Chapter 3: Book of the Dead
Leo Chin held the door open for a woman and her daughter while he collapsed his umbrella into a refined black walking stick and entered the Great Court of the British Museum.
As curator of Egyptian Rare Book Archives, he could have gone into the complex closer to his office, but he never tired of passing through the museum, breathing the air of ancient things. The current exhibit in the Reading Room’s enormous rotunda featured the Book of the Dead, instructions for an ancient Egyptian’s afterlife.
He was in front of the papyrus that contained a spell for help in the weighing of the heart when Arthur Nightingale, assistant curator of Roman and Egyptian Antiquities, came to stand beside him.
“What do you think, Professor Chin?”
“Superb as usual. The museum has outdone itself once again.”
“I meant the Egyptian’s view of death,” Arthur said. “They were lucky to have such potent spells to protect them in their night journey.”
“Knowledge is a powerful thing,” Professor Chin replied.
“A little magic doesn’t hurt either, does it?” quipped Arthur. He patted the breast and side pockets of his jacket, looking for something. “Do you suppose they’d work for an Englishman?”
The corners of Professor Chin’s mouth stretched into a smile. He was glad Arthur thought of him as an Englishman. “If you had enough money. Only the rich can afford to die properly, even now.”
“Yes, well…” Arthur’s cell phone vibrated with an incoming call. “That’s Croner. I have a meeting. Best be off. Good day Professor.
“Good day to you.”
Professor Chin wound his way through the Museum’s labyrinthine corridors to his department. Just as he got to his office which, was little more than a cubicle, his assistant, Oliver, approached him.
“I made your flight reservations, Professor. You’ll be leaving on the ninth, a day ahead of the conference, with the layover in Greece as you requested.”
“Very good. Thank you, Oliver.”
He entered a tiny but well-ordered world. Piles of books were everywhere, but he knew the exact location of each one. He hung his umbrella and coat and removed his fedora. On the desk was yesterday’s unsorted mail. It was the usual—catalogues, book review and trade journals—but when he picked up the stack, a postcard fell to the floor.
Professor Chin froze. The picture side was splashed with the gaudy colors of the Romanian flag and two dancing gypsies. He picked it up and looked on the other side. It had been forwarded twice.
“Leo, why don’t you write? We never hear from you and wonder if you died. Your poor mother is rolling over in her grave, worried sick about what’s become of you. Serves her right for marrying that horrible Gaje. You are full-blooded. Never forget!
Have you gotten married yet? Please, everyone here is dying of curiosty.”
It was no surprise his illiterate aunt had misspelled curiosity. Why couldn’t she leave him alone? His stomach knotted and he dropped into his chair.
“You’ve come a long way,” said a voice from an unlit corner of the room.
“You’re still here?” asked Professor Chin.
“Of course,” said the voice.
“You still need me.”
“Most people leave their imaginary friends at home when they grow up.”
“You’re not ‘most people’. And I’m not imaginary. I was your only true friend when you had none; when you were tormented by your own family and the outsiders; when your father beat you for trying to protect your mother. You needed me then and you need me now.”
Professor Chin sighed and surrendered to his lifelong companion. There was no use fighting it. He would never be a true Gaje, a non-gypsy, but he would certainly never return to ‘his people’. He had no family, no home, no country.
But he still had dreams, and there were others like him. Together, he hoped, they would create a world of their own.
“If you want your dreams to be real,” the Whisperer said, “you will need more powerful magic. Your fortune telling mother was right. You have the Gift. But you need more than herbs, runes and rituals to accomplish your dreams.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 4 | Stray cats and castles
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