At first light, I rudely awoke to the linen drapes being all but ripped from my east-facing window. Screwing my face up to greet the day, I proceeded to groan and curse into my bedsheets.
“Menes will be expecting you.” Father’s unforgiving, clipped tone further roused me from a slumber that, as always, seemed far too short for my liking. Through bleary eyes I watched him walk from my window, past the foot of my bed, and out of my bedroom with a ‘swish’ of the bead curtain as he left.
An old proverb, one of mother’s favourites, sprung to mind in that moment.
Leave him in error who loves his error.
Judging by his fixed stony expression, however, I was not sure if he actually loved this ‘error’ in which he lived. And I knew that he would never see it as an error, either.
Deciding against dwelling on this for much longer, and therefore risking muttering about it while father was present, I heaved myself out of bed and started to get ready for the day.
I had washed a basket of linens yesterday at sundown for the very purpose of having fresh clothing for the week to come, as per my usual work routine. Draping a basic shift around myself, I ventured out into the rear portion of our property through a curtained doorway. Out in this small slabbed area, our linens were hung out overnight to dry. We were yet to find better usage for this outdoor space, so it served as a drying facility as it had done for years prior.
‘Perhaps a cream linen today…’ I thought absently as I gathered the large swathes of material into my arms, briefly entertaining the concept of wearing one of my richer, coloured dresses. However, it was sure to get dirtied with dust and ink in the library, so I decided against it.
Cream would suffice.
It was that or white, as per usual. At the very least I tried to vary my choices day by day more for my own peace of mind.
I returned to my room with the basket of linens, placing them down on my bed and seating myself briefly at my mother’s old vanity table. When she died almost eight years ago, this was one of the belongings she owned that was not packed away to be put in her tomb. Instead, it was gifted to me, as per a written plea from her which had been found in one of its drawers.
I kept that pottery shard propped against a small Isis statue, which stood alongside a small selection of my perfume bottles. The writing was crude and shaky; I had been teaching mother how to read and write with various scriptures as I was first learning, so her brush strokes and knowledge of writing as a whole was somewhat limited. In spite of that, the hieroglyphic formation was clear as day:
I really was not sure why mother had been so adamant that I should keep this table, as beautiful as it was. Contrary to popular belief throughout the suburbs, mother was not a vain woman. She was much more captured by the meaning behind items than the objects themselves.
This led me to believe that this table meant a lot to her, which was why she wanted her only child to have it. I had to fight against my father to keep it from being buried in her tomb, but I was immensely glad that I won. Perhaps the only time I had achieved a victory over my father, and it was highly important to me. This was a direct connection to my mother, and alongside my memories, it helped keep her essence and spirit alive.
Gods forbid if father heard me say such blasphemous things.
Aware that time was marching onwards, I started to prepare myself for the day ahead.
First and foremost, it was time to bathe. I alighted from my seat and fetched a fresh jug of well water which had been pulled by one of our household attendants, bringing it back to my room to wash with. Cleansing my hands, feet and underarms over a small grate by the door, I proceeded to dry myself with further swathes of linen which had been hung over my wooden chair. Suitably refreshed and awake following this cold bathing ritual, I sorted through my basket of clothing linens to get dressed.
After winding the large cut of cream linen around myself, I secured it with one of my favourite brown weaved belts with its understated little gold-leaf embellishment at the clasp. Most of it was flaky now, due to how frequently I wore it, but the quality of the craftsmanship was still exquisite. I shrugged the dress straps on over my shoulders until it all sat nicely on my frame. My onyx locks required taming, as usual, so I started running a bone comb through it to smooth through any tangles. I dipped my fingers in fragrant oil and ran them through my hair to perfume it and keep the bob style set in place.
Next came cosmetics. Even though most of my time was to be spent indoors, kohl was of the utmost importance and an expected adornment of our eyes. Selecting a deep blue powder variant today, as opposed to my typical choice of black, I lightly licked the end of my liner brush to dampen it. That way, when I dipped it into the small kohl pot, it made a smoother mixture to start lining my eyes with. Flippantly directing my eyes skywards, I lined underneath each eye first with a steady hand. I pulled the lines way back towards my temples and stopped, proceeding to draw the top lines to match.
Mother once told me that blue kohl, while rare and expensive, made my heterochromatic eyes all the more striking. One appeared deep and cocoa-like, as hers had done, and the other was much paler, almost golden in hue.
This ‘defect’ in my appearance paired with my vocation always tended to turn heads out in the streets, much to my dismay.
I shook my head after applying all of the kohl, able to shake away a few stray granules of the crushed powder which had not formed into their line properly. Its deep blue colour splattered on the vanity table’s cedar façade. In spite of the imperfection, I could not help but notice how beautiful it appeared. Each little splash of blue was formed differently: unique.
Maybe if father were to see it, he might marvel at its beauty too.
It would be more likely that he would bark at me to clean up the mess I made, no doubt.
I sighed, dabbing my fingers into a saffron perfume blend which I proceeded to rub behind my ears, each side of my neck, and the insides of both wrists. Once I had secured a pair of gold-leaf hoop earrings in my ear lobes, I was all but ready to leave the house.
“Know yourself… and you shalt know the Gods.” I whispered. Those words were so familiar on my tongue by now that I was not even aware of having uttered them.
Even though I repeated these words as a mantra, just as father wanted me to, it did not mean that I had any idea of who I truly was.
To him, I was Nenet; Apprentice to Great Menes, daughter of High Priest Yuia. My relation to others was all he seemed to care about, so that we may appear to be of the correct layer in his metaphorical pyramid.
I could not think of anything that I would hate more.