In The Valley of The Kings
… We pick up the story from where Tiffany has just fallen through the Time Portal and finds herself, ummm, somewhere.
I’m standing still like a statue, squinting in the sun and gawping. My feet are inside Gran’s travel bag. I look down and scuff my feet around to see if there’s a hole in the bottom. There isn’t. Three times I do it: blink, look around, check my feet and scuff them against the bag and, finally, “Omigod! I am gonna be in SO much trouble!”
I don’t know what else to think. I was just in Gran’s room, doing an illegal search of her bag, looking for drugs and now I’m in a bazaar in… Asia? No, umm, is this the Middle East? Egypt? There’s a man over there with friggin’ camels! And ladies wearing those long black things. Burkas? Whatever! And the heat and the noise and the smell! It’s cooking and dung together and the hot wind that has a smell of its own: dry and unforgiving. All around me everybody’s shouting and pushing and trying to get the attention of everyone else, while I stand very still and suddenly I realize: nobody’s even looked at me.
Well, they haven’t, have they? I’m standing here and I’ve got my feet in a bag and I’m right out of place and nobody’s even glanced my way. A man walks past and I wave at him. “Excuse me?” I call. He sorta blinks and flicks his head like a fly landed on his nose and carries on, like I’m invisible!
Yeah, right! He was just rude or deaf or in a hurry. Let’s try again. This time I wave at a lady who is hurrying past. “Excuse me!” She whirls around, shakes her head and yells something frightened and foreign. A man rushes up to her and you don’t need to speak foreign to know he’s asked her what’s wrong? She shakes her head and he gives her a little pat on her shoulder and they move off into the crowd. She looks back, but I just know she doesn’t see me.
So, I’m invisible! Well, that’s good because that means I’m not really here! And if I’m not here, then I’m still in Gran’s room and I must have inhaled those drugs again. She must have had them in the bag. You sniff cocaine, don’t you? I saw that in a film, you sniff up the powder and that’s how you take it. So that’s how it must have happened. I leaned into the bag, sniffed the cocaine, fell into a… what? A trance? Hallucination! Yeah, that’s it, hallucination. So now what? I guess I’m stuck here until I come round.
Then, as you do in dreams, I start walking. I step out of the bag, pick it up and start walking through the crowd. They part for me. I’m walking through this mad, loud crowd of people and when I walk somewhere, they aren’t there. This is too much fun. I start trying to bump into people and just as I’m about to hit them, they veer out of the way and I just know they haven’t seen me.
One man who avoids me too quickly bumps onto another and they both topple into a stall, sending oranges scattering across the ground. One rolls against my foot and I pick it up to hand it back but I’m ignored. The men grumpily pick up the oranges, while the stall holder tries to get them to buy his so-called ruined fruit. It’s not ruined and they aren’t going to buy anything! I start laughing! I can’t speak a word of this but I still know exactly what they’re saying by the way they’re yelling and waving their arms and thumping the fruit down on the cart.
I peel my orange and begin eating it. Well why not? It’s not as if I stole it. I tried to give it back even though this is just a hallucination. I know: this is like that old film ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. It was on the TV only a while ago and we all watched it and Indiana Jones got chased through an Arabian Bazaar and the orange seller’s stall got knocked over. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chase scene where an orange cart didn’t get knocked over. That, and barrels that just happen to be stacked on the back of a truck that get loose and roll all over the road and everybody trips over them. I’m fifteen and I’ve never ever seen barrels stacked on the back of a truck – except in films.
So, I’m hallucinating ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Hmmm, I wonder if there’ll be a chase scene. I wonder if I’ll be in it. But first I have to wash my hands. That must be excellent cocaine, because now I have sticky orange-juicy hands and a fly that wants to land on my nose. Talk about attention to detail! I try to hallucinate a tap in the middle of the bazaar. Yeah, like that’s worked – not. There’s a pump and water in a trough over by the camels. Yeah, but camels? Yu-uk! Tiffany, they can’t see you. Go wash your hands! I am such a bully!
I duck into the camel enclosure and the handler ignores me. A camel gives me a dirty look; well, no he doesn’t because I’m invisible and that’s just the way they look. But I keep my eye on him as I wash my hands. Suddenly, the camel goes nuts and rears and bucks and comes down hard and spits right in my face! Ah! Yuk! Ow! Yuk! That’s – that’s just foul! I’ve got camel gob in my eyes! I splash the water onto my face and rub and rub. When I open my eyes, the handler is hanging onto the camel and trying to calm him. He looks round and shouts at me.
