Red Marks the Child, The Ankhs (Book 1)

Salhagaar

Amira Awaad

11 min.

This desert land was exceptionally dear to me. Its warm sands resound in the drumming beats of my eye-lashes. The sultry wasteland engulfed fresh oases with water that was pure — it pulsed and it pulsated. It throbbed like the beating of a living heart — Pharaoh’s beating heart. It was the heart that beat for Kemet.

I grew up in Salhagaar. Those were days when “Daddy” was the fiery desert; and “Mommy” was the cooling Nile. Sinoueh and Seena are my actual parents. My mind drifted back to when I was just a little girl…

“I don’t know how she bears to be out in the sun,” my mother said from inside the house, “the glare is blinding!”

“The girl is born of the desert and the Nile, Seena, are you so surprised?” my father answered as he smiled lovingly at the woman who had captivated his soul since forever.

“Daddy, Daddy, I found a pretty jasmine in the garden!” I said, running to place the white blossom in his hand.

“It’s beautiful, Torri, go find me another one for your Mama,” said my father.

Just as I was about to run out the door, I paused and called back through giggles, “Daddy, stop calling me Torri. It’s not my name!”

“It’s not?” asked my father. He always feigned surprise...

"She cannot keep wandering the way she does, what if she gets hurt?" said Mama.

Sinoueh turned to my mother with serenity and gentle kindness, "Can you hear yourself, Seena? She will not be hurt. Let the child play. It is her time."

"But the proph-," my mother started.

"She’ll be fine," my father interrupted more seriously, "I know why you worry, Seena, but this is her time."

“I know, Sinoueh..I’m trying, it’s just…she’s only a small child,” said my mother.

“Come,” my father said as he took her by the arm.

A walk in the shaded garden always soothed my worrying mother. Our family lived in a beautiful house with soaring ceilings and marble floors. The sheer curtains would dance in the towering archways, even when the barriers were closed to shield out the sun’s glare. The translucent material was lighter than air.

Sweet scented jasmines, in ivory white, lined the garden pathway leading into our home. The scented blossoms led to an open courtyard, which held a water fountain encrusted entirely with blue and yellow crystals. Blue for my mother, honey yellow ones for my father. It was the color of their eyes and carried in their stones. On thousands of nights, I watched my mother and father lock in a wondrous embrace at the edge of that spring. They danced for hours… they always danced. It was my fondest memory of them.

Inside, the great hall extended with golden pillars that carried a colorful, mosaic ceiling. The tints and dyes were never trapped in the bright mixture. My vivid imagination willed them to morph; and, in their transmutations, they told me many stories. Our house was generally large enough to host the entire village of Salhagaar, but no one ever came to visit on account of my mother’s preference for perfect privacy. And as for my parents, they only went out when the sun was low.

Even now, I wasn’t able to recall all the details of that time. Sometimes the distant memories only exist as still images in my mind – images that weren’t even static in their details, even their colors change. I did recall how trusting I was as a child. I fondly remembered how I used to walk into my neighbors’ houses, unannounced, and silently watch them bake bread or into the small shops that lined the village streets, always fascinated as each person worked at their craft.

My mother hardly approved of this lifestyle of mine. She was fiercely antisocial, but she was kind and I loved her dearly. At the age of ten, I yearned to remember that voice of hers that soothed me as a baby, for now it plagued me as a curious young girl. She relentlessly ordered me not to talk to the strangers on the streets. When I close my eyes, I can still hear her now…

It's not appropriate for a young girl such as you to be wandering into people's houses,” she said to me over and over again.

But the people of Salhagaar were so lively; and some of them told such wonderful stories! I never dreamed that one day, I would become one such story.

Sadly, though, in my childhood I was commonly disregarded by the general mass of the laboring public. They feigned blindness where I was concerned, as they shuffled through the market places — the shoe-makers, the wig-makers, the glass-blowers, the boat builders, even the shop-lifters! Whether they were working or flirting, they always seemed too busy to entertain a wandering child. At times, they would even pretend not to hear me when I spoke to them. My village wanderings followed the same routine back then…

"Good morning, Akha Bitaah," I always greeted the steel bender on my first stop.

Unlike the other laborers in Salhagaar’s vast marketplace, Bitaah wore a wig — his braids were unnatural. Most of the men in our village shaved their heads bare. It was common knowledge in all of Kemet that only noblemen wore wigs, and Bitaah was not a nobleman; but his father was.

Bitaah had moved to Salhagaar from the distant village of Menufia in the same year I was born, and the women here absolutely pined for him. People said that years ago, while he was traveling in search of work, the Persian hoard attacked his village. Awhile back, I overheard our neighbor telling some of the other village women, his sad tale. My mind recalled her words as I remembered the quiet man go about his work…

“They killed his family—all of them. Mother, father, two brothers, baby sister and wife, all slaughtered by the filthy horde,” she said in an outraged tone, then promptly spat over her left shoulder to rid her mouth of the distaste left by mentioning the brute gang of murderers. Nahu was a tough old woman, with a very strong sense of justice. She told so many great stories at the women’s gatherings she hosted at her house.

