I have just released my third novel, Gilgamesh of Uruk. It is based on the story of the epic hero, Gilgamesh, from Ancient Mesopotamia. The novel is available in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.
CHAPTER ONE: THE OPENING
She looked out at the ocean, shielding her eyes from the unrelenting sun. From where she stood in her home, her home of many decades, she could hear the waves gently lapping the shore. The waters look so mild and gentle, she thought. But looks were deceptive. The Waters of Death. She knew one drop of that seemingly mild and gentle water would send a person plummeting to the netherworld. Not even she or Utnapishtim could touch the water without facing the consequences.
They lived alone, isolated. Their only visitor was Urshanabi, the ferryman. The gods allowed him to cross the Waters of Death to ferry their supplies. But even he had to be vigilant when he made the journey. He couldn’t cross the Waters of Death without the Stone Men to row his boat. Only they were able to touch the waters unscathed. The gods forbade Urshanabi to bring anyone else on the island. No visitors at all, they commanded. They were very clear about that. Utnapishtim and Old Woman were to live alone on Dilmun for all eternity. Absolutely no visitors allowed. It had been that way for many years—more years than anyone could remember.
She looked across at her husband, Utnapishtim, slouched on his favorite chair. His eyelids were getting heavy, his breathing rhythmic. He was about ready to doze off. Their forever life didn’t seem to bother him as much as it bothered her. Is this what it’s going to be like forever and ever? she thought. How long can we go on like this? But she already knew the answer. She knew there was no point in asking the question. It was a gift of the gods. She shrugged. Some may call it a gift. She called it a curse. What kind of gift ages your body without giving you the release of death? What kind of gift haunts you with memories you’d rather forget? A gift, indeed!
Utnapishtim would get angry with her when she spoke those thoughts aloud. We’re the only mortals to receive this precious gift from the gods, he always reminded her. He would shush her, afraid the gods would overhear. Let them overhear, she would say defiantly. What will they do to me? Kill me off? Send me to the netherworld? Better than this, she would argue. Better than living forever.
He called it a gift. She called it a curse.
The gods had settled them on this island of Dilmun after Enlil granted them eternal life. Alone on the island. Urshanabi would occasionally ferry the god Shamash to Dilmun to see how they were getting along. Utnapishtim would get very nervous whenever Shamash showed up. He was afraid she would say something to offend the god. He was afraid she might get into one of her moods and blurt out she didn’t want this so-called gift any more. But she never said anything when the god was around. She knew better. She had learned when to keep her mouth shut and when it was acceptable to speak.
The visits of Shamash always put a strain on them. Utnapishtim would try to convince her they should be honored. After all, Shamash, the sun god, didn’t come very often. But when he did come, they had to be on their best behavior. Put on a show.
As she looked at her husband dozing off in his chair, Old Woman recalled Shamash’s last visit. Utnapishtim’s hands shook. His voice quivered as he tried to say and do the right thing to please the god. Fortunately, she was always ignored on these visits, practically invisible. She preferred it that way. She cooked a sumptuous feast for the god, serving him with food and wine. She wasn’t expected to speak or have an opinion. She stood silently in the corner, ready to serve, ready to refill cups, ready to clear away food when the god had finished.
She looked down at her skeletal hands. I’m getting so old, she thought, watching her fingers twitch. She didn’t know how old. She was old enough to feel her bones brittling, her muscles aching, her fingers trembling. She couldn’t even remember her name she was that old. Or maybe no one thought she would ever be important enough to be given a name. She shrugged. She was known as the wife of Utnapishtim the Faraway. He has called her Wife or Old Woman for so long she didn’t think even he could remember her real name. She must have had a name before she married him. Maybe. Maybe, not. Urshanabi called her Mother even though she wasn’t his mother. She was no one’s mother anymore. She smiled, looking down at her husband as he began to snore softly.
She turned her gaze back to the ocean. She saw a speck of something bobbing in the waters. She squinted and focused. Yes, it was a boat. Urshanabi coming to pay us a visit, she thought. But there was something wrong. She looked again, rubbing her eyes.
This can’t be right, she thought. Was that someone with him on the boat? She rubbed her eyes even harder and looked, again. Yes, there was definitely someone with him. It wasn’t Shamash. And the Stone Men were nowhere to be seen. How can that be? The Stone Men were the only ones who could touch the Waters of Death without paying for it with their lives. She scrunched up her eyes and looked again. She raised her voice in a panic.
“Husband! Husband! Wake up! Utnapishtim, wake up!”
© 2018 Tamara Agha-Jaffar. All rights reserved.