‘Time’ by Ghada Gaylani

 
 

The display case contained various clay tablets, ceramic pots and two small fish, one made of stone, the other of shell with red inlay. Its small mouth was gasping as if freshly caught. As Martin was examining the tablets, the gallery guide’s voice was telling the story of Adapa, a wise man who lived in Eridu, some 7000 years ago in an ancient city near the marshes and the sea, in southern Mesopotamia. The voice droned on. Martin was half listening, when he felt a strong sand-laden wind blowing all around him. It became too hot, so he took off his coat and held his scarf to his nose and mouth to stop himself from choking. Soon, he could no longer see the display case. It was covered with sand. He could hardly stay upright, the wind was trying to push him over. The sand kept stinging his face, eyes and hands.

This continued for a few minutes, when suddenly the wind died down and he found himself inside a temple. It was decorated with mother of pearl and columns of coloured ceramic pieces. A large figure was standing in the middle. Water was pouring from his shoulders in waves and the fish that had been in the display case, had come alive and multiplied, tumbling down that waterfall. A naked priest with shaven head was offering libations to him. A queue of men was forming in front and behind Martin. Someone behind gave him a ceramic bowl filled with sweet smelling oil. The men were wearing some kind of cloth wrapped around their waists. Some held in their arms sheep, some held goats and some others carried dates in baskets. They were moving slowly towards the priest. As each one presented his offering, they stood aside to let the others through. The priest took the gifts one by one and laid them at the feet of the water-figure.

The smell of incense wafted through from somewhere inside the temple. It made Martin want to sneeze and he swallowed hard to stop himself. It would soon be his turn to present his offering. He was a little apprehensive as he was only too aware that he was not dressed as the others, but when he stood in front of the priest, this fact did not seem to matter. He was struck by the priest’s face. It was round like a full moon, his eyes were open wide, outlined by black kohl and his thick eyebrows were like two semi-arches, which met in the middle of his forehead. He bent forward, took Martin’s bowl and repeated some incantations in a language Martin did not understand. The priest motioned him to join the group who were standing aside. The incense fumes became stronger and the temple was soon filled by a white dense fog. Martin by now could barely see the priest, the group, nor the figure with the flowing water. He started to feel dizzy and when he could no longer bear to breathe in the thick incense, the scene around him changed.

The temple, offerings, priest and water-figure disappeared. Once more, Martin found himself in front of the display case looking at a stone wall plaque depicting a naked priest, a group of worshippers and Ea, the god of water, with fish falling down a stream from his shoulders, frozen in perpetuity. He picked up his coat, which had fallen to the ground, turned to the gallery’s guide and thanked him. He walked out of the museum. Once outside, he filled his lungs with the cold autumn air. He put on his coat and as he tucked his hands into his pockets for warmth, he felt the remains of dry sand.