It’s all in Arabic but I’m sure that he’s shouted at me. But then he looks at the water, looks back and it’s like he can’t see me anymore. Like I’m still invisible! He’s puzzled and he’s frightened and most of all, he’s trying to calm his camel because the camel can see me. I’m sure of it! It’s staring at me with crazy eyes and trying to kick me. So I grab the bag and duck out quick!
Well, that was fun! Just wait until tomorrow when we’re swapping stories at school.
I practice telling Jaimie about this: “So I sniffed the cocaine and then I went on this weird hallucination trip…” Hmmm, problem: how do I tell her about the trip without mentioning the cocaine bit? We’re both anti-smoking, so I can’t tell her about drugs, she’d go mental! But there’s so much here that I want to remember. It’s amazing. I take a deep breath and let my mind soak up impressions. How would I paint this? All the color has been stripped from the cloudless sky; it glares white around the fiercest sun. Black shadows lurk beside the buildings and smother everything that enters. The light beats up from the sand, off the stone walls and slams against my eyes. There is no compromise: everything is either in the sun and bleached or swallowed in the shadows. The sun roars; it rules everything.
People in the market place jibber-jabber. They’re arguing, bartering, spruiking, bargaining. No one talks, everyone shouts. The men wear long white shirts, down to their knees, their heads topped with white turbans and tassels hanging down the back. Others wear suits of varying shades of grey and a fez instead of a turban. There aren’t many women around, but most wear the full black burkhas. A few have bright hijabs and long skirts and all of the children are dressed in bright colors. If this were a meal it would be rice with jalapenos and black olives, swirling around and around.
The mosque takes command at the head of the market square. Walls of glaring white stones make it impossible to look directly at it. Even to my inexperienced eyes, it appears the mosque was built and then extended, because none of the styles match. To the right, there are large rough-hewn blocks, built in a sort of pyramid style – but flat across the top. I can see a relief carving on its side, which makes me wonder if the stones were taken from some very ancient building, a real pyramid maybe? I screw up my eyes and stare harder. To the left, the main wing of the building looks more modern. Here, the roof is cut, angled, topped with a dome then crowned by a crescent moon and star. A wide flight of steps leads from the market square up to a cavernous arched doorway that appears to be the main entrance. People are sitting around on the steps, enjoying the shade of the acacia tree that leans over the lower walls.
There! I knew this was a dream! Mind you, it’s the best dream I’ve ever had, talk about detail! But acacia trees? Even I know they only have palm trees in the desert countries. Acacias are Australian!
I wander through the market and enjoy myself while everyone diverts around me. I’ll panic later, but hey, right now this is brilliant!
In the market center are stalls and tethered donkeys and people trying to sell stuff. One guy is smoking a cigar and has big brown leaves on his stall. It’s tobacco! I just know it is. How do I think this stuff up?
I’ve got to move out of the heat. I’ve been walking in the sun and I suddenly realize that my head is burning. There’s some shade over by the shops. I guess that’s a good place to wait until the drugs wear off and I wake up. Just as I turn to walk across the market I get knocked over by an ostrich! What the heck? Like, I haven’t got enough going on: I’m on drugs, I’m hallucinating, I’m invisible, I get spat on by a camel and now I get knocked down by an ostrich! Me, who likes my animals small and furry, not huge with attitude! I’m still lying on my back, watching the big chicken being led off by its owner and wondering how you’d stuff and roast something that size, when someone trips over me! Omigod! He’s sprawled flat and dazed and I’m trying to get out of the way because with me being invisible, I just know this is going to happen again.
I scramble up and grab the bag and I notice there’s an ostrich feather in the sand, it must have fallen out when the brute knocked me over. Déjà-vu! This is where it all started. Here’s the thing: if I pick up this feather, I’ll get back into the world I came from and wake up and I hope I do it before Gran gets back. And then someone else cannons into me! What happened to everyone getting out of my way?
The two guys that fell over me start arguing and the first one prods the second one in the chest and I’ve seen brawls on the TV so I know to get out of there, like, quick! I scramble out of the way and gather up the bag and feather. People are avoiding me, like they did before, but suddenly one girl points at me and screams her head off!
They all stop and look at her. She’s pointing at me and even though she seems to be the only one who can see me, there’s a fear that spreads through the crowd.
Then the guy who got prodded, pushes the other guy and he falls back and they all start shouting, so I turn and run!
