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Ren

The Asha Renu Series

Book 1

Amira Awaad


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Except to the allusions made to ancient deities; even then, their portrayal is the product of the author’s imagination.

Copyright© 2018 Amira Awaad
All rights reserved.

Except for use in a review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in print or electronic form without my permission.

Cover by Germancreative






~ For my sister ~
Live Laugh Love

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1 Farewell, New York.

Chapter 2 Hello, Cairo.

Chapter 3 One Step at a Time

Chapter 4 Kofu, Khafra, Mankarah

Chapter 5 What the Hell, Nadiah!

Chapter 6 What’s in a Name?

Chapter 7 Planes, Trains, or Automobiles?

Chapter 8 Aswan City

Chapter 9 Soul Food

Chapter 10 A New Horizon

Chapter 11 Oh Ramesses, Who Wert Thou?

Chapter 12 The One for Whom the Sun Shines

Chapter 13 Two Lions

Chapter 14 The Eternal Present

Chapter 15 There Was No Bride

Chapter 16 Hospital Gowns

Chapter 17 Homebound

Chapter 18 Aswan, Take Two.

Chapter 19 Forbidden Places

Chapter 20 The Valley of the Queens

Chapter 21 When Star and Land Collide

Chapter 22 The Beginning

A Message from the Author

More Books by This Author


Prologue

The ancients used to say that a spirit resides in everything. That all matter, living and inanimate, are gravitational channels of energy.

They believed that some individuals were selected to encompass magnificent fragments of older souls.

But unless all the components of the new soul were complete and known to the host, these people could never be whole — merely pieces of a puzzle that remain disjointed.

Many, today, still believe it and some even know the signs. Yet, others conceive such stories as forgotten lore…

But there are those — a very rare few who live in our time — that actually experience the gravitational channels in consciousness.

They awaken to the spirit and accept the gift it offers.




Farewell, New York.

It was a rainy morning in front of the 22-story high rise, and as the last suitcase was loaded into the back of a black embassy Cadillac, Nadiah Zahi turned around to say goodbye to the greatest friend she’d ever known.

The news of returning to her homeland did not bode well with the fresh college graduate. She majored in English Literature and dreamed of spending her life in a library surrounded by books. Nadiah had a life in New York. She had aspirations. She also had Dean Stanton, her best friend and confidante.

You’d think a girl like her would be used to it all by now. After all, it wasn’t as though she was born and raised in New York. In fact, she was born in Tanzania and raised all over the world. She had said ‘goodbye’ to friends all her life. But, after a lifetime of living as a stranger in the world, Nadiah was finally going home — to Egypt.

The great irony in Nadiah’s life was that she knew everything about being a perfect stranger, but nothing about being a native. The thought of going back to her own country scared her to all ends. What did she know about being an Egyptian in Egypt? Nothing.

“Hey D,” she breathed meekly into his ear. It was the same way she’d greeted him every day since they met on the 22nd Floor of the Pembroke. She lived in 22J, he in 22F. For someone trying to say goodbye, the words failed to come.

“Hey yourself,” came the broken sound to her ear. His massive 6 foot 3 frame loomed protectively over her slighter 5 foot 3. It was all Dean could do to hold her and pray that a miracle would happen and that she just wouldn’t leave.

“Mademoiselle…,” it was the embassy driver indicating that everyone was settled into the car and it was time.

Dean handed her a giant bag of Twizzlers and a small box. In it, was a single earring — the sun. Nadiah followed his own hand up to his ear where his finger ran over the single earring he wore — the moon.

“Together,” he said, “forever and for always, come what may. Remember that, Nadiah.”

As the car drove off, Dean conceded to the falling tears from heaven. He’d said ‘goodbye’ to the most amazing woman he’d ever known.

Ambassador Zahi and his family were met at the airport with security details, VIP ushers, and a few familiar faces from the embassy. They’d come to bid them one more ‘farewell’ before the ambassador and his family boarded the Egyptair flight bound for Cairo.

Nadiah received the news confirming their return date six months ago. That day, she’d heard her father come home from work followed by the sounds of her mother’s laughter. Mrs. Zahi’s melodic excitement lured Nadiah into her their room. Her smile waned when they said it was official — they’d be traveling home on December 31st. Nadiah’s world cracked, in that moment, and threatened to shatter around her.

