Egypt - land of the pyramids, ancient pharaohs, and the River Nile; I’d
waited forty-five years to come here. Ever since I was a child at my grandmother’s
knee, I’d listened to her stories of the years she’d spent in Egypt. “I
was a young woman in my twenties when I went to work in Cairo. It seems like
only yesterday,” she smiled, patting my hand. This morning, as I rushed
about trying to get ready to leave for the airport, she still hadn’t
lost any of her enthusiasm. “Take lots of photographs,” she called
from her wheelchair. “I’ll be waiting to see them when you get
back.” She waved goodbye as the taxi pulled away. I could swear I saw
a tear in her eye.
I stood on the balcony of my hotel room in Cairo, entranced by the scenes
around me. It was everything I’d imagined - enchanting, mysterious and
magical. Ancient mosques dominated the skyline with their stone minarets and
domed mosaic roofs. I took a deep breath and started to cough. Though the city
smelled of car exhaust and rotting garbage, I managed to catch an ambrosial
scent wafting from the inflorescence of plants growing on a trellis around
my balcony. Back in grandmother’s days there had been few cars in Egypt. “The
air smelled like a bouquet of honeysuckle and roses mixed with dust,” she’d
said. Cairo certainly didn’t smell like that now.
I was eager to explore this wondrous city. After a quick change of clothes,
I made my way down the narrow streets towards the souk. Strolling through the
open-air market, I felt sardined by the throngs of people, each bargaining
in the traditional Arab manner. There was something exhilarating about being
here. The items for sale had changed somewhat, but the souk and the people
barreling their way past the stalls, had looked the same for hundreds of years.
Grandmother had warned me about the souk. “You’ll find anything
you want, from exotic spices to camel-hide bags, but oh, those Arabs know how
to wheel and deal.” I chuckled out loud and shook my head. Judging by
the noise around me, there was no doubt that hadn’t changed one bit.
I was amazed at the colors and smells, mingled with desert heat, which enveloped
me as I made my way through the throngs. Roasting meat, sizzling on a spit
and covered with bluebottle flies, strands of golden chains, fresh flowers
in buckets of moldy water, and falafels frying in old oil, captivated me. It
was so different than anything I’d ever experienced before, yet the Egyptians
seemed a happy people, content with their way of life. After haggling the price
for a black and gold-colored silk scarf, I stuffed it in my backpack and fought
my way out of the souk. As I walked past one of the last stalls, something
caught my eye, so I stopped. Seeing my hesitancy, the seller began his harassing. “Ah,
I see you have your eye on that beautiful brooch. It is very rare. I give you
I didn’t know what was so intriguing about the brooch, but something
about it called to my heart. I picked it up and examined it. “Did it
belong to an Egyptian princess?” I asked, knowing full well the answer
His eyes sparkled with delight. He knew that he was going to make a sale and
was willing to say anything he had to. “Madam, that is a priceless jewel.
An old friend, an archeologist, gave it to me. He found it at Sakkara. I give
you good price,” he began.
He hadn’t answered my question. The more I looked at it, the more I
could tell that it definitely wasn’t Egyptian. It recognized the Celtic
design. Eager to see how far the man would go, I commented, “Oh, is that
so? In Sakkara, you say?” “Do you have any papers proving its authenticity?
If it is a archeological antiquity, shouldn’t it belong in a museum?”
The seller’s face tightened to a scowl. He could tell he wasn’t
dealing with the run of the mill tourist. Putting on a fake smile, he continued, “Madam,
you are right. I can see I need to be honest with you. Let me introduce myself.” He
took my hand. “My name is Abdullah. A friend did give it to me long ago.
There is a story behind it. Would you like to hear it?” He pulled a stool
from behind a stack of galabayas and nodded at me to sit down. Overcome with
curiosity and having plenty of time, I sat on the wobbly stool. I wondered
what sort of gibberish was he going to try to tell me now. “Madam, my
friend, John Crawford, was a Scotsman. He moved to Egypt about fifty years
ago. My father and John were best friends. They worked together at digs in
the Sakkara area.”
My heart skipped a beat. Why did that name sound familiar to me? “A
Scotsman, like myself. How interesting!”
Abdullah continued, “Madam, even though I was only a boy, I remember
him very well. He was a good man. There was a woman, a beautiful woman, with
long red hair and eyes as blue as the most precious sapphire. He brought her
down to visit now and then. He hired my father to make this brooch for her.
She knew about it and was always excited to see it.” My heart skipped
another beat. Something was going on inside my heart, yet I didn’t know
what. I thought of my grandmother. She lived in Egypt around that time. She
had red hair and blue eyes too. It just wasn’t possible. Coincidences
like this can’t happen, still…“John loved this woman. They
made a beautiful couple,” he continued.
“What was her name? Do you remember?” I asked. I couldn’t
get over the feeling that was flowing through my veins like a million butterflies
He scratched his unshaven face, thinking. “I’m sorry, Madam. I
cannot recall her name, but she was beautiful.” I laughed out loud. “What
is the matter, Madam?”
“I love the way you say beautiful. You say it with your heart,” I
“Thank you, Madam. Shall I continue?” he asked. I nodded. “John
requested of my father to make this jewelry for her. He was very good at doing
things with his hands. Most of the jewelry you see here was made by my father.” He
put a few pieces down in front of me. As I examined them, Abdullah continued, “ I
regret that I didn’t follow in his ways. Alas, I am but a meager salesman
now, working hard every day in the souk to feed my family,” he hesitated, “but
let me go on. John came by every day to see how my father was coming along.
