Monica noticed the gift shop, because of the beautiful colours round its door and window. She walked through its entrance which had a sign above it. On the sign, the word Cairo was written in bright yellow, orange and green colours, with small black figures dancing beside it.
Inside, it was just as colourful. Large animals made of paper, painted in very bright colours, hung from the ceiling. The floor had a yellow-brown sand colour to it, and the shelves held vases, plates, boxes, musical instruments and jewellery Monica had never seen before.
No one seemed to be in the shop; not a salesperson or a customer. Light Arab music came from a stereo Monica could not see, but she moved with its sound as she looked at all the wonderful objects in the shop. She saw a blue stone on a gold necklace which looked interesting. Drawn in the centre of the stone there was something which looked like a large round beetle, with thin legs and thick antennae coming from its head.
«It's an Egyptian scarab.»
The woman's voice surprised, then frightened Monica. She almost dropped the necklace.
«I'm sorry I didn't know anyone was here.»
«It's okay, my dear. I knew you would be here. Come. Come.»
The woman took Monica's arm and led her behind the sales counter to a small area where there was a round table and two chairs. It was dark because cloth the colour of sand, with dark patterns, hung from the walls and ceilings. It was almost closed off from the rest of the shop by a curtain, so most of the light came from a few candles set around the room. It was like a small cave from somewhere far away.
«Sit. I've made us some tea, black tea; the tea of judgement.»
«Yes. The tea leaves tell us about a person's entire life. Some of us have done things we wish we hadn't. Some of us haven't done things we wish we had. Some of us are messengers. Some of us are waiting for the message.»
The woman wore a piece of red cloth tied around her head. It hid the colour of her hair. Her eyes were large and dark. They became larger when she talked. As Monica sat at the table, she realised she still had the necklace in her hand.
«This stone is quite beautiful. I've never seen anything like it.»
«It is lapis lazuli, the ancient blue stone used to make statues for the gods. It was found in rock, and the rock had to be burned and broken to get the lapis lazuli out. That shows you how strong it is.»
«Well, I'm sure it's too expensive for me...»
As Monica was about to put the necklace on the table, the woman closed her hand around Monica's, to keep the stone there.
«Don't let it go, now that you have it. It may help you see things you never thought were possible.»
The woman put her finger on Monica's lips so that she couldn't talk.
«Sit and listen and I will tell you the story of the blue scarab.»
Monica held the necklace in her hand while the woman spoke. Whether it was the heat of the room, the tea, or the woman's soft voice, Monica began to fall asleep.
«The scarab is the sacred beetle of the sun god, the most important of all the gods as it makes people see things in a different way. It is given to a different person every hundred years. The person is chosen by the sun god to act as a messenger for the dead. They see and understand things on earth that help the gods decide whether the dead have lived good or bad lives. Those who wear it are sometimes frightened because they are able to see the dead living again. But they must keep the scarab, as the judgement of so many depends on them.»
Monica heard the woman's words as she slept. She saw herself living thousands of years ago, wearing the scarab. People were touching her hand as she passed them. She was smiling and she felt very peaceful. When she opened her eyes, she looked at the woman talking to her.
«It looks good on you.»
Monica touched the necklace with her fingers. It was now round her neck.
Monica's car had a broken headlight. As she drove to a garage to have it fixed, the sun came down through the trees along the road, making everything seem more alive than usual.
There was an old man cleaning the ground in front of the garage when Monica parked her car. He had his back to her, so she called to him:
«Excuse me. Do you work here?»
The man did not turn round.
Monica put her hand on the man's shoulder. He turned quickly and Monica saw her father's face. Frightened, she put her hands over her mouth. Her father had died five years earlier when she was eighteen.
«Dad! Is that you?»
Tears came to her eyes and her hands shook. The man moved his fingers to his mouth and ears to show her he could not speak or hear.
It was the voice of a young man Monica knew from the university. She had forgotten his name.
«It's Owen, remember? We met at a party last winter.»