It’s not my home, she thought, I’m already home.

Her parents were acutely aware of how much their daughter resented going back to Egypt. She’d articulated and pronounced her position on the matter quite vehemently. The fact was, Nadiah was still young and having spent the truly formative years of her life in New York, her relationships with friends weren’t the same as when she was seven or even twelve. Here emotions were raw and far more complex than when she was a child.

Back then, life was just one big adventure. She’d board a plane and travel to fantastic new places — learn new languages, eat new food, make new friends, and play forever.

But now, Nadiah was 21. She didn’t want to play on swings. She wanted stability, continuity, control over her own future, and to be accepted for who and what she was.

For Nadiah, that was the beauty of New York — she assimilated flawlessly. No one would have ever imagined that she wasn’t actually born or raised there. But, in the end, she wasn’t. She was born in central Africa and raised all over the world.

Still, New York was where she actually felt like she was home. Nadiah and The Big Apple — they spoke the same language. Egypt, though, that was another story.

The homebound family waited in the VIP lounge, and while Mrs. Zahi smiled and kissed her husband’s cheek, Nadiah’s mind wandered off to once upon a time… there, her painfully knotted face softened when she recalled how her high school band director used to call her a flower-child.

She was such a free and lively spirit. To everyone who knew her, she was a bright muse that inspired love, peace, and everything hopeful in the world. Of course, she also had a wicked little sense of humor that used to drive Dean insane — but he could dish out just as much as he took. It all seemed so far away now, like a thread of smoke she couldn’t hold on to. Nadiah was angry and heartbroken. But even then, she only thought she understood why.

Growing up, she’d spent a few months in Egypt when she was seven and even fewer when she was twelve. She knew her grandma and some cousins, but they all existed as distant memories.

Her broken Arabic and fluent English constantly amused her parents’ family. But she was always aware that an invisible wall separated them from her. Though they all held the title of ‘Egyptian’, Nadiah was not like them and she knew it — and so did they.

‘Egypt’ was her passport, it was her birth certificate, her DNA; but how does one reunite with their biological mother after spending a lifetime raised by foreign caregivers? Nadiah and Egypt — they didn’t speak the same language — not even close.


Hello, Cairo.

“I’d like one apple and one banana, please,” Nadiah spoke in her obliterated Arabic to the middle-aged fruit vendor standing by a street cart. Though she understood colloquial Arabic, her spoken language left much to be polished. Buying fruit, though, was not a difficult thing. So, when the vendor proceeded to pile a whole bunch of apples and bananas onto the weighing scales, Nadiah protested.

“No, no, no, one apple and one banana,” this time she held up her index finger indicating the number.

“Yes, one kilo apple and one kilo banana,” the man looked frustrated.

“No, not one kilo. Just one,” Oh my God. This is not hard. Why don’t you get it?

The vendor frowned — positively glowered. He threw his hands up in dismay like he felt insulted. The disgruntled man shooed her off while he complained to the mass public about, “...there’s no such thing as selling one piece of fruit. It’s damn well sold by the kilo.”

Calm down, she thought, what the hell? It’s fruit, not the presidential debate.

Nadiah let her hair hang like a shadowy mask over her deeply flushed face and glimpsed the small audience that had gathered. Why do they always have to stare? Every inch of her skin crawled under the weight of judgment and smirks from the passersby.

Was there some cultural norm she was unaware of that dictated she couldn’t buy just one piece of fruit? It’s just bloody math is all it is! If a kilo sells for 10 pounds and the apple weighed an eighth, then charge me 1.25 pounds. Hell, charge me two pounds and get a life!

Beside her, another vendor smiled playfully. He’d watched the whole embarrassing ordeal. “Come, I’ll sell you one piece of fruit,” said the second vendor.

At this point, she just wanted to go home, no, not home, house. As far as Nadiah was concerned, she had no home because, obviously to her, she had no homeland — not really. I don’t belong here… that was her sad silent truth.

“You want one apple and one banana, right?” She nodded and felt somewhat redeemed.

