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I will not mourn although my heart is torn, Oh love forever lost! I will not mourn. Heinrich Heine
LUXOR, EGYPT 1984
In spite of the large fans circulating far above our heads on the ceiling, the lobby in our hotel at Luxor was only a few degrees cooler than the desert heat outside. As I looked around I would not have been surprised to see Humphrey Bogart sitting at the bar, with the polished mahogany piano and yellow ivories in the corner of the room twanging out soulful tunes. It was something right out of a movie set.
I was brought back to reality by the the sound of a melodic English accent calling “Ma’am, please Ma’am.” I turned to see a tall Nubian porter dressed in a galabiyya. His long sinewy body moved gracefully toward us and his face was long, thin and etched with life.
“Bags, Ma’am. How many?”
Before I could reply, his strong arms scooped up our baggage.
“Follow me, nice room, end of hall, just right for you, Ma’am.”
His head turned back our way and he flashed a leathery grin as he darted away with us double-stepping to keep up with his long-legged strides. He led us down the long dark hallway and stopped just right off the corridor to a massive door marked with the brass number ‘8’.
The unlocked door swung open to reveal a large open space with floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side. Tall green louvers opened on either side letting in the hot morning sun. A double bed and chair on the right, and to the left a doorway that led to a smaller room that was to serve as my son’s space while we were here.
The high ceiling had the familiar fans like those in the lobby and were slowly moving the stale air about the room. I tilted my face upwards to catch the slight swirling of air when my eyes caught something dark on the ceiling. I slid my sunglasses down to the edge of my nose to get a clearer view, “What are…..”
My son craned his neck upward.
“They’re moving up there alright! Wow! What are they?” Emerson said.
“Not to worry Ma’am.They are harmless-they will not bother you,” said the Nubian.
“Just little lizards up there,” he said as he motioned upward toward the ceiling. “They’re not looking to eat you,” he added with a slight chuckle. “Less bugs to eat on you, they have big appetite.”
I wasn’t too sure I believed him but his cool manner was somewhat convincing.
Emerson went to check out his quarters and I walked to the tall window near the bed. The view was rather surreal. Lush grass grew on the ground below and in the center I could see a small pool half filled with dirty water, algae clinging to the edges where the water met the cracked sides of the cement pond. Neglect and the desert heat had obviously taken it’s toll on this tiny oasis in the unkept gardens.
I imagined that in it’s prime the gardens must have been meticulously manicured with every detail taken care of by a host of gardeners, I envisioned lovely ladies with umbrellas and big hats, fluttering fans and flowing white linens floating around the grounds on the arms of their distinguished English gentleman.
I can’t remember how long I had been standing there, but suddenly, a veil of sadness began to envelop me. My body shivered and an invisible hand lightly whisked across my shoulder. An overwhelming feeling of loneliness reached down into the deepest pocket of my soul. The years of un-cried tears welled, spilling past my lashes, streaming down my cheeks. A river coursing uncontrollably from my eyes.
Who would’ve thought my life would be this. As a child I had such innocent and positive dreams for what I thought was my true destiny. Who would’ve guessed it wouldn’t be like in the movies I yearned to be in long ago. And in that room in Luxor, Egypt, a place far away from my home, far away from my roots, my life and memories I had repressed for too many painful years came flooding to the surface.
I had my plan and God had His. My plan for my life had been cast aside. It didn’t matter. For the first time in years, I knew I would be okay. I could heal. Finally, I understood and accepted. Finally, I could forgive God. And I could cry.
Author’s Note: The preceding is an excerpt from my memoir/journal I kept during a trip I made to Cairo, Egypt and then down the Nile. This journey had the unexpected result in my healing from the trauma of my husband’s illness and murder years prior.
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Copyright Sandra Hart 2002-2014
“I’ve known rivers. I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” Langston Hughes
The River of Life
Clickety-click. Clickety-click. The sounds of the train’s wheels came steady and even, a metronome marking the beats of a song. To and fro, to and fro, to and fro. The inertia of the movement gently rocked our bodies to its rhythm. Our compartment with its worn cloth seats was the first comfortable place we had been since we left Israel and I stretched my legs to capture the cool air flowing beneath my calves. We had started early the day before motoring from Tel Aviv through Taba, crossed the Sinai to the Gulf of Suez and headed north to the canal where we crossed and continued west into Cairo. There we boarded the train for our long journey down the Nile.