«Oh, er yes! I'm Monica.»
«I suppose you' ve met Herbie. He just started working here this morning.»
Monica wouldn't look at the man, afraid of what she would see. He was talking to Owen in sign language. Owen spoke as he made the signs with his fingers.
«Of course you can. I told you, Mr Burns lets us take our lunch whenever we want. As long as you've finished your work. Okay, you're welcome.»
«Yes, a woman at a shop gave it to me. She wouldn't take any money for it.»
«It was found in a chest believed to be the chest of Osiris, an ancient Egyptian god. I read about it in my class on ancient Egypt. I study archaeology.»
«I think I saw you leaving that class once. I had an economics class right after it in the same room.»
«It's a small world. So, what's wrong with your car?»
«It needs a new headlight.»
«Oh, that's no problem. I can fix that in ten minutes. Why don't you go sit in the office? While you wait, Mr Burns will write out your bill.»
In the office next to the garage, Mr Burns sat behind his desk smoking a cigar. He was a short, bald man, but Monica didn't know how short until he stood up to shake her hand.
«Nathan Burns. Pleased to meet you.»
«Monica Halloway. Owen's fixing my headlight. Er, he said you'd write up the papers.»
«Certainly I will. You just have a seat there. I'll take care of it in two minutes.»
Monica looked out of the office window at Owen working on her car. His thin, young face began to look old and tired.
It was as if she was looking at a completely different man and it frightened her. Mr Burn's voice stopped her thinking.
«How do you spell, Halloway, with two Ls or one?»
«What? Oh, two. H, A, double L, O, W, A, Y.»
Monica went outside to see Owen as he finished his work on her car. He looked like he usually did, and Monica forgot about what she thought she had seen before. She shook his hand.
«Thank you very much for your help.»
«Anytime. It was nice to see you again.»
When Owen walked away, Monica saw Herbie sitting on a chair by the garage door. He was eating a sandwich. She saw something on his right arm. It was a purple birthmark, the same kind her father had.
«It is you. I knew it!»
She took a few steps towards Herbie, but she frightened him. He got up and went into the garage. When she followed him inside, she saw that he had gone.
«Look. If you don't stop this, you'll get yourself into trouble. It was a mistake. You saw something which wasn't there,»
Yvonne was able to make Monica relax. They ordered their pizza and began to talk about other things when
Monica saw Owen across the room.
«Now don't tell me I don't see him. That's the guy who fixed my car.»
Owen saw them looking over at him, and he waved hello. He walked over and sat with them.
«I'm glad I found you.»
«Owen, this is Yvonne.»
«Pleased to meet you. Look, I've read more about your blue scarab.»
«Wait a minute… wait a minute! I've just finished telling her that there is no such thing as ghosts or sun gods or whatever else you want to tell her.»
«Yvonne, let him finish.»
«The ancient Egyptians believed that Osiris, the sun god's helper, used that stone so that people on earth could help those who had died. They thought dead people had to go through a trial. In that trial, they had to show that the good things they had done on earth were greater than the bad things. Their actions could help the living improve themselves by teaching them something. If the living learn something valuable from the life of someone else, who is now dead, they can continue living their lives in a better way. This is good for the living but also for the dead. The gods will see that the dead had lived good lives since they continue influencing the living in a positive way.»
«Owen, that was thousands of years ago!»
«Wait a minute, Yvonne. Let's just try to understand this. Do you think I could have seen a dead person alive again?»
«I don't know about that, but I know someone who does, and he'd like to meet you. His name is Professor Lloyd. He taught that class on ancient Egypt I told you about. Would you like to talk to him?»
«This is mad!»
Monica was silent for a few minutes, because she was thinking of her father. She finally asked Owen about Herbie.
«Who's that old man who is working at the garage? What's his name, Herbie?»
«Yeah, Herbie. Strange, but right after you left, we couldn't find him. He never came back.»
