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Page 3 of 3

Even after that happened though, I still managed to convince him to hide his supply for our wing with me since I never got searched after the first month I was there, and he was searched several times a week. Reluctantly, he let me. Nights when I knew he'd be sleeping with one of the thievers down the hall, I'd take a half a tab, having sliced it carefully down the middle of the V, and drift into the dead sleep. I kept thinking I'd find my mother or get closer to her, but I'd always get yanked back, so at some point, I quit taking them every day.

I pushed the armrest button and lifted the divider between the two seats so I could curl up. No matter what I did now, the stewardess and the terrible man who'd been sitting next to me would be watching me. I'd had to tie my hair up in a handkerchief because ten minutes into the air, he complained he was disturbed by my scarabs clicking together. I just looked at him at first, until he said, "You're living in America now, not Africa. Just because the whole world seems to be going native with this PC thing doesn't mean we're not still a civilized country, so we don't go around with bones in our hair."

"They're not bones, they're khepers," I responded calmly. He just stared at me, too furiously proud in that typically foolish, typically cruel American way to admit he didn't know what a kheper was.

I held out one of the tiny, heavy, green basalt amulets tied to the end of a gathering of my long dark hair, weighing the hair down to straighten it. "A scarab," I said, examining the one I'd selected. "Would you like to look?" I examined it myself and felt strangely excited, as though I was looking at it for the first time, even though I'd been wearing them for years. I smiled as I saw which one I'd happened to pick up. My mother and father had both been at a dig outside Luxor when they first met. This was the one each of them had reached for at the same time. I spoke softly. "This is a rare one for it has a human face. Note the bands of gold across and down the back where the wings join and here, the base has been made in the form of a heart." I picked up another, made of blue glass which bore hekau, words of power which would not be right to share with the man. Instead, I pointed to the tiny carvings on its wings. "This one bears figures of the boat of Ra." A book smacked onto the seat next to me. I looked up. The man huffed away down the aisle. I heard the lavatory door slam.

My head suddenly felt like it weighed a ton. There I was, getting gloomy again. I took the heavy hair and khepers in my hands trying to ease my head's ache. Green granite, blue paste, limestone, black marble, green marble, blue glass, green, purple, and blue porcelain, some khepers bore gilded lines, others carvings of the Bennu bird, the eye of Horus, other sacred figures.

I tied back the hundreds of strands, the tiny khepers clicking like sand blowing across the desert. My father had put stone fishing weights in my hair shortly after my mother's m - death and forced me to promise I'd keep them there to make my kinky hair long and straight like hers. The night before he sent me to the Home in the States, I stayed up taking out each stone weight and replacing it with a chiseled kheper I selected out of the collection my mother and father and I had amassed from digs and bazaars in the days when we still lived in old Nubia and our early days after moving to al-Qahirah. When I entered his office to say I was leaving, he never said a word, but his eyes were furious and he held his arms tight against his sides as I tried to hug him good-bye.

I never stopped wearing them because, well, it kept the tension between us to a dull roar. I don't know if after all this time and his condition now, whether it still mattered, whether he'd still notice. But there were enough problems and the conflict was so old, I just didn't want to drag it out again after all this time. Why stir up trouble?

Muscle cramps twitched in my legs, so I tried to stretch them out in what was supposed to be the "wide" row. But the carpeted wall was practically right in front of me, so all I could do was prop my knees against it. The End had originally set up my reservation with a deaf ear to my pleas of getting claustrophobic in such a cramped space. Even though Akio had gotten me the wide exit row through awful effort, the narrow seats and my sheer mass of hair and scarabs forced me to sleep in a fetal position. I tried to punch up the dingy, gauze airline pillow, and winced. The stiffness and ache had barely begun to abate. The Valium seemed to take forever to act.

As I tried to get settled, my eye caught the red handle of the EXIT. The dream. Where had I - no, why were those sunglasses with the one lens missing so familiar? Where had I seen them? On the blinded bunny. My God. I turned back to the window and stared out into the rainy darkness. Danny. I unfolded myself from the fetal position, and Danny's letter fell under the seat next to me. Akio had given it to me just before I got on the plane. I picked it up and tried to smooth out the rumples in the paper. Though it was too dark to read the words, I remembered them. The black scrawl cracked through the page . . .





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