You can’t run through a crowd, you just sorta dodge and keep going. I’ve got the bag hugged to my chest and I’m using it as a sort of battering ram and I’m plowing my way to the edge of the crowd when I hear a motor approaching.
It says something, doesn’t it, that when an old vintage car pulls up, I’m not even surprised. It looks a bit like a jeep and the guy driving it is dressed in a safari jacket, like in the old films. He slams on the brakes with a squeal and a cloud of dust and I go, “Oh hooray, here’s Indiana Jones!” because I’m out of my mind, aren’t I?
But then something happens that really shocks me. The crowd turns to stare at me just as Indiana throws open the car door.
“Tiffany! What are you doing? Get in, quickly!” he yells.
I take one quick glance back at the crowd surging towards me and then I do something I’ve never done: I get into a car with a stranger!
I sit stunned while he quickly drives away.
The car bumps cruelly over the ruts in the road, I have dust in my eyes, I’m hot and thirsty and I’m sitting in a horrible old car with a driver who is sweating and wearing lace-up boots and a wind up watch and I have a terrible realisation: I’m not dreaming. I’m bumping around in an old car with leather seats and a wooden gear stick with a strange man in what looks to me like old-fashioned Egypt – and what if it’s real…? Omigod! Now what do I do? I sit in shock and hug the bag to my chest.
“Tiffany, where the heck have you been? Lady Evelyn has been looking for you everywhere. Are the artefacts still in the bag? And where’s your hat? Is it any wonder you look like you’ve fallen out of a tree! You’ve caught the sun badly. Check in the glove box; I think there’s a spare hat in there, and a scarf. Evelyn left one there, I’m sure.” He reaches over and flicks open the compartment and pulls out a hat and scarf. “There, get that on you. Have some water.”
I swear to god this is true: he pulls out a round canteen, like a cowboy would drink out of, unscrews the top and hands it to me.
“Yuk. Do you have a straw?”
He looks at me like I’m barmy and grabs the canteen back and swigs a few gulps down. “No, Miss Toffy Tiffany, I do not have a straw! Now drink this, because you look severely dehydrated!”
Now I might have broken rule number one and got into a car but there’s no way I’m breaking rule number two, which is: don’t drink anything strangers give you, starting with this water. I raise the canteen to my lips and pretend to drink, even making little gulping noises and letting a bit run down my chin. He’s looking at the road, so he’s convinced and he takes the canteen back and stores it in the car door. “Feel better?” I nod and he smiles at me. Perhaps he’s happy, thinking I’m drugged (what is it with me and drugs?). I wonder if I can jump out of the car when he slows down at traffic lights. Then I notice there aren’t any traffic lights. No slow signs, no line in the middle of the road. In fact, no real road!
I start to look around, because I want to know where I am when I escape. Hmmm…. Escape from what to where? That’s the question! This is only a dream but I’ve been kidnapped! Panic? Don’t panic! Should I jump out or hit him across the head? In the end, I decide to sit still until I can decide something better. Tiffany, just play along for now. Okay. Okay. That’s good advice.
“You’re quiet. Usually I can’t shut you up. Is your head hurting?”
“All right, I’ll be nice. So long as you’ve still got the artefacts. Lord Carnarvon will explode if anything’s happened to them.”
“Oh good Lord, Tiffany! You have got them, haven’t you? Open the bag. Show me.”
I don’t even know what an artefact is. So I’m sure I haven’t got one. It sounds artificial, like an artificial fact. Do I have an artificial fact on my person? Ummm, No! Well I’m going to be in the poo, then, aren’t I? I open the bag and pull out something wrapped in white cotton.
Uh-oh! I’m holding a white parcel and I really hope that ‘artefact’ isn’t the old street name for heroin! This wasn’t there before. I’d have seen it, unless this is what I sniffed and what gave me hallucinations. Tiffany! Sorry kid, this is not a hallucination. This is real. Don’t know why, but get used to it. Nooo! I am really mean to myself!
Carefully, I unwrap the parcel and a sort of skinny dog statue rolls onto my lap. It’s black and shiny and the dog is wearing a skirt and holding a staff. Ol’ Indiana over there is very happy!
“Anubis, God of the Underworld! Or as the Egyptians called him: Anapa, the weigher of the heart. Fantastic!”
“What does that mean?”
“The ‘weighing the heart’, bit. That sounds pretty gruesome. Does he cut your heart out?” Have I been picked up by a mad cultist? Am I going to be a sacrifice? Omigod, I said to Mr Barry that I looked like a victim!