When Owen and Monica knocked on Professor Lloyd's door, they heard a cat miaowing inside. They heard Professor Lloyd's footsteps coming toward the door, then they saw him: a tall well-built man with glasses. He had straight, grey-white hair and a soft, kind face. He welcomed them with a large smile.
«You must be Monica.»
«Hello Professor Lloyd. It's a pleasure to meet you.»
«The pleasure is mine. From what Owen tells me, you have something which may be more powerful than we know.»
Professor Lloyd's flat was filled with books and cats. Each wall was covered with shelves of books, and there were cats of every different colour sitting on tables, walking across the floor, or rubbing themselves against Monica's legs. Monica picked up a black one with white paws.
«I love your cats, Professor.»
«The Kauri Indians of southern Peru believe the cat spirit controls our lives. They probably know my cats and my life.»
Professor Lloyd laughed loudly. He picked up two of the cats as they walked to the middle of the room where a bright light hung over a square white table with four chairs.
They sat at the table, and the professor asked to see the blue scarab. He put a round, one-inch eyepiece with black glass over his left eye, and he studied the back of the stone.
«Ah, yes. Here are the markings.»
The professor was quiet. He took the eyepiece away from his eye and looked at Monica. Owen was worried.
«What is it Professor?»
«It seems that Monica has been chosen as a messenger for the gods.»
«Gods! Professor, you don't really believe in the gods, do you?»
«What I mean is that this stone is exactly like the one in ancient mythology. The myth says that certain people are chosen to wear it.»
«That's what the woman said who gave it to me.»
«Professor, what are the markings?»
The Professor held the stone up to the light.
«You can't see it clearly without the eyepiece, but this marking here is the teeth of a dog. The dog watches over the dead. And here is the wing of a hawk. The hawk cries for the revenge of the dead. But here is the sign connecting all the others — the round horn of the ram. This represents the power of water. It can give life to the dead. The scarab on the front, which represents the sun, acts together with water to bring peace to both the living and the dead.»
«How do you know all this?»
«It is written in ancient Egyptian tombs, but there is another way to see if we are right.»
«We can test the stone to see what kind of power it has.»
Professor Lloyd's Back Room
Professor Lloyd took Owen and Monica to the back room of his flat, where all the walls were covered with black curtains. In the centre of the room, there was a round, wooden table with strange black markings on it. In the centre, there was a circle with the drawing of an eye in the middle of it. Four spears, like rays of sunlight, went from the central circle to the edge of the table, dividing the table into four equal parts. There was another thin circle of numbers and letters that went round the edge of the table. Between the central circle and the circle at the edge of the table there were four equal spaces. In each there was a picture: one of a fish, one of a snake, one of the moon, and one of a lotus flower.
Professor Lloyd lit candles in the room as Owen and Monica sat at the table. The professor put on a tall black hat with a flat top, and a long black robe. He was the first to speak.
«We are going to try to call people back from the dead. If the stone has the power the myth says it does, we may hear voices we know.»
The professor put the scarab over the eye in the centre of the table, with the beetle facing up.
«Now, we must all hold hands and close our eyes. Do not break the circle by letting go of the hand of the person who is sitting next to you, or the ceremony will end. Relax, breathe slowly, and do not speak.»
They were all very quiet. They heard a soft whistling sound.
It became louder, like the sound of the wind. The room became cold and all the candles were blown out. Then there were voices. Wild laughing, screams of pain. Then again the sound of the wind.
One voice spoke clearly,
«Jack, it's giving way! The tunnel is giving way!»
«Uncle Bob is that you?»
«Do not speak. They cannot hear you.»
«Jack, the tunnel is falling! Jack!»
The sound of an earthquake was heard and then nothing. A new voice spoke.
«She means alright, but it's her first holiday on her own. Let her enjoy herself.»
«Mother. It's me. I'm here!»
More wind, then rain and thunder.
«The boat's going over! I can't hold it!»
The woman's voice screamed, then Monica screamed,
«Mother, no! I'm here!»
