Inside the King’s Chamber (continued)
When everyone has been inside the sarcophagus, Jean invites us into a time of silence. I stay where I am, leaning against the base. I am neither praying nor thinking. Hope, desire, love… they seem to belong to another life, another time. I had read that sometimes initiates in this ceremony have felt an electrical charge surge through their bodies. I wonder if any of them had felt this utter nothingness. No thing ness.
Some words come at last, though I do not heed them, do not even know how to understand them. They are the stern, strong words I heard in the sanctuary of Isis, and before that in the ritual in our Community’s prayer room: Send Sorrow Packing.
After an unmeasured time, I become aware of movement. My companions have begun to rise, to move towards the door. Peg is standing there, speaking to each one who leaves the chamber. I cannot hear what she is saying, but it sounds as though she is asking something. When I reach the door, Peg asks, “Anne Kathleen, is your heart now as light as a feather?”
Ah. It is the question put to the soul after death, when it is led to the great goddess of truth, its heart weighted against a feather on her scales. If the heart is heavier than that feather, the soul faces many difficult tasks ahead.
I know I should be able to say “yes”. But I cannot tell a lie to the goddess of truth. Because I cannot acknowledge the full truth, cannot bear to say “no”, I waver.
“It’s getting there,” I say, and walk out of the chamber, begin the descent.
The way down is no less treacherous than the climb upwards has been, though less taxing on the breath. We move with great care, having to resist gravity, the pull to hurry down, perhaps to stumble, fall, collide with those ahead of us.
descent from the King’s Chamber
At last, still with backs bowed, we each emerge into the light, surprised to see the sun, surprised to see it is still morning. Surprised, too, to see a photographer with a serious-looking camera waiting to take a photo as each one of us appears.
The same photographer is now shepherding us into more or less tidy rows in front of the Great Pyramid. Jean comes to stand just behind me, and, though she has no shawl to place there, rests her hand lightly on my shoulder. I have the first feather-like hope that the deeper desire was also heard.
And in a beautiful play of Egyptian magic, the photo, when we receive it that evening, shows our group with the Sphinx, posing proudly behind us. Egyptian magic, assisted by photo-shop.
We return to the Mena House where a late, longed-for, bounteous breakfast awaits. I join Suzanne at a table, and between mouthfuls of pomegranate, oranges, yogurt, sweet rolls and coffee, share my experience of the ritual, my feeling of being five years old, left out of the Christmas play. Suzanne tries to comfort me, saying that perhaps Valarie and Deirdre had offered to play the roles. I don’t believe this, though I appreciate Suzanne’s kindness in suggesting it. There is a pause.
Suddenly, I begin to smile, then to giggle, to laugh. The utter ridiculousness of my grief explodes within me, and soon we are both laughing, like schoolgirls.
We have the afternoon free to enjoy the hotel grounds, the glorious turquoise swimming pool. But Suzanne has a better idea. The Funky Store, where we shopped on our first day in Cairo, is just across the street from the hotel. Though Samai has warned us against leaving the hotel grounds, it seems the perfect way to leap over the traces, have a final Egyptian fling. After all, I reason, if the Sphinx left me cold, and the King‘s Chamber left me empty, perhaps shopping will hold bliss.
We make our escape, walking easily out the front gate at the foot of the hotel’s entrance way. But when we see the store, our hearts waver. It beckons from the far side of a wide avenue that is alive with six erratic lanes of traffic. We stand still as small cars and trucks full of produce hurtle past.
Suddenly a uniformed Egyptian policeman is beside us. With knightly courtesy, he offers to assist us across.
Inside the store, I go directly to the place where the shawls hang in rich colours, in soft and silky fabrics. I choose two for friends, one in shades of turquoise and red, the other in a medley of greens. I check my remaining Egyptian pounds, decide I may choose one more.
I look for something that will draw me, something magical. Then I see it. A white silken shawl patterned in the swirling rose I saw in my prayer to Isis. Some of my inner emptiness quietly fills.
We return to Mena House. I shall spend these final afternoon hours in Egyptian sunlight, first sitting beside the pool under the palm trees, writing in my journal, then swimming in the luscious tingling waters. The pool is as large as a ballroom, and I am the only dancer.
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