“He’s a god. It’s symbolic. He weighs the heart of the dead and compares it to an ostrich feather. If the feather is heavier, then the person has been good and allowed to enter the afterlife.”
“And if not, did they go to hell?”
“Different. Ammit, the goddess with the crocodile head would eat them. It was called ‘dying a second time’. It was the thing the Egyptians feared the most, to be denied the afterlife.”
“Probably beats being tortured for all eternity in sulphur pits by devils with pitchforks, which is what Christians believe.”
“Oh. I guess.” I’m pretty quiet again after that. I think about the coincidence of the ostrich feather that’s turned up both here and in the mythology. I wonder, is my heart lighter than an ostrich feather? Of course not! I’d get eaten quicker than a biscuit in a famine.
I look at Anubis, or Anapa or whatever his name is. He’s pretty amazing. He has been carved so well, it could have been done by a machine! I run my thumb over the smooth black skin.
“Don’t touch. That’s about two and a half or three thousand years old. Wrap it up, quickly.”
There are five other wrapped parcels in the bag that weren’t there before. I wrap up Anubis and carefully place him back with the others. I can’t help it; I have to look at another one. This time it’s a carved statue. Not so special, it’s made of clay and I think it’s a man, but it’s wearing a skirt, so I’m not sure.
“What’s this one?” I ask.
“That’s a shabti. Oh come on Tiffany, you should know that. It’s in case the body didn’t reincarnate properly; if the mummification process didn’t work. The dead person could use the shabti figure as a supplementary body in the afterlife. Very common. Nevertheless, wrap it up and put it back.”
“Well, there’s a con job for you!”
“Con job? Oh, you young people with your jive talk! What, Miss, is a con job?”
“Er, con, you know, like um, confidence trick. Yes. I mean, you’ve come back to life and you can’t move! You’re stuck in a statue and you can’t move or talk or sit or eat or drink. See, if it was me, I’d be struggling to move my lips just enough to say: “Smash me now!”
Ol’ Indiana chuckles as I rewrap the shabti-figure. Okay, I’m not going to be a sacrificial victim. This guy is obviously into Ancient Egyptian stuff, so maybe he’s an archaeologist? But what’s really weird, is, he knows me. So this can’t be real, because, ummm. I don’t understand any of this.
I take the time to sit quietly and think about what I’m going to do. I mean, Ol’ Indiana here already thinks I’m loopy. If I try telling him I stepped into a magic bag and landed up here a few minutes ago he’ll have me strapped down and locked up before I can say “Pyramids of Giza”.
I look at him carefully. What if he is kidnapping me? If I get away, I’ll need to tell the police what he looks like. I don’t want to say: “Um, well, you know, he had hair and a funny hat, oh, and he was wearing a safari jacket!” I’ve got a nasty feeling that safari jackets are ‘in’ this year. So, what can I see? He has a moustache, and grey eyes, and he’s a bit wrinkly round the eyes and his hair is starting to go grey round the edges, so I guess he’s what, forty-five, fifty years old? Hmmm… He has a big nose and small ears and hands like a farmer, every nail is worn down and shows hard work. No jewellery, except his big watch. No tatts! Not that I’d expected any.
“Lady Evelyn was worried when she couldn’t find you,” he says and smiles at me so all the white crinkles around his eyes crease up. It’s at this moment I realise I’m not being kidnapped but I am being taken somewhere where everyone knows me and I don’t know anyone.
I know: parallel universe! That explains it perfectly! Tiffany, you are totally insane. Now shut up! Stay calm and play along until you can work out what to do.
With what I now recognise as his usual style of driving, Ol’ Indiana swings the car around and pulls up sharply in a cloud of dust outside a grand hotel. ‘The Majestic’ is written in huge gold letters above the door and an Indian man in a turban and fancy uniform hurries out to open the car door.
“Welcome, Mr Carter.” He salutes and steps back, holding the car door. I get ignored so I struggle out as best as I can, still clutching Grandma’s travel bag.
A skinny old man bursts out of the hotel, waves his walking stick and yells clear across the courtyard, “Howard Carter, where the blazes have you been?”
“Lord Carnarvon, lovely to see you, too. We have the artefacts.”
And suddenly, everyone is looking at me, again…
Lord Carnarvon bears down on me. Exactly like a bear: a charging polar bear, wearing an off-white wrinkled suit that’s not a good choice considering the heat and dust. I cringe behind the bag and fixate on his gold fob-watch as he strides over and snatches the bag from me.