He brought pictures of Scottish symbols to use as a pattern. I remember standing
behind my father as he worked on it. Ah, such a work of art it was. When it
was finished, my father felt so proud. He told me this was his best piece.
It was beautiful.”
I giggled again. Abdullah noticed and cleared his throat. “Madam, the
man, John, was killed that very day the jewelry was completed. My father didn’t
know what to do with it. The woman never came to pick it up, so he put it in
a box in the back room of our home. I live there now with my family.”
”What about the woman? Didn’t your father try to find her and
give it to her?” I asked.
“Madam, I fear the woman was very upset when John Crawford died. She
left Cairo soon afterwards and we never saw or heard from her again.”
I sat silently, thinking about Abdullah’s words. “Why are you
trying to sell it now then?”
“It is most interesting that you should ask. The other day I was looking
in the back room for a tool to fix the strap on one of my leather bags. That’s
when I saw the box. I thought it was unusual that I hadn’t noticed it
before. It must have sat on the shelf all these years gathering dust. I picked
it up, not knowing what was inside. When I opened the lid, I gasped. It brought
back many memories of my father and John Crawford! For some reason I felt I
should put it out today at the souk. Now you come along and stop at my stall.
Isn’t that unusual, Madam?” I could see the confusion on his face
and the smile deep in his eyes.
I ran my fingers over the brooch. A tear dripped from my eye onto my hand. “What
is wrong, Madam? Do you not like it? Did it prick your finger with its point?”
My mind was racing a million miles an hour. All the memories my grandmother
had shared with me flooded my thoughts. Right then I remembered her telling
me of a man she met in Egypt that she loved very much and how they were going
to be married, but he drowned in the River Nile. She’d later married
Grandfather, but I always knew, by the twinkle in her eyes, that this man had
lived in her heart and was never going to leave.
“How did John Crawford die?” I whispered, barely able to speak.
“Oh, Madam, it was very sad. He was sailing on a felucca in the River
Nile when his boat sank and he drowned.
I lifted my head and gazed into his eyes. “Abdullah, when I walked past
your stall, this brooch seemed to call to me. For some reason I knew I had
to stop here. I believe this brooch was made for my grandmother, Maggie Rutherford.
This was to be hers. She told me about John Crawford, the man who drowned.
She loved him very much.”
I pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of my bag and handed it to Abdullah. “Here.
This is the least I can give you.”
Abdullah’s jaw dropped. I could tell he’d not expected so much
for it. His eyes sparkled and he smiled. “Madam, I cannot take your money.
I will not take it. This is a gift for you. It was to be your grandmothers,
a special gift from John Crawford. Is she still alive?” I nodded yes. “Give
it to her.” Abdullah’s voice crackled with emotion as he handed
me back the money. Unable to hold back the tears, I wept openly. His comforting
arm slipped around my shoulder. “It is all right to cry, Madam.”
Back at the hotel I slipped the brooch into my suitcase where it would be
safe. I spent another week in Egypt, doing all the things I’d dreamed
of. I took many photographs for my grandmother. My last evening there, I walked
down to the River Nile. As the sun sunk below the horizon, casting its golden
rays into the darkening sky, I stood on the banks, watching the felucca’s
sailing past. “I’m taking the brooch to her, John Crawford. You
can sleep now,” I whispered.
After arriving back in Scotland, I couldn’t wait to show Grandmother
the brooch, yet I knew I wanted to find a special way of presenting it to her.
Surely it would bring back happy, yet painful memories and I didn’t want
her to be upset. I left it in the original box that Abdullah had given me and
tied a pretty pink ribbon around it. With photos in hand, I went upstairs to
see her. “Grandmother, I’ve got a surprise for you,” I called.
“Come in, child. Did you have fun? Tell me all about your trip. Did
you take photographs?” she giggled.
”Grandmother, slow down,” I laughed. “Yes, I had fun. It
was everything you promised it would be. Before I show you the photographs,
I have something for you.” She had a curious look on her face as I handed
her the box wrapped in the silk scarf I’d purchased in the souk.
“It’s lovely,” she said. “Silk?” When she caressed
her cheek with it, the box fell into her hands. “What’s this?”
“Open it, Grandmother.” I couldn’t sit still, anticipating
the look on her face when she saw what was inside.
Slowly she untied the ribbon and opened the lid. “What have you gone
and bought me?” I heard her gasp. She didn’t utter a word for several
seconds. She ran her fingers over the Celtic knots and twists. “My brooch,” she
whispered. She lifted it to her lips and gently kissed it. “My brooch.” She
looked up at me, tears filling her eyes. I hadn’t noticed how much they
truly did look like sapphires. “What did…? Where did…? How?” I
took her hand in mine and told her about my meeting up with Abdullah in the
souk. “After all these years, I finally got my brooch.” She put
it between the palms of her hands and held it to her heart. “Oh, John,
I miss you.” Her body shook with fifty years worth of loss and heartbreak.
I held her tight, not minding the tears that soaked my blouse.
I spent the rest of the day with Grandmother, listening patiently as she told
me about John Crawford and the love she had for him. We looked at the photographs
until she was too tired to go on. “Time to rest, Grandmother.” I
covered her with her afghan and tiptoed toward the door.
“It wasn’t coincidence, you know,” she murmured. “John
wanted me to have that brooch. It might have taken fifty years, but I’ve
got it now.” Her eyes closed and a smile spread across her face. As I
shut the door I saw the brooch in her hand, right next to her heart.
“Goodnight, Grandmother. Sleep well.”