“Choose,” he indicated his cart.

Nadiah picked up one apple and brought it close to her nose. She did this with three separate apples until she scented the one for her.

“This one, and this one.”

“Three pounds,” he said and bagged them.

“Thank you.”

“You are not Egyptian. Syrian, perhaps? Lebanese?” Nadiah’s gut tightened and her stomach turned. She clenched the bag of fruit in her fists and breathed deeply to calm her anxiety and nerves.

Here we go again.

This dreaded statement that dripped with entitlement never failed to elicit a resentful sigh from Nadiah. In the two long months she’d been back home, she heard it as the go-to response to every statement she voiced. She was tired of having to explain that she wasn’t born or raised in Egypt.

To Nadiah, it was blatantly obvious that the general mass public of Egyptians had collectively labeled her a khawagaya — a foreigner. Thing was, Nadiah got it. She understood. She didn’t need it thrown in her face every day.

It struck a nerve with her — a painful one. She’d lived as a stranger in strange lands her whole life and never once felt out of place. That was because she was a foreigner, there. Are you Norwegian? No. Are you American. No. Japanese? No. Belgian? No, I’m Egyptian, she’d respond with a smile.

Well, now she was in Egypt, but everything about the country rejected her as one of its own. People’s reactions upset her to all ends. That despised phrase “you are not Egyptian” was the scythe that severed every infant root she attempted to plant — to belong — somewhere.

“Actually, I am. Not born, not raised, but I am not a foreigner, I’m as Egyptian as you are,” Nadiah believed her own words.

The vendor let loose a loud guttural laugh. His hand motioned to her, from head to toe, pointing out all the abnormalities she’d memorized by heart. You don’t look Egyptian. Your face is too pale. Your hair is wild. You dress like a man. “…And, of course, your accent.”

Nadiah raised her eyebrow and looked down at her t-shirt, jeans, flannel shirt, and Docs. “Whatever, thanks for the fruit.”

As she walked away, her ears piqued to the last phrase he tossed to the other vendors, “khawagaya Masreya.” It meant Egyptian Foreigner and it left a bitter taste in her mouth every time she heard it.

Nadiah’s only escape was the power she held in pretending…

She focused her concentration and became deaf to the loud, bustling street. Her vivid imagination replaced the Arabic lettering above the shops and repainted her commute home as a walk down 3rd Avenue. With a little effort, she could summon the scent of hotdogs and onions. Better yet, the scent of lunch at the Chinese deli she grabbed food at three times a week.

They say butterflies emerge from cocoons through metamorphosis, but Nadiah was already a butterfly. Since arriving to Cairo, though, she’d folded her wings and continuously regressed to a state of introversion. The days passed, and she felt increasingly isolated. Every ion in her bloodstream longed to be back in New York where she could buy a piece of fruit in ten seconds without some entitled vendor giving her crap about what she was and wasn’t.

She stopped abruptly and froze in position. Omigod, Dean! He’s here! Dean! — he was walking away. Her mind rushed with excitement. It bustled with every utopic explanation as to why Dean was walking ahead of her on the street. Nadiah pushed past the crowded bodies, ignoring every imposing comment about her long wild hair and “mannish” clothing. Just then, he turned around, and her smile faded.

Her eyes had deceived… again.

Later that night, Nadiah sat back in her bed and stared at pictures of once-upon-a-time, when her best friend was the corporeal present, and not a past with no physical shoulder to cry on.

Dean Stanton was true to his word. He emailed her frequently, but she never read the letters. The thought of him made her heart ache — made her sick with longing. She couldn’t bear to read the words. In her isolated self-punishment, she pushed him away, too. Beyond her brave exterior, the tears fell as echoes of Nadiah’s anguished silent screams.

On many nights, after she’d cried herself to sleep… she dreamed.

The memory of ancient queens evoked in Nadiah a feeling that set her subconscious mind free. She never saw her, not even in this dream, but she felt the presence of Queen Hatshepsut — Egypt’s first female Pharaoh.

The image reels of sleep spun like dervishes and Nadiah saw herself standing amidst a vast throne room with an invisible force behind her. It held up a glorious floor length, sky-blue robe with silver inner lining. Nadiah placed her hands through the armholes and the robe instinctively rose to fit her. It felt strong, like stone, and smelled of sweet frankincense and myrrh.

