Saturday 10 & Sunday 11 March 2012
I wanted to set a story in a place that I love, historically speaking, and around a career that I would have loved to undertake myself. So . . . Egypt and archaeology, here we come.
The heat was oppressive and she hated it with every fibre of her being. Or at least she would, if she weren’t too damned hot to think straight. The work, however, was what she lived for, and she tolerated all manner of unpleasantries in order to do what she loved. And what she loved, was archaeology.
Alex briefly returned to her memory of the morning; trekking out into the desert, the pyramids of Giza rising from the desert sands and looming in front of her, a vision only spoiled by the hordes of tourists taking happy snaps of the ancient monuments. She disliked the tourists as much as she hated the heat. They had a nasty habit of getting in the way when there was important archaeological work to be done, and had bastardised the history of every country with their insatiable hunger for trinkets and souvenirs that imitated the great archaeological finds throughout time. And now, here she was, being mistaken for a mindless tourist, simply because the bus happened to have stopped in the vicinity of her dig.
The day had been long, and hot, and difficult. The grit and dirt under Alex’s fingernails was beginning to irritate her. By this time on a regular day, she had been able to wash her hands many times, reducing the irritation of the grit. She wondered if the Professor was okay. He had been gone for some time, removed from the bus earlier in the day, at gunpoint. The tourists had brought the terrorists to the dig.
It was not uncommon these days for tourists to be targeted by rebel militia groups seeking easy ways of funding their acts of terrorism. It was uncommon, however, for an archaeological dig to be targeted, and Alex firmly believed that it was the busload of tourists that attracted the rebels to the team. The tourists cowered in fear every time a rebel moved. The dig team did not. To show fear would give the rebels leverage over them, and this team had been through tough times before, and had come out battered but tougher. They would not be crushed here and now.
The man who appeared to be the rebel leader slowly stepped back on to the bus. He had been with the Professor this whole time. Alex watched as he wiped red fluid from his hands, his desert camouflage uniform now stained in red. She gasped, shocked at seeing what appeared to be blood on his hands. When he spoke, it was in a hushed tone, and Alex looked to her companions for a translation. She did not speak Egyptian Arabic fluently enough to keep pace with his words.
‘Dakarai, what is he saying?’ she whispered to the young man beside her. He remained silent for a moment, minutely shaking his head to indicate that it was not an appropriate time to speak. The rebel leader stormed the length of the bus to stand in front of Alex and her team. Grabbing a fist full of Dakarai’s short black hair, he wrenched the man’s head back and spoke again in Arabic. Quivering, Dakarai translated the rebel’s words, ‘He demands to know why the white woman is speaking. He demands to know why you are in his country, yet you don’t make an effort to understand his language.’
Alex, pride disallowing her to be anything less than bold, stood and replied, ‘You live in a world, sir, where the majority of people are English speakers. You have taken hostage, a bus full of people from predominantly English speaking countries. It is your responsibility to communicate with us in our language.’
The rebel leader looked to Dakarai, who began to translate Alex’s words.
‘I know what the woman is saying, boy. No need for you to repeat it unless, of course, you wish for me to cut out your tongue as punishment for her pertinence.’
Dakarai stopped speaking, and tried to shake his head, indicating that he didn’t wish for his tongue to be removed. The rebel laughed at the obvious terror in the Dakarai’s eyes. He released his grip on Dakarai’s hair, throwing him backwards as he did so.
Alex remained standing, defiance radiating in her face. The rebel stepped as close as he could to her, examining her face. He could see the terror in her eyes as well.
‘You have a very big mouth for someone in such a precarious position, archaeologist. And you really should be more careful about that. After all, you and your dig team are of no consequence to me. I can’t get money out of a university for your safe return. However, I can get a lot of money from a lot of governments willing to pay for the safe return of their people.’
. . . To be continued . . .