Spirits in the Night
The hot sun was slipping below the horizon. I sat watching the builders, as I had been sitting all that afternoon, watching the pyramid slowly rise out of the sands. Very slowly, indeed. Few of the enormous limestone blocks had been added to the structure since I came.
Most would have found watching blocks being dragged up to form the pyramid's walls tedious, but not me. It gives me an excuse to get away, to go somewhere relatively quiet and dream undisturbed.
I often watch the pyramid builders. I slip away when I am frustrated with all the noise at my home. Noise like the incessant crying of my younger sister Teti, the whispers and giggles of the slave girls, and my mother's constant complaints about my manners, my posture, my words, my behavior, or anything else I do that is not fitting for a young Egyptian woman.
I am not yet a woman, though, and there will be time for all of that when I am older. At ten I just want to enjoy myself.
So I come to watch the pyramid being built. I sit and dream of the gods, the pharaohs, and of magical things that may happen to me one day, like they often happen to the kings.
The sun god Amen-Ra was now nearly gone. The builders left, singly and in groups, to hurry to their homes before Amen-Ra disappeared entirely. Yet I still sat there, oblivious to the fading light, caught up in a lovely dream. When I finally did realize that it was getting late, it was already very dark, yet I was still reluctant to go. Mother would punish me for not being home before sundown.
I got up, stretched, and brushed the sand off my white linen gown. I swept back my long black hair, and as I did so, I saw a bright light descending from the Land of the Dead. The sky was quite clear that night, and I could see Osiris and Isis easily.
I looked again at the pyramid being built below. I gasped. From inside the low walls a woman was walking toward me. Not one of the dirty old women who worked on the construction, but a beautiful young woman whom I was sure I'd never seen before.
She had a heart-shaped face surrounded by long, flowing black hair. Her almond-shaped dark brown eyes stood out like jewels against her light skin. She was the most breathtaking woman I had ever seen.
"Who's there?" I called out to her. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask those questions of you," she said, smiling. "Isn't it rather late for little girls to be away from home?" She had a soft, musical voice.
"I was just leaving for home. And I'm not that little," I said, my pride wounded.
"No, perhaps you are not. If you knew what was in store for you when you do grow older, though, you may want to remain little," she replied. Then she smiled again. "I am Esa. What is your name?"
"I am Ashayet," I said. I smiled shyly. "Esa is a pretty name."
Esa gracefully dropped down to the ground. She had an air about her that seemed unreal, and I was mesmerized by her.
"Where did you come from?" I asked. "I mean, you just seemed to appear out of nowhere."
"Perhaps I did," said Esa, smiling again.
"But that's impossible!"
"Anything is possible," she answered. "But I did not appear 'out of nowhere,' as you say. I came from above."
Suddenly, I felt frightened again. "From above?"
"Yes, from the Kingdom of the Dead, from the stars. Did you not see the star falling a few minutes ago?"
"Star falling?" I repeated stupidly.
"Yes, my star. But that is really of no importance. I came, you see, to ask something of you." she said.
"Ask me something? Why me?" I asked faintly, still not quite understanding what was going on.
"You are still a child. You might understand as an adult would not." she replied.
"What can I understand? I'm not that old," I said.
"Did you not hear me? Someone older would never understand. They would believe me to be a demon and would not help me." She took a breath and then smiled. "You are capable of understanding more than you think, little Ashayet."
I thought for a minute before answering her, trying to take in all that I had heard. "What is it that you want me to do?" I finally asked.
"I am glad that you have decided to listen," said Esa. "I've come to ask you to move my grave. The pyramid is being built over it and this is disturbing the body."
"Where would you like me to put it?"
"Somewhere quiet, where it will not be disturbed again."
This seemed easy enough. We were completely surrounded by a desolate wasteland. "All right. Is that all?"
"Yes," Esa answered.
We sat silently for a few minutes. I studied my companion. She was so beautiful, so graceful, and her words were so gentle. Yet, something was wrong. I looked at Esa again. She was staring off into the distance.
"Why are you so sad?" I asked her.
She turned her head. "You are very perceptive."
She looked out toward the partially constructed pyramid. She waited a few moments before speaking again, as if she were trying to decide whether or not to do something. Finally, she said, "Ashayet, would you like to hear a story?"
I felt my curiosity piquing. I nodded.
Her eyes traveled to my face, then back out to the pyramid. "It happened a long time ago, many years before you were born. I was a young girl then, not much older than you are now. Those were happy times, then. But, for me at least, they would not remain so.