Though Nadiah sensed a powerful and somewhat intimidating presence, she braved the three steps it took to reach the Pharaoh-woman’s throne. A small part of her was afraid the queen would catch her. After all, she didn’t belong there.

Nadiah wore Hatshepsut’s robe and sat on her throne. Awed by her mystique, Nadiah contemplated the implacable woman. Like weightless air, the knowledge of her identity emerged to Nadiah’s mind in silence.

Hatshepsut dared to stand before the ancient priests and declare herself Egypt’s Pharaoh. She ruled wisely and without mercy. Hers was a will of steel, mind like a diamond, and a brass heart that beat solely for Egypt. Her commanding life was lived with conquest. She was the eagle, she was no lark or sparrow.

Nadiah touched the queen’s power, and her eyes carried all the allure of a woman who felt love — who possessed it. And now, her throne whispered to Nadiah’s mind. It seduced her form by promising a gushing force of influence so as to lay down the law of the land. And Nadiah heard the throbbing of a drum — a beat — a heart.

Her own.





One Step at a Time

“Good morning, darling,” Nadiah’s mother kissed her cheek and indicated the breakfast table. The smell of peppered cheese and fresh bread wafted to her nose, but Nadiah had no desire for food.

“Good morning, Mama,” she answered, “I’m not very hungry.”

Stubborn as she was, Nadiah knew this wasn’t a staring match she was going to win. Her mother had given her the look. Everyone knows the look. It’s the face of every mother when she tells you to eat, for example, and you say ‘no’. For the record, the mother almost always wins. Mrs. Zahi certainly did.

“Talk to me,” said her mom.

Nadiah shrugged. She scraped strawberry jam over a piece of toast and bit in. Maybe she didn’t want to eat, but her stomach welcomed the food and pressed her for more.

As far as Nadiah was concerned, there was nothing to talk about. Since her father broke the news that they were Egypt-bound, she’d spent six months arguing her case. She negotiated dozens of proposals — she begged, fought, and cried to her parents about staying in New York to work towards her Master’s. In 21 years, this was the first real adult fight that Nadiah ever had with her mom and dad.

“Is that your application?”

Nadiah nodded and fumbled through the folder with transcripts, signatures, and passport size photographs.

“I don’t know why you want to start your Master’s so soon. But, it’ll be good for you to get out of the house. You’ll meet new people -,” she said.

“Yeah, at the university where 90% of the student population are a bunch of spoiled, privileged, unemployed brats who’s only prayer in life is to land a rich husband? Sure, Mom, it’ll be great,” Nadiah’s eyes widened at her own plate.

Back in New York, she went to college with what she referred to as real people. They came from all walks of life and worked hard to register for those classes. Some of her friends toiled through one or two jobs just to pay the tuition, and that was after financial aid. Real people with real world problems like possible eviction, two hour commutes, unexpected pregnancies, and it never stopped any of them from powering towards their degree. Nadiah never struggled in these ways. But experiencing them vicariously, through her friends, made her a more grateful and responsible person.

Since landing in Cairo, she’d made one visit to the university and it was a bad day for everyone — Nadiah had come home that afternoon fuming and yelling. That morning, she’d opted to take public transport the way she did back in the States. Back then, she’d take the bus over the George Washington bridge, the ‘A’ Train to Port Authority, the ‘7’ Train to Grand Central, and then the ‘6’ Train to 68th and Lex.

It wasn’t as easy, here in Egypt, but when she finally arrived at the university, she watched a lot of kids pull up in their BMWs and Mini-Coupes. They exuded an air of entitlement to do whatever they wanted, and Nadiah didn’t like it. She watched one guy down his soda, glance around for a garbage can, and toss it to the curb when he couldn’t find one. He didn’t stick around long enough to see a custodial staff woman sweep his littered can into her cleaning apparatus, but Nadiah did. How is this even a way of life, she thought.

And the girls… Well, unlike Nadiah, the girls she saw on this campus sported full-on designer outfits from head to toe, and they actually had their hair and nails done — like at a salon. She couldn’t help wonder if any of these kids ever made their own bed in the morning.