“Tiffany. I knew you’d be behind it!” He turns rudely and strides off with my bag in his hands! He’s taken my bag!
“Hey! That’s my bag!”
He turns. “With MY artefacts,” he growls and marches into the hotel. Howard Carter and I scurry after him.
Despite being an old man, walking with a limp and carrying a walking stick, Lord Carnarvon strides up the stairs without even breathing hard. I follow both men because I really don’t know what else to do. On the landing, I’m catching my breath as Lord Carnarvon flings open the door to an apartment and strides in. I’m wondering if he ever does anything slowly and I’m debating whether or not to follow them into the room, when I hear a voice I recognise.
“Daddy, have you got them?”
It sounds like Julie! Spotty Jules. I can’t help it. I just have to see if it’s really Jules. Before I realise what’s happening, my feet sneak me into the room and my head peeks round the door and there’s Julie, in a fancy black dress with lemon edging and short hair. She looks older. Omigod! She’s smoking! Even weirder, nobody’s telling her off!
“Tiffany! There you are. I told Daddy you’d have the artefacts safe. I said he could rely on you. See, Daddy! I told you.” Jules comes over and gives me a hug, her cigarette pokes skywards and I stand still, terrified that my hair will catch alight and totally weirded out that Spotty Jules is hugging me.
“Evelyn, don’t do that to the staff. Tiffany, go and get Lady Evelyn’s notes. I want to take a good look at these. Carter, where’s that cameraman of yours?”
I don’t move. Well, I don’t know where to go, do I? And who’s Lady Evelyn? And I can’t get over Spotty Jules, older, smoking, well dressed, not spotty, pretty, and most of all, here!
Howard Carter (whom I shall always think of as Ol’ Indiana) comes to my rescue again. “Tiffany had a hard time of it in the bazaar. She wasn’t wearing a scarf and she’d attracted some unwelcome attention. I think she needs a rest and something to drink.”
“Knew it was a mistake to bring her…” mutters Lord Carnarvon, but he’s far more interested in the contents of the bag than me.
“Come along, Tiffany. I can get my own notes. You need a wash. And as for your hair – what happened?” Without waiting for an answer, Lady Evelyn charges down the corridor and straight into another room. As I hurry after her, I can see the family resemblance: neither she nor Lord Carnarvon do anything at half pace.
Her room is sumptuous. That’s a word I have never used in my life, ’cos nothing else has ever been sumptuous before! It is less of a bedroom and more of an apartment in a palace. Imagine gold, white, dark blue, tassels, swirly bits on all the furniture, a four poster bed with gauzy curtains, cushions, more cushions, flower pots, vases of flowers, pictures on the walls that have actually been painted by real artists, heavy drapes on the windows, and shutters. I’ve never seen shutters before. I go over to have a look out of the window.
“Good idea Tiffy, close the shutters, will you. It’ll be baking soon. Get yourself a drink and I’ll have one, too.” Lady Evelyn sits, no, lounges on the chaise longue. Yep, I know that one from watching ‘Antiques Roadshow’. Don’t tell me the TV’s not educational! Anyway, she’s lying back on about four cushions, still smoking and she wants me to get her a drink. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m gasping, I’d tell her to shove it.
“Ummm… where’s the fridge?”
“Ummm, the bar fridge. I can’t see it.”
“A bar of what?”
“The fridge, with the water, where is it?”
“Tiffany, the water is in the kitchen. You go down the stairs, behind the dining room, into the kitchen, get a jug of water, two glasses and come back up. We’re clear?”
“What? Go, go, you silly girl.”
I stomp off and I am seriously debating whether or not I wasn’t better off when I was invisible! Nobody bossed me around, then. The kitchen is exactly where she said, and I’m a bit nervous about going into it but nobody pays me a lick of attention. I start to wonder if in fact I haven’t gone invisible again when a big Indian man shouts something. A young Indian girl in a sari runs up to me and bows to me with her hands together like a prayer. The man bellows at her again and she stops bowing.
“Yes, Miss?” she says with a big smile.
“Ummm… I need some water for Ju - Lady Evelyn. Please.”
She turns to get me some water and I look around. There are about fifteen women in the kitchen and they take it in turns to sneak me a quick look. They’re all in saris and I am struck that there are no Arab women in the room. Not one. Even the three men in the room are Indian. Strange…?