Yesterday’s travel had been through miles of echoing desert silence. Harsh and rocky surfaces bleached dry by thousands of years of baking sun flanked either side of the road that sliced through the desert’s breast. Little evidence of life was visible except for an occasional Bedouin tent encampment far beyond the road’s edge. Now, as we headed west it was as though we had entered another world. Here near the river’s edge and beyond as far as the eye could see the land became green and life began again.
Outside my sand-spattered train window the landscape and the life on it mirrored a time long past. Low palm-roofed houses, abandoned tractors rusting in the fields next to donkeys hitched with primitive plows. Modern technology abandoned for more familiar methods of working the fertile soil along the river.
Groups of women scrubbed the family wash on large rocks while naked babies slept nearby in baskets and children skipped stones that skimmed creating small uneven hiccups on the surface of their murky playground. Mile upon mile, I watched them launder, bathe, play and drink from its waters- this river of life. The Nile.
It’s like looking through The National Geographic, I thought, remembering when my brother and I as children would spend hours poring over its colorful pictures. In our imaginations with each turn of the page we traveled to strange exotic places we had never before seen. Only now, I was here and the reality of what I was witnessing was almost overwhelming, enveloped safely in my coach behind my window, trespassing, unnoticed, into the lives of a culture, familiar, yet so foreign to me.
My husband and I had spent great time preparing for this trip. Gathering brochures, scouring travelogues for information that would make our vacation run smoothly. Initially, we had just planned on visiting his relatives in Israel, spending the bulk of our time traveling and covering as much of the historical sights, but the more we researched, the more convinced we were to include Egypt on our itinerary.
Arthur had never been to Israel before and was looking forward to seeing his relatives and praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I was realizing a life-long dream of visiting the sights where Jesus was supposed to have performed miracles. Our diverse religions and heritages, Judaic and Christian, would come together again as it had in our marriage. And now, here we were in Egypt, the second leg of our journey, traveling along the Nile by train.
I looked over at my husband sleeping soundly with his head facing away from the window’s light, his jaw slack and moving ever so slightly in cadence with his breathing. My son had gone to the club car to get our itinerary from the tour guide, his backpack was open and thrown carelessly across his empty seat. Just like a boy, I thought.
I suppose his father’s disappearance when he was still so young has made it twice as hard for me to realize that he is growing up, hard for me to let go. I’m so used to doing it all alone most of the time. Habit really is my worst competitor. Sometimes I feel like an octopus with tentacles stretched everywhere. Arthur was never married before and never had any children, but he has done well, considering. I’m still learning, even at this point.
“What?” Arthur said half asleep.
“Nothing Dear, I was talking to myself again. Go back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
“Early,” I replied.
He closed his eyes, adjusted his sleeping position and his jaw ever so slightly dropped again. He was asleep.
I watched him and marveled at how he could sleep so easily. I was never able to sleep on anything moving. I don’t know why, but ever since I was a child it was so.
My, how being here brings back memories of my childhood. I hadn’t been on a train in years. I remember during the war we lived in Washington, D.C. and traveled by train to my grandparents’ home in Ohio. My father would always book a drawing room which consisted of several bunk beds and a lavatory. I would play games on the floor in the center of the room. When bedtime came, my father must have read me hours of stories trying to get me to sleep on those overnight trips westward through the Allegheny Mountains. Daddy would hold me on his lap and sing to me. I remember resting my head on his shirt and hearing the deep resonance of his voice through his chest. It was that soothing resonance that finally brought the Sandman.
I looked at my watch. Seven-thirty. I could let Arthur sleep a little longer, at least until Lee returns. I studied his handsome face, peaceful and relaxed. His fair skin had been tanned by the hot Israeli sun and accentuated the whiteness of his fine wavy hair. He really must have been so handsome when he was young, I thought with those blue eyes.
I turned toward the window and the passing landscape along the Nile wondering what powerful secrets and stories its waters held. God knows I was no stranger to secrets…..