Taking in what she saw and heard that day, the words airhead, ditz, spoiled and prick came to mind — among others. It all seemed so superficial. When she’d gotten home that night, Nadiah’s last fiery comment to her parents was ‘I worked too hard to end up here, the place is a joke’.

Then again, sitting across the breakfast table from her mother, Nadiah knew she was dangerously bordering on what could become another full-blown fight, but she couldn’t help it. The whole situation triggered a newfound rage that boiled in her blood.

Yes, Nadiah had really wanted to attend at NYU. But, it wasn’t just because it had excellent ranking or because it was in New York. This ran deeper. It was about not going back to Egypt, no matter where else she was. I can’t do this again. God damn that stupid letter to the seven hells!

The vibrant colors of her spirit had faded in the past few months. On some days, battling anger and resentment became as difficult as forcefully clutching a burning piece of coal. At times, the poison seeped through her words, or into her eyes, and it would be enough to start another fight. She’d regret it afterwards, but by then the damage was done. That’s why she was surprised when her mother remained perfectly composed and just took another sip of tea.

Though they had traveled the world together, her parents loved Egypt with every fiber of their being. She never understood it. Egypt was crowded, polluted, noisy, and people just didn’t mind their own business. To be honest, though, those weren’t exactly the things that bothered Nadiah. She didn’t mind the grit and grime. No, what ate at her and made her bitter was that she couldn’t assimilate. It was like being part of a sorority but not recognized by your sisters as ‘a sister’.

“I know you’re still angry, Nadiah,” her mother’s voice turned serious, “so I’m going to give you some advice. Don’t go back to school now.”

Nadiah looked up at her mother with pursed lips. “What else am I supposed to do?”

“Clear your head, that would be a good place to start — your attitude, too,” said her mother. “You worked so hard — summer and winter — to finish your degree and since we arrived, you’ve… wilted like a flower without water. Since when do you give up so easily? You’re stronger than this and you know it.

If you have a problem, I suggest you find a way to solve it. But I can promise you this, wallowing in self-pity will not make anything better. It will kill you. What did this man ‘Emerson’ that you like, say? ‘Trust yourself; don’t look to what others have, because you are exactly where you need to be.’ Isn’t that what he said? Well, I’m telling it to you: You’re exactly where you need to be.”

Her mother’s eyes held a very raw truth that softened Nadiah’s pursed lips. This woman had survived a civil war when she was stationed with Nadiah’s father in central Africa. Back then, she protected her children from the thundering cries of falling bombs. This woman endured a kidney transplant when Nadiah was only five years old. She fought hard — to live — to raise her girls so that they wouldn’t be orphaned of their mother or raised by a stepmother or nanny. In all the world, Nadiah had never seen a man or woman whose eyes held the depth and strength and love of her mother’s.

“One day, Nadiah, you will have children of your own and you will understand what it means to want to shelter them from air. Even when they are old with grey hair, or stubborn like mules,” Mrs. Zahi threw up her hands, dramatically.

Nadiah closed her eyes — sunk into the shadowy circles that encompassed them. I’m ‘wilting’ because I feel so alone. I could have survived anything if only…

She recalled the endless nights Dean spent proofreading her papers and listening to her rattle on about Emerson and Poe, and how the Declaration of Independence was the single most beautifully crafted piece of literature she’d ever read.

She remembered how he pranced — in his PJs — in the hallway between his parents’ apartment and hers just to bring her pizza when she was studying late. He’d always pushed her to be everything she wanted to be. And when times were tough and she was hurting, he carried her so that she wouldn’t fall.

“… ‘Like a flower without water’? Really, Mom?” Nadiah’s lips curled in amusement.

“Take a semester off. Take a year off. You are only 21, Nadiah. Most people your age are still in college,” she said.

Nadiah’s voice sounded like it came from a broken soul. “Mom, did it ever occur to you that I worked so hard — summer and winter — because I had my eyes set on something bigger?” she said. “Never mind, can we just not talk about this? Please.”

Mrs. Zahi could feel her daughter’s words laced with loss and though it tugged at her heart, the pain never reached her face.