“He abandoned his wealth and deserted the remnants of his village,” continued Nahu while she poured tea for her guests that evening. The women lamented his loss and some even cried for his tragedy. Well, except for Luna, of course, who rolled her eyes at the sight of their malleable minds.

What made the whole incident stick firmly in my mind, was what Luna said at the end of Nahu’s recounting. She said, “So, I guess I should thank the horde.” The collective gasp of the gathering, spoke of everyone’s shock at what the distrustful woman had voiced.

She had some nerve. She was loud, and her face always boasted a wicked smirk. The most respectable people in Salhagaar avoided her at all cost. She wore shameless dresses with slits cut up to her waist The woman turned every head when she walked through the streets—but not Bitaah’s.

It had been Luna’s intent, for some time, to claim Bitaah as her own. At least, for the other women, it meant that they didn’t have to worry about their own men. Still, her blatant vulgarity never failed for shock value. She often watched Akha Bitaah as he worked, hoping to provoke him the way she did every other man on the street.

The Man with the Bleeding Heart is what the people called him when he first came to Salhagaar years ago. Bitaah came with very little, and wore the wig to honor the family of nobility he was born into.

The steel-bender’s strong arm yielded a hammer that no one else ever dreamed to lift. No, its powerful blast was fashioned for his hand alone. There are those who swore that it was made for him by another race of beings, one far stronger than ours. But I always felt that he fashioned it himself.

When he worked, the translucent beads of sweat trickled down his skin as though his body produced its own personal rainstorm. The veins in his arms and face pressed against him from the inside out every time his hammer head beat down over steel that he bent and shaped it into anything and everything.

I’d seen Bitaah speak with people, but he never looked at them. Everyone said that his eyes…well, that they were different. I never knew for sure since he didn't look at me either.

Across the street from Bitaah’s shop was always my next stop, a woman named Mirr-Ha baked bread for the locals to buy. It was the best bread in all of Kemet, and she was so beautiful. Though she loved to laugh and dance at the women’s gatherings, Mirr-Ha was actually quite shy and reserved. I grew up entirely enchanted by how different she was from everyone else.

"Hello, Sita Mirr-Ha," I would say with a smile as I ran by her arched doorway.

Her girdle had always caught my eye. It wasn't yellow, it shone more like gold. But it wasn't made of gold either, it was brighter. It dazzled as if it wanted to audibly speak and say that it was forged from the light of the great sun, itself.

However, like the others, Sita Mirr-Ha never return my greetings. She was always serenely engaged in three basic things: her baking, her sweet water, and Akha Bitaah across the street. But if I remember correctly, he didn't even look at her, not even when she brought him fresh bread.

Day by day, I lingered around their shops and watch silently. She would carefully place the bread in a fine, hand woven basket as soon as it had come out from the oven. Then, she’d cross the street to where he was. Bitaah never looked up. He simply rested his strong, hammer-yielding arm perfectly still, smile and say, “Dua Netjer en etj” Thank God for you. She never spoke to him. Though I think she wanted to. Rather, she’d modestly lay the basket beside his resting arm and leave. Though I was ignored by the villagers, at times they had the capacity to be so sweet.

Perhaps my little voice was too soft for them to hear, but I know Anaka, the neighborhood bully, always felt my foot when I purposely tripped him and ran. He was a horrible child — always cheating at sport, beating on smaller children and I even saw him stealing sugar lumps, once, from Akha Kerah's sweet stand.

Come to think of it, the only one that ever paid attention to me was a street Mau — my companion, my only friend. Everywhere I went, I was sure he would appear from behind some street corner or rooftop. Purrrr. I loved the sound it made. Mau always found me wherever I was. When we’d walk together, I’d pretended that he was a lion, and that people shied away from us because they were afraid of him.

“They don’t speak to me or even look at me, Mau. Why don’t they like me?” I confided in my companion. Mau curled up to my leg and purr.

“I love you, Mau,” I said in my little voice.

As the years passed, I accepted the silence and the status of outcast. My lonely childhood paved the way to a curious state of adolescence. I lived without a care in the world and, my goodness, my body could outrun the swiftest West Wind.

The speed held in my legs carried me as if I had wings and could fly. How many dawns had they taken me along the banks of the Nile, where I watched the Earth come alive as the first light met the ripples of the great river?

Dawn. This was the most magical time of the day. In it, there was one moment, and I had to wait for it, when in an instant, the Earth would freeze completely — raindrops suspended, ripples hanging. This was a time when, in the Earth’s poised statuette, I heard the eagles crying, the bears of the North ice waking; and the whistle of each crop leaf sway in rumination.

In this glorious music, I heard the echoes of a distant drum beating inside of a living chest. The sound captivated and soothed me. But as the moment passed, the drumming faded.

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About Amira Awaad

Amira Awaad is an author and academic dean. She's blissfully addicted to the written word and enjoys connecting with her readers.

As a product of international upbringing, Awaad's writing is inspired by the diverse languages and peoples of the world. They intertwine with her ancient soul and pour out in her ebooks. In them, Awaad carefully folds a piece of herself, opened for readers to see.

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