The girl returns with a tray, a jug and a glass. “Two glasses,” I say. She shakes her head. “Two glasses. Two.” I point to the glass and hold up two fingers. Oh, we’ve made contact! Hooray! She hands me a second glass and I’m out of there and gasping for a drink and to hell with Lady Evil-lyn. She can wait.
I’ve just chugged back about half of the jug and I’m thinking of braving the kitchen again when a voice goes, “Hey, Tiffany!”
What is this? I could walk down my street at home and not have that many people know me. “What?”
“Tiff, I hear you brought the artefacts in. Well done. I’m going up to photograph them for the cataloguing. Carter is very pleased and I think Lord Carnarvon is going to have pups, he’s that happy. ’Bout time too, wouldn’t you say? Mind you, bit of a cheat, buying artefacts in the market and then selling them on, but it brings in the cash.”
“I heard Carnarvon is bleeding buckets of money on this expedition. The word is,” he leaned in and lowered his voice, “if Carter doesn’t turn up trumps soon we’re all going home! So if you’re thinking of doing a little souvenir shopping, don’t delay, shop today! Or soon, anyway. Hey! That rhymes.” With that little gem the young American man who obviously knows me, bounds up the stairs. Doesn’t anybody walk around here? Everybody strides and bounds. Even Ol’ Indiana drives like he’s late for dinner.
I take the jug back into the kitchen and fill it up myself. Everybody scowls at me. I think that here, in colonial wherever, I should demand they do it for me, but I just can’t be bothered.
Plod, plod, plod up the stairs. That’s me, good ol’ Tiffany going slow for Australia! Proper little United Nations, here. That lot upstairs are English, downstairs, they’re Indians, outside they’re Arabs, the photographer’s American and there’s me from Australia.
“Tiffany, what took you so long? I nearly died of thirst. Bring it here. I’m just going over my notes. I’ll get you to type them for me after dinner but first, clean yourself up. You look terrible. Your face is all red. You’ll be going native if you don’t watch out.” Lady Evelyn talks like she walks: top speed and no pauses to see if you’re keeping up.
At that moment, I have my only brilliant idea for the day. Act! I’m good at acting. I’d be a brilliant actress if only I didn’t have to learn all those lines. If all I had to do was improvise, I’d have my name up in lights. Jaimie and I used to spend ages reworking films we’d seen and each taking a part. We’d have to take it in turns to be the heroine but it’s my special thing. So I faint. I bet I’d get an Oscar for fainting. Clonk! Like a sack of potatoes. Out cold. Tiffany was awarded the Oscar for best improvised faint in an awkward situation.
There’s a whole lot of shouting going on and it’s so tempting to peek, but I’ve got my eyes firmly closed and the room is suddenly filled with heavy men-feet and someone picks me up and carries me down the passage, round the corner and opens a door and dumps me on a bed. A wet flannel is draped across my forehead and someone is patting my hand then I hear, “Sniff this!” and stupidly, I do. Smelling salts! I think they’ve been banned by the Geneva Convention ’cos it’s like tear gas in a bottle! Coughing and spluttering. I’m awake and hoping I haven’t been sprung.
“I told you she had been out in the sun too long,” says Ol’ Indiana, bless him.
“You haven’t caught anything, have you?” enquires Lady Evelyn from a safe distance. “Have a rest. You can do that typing later.” Gee, thanks Lady E! They both leave. I’m suddenly aware that the American is still here. He sits beside me on the bed and hands me a glass of water.
“Do you want a sandwich? I’ll send for one. You’re not yourself, that’s for sure. I’m used to you bouncing around the place.”
“Can you keep a secret?” I ask on an impulse.
“Don’t know. Should I?”
“I don’t want them to know, but I’ve lost my memory.”
“You’re kidding! How come? How long?”
“I got kicked in the head by a camel in the market. Since then, I know that I know everybody, but not their names and I don’t know anything and… and, it’s really scary.”
“You don’t know anybody? Who am I?”
“Ummm… you’re American and you’re a photographer.”
“Tiffany, you don’t remember my name? Really?”
“I’m sorry.” I am fantastic. Definite Oscar material! You should see me: little trembley lip and watery eyes. I am good and he is hooked!
“Harry. Harry Burton. More?” I nod. “Official Photographer – have cameras, will travel,” he smiles.
“What about the rest of them?”
“Really? You’ve known Lady Evelyn and Lord Carnarvon for years. Your mother was her tutor. You do all the typing and filing for the dig.”