It’s not that I don’t want to go back to college. I just don’t want to leave the house — God, I don’t even want to leave my room. “Maybe you’re right. I could use some time off.”

“Of course I’m right. Take time off, on one condition,” said her mother.

She smiled and sipped the last of her tea. “Get out of the house and go do something with your life. And pick up a phone already, Nadiah.”

Dean’s Online. The pop up message alerted her.

Dean: Nadiah?

Hey.

Dean: OMG! Where the hell have you been?

I’ve been worried sick! Why haven’t you been

checking your mail? Wait, what’s your

new number?

I’m sorry. I’ve been

Dean: ?


Adjusting.

It’s really busy here.

Family’s over all the time.

I don’t have a phone.

Dean: I’ve missed you something fierce!

It sucks here without you. What do you

mean you don’t have a phone? It’s been

like two months…

I know the feeling.

I haven’t gotten around

to it yet.

Dean: So, how’s Egypt? I bet it’s amazing!

It’s great.

Dean: What’s wrong?

Nothing. Why?

Dean: You’re lying.

I’m just not sleeping very well.

Jet lag. Dreams. University sucks!

Dean: Jet lag? Still?

Ooo! Tell me about your dreams. Am I

in them? Was I devastatingly handsome?

Did I take you in a manly fashion?

Hahahahahahaha!!!

OMG, I thought I’d never laugh again.

Whatever, it’s a stupid dream…

Dean: Tell me.

Okay. Last night I dreamed

that I wore Hatchepsut’s

robe and sat on her throne.

Dean: ….

What?

Dean: Nothing. It’s just interesting...

You’re an Egyptian princess

dreaming of an Egyptian queen.

Did you really just call me “a princess”?

Dean: Totally.

Ass

Dean: You love me.

Yeah I do.

Dean: and Uni.?

All the students

are spoiled, immature

brats.

Dean: You say that about anybody

that’s not an academic gladiator

like you.

No, I don’t.

Dean: Johnathan Massi,

Kelly Nicholas, Lee Jong,

Mikey from Mr. Parker’s class,

Samantha Jensen.

Oh my God!

High school? Really?

Besides, they were…

Dean: Ditz, douchbag,

Barbie, prick, and asshole

were the words I think you

used.

Was I wrong?

Dean: No. You pretty much nailed

it. But how many other VERY AWESOME

people did you get to know there?

Point made.

Yeah, you’re right.

Dean: I gotta jet. Mom needs a

few things from the store.

How is she? Tell her I miss her.

Dean: I will. She misses you.

Check your damn mail, woman!

And write back. I get lonely, you know.

Better yet, get a damn phone so I can

text you and not have to send bloody

emails that YOU DON’T READ.

Okay.

Dean: Nadiah…

Yeah?

Dean: I love you.

I love you, too.

Dean’s Offline.

Time to brave the new world. Nadiah grabbed a change of clothes and headed to the shower. Today would be a new day. She would go out and rediscover her homeland. Hell, she’d buy single pieces of bloody fruit!

The cool shower was exactly what she needed to wake up her mind and soul. Nadiah stared at her reflection in the mirror: 5 foot 3, pale olive skin, dark brown eyes, bad ass cheekbones, long dark hair. “You don’t look Egyptian.” What the hell did he know, anyway?

This is my country. It says so on my passport. It’s my birthright, damnit!” Nadiah affirmed to her reflection. Okay. Where to?

Grabbing her backpack, Nadiah changed her course from the university admissions office to the only place that came to mind where she could begin to rediscover Egypt — the Pyramids.

Oh, but if only she knew how far her birthright extended.


Kofu, Khafra, Mankarah

I’ll be right here when you are ready to leave, Mademoiselle Nadiah,” said Ostaz Reda, one of her father’s three drivers. It might sound excessive for one man to have three drivers, but it wasn’t. He’d leave for work at 7:00 a.m. and return to have lunch at home by 4 o’clock. Then he’d leave again at 5:30 for the evening shift.

Nadiah had spent her entire life watching her father work 18-22 hour days. On some nights, he didn’t come home at all. These were the nights when Nadiah would bring a late dinner to his office. She liked taking care of her Dad.

