Sitting in the window seat of her small cramped apartment on Poydras Street, Sara shifted her legs and wiggled to get more comfortable. The ledge of the window seat squeaked, as if in protest of her slight 120 pound figure. She watched the rain intently, almost mesmerized by the little droplets of water coming down. They turned into steam as they sprinkled on the pavement below, a white vapor rising into a thick murky haze that almost obscured her view of the street.
Despite the weatherman’s forecast of cooler weather, it was hot and humid in the small walk up apartment. Sara took a long deep breath, the slight breeze coming from the open window smelled of ozone and carbon emissions from an endless stream of New Orleans traffic. She unfastened the top button of her blouse as a trickle of perspiration ran down her cleavage, then wiped her forehead and pushed her limp, damp hair away from her face.
Sara wasn’t necessarily what most would call “a pretty girl,” but her dark, almond-shaped eyes were what some might call "exotic looking." They sparkled when she laughed and flashed with anger when she felt wronged. She had smooth golden-colored skin, high cheek bones and a delicate regal nose that wrinkled slightly when she was amused.
She pulled her hair back into a makeshift ponytail and tried to relax, taking slow deep breaths in an effort to cool off.
That’s when she heard it. Etta James. “At last, my love has come along, my lonely days are over, and life is like a song……” she listened to the deep earthy tones coming from Mrs. Jackson’s old Victrola in the apartment one flight up. She moved closer into the middle of the room in order to lessen the sounds of the saxophone and the piano. She usually liked the secondhand sounds of Mrs. Jackson’s vinyl, but not today; today the music only served to intensify her loneliness and further darken her mood.
“Staying inside in this dismal, dreary apartment on this dismal dreary day is the last thing I want to do on my day off,” she mused, and suddenly had a thought. “It’s here somewhere,” she grumbled as she dumped her purse out on the dining room table and rifled through its contents: one pack of spearmint gum, two slightly soiled tissues, $7.90 in change….. Ah! Here it is!”
She pulled out a frayed and tattered ticket. “Admit One: In the Shadows of the Pyramids, New Orleans Museum of Art and History, 2020 Exhibition.”
Sara had never been particularly interested in Ancient Egypt or the pyramids, or history for that matter, but her co-worker Donna had given her a ticket last month for her birthday. Sara had forgotten all about it until now. “It’s the perfect rainy day to be inside, but not here, not in this apartment. Ancient Egypt, here I come!” Sara reassembled her purse, picked up her rain jacket and her umbrella, and hurried out the door.
It was gloomy on the street; the wind had picked up and the low light that escaped the clouds flickered onto the sidewalk casting long eerie shadows. Poydras Street was almost deserted, only a few stragglers coming and going, a testimony to people's distaste of getting wet.
Sara quickened her pace, and after a short, brisk walk, she approached the ticket booth at the entrance to NOMAH: The New Orleans Museum of Art and History.
“It’s funny,” she thought, “I’ve lived in this city all my life and I’ve never been here. It's time to change that, and today's the perfect day for it." She rendered her ticket to the attendant and stepped inside the lobby.
“Perhaps, you’d like a catalogue of the exhibit,” Sara took one from the curator’s hand, thanked her, and began to read. “Exhibit One,” She paused and looked around, “It must be this way.”
She ambled down a dark corridor and when Sara turned the corner into the wing that housed the exhibit, she almost ran head long into a standing stone sarcophagus. The final resting place of some ancient Egyptian almost took her breath away; rubies, emeralds, and lapis lazuli adorned the ornately carved hieroglyphs and reliefs. A finely inscribed cartouche signified the identity of the long dead occupant. Sara reached out and touched the coffin and recoiled immediately; it was almost like a bolt of lightening had struck her very core. Sara stumbled back against the wall, her breath was coming in quick erratic gasps, her stomach lurched into her throat. There was something strange about this gold and jewel-gilded coffin.
“Are you ok, Miss?” Sara steadied herself and looked up into the patrician face of a smiling gentleman. He was impeccably dressed and coiffed with a well-trimmed goatee that accentuated his deep olive complexion. He had chiseled features, intelligent brown eyes, and a noble air about him. “Were you trying to view this sarcophagus?”
“Why, yes, the sarcophagus. It’s incredibly beautiful. Hard to believe its thousands of years old.” She struggled to recover her composure. “Quite magnificent.” She ran her fingers gently across the hieroglyphs deeply etched into the stone. She felt it again...that strange sensation that was both unnerving and intriguing. “I wonder what this cartouche means.” She thumbed through the guidebook but found no answer to her question.
“It’s the symbol for the house of the Pharaoh Monmet. Momnet reigned over Egypt for 21 years during the first century BC.”
“Oh, how interesting.” Sara muttered, suddenly distracted by a glimmer of light reflected off a glass case standing alone in the middle of the room.
She moved closer. The case held an amulet, crafted in shiny gold and shaped like a distorted heart. It was covered with glistening crimson-colored jewels.
Sara moved closer still, close enough to touch the glass case, her eyes fixed on the amulet. “Those rubies are amazing.”