The lights went on and Monica was standing next to the round table where the professor and Owen were sitting. She ran out of the room. The professor found her in the front room where she was sitting on the sofa, crying. He sat next to her and put his arm round her as Owen walked nervously back and forth in front of them.
«It was my mother and father on the boat trip where they...»
«There, there. It's over now.»
«What was that part about my uncle calling my father's name?»
«If you recognise a voice that you hear, it means that there is something wrong between you and that person. One thing is certain, the scarab is real.»
Monica's Father Speaks
Yvonne drove Monica back to the Cairo gift shop so she could return the blue scarab to the gypsy woman. She did not want the necklace after that night at Professor Lloyd's. Her parents had both died on a boating holiday and hearing their voices again had really frightened her.
They parked the car near what they thought was the shop's window. The window was old and dirty. There was no sign with Cairo written on it. The door had wooden boards in front of it.
«I think it was here.»
Yvonne looked around the street to see if they had made a mistake. Monica wiped the dust off one of the store windows with a tissue so she could see inside. The inside had pieces of wood hanging from the ceiling. There were old boards, stones and dirt all over the floor. It looked as if it hadn't been used for a long time. Then, Monica saw it. Hanging from the ceiling, there was one of the brightly coloured paper animals. It was a bright blue scarab. Monica ran to the car.
«Let's get out of here.»
«What's wrong? What's happened?»
Yvonne got in the car, but Monica couldn't tell her what happened.
«Just drive me to the university. I'm not keeping this scarab.»
«What are you going to do with it?»
«Give it to Professor Lloyd.»
Yvonne left Monica at the university, where Professor Lloyd had an office on the top floor of the library. Monica knocked on the door.
Monica opened the door.
«Monica, my dear! Come in. Come in.»
Monica remembered the woman in the shop saying something similar. She took the necklace out of her bag and put it on the professor's desk. The sun was shining through the window. It hit the scarab. When Professor Lloyd spoke, he had Monica's father's voice.
«Monica, don't be afraid.»
Monica covered her mouth with her hands.
«It's okay, dear. I need to talk to you. I know I was angry at you for not going with us on that boating trip, but you mustn't feel bad about it. You lived. Now we need your help. Keep the necklace. Live the best life possible. That will help us now.»
The professor stopped talking, then he walked to the window. Monica sat looking at the scarab. She wasn't frightened. In fact, she felt very happy and calm.
«What does it mean, Professor?»
He did not turn to look at her. He spoke with his own voice this time.
«If you live a good life, you forgive others and try to help those you can. This has a great effect, because it shows that you have learned something from other people's lives. By doing this you will be able to teach others who will live after you have died.»
She put the scarab around her neck. The professor continued.
«The fact that you were chosen to wear the scarab means you can do more than others. You can help many.»
«Really, Professor? But how can this be done?»
«We all have people we have loved and who are now dead. We want their lives to be judged fairly.»
The professor never turned away from the window. Before Monica left, he said two more words to her.
Osiris and Seth
Owen was reading a book about Egyptian gods. It said that Osiris, the one who judges those who die, was once a king. His brother Seth wanted to be king, so he played a trick on Osiris. He brought him a beautiful, large chest, and he told the king that he could have the chest if he could fit inside it. After the king lay down in the chest, Seth quickly closed it, threw it into the Nile river, and it sailed out to sea.
Owen put the book down, because he began thinking of his own father's death. His father had been killed at an archaeological site. He was a famous archaeologist, which is why Owen wanted to be one. Owen's uncle was with Owen's father when he died. He came to live with Owen and his mother afterwards, and Owen had always thought his uncle didn't care about his father's death. He never talked about him and he behaved as if he were Owen's father. The voice he heard at the professor's suddenly meant something to him. He felt he had to talk to Monica. He remembered where she lived, because he had driven her home from the professor's. He hoped she wasn't asleep.
Monica was asleep when she heard the loud knocking at her door. It frightened her.
«Who is it?»