"I was at the market with my mother when I saw him for the first time. He was a tall, handsome young man from Thebes who was visiting family here in Giza. He saw me, too, and at that moment he singled me out to be his next conquest." Esa's voice was bitter.
"His name was Khay, and he was a very rich man. He was also as extravagant as he was wealthy. He bought me much expensive gold jewelry while he was trying to win my heart.
"Khay was, besides being the most handsome man I had ever seen, extremely charming. It did not take much for me to fall in love with him. Those few weeks that he was with me were the happiest of my life." Esa sighed. "But it was not to be.
"Khay was called back to his estate a month after he arrived in Giza. It was a tearful farewell, on my part. He told me that he loved me and that he would come back to me soon. Then, he left." She paused, and looked at the sky.
"Then what happened?" I asked impatiently.
She glanced at me as if she were looking through me, at something that was no longer there. Then she looked away again and spoke. "I waited three years for him to return. I had many suitors during the time, for I was a very pretty girl, but none of them mattered to me. In my mind, there was only Khay, whom I loved and who said he loved me. I became dreamy and distracted, and my parents began to worry about me.
"Eventually, a marriage was arranged for me. My parents believed that I would get better if my affairs were settled.
"I married the man, Seti, soon after. My family was happy for me, and sure that I would be well soon. In spite of their predictions, though, I took a turn for the worse. I became thinner and always had a longing look in my eyes. My family was convinced that I was dying."
She hesitated. "I do not know what possessed me to do it. Eventually, my longing for Khay became so strong that I could not ignore or resist it any longer. One night, I slipped away on a donkey, heading toward the Nile.
"I snuck onto a barge heading to Thebes. When I reached the city, I obtained directions to Khay's plantation. I was going to offer to be his concubine.
"I was able to enter the house unnoticed. I hoped to find Khay alone and make my proposition. I was sure that he would accept it. After all, he did tell me that he loved me, didn't he?
"I quietly walked through the doorway closest to me. I gasped softly. There was Khay, the love of my life. He was as handsome as he was over three years ago, if not more so. I saw his strong, bronzed shoulders, his eyes which shone like brown jewels, and his thick shock of black hair. I felt my love surging within me, but not for long. There was someone else in the room.
"Who?" I asked softly. There was a note of pain in Esa's voice.
"I do not know who she was. I do know, however, that she was a stunning woman, and she was now kissing my Khay's lips. Khay's lips, which had kissed me what seemed like only yesterday, a kiss that had made my lips burn for days.
"I stared at them until I could not take it any longer. I withdrew from the room as silently as I had entered it.
"Khay did not love me anymore, that was obvious. Had he ever loved me? He never looked at me as tenderly as he had looked at that woman.
"Meanwhile, back at home, my sudden disappearance had been discovered, and rumors abounded. Someone had seen me get on the barge to Thebes, and eventually, the old gossips in town figured out what I had done. When I returned home, I found it closed to me. I had disgraced my family beyond belief, in their opinion, and I was no longer welcome with them."
"But how could they do that to you?" I asked, shocked.
"My family placed a great deal of stock in their honor and their spotless reputation. I had dirtied this and had dishonored the family name. They were outraged," said Esa. "They wanted nothing to do with me anymore. I was an outcast."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Well, there was not much I could do. I had already ruined my health. Now, I had no food, no shelter, no one to care for me, and I was ostracized from the town. I was completely broken. I went out into the desert and died," she answered. "And that is the end of my story."
I was silent. I didn't know what to say.
Esa said, "I must go back to the Land of the Dead now, little Ashayet. Promise me that you will not tell my poor story to anyone else, but you will keep it to yourself. I do not want all those old wounds to be reopened. My family has forgotten me by now, and they do not need to be reminded of their black sheep."
"Yes, Esa," I replied. "I won't tell anyone, ever."
"Thank you. Good bye, Ashayet." Esa stood and started walking out toward the pyramid.
"Good bye!" I called after her.
I watched Esa as she disappeared into the distance. The sky was clear and bright above, and I soon saw another shooting star, only this one was heading up. Esa was gone. I turned and started toward home.
That next evening, after the builders left, I moved Esa's body. Her corpse
was small and shriveled and didn't look at all like the beautiful woman
I had met last night. I buried her body where we had sat and talked the
night before. Later, I visited the spot many times, sitting there as I
watched the pyramid rise ever so slowly out of the sands and dreamed about
a beautiful young girl named Esa.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002