“I believe those are garnets," the gentleman asserted. “The guidebook says that this amulet is made of gold and …. O yes!" He leafed through the pamphlet. "You are right. These are rubies. Hard to tell in this lighting. How’d you know that? Do you have much gemology experience?”
Sara’s voice caught in her throat, “No, I have no experience what-so-ever. I just…. Well…. Somehow, I just knew.”
The gentleman looked at her quizzically and stretched out his hand. “ I’m Jared Lambert. It’s so good to see you.”
She took his hand. It was warm and his handshake was firm, but not overpowering. “Sara Ryan, nice to meet you. Do you come here often?” She laughed at her own cliché’.
He smiled, “Yes, I come here often. I find this exhibit quite compelling. Just look at these beautiful objects of art. Take this amulet for instance. An amulet is an object that was typically worn on one's person. The ancient Egyptian people believed that each amulet has the magical or miraculous power to protect its wearer, so they wore them close to the heart.”
“Not this one.”
“What do you mean ‘not this one?’ “
“Not this one, this one was never worn by its intended owner. It was given to the youngest daughter of Pharaoh Amenemhat IV’ favorite manservant; given to her by the Pharaoh himself. It was for her tenth birthday in 1805 BC. The girl, Sobratep, got sick at the celebration and died shortly after of some type of affliction. They weren’t sure what it was, but now that I think about it, I believe it must have been measles. She died before she ever wore the amulet.”
The gentleman searched his guidebook. “Where did you find that information? I don’t see it here.” He turned the pages frantically. “No, I don’t see anything about that.”
“I didn’t read it in the book.”
“Well, how do you know all this?”
Sara quivered, “I’m not sure. I just…… I just know.”
Jared’s face lit up. “Shall we?” He gestured toward the next display.
Sara moved slowly to the next exhibit, her mind swirling with all that she saw.
“A Ushabtis!” Sara could hardly contain her excitement. “Look Jared, the sign says this could be from the tomb of Amenhotep, but...."
“No,” Jared shook his head vehemently. “The guidebook is mistaken, the written histories often are. These little burial figures weren’t left in the tomb of a Pharaoh, they were found in the tomb where that sarcophagus was found." He pointed to the stone relic standing near the door.
Jared continued, "Figurines such as this one were interred with the dead who belonged to a higher order of Egyptian society. The Ushabtis' job was that of a servant in the afterlife. Oh, by the way, you met Ceptomtap when you first arrived. Well, sort of. His mummy is in the ornate sarcophagus you encountered when you first entered this room. This Ushabtis originated in his tomb.”
Sara examined her brochure. “You seem very well versed on the little-known facts that don’t appear in this guidebook. How do you know the name “Ceptomtap? It doesn’t mention that in this brochure. Where did you study?”
Jared smiled, “Some things you just know.”
The two spent most of the rainy Saturday afternoon reveling in the antiquities that had, before today, held no interest for Sara. Artifact after artifact brought more confusion for her. Yet, somehow, it all felt so comfortable.
“I seem to know so much about so many of these relics,” she mused quietly to herself. She began to rack her brain “Did I learn something about this in school? Did I see some documentary on Egypt at some long-forgotten time in my life?
The questions kept coming. No answers.
As their perusal of the exhibit came to an end, Jared looked at his watch. “The museum will be closing in 15 minutes. I’ve been to this exhibition at least two dozen times, but today by far, has been the most interesting and pleasant day I’ve spent here. Thank you, Sara, for helping me to see these things with a totally different viewpoint. A different pair of eyes, so to speak.”
“It has been a pleasure, Jared. And very nice to meet you.”
The gentleman hesitated, “Sara, I really don’t want this afternoon to end. Would you join me for a cup of coffee? There is a little shop right around the corner that serves delicious café au lait and bagels with homemade cream cheese.”
“Café LeBlanc? I know it well. Yes, I think I’d like that.” Sara pulled on her raincoat, offered Jared her umbrella, and together, the two made their way through the exit door. Sara noticed that Jared patted the sarcophagus on the way out.
“Hmmm.. that’s strange,” she wondered, especially when he muttered, “Later, brother," under his breath.
The twosome stepped out onto the sidewalk outside the museum. The day was still gloomy and gray. Fat, stinging raindrops fell from the clouds, hit the hot pavement, and evaporated into a steamy vapor. A certain comfortable silence fell over the couple as they huddled together under Sara’s umbrella waiting for a break in the rain.
When the downpour slowed just a bit, Jared and Sara made their way south, dodging the puddles on the sidewalk until they arrived at Café LeBlanc. They settled into a small booth in the corner of the café. Neither glanced at the menu. “I’ll have a café mocha latte….” They spoke in unison when the waiter arrived, almost cutting one another off.
A strange look crossed Sara’s face, “Jared,” she queried hesitantly, “do you believe in reincarnation?”
He studied her face for a moment, then took her hand in his own. “You bet I do, my dear. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Sara smiled as an old Etta James song echoed from the jukebox in the back of the small café.