«It's me, Owen. Could you open the door? I have to talk to you!»
Owen looked awful. He held his books tightly in his arms and his hair stood up on his head as if he had been pulling at it.
«Can I come in? I've got something really important to talk to you about.»
«Yes, come in, but calm down.»
Monica made them some hot chocolate while Owen told her what he had read.
«I still don't understand what that story has to do with your uncle.»
«That was my uncle's voice we heard at Professor Lloyd's. I know it's wrong, but I always thought my uncle had something to do with my father's death. He never talked about it.»
«But that has nothing to do with the scarab.»
«It does. Don't you remember Professor Lloyd telling us about the markings on the back?»
«Well, one of those marks was the ram's horn. It's the sign of water, which connects all the other signs. Osiris was killed by water. He looks after the dead, that's why there arc the markings of the dog's teeth.»
«And the hawk's wing?»
«Osiris' son, Horus, killed his uncle for his lather. When Horus died, he became the hawk god who sits by his father when he judges the dead and cries for them.»
Monica touched the scarab around her neck. She knew that she and Owen had been brought together for some reason. Maybe she could do something for him. Owen was holding his cup of hot chocolate, thinking very hard. Finally, he spoke.
«I think I should go and talk to my uncle.»
«He would probably like that.»
«I haven't spoken to him in five years.»
«Would you like me to go with you?»
He looked at Monica. «Yes.»
Owen's uncle was painting the front of his house when Monica and Owen drove up the dirt road. He pushed back his cap to get a better look, and seemed very surprised when he saw who it was. Owen held out his hand.
«Hello, uncle Bob.»
They shook hands, then hugged.
«You're the last person in the world I expected to see coming up that road today.»
«Well, I thought, it was time I paid a visit to say hello.»
Uncle Bob's blue eyes were bright with happiness as he looked into his nephew's eyes. He looked over at Monica.
«I'm sorry. This is my friend, Monica.»
«How do you do?»
«Nice to meet you, sir.»
They all went and sat on the back porch which looked onto a huge empty field surrounded by trees. Uncle Bob brought them some lemonade. A large friendly dog lay next to Monica's chair and she lightly scratched its head.
«Do you two mind if I take a walk with my new friend here?»
The men didn't answer, so Monica ran down the porch steps into the field with the dog following her.
«Uncle Bob, what happened the day my father died?»
His uncle stopped talking and looked at the long empty field in front of him. Monica had disappeared somewhere with the dog.
«We never really talked about that, did we? But maybe it's time.»
«I never understood why you never mentioned his name alter he died.»
His uncle looked over at him.
«Owen, some things hurt too much to talk about.»
«Do you think you could talk about it now?»
«I could try. You see, there was this big earthquake two days before we went down in the tunnel. I told your father there would be another one, but he...»
His uncle was having trouble telling this part.
"...but he wouldn't listen. It was our last day, and he wanted to go. When it hit, I was up above cleaning some of the pieces we'd found."
Owen could see it happening. He didn't even notice that his uncle had got up to go inside. He heard the back door open, and then he saw his uncle standing next to him, holding an old pair of gloves.
«Your father gave these to me the day he died because I had left mine at home. He wore them every time he went out to dig. I think he'd have wanted you to have them.»
Owen held the gloves in his hands. He put them on. There were tears in his eyes. His uncle put his arm around him.
Soon after Monica returned from her walk, she and Owen got ready to leave. They promised uncle Bob they would come back again soon. As they drove away, Monica beeped the horn twice.
In the car, Owen was quiet. Monica saw the gloves in his hand, but she didn't ask him about them. That was between Owen, his uncle and his father.
After leaving Owen's uncle, Monica did something Owen didn't expect. She drove the car into a cemetery.
«Where are we going?»
«My parents were buried here. I want to see their gravestones.»
They parked the car in the visitors' car park, then walked. The sun was very bright. They were walking through a field of white crosses and gravestones. They stopped to look at some of the older ones.
«Look at this one, 1826.»
