The Egyptologist

The glare of the nursing home lights cast a blue tone over everything in its path. ‘Ting, ting, ting’ the spoon hit the sides of the glass as she stirred it. “Mr. Henley, it is time to take your medicine… Mr. Henley? “

‘Ting, ting, ting’ “Mr. Henley! Come quickly!” ‘ting ting’ “Mr. Henley!” A small, dark haired boy came racing around the corner, short of breath. ‘Ting’ I looked up with irritation from another careful strike of mallet to chisel poised delicately above a tanned stripe of clay and wiped a stray lock of blond hair out of my eye in frustration. Didn’t the boy know better than to break my concentration when I was in the middle of… “Mr. Henley! They found the door …” In one fluid movement I dropped the chisel, grabbed my hat and water bottle in one hand and Azim’s little hand in the other and choked through the dusk stirred up by his little feet “Where, boy, where?”

We ran up the hill, Azim hanging onto my hand, and I saw with relief only my partner and his assistant. They were hovering nervously in front of a small hole nearly hidden by a dune of sand. Quietly, I blessed Azim for having the wit and stealth to fetch me as he had. My partner kneeled at the base of the door brushing some sand out of the way. When he stood our gaze met. Henry’s blue eyes sparkled brilliantly in his tanned face, his gaze frozen with excitement.

That evening found me in my tent staring without sight into the small mirror, which was balanced precariously on the table above my shaving kit. My pressed white shirt lay folded on the chair under my hand. The miracle of the British abroad: never to be caught unshaven, or in fact, never, in any way disheveled despite constantly whirling sand and temperatures over 37 degrees Celsius. My mind raced with plans, strategies, concerns, fears and sheer delight. A sigh issued from the mouth of Azim, asleep at the foot of my cot, and brought me back to the present.

I retrieved my pen and ink from my bag and sat down at the small table, under the mirror.

July 10th in this Year of our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Seventy Three

Dearest Elizabeth,

My heart aches to have to near me, to feel you in my arms and to have you here to share this most wonderful of events. I cannot write in detail, which must speak to the magnitude of the event, lest this correspondence be intercepted. But I want you to know that now our sacrifices have not been in vain.
All my heart’s love.

Yours eternally,
A week went by, the door was fully excavated and camouflaged. Gradually, so as not to arouse suspicion or interest our tools were stowed just inside the door. As much as I trusted and loved Azim I kept him under close watch, this was too big to trust to childish discretion. In the stillness of every evening Henry and I huddled over map, chart, and myth. The same maps, charts, and myths that had brought us to divine the location of the door also promised labyrinthine passages. We were excited about getting in and concerned, and rightly so, about getting out.

In the dark stillness of the morning of the eighth day, long before the blazing sun would rise, the four of us headed, surreptitiously, toward the door. We were loaded down with heavy clothes, torches, food and water, in anticipation of what promised to be a dark, cold and fatefully long day.

We entered the door and began to decide our path through the tunnels, careful to mark where we had been so as not to fall pray to the tortuous halls and dead ends. The ancients had gone to great care not to have their sacred places violated and the realization of that weighed, somewhat, on my conscience. Since the point when we would be inaudible to anyone on the outside Azim had kept up a continuous steam of childish chatter. Rather that being irritated we were grateful for the touch of reality that it gave this very surreal descent in the bowels of a civilization.

The farther we went the darker it got, or at least in seemed that way. It was as though the weight of all the sand above our heads somehow pressed in upon us. As we neared the site, close to what we suspected to be the right area, we began to move more slowly and began reading the hieroglyphics more carefully. Even Azim’s comforting chatter had ceased. We barely breathed as we continued our journey back though time.

Finally we reached the door and the hieroglyphics agreed with our estimation. This should be the room. The door however was sealed with disuse, and I began, carefully, with the others staring on, to tap away at the door. ‘Ting ting’ sang the chisel as it tapped the stone.

‘Ting, ting’ sang the spoon as it swirled around the glass. “Mr. Henley, love, look at me, it is time to take your medication.”


Sarah Walsh