That trip had been long overdue anyway. God knows all the cajoling and coddling I had to put in to convince my wife that Egyptian heat wouldn’t kill her. The stamp of history in the very air, ancient and grand, I could feel it in my veins calling out to me. It had waited long enough.
We’re recently married, in case you’re wondering why there isn’t a mention of crying and pooping kids. No kids yet. Some things in life I can still enjoy, it means. Anyway, a year after our honeymoon to the party Bahamas, we got on the flight to Egypt. Trip was largely uneventful, except my wife making the face which usually means “I’m withholding sex”. Ah, well. Gain some lose some. A flight and a few cabs later, we were at our hotel at around noon, local time. A beautiful building, a hundred years old, set right outside the bustling Cairo city, in all its aesthetic beauty. Yep, that look she had was gone.
A day of resting. Some general market exploring to check on the local niceties aside, we mostly sat and enjoyed a quiet evening together. 22 degrees had calmed her down. The next morning, it started. The grand trip to the Pyramids, and the Sphinx. The call was stronger than ever. And when I lay eyes on her from a distance, she was so much more enigmatic than her pictures could ever show. A majestic human head on a gigantic lion body, guarding the Pyramids. Damn, if that was real, the Pharaohs were pretty well-protected.
The tour bus dropped us off near the Sphinx, after which it was pretty much on foot. While I marvelled at every square inch of that magnificent limestone, I could see my wife had lost interest. Ah well, I found a little safe spot, and promised her I’d be back as soon as I could. “Okay!” was followed by a joyful smile and the pop out of her phone. *sigh*
Now here is the thing. I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never consumed alcohol. Not smoking. As clean as they get. And yet I could feel a certain lightheadedness. The kind that people describe as a side effect to marijuana or something. And it couldn’t be the heat, because there was a thick cloud cover on top of our heads. Regardless, I got busy in fangirling over the lion body.
And that is when I heard it. A high pitched tune. It was beautiful, seductive, like a temptress wielding her sorcery. I looked around and no one seemed disturbed. I swear, I don’t do drugs. Dismissing it as a figment of my imagination, I kept walking around, this time with the crowd, just in case. A minute later, I heard it again. It was tantalising, it was female, with a certain feline quality, almost as if…I looked up. WAS SHE SMILING?! The Sphinx! I could swear she was smiling! I looked around. I couldn’t see anyone even a teensy bit disturbed. This was puzzling. And against all my instincts, and despite having heard stories of Egypt being a land of spells and mystique, I did the stupidest thing. I broke off from the crowd and started to follow the sound. I just had to know..
It seemed to be coming out of near her tail, and that area seemed to be off bounds. But I had to know. After about a half hour of sneaking, I finally managed to reach that tail. The tune had been playing in my head continuously. I couldn’t put this off. I reached the tail. And just next to it, the sound seemed to be coming from. I went closer and touched…
Silent as a snake, the wall slid open to reveal a small grotto. This is what I was here for. This explained the craving to make a trip here. I was being called. And while the stories of how I could’ve been a Pharaoh in the past life kept swirling in my head, this was more important. I walked into the dank corridor and into a dim lit room. Wait. It was lit. I looked behind me; the door had closed. And yet I could see. High on top of the walls, there were torches, flaming. There were torches in the damn room that had maybe not been entered in a thousand years and probably always needed a psychic invite like mine!
And right when I was going gaga over how I was breathing in farts of the Pharaohs, it hit me. Like a boom coming from everywhere, and nowhere at once. A powerful female voice, sending shivers down my spine. And it exclaimed,
“Every thousand years or so, I must kill,
And feed on souls till I’ve had my fill,
But you shall have one chance at redemption,
You shall leave, only once you answer my riddle.”
In Greek legend, the Sphinx devoured all travellers who could not answer the riddle it posed: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” The hero Oedipus gave the answer, “Man,” causing the Sphinx’s death. I was petrified. This wasn’t a calling. This was a kill-box. And I was fodder. Disappointing as that was, I had more pressing issues at hand. Like my life being in the balance. Trembling, I cackled out my approval. The Sphinx roared,
“After me all your life you chase,
Some catch me, some die trying,
Finding me brings a joyous haze,
While all the while in you I was lying.”
Right. So I was about to die. With my dear wife sitting somewhere still playing Candy Crush somewhere, waiting for me to show up, and none the wiser. No one would find my body, and I won’t even feature in a tale or anything. All my hopes and dreams, would end here.
I fell to my knees, praying fervently for something to save me. For an Oedipus to show up. Thoughts of how I could have lived better started cropping up. The booming voice started to laugh, striking terror in my heart. The ground split open, and I kept falling into a dark abyss of nothingness..
I woke up with a start. Legs flailing, and a cold sweat on the brow. I looked around. My wife was still asleep, the sun was just rising. And then it hit me. I lay back to bed with a smile, thinking of the Sphinx’s riddle. Dreams, it was…
I suppose that trip would have to wait, after all.
Sketch By: Ashna Panesar