After parking in the VIP lot and acquiring the tickets, he settled down in the far area with a view of the landscape. Of course, his view allowed him to keep eyes on Nadiah in case she encountered any trouble.

Ostaz Reda was at least 45. His bronze tan and flushed cheeks pronounced the wrinkles on his forehead and by his eyes. He looked so stern and yet gentle at the same time. Maybe it was the sharp contrast of his eyes. Those bright green eyes sparkled with kindness and a little danger, too. Then there was the way he stood and walked. Ostaz Reda’s rugged stance was disciplined and trained. At the same time, he wasn’t predictable. Overall, he came across to Nadiah as a well-dressed sparring champion.

To her, he was a curious hybrid of a driver and an ass-kicking bodyguard. Then again, she wouldn’t be surprised. Her Dad had always been tremendously protective.

Reda, I have three priceless jewels that I have acquired in my lifetime: My wife and my two daughters. When they are well and happy, then I am happy. Keep them safe and drive carefully. This is what Nadiah’s father told Ostaz Reda when he was first assigned to the ambassador. Nadiah knew this because, of course, Ostaz Reda told her.

“Okay, but I might be a while,” said Nadiah.

Take your time, Mademoiselle Nadiah,” Ostaz Reda smiled.

This was so different from the rest of Cairo. A moment ago, they’d been stuck in the immense traffic of honking vehicles and loud, busy street vendors. Now, the whole landscape was vast and empty. The only sound heard was the gushing of Zephyrus.

It was easy to zone out the merchants who called to advertise their papyrus paper, statuettes, and camel rides because there they were. In all their magnitude and magnificence — Khofu, Khafra, and Mankarah.

Nadiah’s upbringing was spent in the company of ambassadors, ministers, royals, and the such. She had seen the Holmenkollen ski jump, and walked over the frozen fjords of Norway. She’d experienced the tranquility of the cherry blossom festival in Tokyo. She’d seen Bon Jovi perform live in Central Park. But…

In her whole life, Nadiah had never laid eyes on a scene like this one. The bleached blonde desert was vast and neverending. Colossal pyramids. Bloody gargantuan camels! Who knew the beasts were so massive? She’d only ever seen camels once before as a kid in Tokyo. Even then, it was caged in a zoo. Here, they were sadled and at home in their desert.

The overwhelming setting that seemed to minify her 5 foot 3 frame, didn’t make her feel small. Not even a little. Ironically, for the first time since her homebound plane landed, she felt alive! That’s because, imprinted into the irisis of her eyes, weren’t just the colossal pyramids, it was her birthright. She wasn’t a tourist admiring a disparate ancient past. This was her past. Her blood. Her DNA.

“French? American? Not Russian,” the accented voice came from tall, dark, and snooping.

Guardedly, Nadiah answered, “Egyptian… and I don’t want to buy anything.”

Egyptian?” the man echoed, “No. You don’t look Egyptian. I am Zeyad. What’s your name?”

Hi Zeyad. I am Egyptian. And again, I don’t want to buy anything,” For real, don’t start with me.

Zeyad’s hands flew up in a don’t shoot gesture and smiled. In the distance, she caught a glimpse of Ostaz Reda watching her keenly.

I didn’t mean to bother you, Miss…?” Tall, dark, and still snooping wasn’t getting the hint. Nadiah raised an eyebrow at him and he let out a loud guttural laugh.

“Okay, but you can’t miss that,” he continued, pointing up at Khofu, the largest of the three Great Pyramids of Giza.

Nadiah’s eyes trailed along the side of the ancient edifice where a line of tourists were making their way up. They looked like ants hiking a trail, until finally they disappeared into a huge shadowy dent on the third or fourth tier. A man hiking the trail caught her eye and in an instant, her heart leaped forward. Dean! …but then he turned to the man behind him and she saw his face. No, not Dean.

Wait, what is that?” Her eyes were fixated on the dark opening.

Inside, there is the tomb of Pharoah Khofu. You can see it. Only 150 pounds,” His tone suggested it was an absolute bargain.

I have this,” she showed him her VIP pass. Ahmed’s whole demeanor changed and his eyes lost their smile.

