no idea. It could be the entrance to a burial chamber, but it might just be a corner-stone of some building."
"I hope you will get lucky, and find a chamber full of treasure." That's what I was also hoping for.