«And this one is from 1905. Michael Mason. Look, his wife died a year later.»
«I think I like archaeology because of the connection between two periods of time. I mean, when I understand the way someone lived hundreds of years ago, I understand more about the way we live now.»
Monica took Owen's hand and walked with him to her parents' graves.
«They were never buried here. We just have the graves to remember them. They died at sea. Their bodies were never found.»
Monica took a jar of water from her coat pocket. She poured some of it over each of her parents' gravestones.
«It's water I took from the sea. I was at my parents' funeral, but I never felt like I said goodbye. This is something I thought of doing to let them know that everything is okay.»
«Was there a problem between you and your parents?» «Well, my father loved our family holidays. The summer they died was the first time I hadn't gone with them. Some friends of mine had a beach house. I was eighteen. I wanted to be with my friends. My dad and I had a big fight. We didn't talk to each other before he left on their boat trip. I felt guilty about that. In fact, I never forgave myself, until I began to believe in this scarab.»
She touched the stone on her neck. «You think your father will somehow feel that your argument meant nothing compared to how much you loved each other?»
«Something like that. All the things I've seen and heard since I got the scarab have given me hope. I would like to believe that I live a better life now because of the good things done by the people who lived before me. It does justify their life. If what the ancient Egyptians said was true, I mean the fact that people's lives are judged after they die, then I believe it's our duty to show the gods that those who died did help us by their good actions. It's a good reason to do the best you can.»
As Owen and Monica walked back to the car in the bright golden sunlight, they looked like two dark figures slowly disappearing into the distance.
The Blue Scarab
Monica was sitting in the living room of Owen's Hat, waiting for him. He had gone to use a neighbour's telephone because his was out of order. She found a book on the table next to her. It was a library book on ancient Egypt. She opened it to the story of Osiris and began to read:
After Seth had thrown the chest, with Osiris inside, into the Nile, Osiris' wife, his, went to look for it. She found the chest, but before she could open it and bury the body, Seth stole it from her. He cut the body into sixteen separate pieces and hid them all over Egypt. Again, Isis went to look for them. This time, she took her sister, Nephthys, with her. Together they found each piece. Isis had magical powers. She put the body back together with a special oil.
«This oil is from the tree of healing. It will keep the body after it is buried. This white cloth that I will put around him will let the gods know that he was a great king.»
The gods liked what Isis had done, and they rewarded Osiris.
«Osiris will decide on the life of the dead. If someone is good and just, they will be rewarded. Those who are evil and do not respect others' lives will be punished.»
So, Osiris was made the judge of the dead. When somebody died, their soul, which left their body, was put through forty-two tests. After these tests, the soul was brought before Osiris.
Osiris sat in front of a pair of scales. He held a feather in his hand. Next to him there was a man with a dog's head and a man with the head of a falcon. Osiris held the feather out to the dog's head.
«Anubis, take this feather and place it on one end of the scale. It is the feather of truth. It will tell us who has lived a just life and who has not.»
Osiris then spoke to the falcon head.
«Horus, you are my son. You tried to find revenge for my death by killing your uncle. Take the soul and put it on the opposite end of the scale. There you will cry for its revenge.»
The falcon head walked to the scale opposite the dog's head. They held each scale until Osiris told them to let them go.
«This soul has passed through the forty-two tests. These tests were given to decide if your good deeds in life are greater than your bad ones. You have not passed these tests alone. People who are living have acted for you. Now, it is time to see. Have you lived a good and just life? Let go of the scales.»
The falcon and dog let go of the scales. The falcon made a loud cry. The scales balanced. Osiris held up the blue scarab.
«This is what we will use to speak to the living. Through this the souls of the dead will be judged. We hope that the living will understand what we say.»
«Now, I understand.»
Monica closed the book and put it back on the table. She walked to the window and looked outside. Everything was bathed in the sunlight. She touched the scarab round her neck and closed her eyes. She said to herself softly, «Now, I understand.»