Oh, okay, just go up like those people and show them the pass, they will let you through. No charge. Sorry if I bothered you,” and just like that he walked away. Maybe holding a VIP pass spelled possible danger for these merchants.

Is everything alright?” It was Ostaz Reda. Nadiah hadn’t even realized he’d crossed the entire distance.

Yes, I’m going to go in,” she nodded her head at the dark crevice.

Okay,” he smiled, “I will be right here when you come out.”

Nadiah nodded politely and turned to the massive monument. Maneuvering her way up the side of the ancient ruin sent a surge of adrenaline rushing through her body. With each step, she was gaining more and more of a birdseye view and the horizon gained in depth. She could see Cairo outstretched like crowded blocks of cement laid together — a concrete valley. She ascended, and the amplified voice of a tour guide eclipsed the winds and flooded to her ears. He was instructing his group on the significance of the Great Pyramid.

“… is the only surviving structure out of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built for Khufu which is Cheops, in Greek, Sneferu's successor and the second of the eight kings of the fourth dynasty.”

At the entrance, Nadiah held up her pass. The guard asked for her phone and camera and eyed her strangely when she claimed she had neither. Finally, she was waved in with the others who were ahead of her. She was the last to go in. The next group would have to wait until this group left.

When she entered, she understood why. The space was so constricted and with every step she took, it seemed to get hotter and more humid. What is this place? Soon, she passed into an opening with a narrow staircase enclosed with iron rails. It was a long drop on either side. To her far left were air vents, on what seemed to be ground level, that were closed off with… Bars? I wonder who placed them there. For a moment, she imagined what it would be like to have the run of the place.

The rails ended abruptly and gave way to a small, stone, artificially lit tunnel that set her on an upward journey. The steps were neverending and the air grew thinner and gained in heat. Nadiah instinctively touched her hand to her jeans pocket. She constantly had to assure herself that her inhaler was in there, just in case.

It was nice being the last person. When she looked ahead, she saw the majority of people staring that their feet and pressured to keep moving by those behind them. She didn’t have that pressure, since she was the last in line. So, she lingered.

It caught Nadiah off guard when the lights flickered, and in the moment it took her to level her bearings, everyone in front of her had disappeared. Oh my God, Nadiah, move!

She hesitated for a second because she could have sworn she heard voices behind her. It almost sounded like chanting and her nose was assulted with the saturated scent of… is that incense? Wow, they really go all out for the tourists.

Nadiah hurried forward until she reached the king’s chamberoom and saw the others huddled around an old empty sarcophagus. Her heart sank just a little when she saw that the weighty structure had a massively broken corner. It should have been better cared for. The scratches and erroded limerock caused her eyes to dull even further. It didn’t even have a lid. The awed gasps and comments by the tourists floated to her ears and, of course, the guide’s lecture ensued.

The ancient Egyptians built these pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs and their queens. So they were built for religious purposes. The Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to believe in an afterlife. They believed that a second self called the ka lived within every human being. When the physical body expired, the ka enjoyed eternal life.”

Exciting as it was, Nadiah’s mind wandered. Even as a kid, she was a dreamer. She’d be so consumed in her mind’s drifting, that she wouldn’t realize the world around her had changed. This one time when she was in the fourth grade, back in Norway, her math teacher Mr. Hall, shocked her out of her dreams by saying, “recess, Nadiah”. When she’d looked around the class, she was the only student left at her desk.

That’s odd, these walls look new. I thought there would have been inscriptions everywhere. Such a shame they built over the old ones. What happened to Nadiah, in the great pyramid, was more than a daydream. She was about to take her first step to a new awakening.

Her senses became acutely piqued as the scent of frankincense wafted to her nose. Again? Where’s that smell coming from? Then, faster than the blink of her lashes, the lighting changed — it dimmed and flickered and danced. Omigod, fire! thought Nadiah.

The strange light came from the tunnel-way she had climbed from. Nadiah froze and backed further towards the opposite wall — backed away from the only exit out of this tomb. Nadiah looked around and found she was alone in a chamber that housed at leased twenty tourists a minute ago. Where’d everyone go? How could they just leave me here?


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