“Noooooo! How badly did you get kicked? I think you need a doctor.”
“No, don’t do that. I just need a rest and I’ll be fine. Tell me more. What are the artefacts?”
“They’re treasures they’ve dug up from the Valley of the Kings. Carter is convinced that the tomb he’s searching for is close to the Tomb of Ramesses IV because of the inconsistency of the excavations and some of the artefacts are considerably older than 1150 BC. Now he’s found a tablet mentioning Akhenaton who was supposed to have ruled around 1350 - 1334 BC. But we know it can’t be him, because his tomb was discovered by Ayrton in 1907. So, the big question is: who’s down there? Carter’s dug up most of the valley, trying to find out and now Carnarvon has threatened to pull the plug on the funds unless he gets some results soon. Now we’ve got the link with Akhenaton, he’s got all excited again.”
“Ah - At-Achoo! Sorry, perhaps I have caught a cold after all. I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Do you remember where it is?”
“End of the corridor on your left. Do you want me to come with you?”
“No! I mean: no thank you. I’ll have a shower and I’m sure I’ll feel better soon.
“Ummm, bath? You’ve been great, Harry. Thanks for keeping my secret.”
“Don’t worry, our little secret.” Harry puts a finger to his lips and leaves me on my own to take a deep breath and get my head around this.
Tutankhamun! Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter and me. Wow! I wonder if I’ll get my name in the history books…
Grandmothers don’t usually swear. But then, most grandmothers don’t own a magic bag that travels through time either. Tiffany’s grandma did both.
Gran hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary for about half an hour after she returned from her walk. She’d come in and done some chores and then decided to have a cup of tea. She’d called Tiffany and was miffed that there was no reply. She’s still got those darn headphones on. Gran pulled herself up the stairs. This is one thing I’m not going to miss, she grunted and thought longingly of her own single-storey home with a small neat garden.
Tiffany wasn’t in her room. Her earphones were on the floor and the Dolly magazine was on the pillow. Gran was about to conclude that Tiffany had gone out when she noticed that her own bedroom door was open. Ajar. What a stupid word. My bedroom door is a jar. She pushed the door open and saw her travel bag in the middle of the room. Open. A black feather lay on the floor beside it.
Gran picked up the feather and looked inside the bag. At the bottom of the bag, the bazaar scene was still showing its chaos, bright lights and hard blue sky. Gran looked at the feather and back at the bag. “Oh no!” she said.
And then she started swearing!
The man sitting under the fan didn’t seem to notice that all it was doing was pushing more hot air around. It wasn’t going fast, so the papers on his desk didn’t move. The man’s lips twitched as he read through a letter that had just been delivered. His manicured finger traced the typed English text, that formed a carefully crafted request to his department. He slammed the letter on his desk, placed his spectacles on top of it, shook his head, rubbed his temples and looked around as he wondered how to handle this latest development.
His large office was meticulously neat, with a wall of shelves piled high with document files, tied with ribbons and marked with labels written both in Arabic script and English. The name plate, Director El-B’dari. Egyptian Antiquities sat precisely in the centre of his huge desk. Carved from dark oak but worn around the edges, it bore the marks of hard work or heavy shoes of all the men who had used it over the many years before him. He’d heard that the desk had once been a gift from the British Consulate to the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. Director El-B’dari believed it. When is a bribe not a bribe? Answer: when it’s disguised as a gift to the department.
The director sighed and picked up the document he had been reading. He paced around his office and stopped at the window to give himself a moment for reflection before deciding what to do. The office faced onto the main road and tragically caught the afternoon sun, but gave a good view of the car park outside. He had used that view to his advantage many times, noticing who had parked and was coming to visit. It gave him a few minutes to prepare himself.
When he had first been appointed to the post Director of Antiquities, there hadn’t been much happening. But then, in the last few years, more and more foreigners had come to Egypt and dug up the Valley of the Kings, looking for lost treasure troves and, surprisingly, finding them!
Suddenly, the Director of Antiquities had a lot of responsibility to make sure that Egypt was not stripped of its heritage and wealth with the ‘first-come, first-served’ attitude that the foreigners had. In the Directors opinion, they were no better than the ancient tomb robbers who’d stripped the tombs of the Pharaohs throughout the preceding centuries.
“In fact, they’re worse,” he muttered to himself. “They’re not poor, they’re educated and rich and they pretend to know better. And worst of all, they’re foreign.”
