She knelt over him and pressed a last kiss goodbye on his smooth forehead. She had tried to coil the unappeasable course of time around her finger in order to enjoy the ride on their sweet-scented love boat a little longer, but destiny had condemned her to walk all by herself to where gigantic black menhirs cut the width of the lane in half. The stoniness of their bearing made them as precious as diamonds. How dangerous they would be if they could come alive! But no, the secrets they had been entrusted with over generations by globetrotters who stayed overnight in the sunken city are safe while the city itself is a place whose survival is constantly threatened by the collapse of the rocks its amphitheaters are carved into.
The words he had gasped while battling for his life echoed in her ears. She herself had been ready to drop when she had turned to him, waiting for his last breath to feed her the secret to vanquishing one’s fear of the unknown. He, however, had remained silent from that moment on. If need be, she was now prepared to quit sleeping in order to continue his journey on the hunt for the golden head. About to fall into despair, she tried to read the Byzantine map as if it contained a clue to decipher how the ghastly present had come into being.
Suddenly, she remembered the moment their paths had crossed at the library. He had been perusing ancient codices, trying to find out more about the time when Byzantium had spread over the Orient, where its population still worshipped the sun. He had been busy tracing the illegible hieroglyphics with his forefinger. They laid down the routes the Byzantines used to follow to locate the treasures of the Orient, which had been buried with kings and royal concubines in graves dug off the beaten tracks.
Before long, they found themselves there, scrambling over nature’s spleen in Wadi Shallalah to reach the sunken city with the aid of just a few simple doodles set down on paper centuries ago; they had certainly been tempting the sun to scorch their winged aspirations.
However, they were committed to unraveling the fine mysteries of the ancient world. Together, they climbed the white mountain and looked down upon the great valley and the glittering river, whose clear waters mirrored the sky.
“Let’s dig here,” he murmured with the carefree spirit only angels boast. And subsequently, they stood before mural paintings whose oily texture and lustrous appearance had once helped the departed come to grips with their eternal rest.
“How tall they are!” she uttered with a quavering voice. They had barely started to figure out the meaning of the signs encoded in the murals when the structure they were standing in collapsed on them.
In the meantime, tomb raiders had picked up their trail and were gleefully browsing the catalogue of puzzle bits they had left untangled. Their unexpected arrival on the scene led to him being fatally stabbed under his belly. Blood gushed out of him as she tried to cover his wound with her own body.
The marauders moved like a plague of swarming locusts. Trying hard to foil the present’s strenuous efforts to topple the past and diminish its significance, while also being punched out of the burial site, they grabbed as many treasures as they could carry and whisked them into the old church, to where the altar stood.
At the bottom of a derelict well, a snake guarded the entrance to Dr. Achilles’s pharmacy. Next to it there was a grape-juice squeezer and some bottles of wine. They also found a mosaic depicting an unclad beauty who was trying to cover herself with a dove that was emerging from behind the sun. The queen’s fingers had been anchored to shiny rocks. They were regularly coming across different types of columns and representations of nymphs, but the golden head was nowhere to be seen. On the face of it, they still had one riddle left to solve.
It had been recorded that when the sun’s rays fell vertical to the fifth stone pillar, the light would be diverted to shine down on the ground underneath. There one could find the baptistery where the golden head had been christened as such.
Luckily, their timing had been perfect. The sun’s rays played the prophecy’s rules by the book, and in a flash, a pack of hounds started to chase the highly prized game. Once they had ferreted it out, their bulging eyes remained locked on the golden head. Although his heart was having trouble refueling, it gathered enough strength to leap with joy one last time. At least now he was sure he would be able to rest in peace. Before crossing the big divide, he mumbled his dying wish: to be buried where the golden head had been lying from time immemorial. She in turn swore to stay in this world, roving around as a ghost in order to haunt the beasts of the present. Her solemn oath was noted in the annals of the sunken city located in Jordan’s Shallalah, a valley teeming with olive trees. And so the sequence of events that went down that day will remain etched in Dr. Achilles’s memory forever.
Rula Hessienat is a Jordanian writer with a sixth sense about how to create worlds with blue skies that are cruised by free spirits flying unfettered in broad daylight. Ultimately, I may need to crash their parties in order to patch up the fraternal squabbles between the fluttering wings. Both plants and caliphs stem from seeds the earth waters zealously. I also belong to the earth. She has devised me and braided my thoughts with the same material she uses to form the ears corn ends up lending to hear what I have to say: words the wind then blows away while sweeping through golden prairies. The sun once hatched up a plan to conquer the world that consisted of melting it down. Ever since I have hidden in the form of yarrows, sagebrushes, autumn crocuses . . .
I dedicate what I write to the earth and to women.