Chariot to Heaven
© Jaromir Malek 2011
A cloud of dust in the desert
The unevenly rutted road which Ipi and Meryt took made a beeline for the desert, in an almost straight east-to-west direction, and they had the rising sun directly behind them. Houses, some of them little more than hovels made of mud and rushes, were packed closely into the areas next to the road, as if hugging it for safety. The road was well above the floor of the valley and every year, at the height of the flood season, it was transformed into a wide elevated causeway surrounded by the brownish-green waters. Other parts of the city became large islands.
But now it was the dry season and the gentle green expanse of fields on either side, beyond the houses, was dotted with figures of toiling farm-workers. The temple of the god Ptah was the largest land-owner in the area, its farms were immense, and its overseers were tough taskmasters.
The road was busy. There were small groups of workmen walking purposefully towards the western cemetery, and others returning in the opposite direction. Farmhands carrying hoes, mattocks and wicker baskets over their shoulders hurried to distant fields. A small unit of infantry was led by its officer to an unknown destination. Herds of goats, sheep and cattle were driven along the road to some new pastures, and only low mud-built walls on either side stopped the animals from straying into the carefully tended fields which they found so attractive. Corpulent petty officials rode by on donkeys and paid little attention to the pedestrians and animals, as if they did not exist. Children played noisily in the middle of the road, running here and there with no regard for anybody and anything, and it was little short of a miracle that no accident happened when occasionally a horse-drawn chariot driven at high speed rushed by. Women sweeping the dirt and rubbish from around the houses onto the road kept a watchful gaze on the goings-on, although Ipi and Meryt had a narrow escape when one of the women emptied a jar of disgustingly dirty water onto the road.
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