Now, he was reading through a request that had been submitted by Lord Carnarvon’s expedition, requiring an expansion to the area allocated for their excavations. Director El-B’dari was a clever man, fluent in English and smart in the ways of other clever men. He knew that he was reading a smidgen of truth and a pot-full of fabrication and deception. The Director called out to his assistant and a younger man wearing an ill-fitting suit hurried in, smoothing down his hair and looking worried.
“Have you read this request? This Carnarvon expedition. He’s after more land grants at no extra cost. He wants us to waive the licensing fees because he’s not expanding into areas that are of any interest to anyone else and it borders his existing grant. The nerve of that man! Should we invade the Sinai, just because we border it and no-one else is using it?” The Director paced around and his assistant stood still and tried to merge with the furniture. Experience told him that his own view on the matter was not important. The Director required an audience so that he could express his opinion, usually volubly. So the assistant stood and listened. Listening didn’t require any energy on his part; he was paid the same whatever he did and the Director’s office had a fan. Standing and listening could possibly be the highlight of his day. His job as an assistant and clerk was tedious but paid better than most jobs he could expect to get. The bonus was the information he learned about the excavations for treasure.
“Hoozi, are you listening to me?”
“What was the last thing I said?”
“That you would be glad when all the infidels have left and we Egyptians can go back to managing our own affairs without fending off the robbing, cheating dogs from the West.”
“Exactly. Yes. Did you hear from the Minister’s office yet about my plan to train our own archaeologists?”
“Not officially, sir.”
“Then what did you hear?”
“Words to the effect of: ‘Why would we put our own money and resources into something that the foreigners are funding and doing much better than we can? They are using our Egyptian labour, creating employment, paying their fees and they aren’t allowed to remove much of what they are finding from Egypt’. The Minister feels that any treasure that’s still in the ground isn’t worth anything until it’s dug up.”
“I’ve heard it all before. ‘Fifty percent of something found is better than one hundred percent of something lost’. Hoozi, Hoozi, Hoozi, what are we to do?”
Hoozi knew this was not really a question and did not actually require a response, even though his name had been used three times. Hoozi stood still and remained silent, enjoying the cooling fan circling over his head.
Across town in the bazaar, the traders were packing away the last of their wares. None of them took the slightest bit of notice when old woman in a grotty black dress suddenly arrived out of nowhere. Of course not, she was invisible.
Gran took a look around, remembering. Only yesterday, she had found an ostrich feather in her travel bag and as she picked it up, the bag had opened its portal for her. She’d spent a pleasant few hours walking around here. When she’d returned, only a small amount of real time had passed, maybe half an hour? She hadn’t checked. But then she’d lost her balance, fallen and not closed the bag. And while the portal was still open, the snake had slipped through.
I won’t be making that mistake again, she scolded herself. Gran scanned the bazaar, filled with confusing movements and lengthening shadows. Okay, let’s find Tiffany, get in the bag and get home. Oh, Good Grief!
There was no bag to get back in to. Where her feet usually stood in the travel bag, this time, they stood on the ground. There was no bag! This isn’t possible! I have to have a portal to get back! Where’s the bag? It should be here!
If the traders had been able to see her, they would have been concerned to witness an old lady having a total panic attack. If I have a heart attack here and die here, will people trip over my invisible dead body and wonder what the smell is?
Breathe deeply! Omigod! That’s a good saying, after all. I must congratulate Tiffany when I see her. Omigod. What do I do now? What’s happened? Where’s the bag? Hmm? Think! Tiffany must have it. I hope Tiffany’s got it. If she came through, she must have it. I’m sure she’s here because the portal in the bag in my room was open and she was gone. Now, if I haven’t got the bag here, then she must have it and I’ve arrived at the last place the bag was active. Maybe it’s like a homing beacon? I have no idea; this has never happened before. One thing’s for sure, I have to find her or I’m stuck here with no hope of getting back. I just hope she’s got the bag! Where do I start, anyway?
Gran shrugged her shoulders to adjust her backpack, then walked with determination, looking neither right nor left, until she reached the long shadow of the mosque at the edge of the market. She climbed the steps and scanned the crowd from her vantage point, taking in the happy shouts of the stall-keepers as they loaded up their stock and supplies into carts and onto the backs of protesting donkeys.
“Oh Tiffany, however am I going to find you here?” she whispered. Then another thought struck her.
I hope she hasn’t already found out how to use the bag and gone back, or I’m stranded!
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