The Egyptian Engraving

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A gift became a worry and harbinger of bad luck.

Submitted: February 12, 2017

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Submitted: February 12, 2017



The Egyptian Engraving


An ancient copper engraving of Nefertiti took Henry’s eye! It was in a second-hand-cum-curio shop in a narrow alleyway that he had never discovered before. Strange that though, because he grew up in the city and knew it well, however memory’s a fickle thing sometimes and changes come and go over the years. The shopkeeper had his eye on Henry, there was a patch over the other, and his toothless gums glistened when Henry took an interest in Nefertiti. From boyhood he had a fascination in ancient Egypt and this was the first real-life thing he had seen outside a museum.

The shopkeeper fiddled with the pockets of his green corduroy waistcoat while pretending he wasn’t watching, Henry didn’t notice that mirrors were lined up so that Nefertiti was in the old man’s view from almost anywhere in the shop. There were no price tags anywhere in the shop and he reckoned the cost would be far more than was in his pocket, so he made his way to the door.

He had taken but four steps.

‘Nefertiti does not impress you.’ The voice was quiet, but Lawrence Olivier-ish.

Henry nearly didn’t bother, he was close to the door and could just walked out, but he turned to face the shopkeeper and patted his pocket.

‘Not enough.’ He smiled and turned back to the door.

‘There is no cost to you,’ the Lawrence Olivier-ish voice replied, ‘today is Friday, you have no money, it Alms Day. I give it to you.’

Henry did have money, and he knew about Alms Day, but had no clue what the man was on about, so took another step towards the door.  

‘Nefertiti, she is yours!’ The strange man called, twirling his fingers.

Henry thought it was some kind of con but went back to the man. How many times does a gift mean something else has to be bought? But the man simply handed the engraving over in a respectful way, with both hands and Henry accepted it in his two hands. He was mystified by these events but with a shrug he accepted the engraving and left.

Just south of Timaru, a front tyre began the flap-flap sound that indicated he had a puncture. He hadn’t had a puncture for years, and unfortunately the spare was one of those stupid space-savers so he was forced to drive slowly and more carefully the rest of the way home! Driving in the gate, he noticed that his workshop door was ajar! He knew damn well that he had properly secured it! A quick inspection confirmed that some thieving numbnut had stolen his chainsaw!

Two hours later, after a long phone call to the police, Henry had time to fix the engraving to the lounge wall and he thought it looked pretty smart! After a cup of tea, and just before dark, he decided to check on the sheep on the bottom flat, it’s always good to have a fresh-air-walk after a long road trip. Two of the sheep didn’t run off with the others, and a first Henry thought they were cast. He hadn’t had a cast sheep for at least four years, and here were two of them! A closer inspection revealed that the sheep had been shot, and not very long ago! He saw tyre marks heading into the gravel pit and followed them. There was a beat-up four-wheel drive there and a tent. He thought better of accosting the four people whose attention was on burning sausages over a bonfire, so he just took the number of the vehicle and later had a long and frankly useless phone conversation with a police cadet located somewhere in the North Island.

Henry brewed some coffee, and half-filled his favourite mug, black with no sugar, then topped it off with some Jamieson’s. He sat in front of the fire staring into the flames. He turned to look at Nefertiti, and back into the fire. What a day! He went over it all in his head bit by bit. He thought long and hard about superstition, and what he believed, he couldn’t think of anything he was particularly superstitious about save the mug he was drinking from. He referred to it as his ‘lucky mug’ but had no idea why. There were times, he recalled that gave him goosebumps, yet he wasn’t much into hocus-pocus nonsense. He took the engraving from the wall, tucked under his arm and headed down to the gravel pit to where the beat-up four-wheel drive sat. It was dark, there was no moon but the stars were bright and there was a glow from the east suggesting moonrise wasn’t far away. He found a rear window in the vehicle was half-down, so he placed the engraving on the seat, and went back home and to bed, somewhat pleased to be rid of the mind-disturbing Nefertiti!

Next morning Henry was pottering about in his small nursery when he heard the beat-up four-wheel drive climb out of the gravel pit and head off towards the main road. He muttered a curse of ill-will to send them on their way, but remembered that you have to be careful with curses!

He heard the brown, rowdy logging truck engine-breaking its way down the hill followed by a loud whump! He smiled at the thought the truck had blown its gearbox! Might shut it up! But there was another whump and the screech of the logging truck brakes. Henry thought he had better call the emergency services, but a passing car had beaten him to it. The operator asked him to direct traffic until the police arrived. So off he went in this trusty fawn Ute.

As he drove up the hill, he saw that the logging truck sat on the right hand side of the road with a buckled mudguard. The beat-up four-wheel drive was over the bank on the left hand side, crashed into a tree. The fluro-jacketed truck driver was standing above the beat-up four-wheel drive watching two of the roughians tending their mates who lay prone on the road edge. At a safe distance, Henry parked his Ute and began waving at traffic as if he knew what he was doing and happily, they obeyed.

Once the helicopter had taken the worst two injured to hospital and the ambulance had taken the others, Henry spoke to the policeman about the shooting of his sheep. As the cop made notes, Henry noticed a small, ochre-coloured car pull up at the crash site, a small man climbed down the bank, and when he returned, he was carrying the copper engraving of Nefertiti tucked under his arm! The man wore an eyepatch and a green corduroy waistcoat! There was something else curious! Henry realised it at that moment, the man didn’t cast a shadow, or was it an optical illusion! Open-mouthed he watched him drive off!

There is a post script! Almost a year later, Henry was back in the city! Curiosity drove him to find that second-hand-cum-curio shop. He didn’t find it, he couldn’t even find the narrow alleyway!  



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