A Secondary Life

By Krisztina Jedlovszky.

The mummy was woken up by the heavy bass of Seven Nation Army. It was needless to look far for its source: the song was blasting from the speaker of a schoolchild, bored stiff by the Egyptian Collection. The thumping of the White Stripes song filled the exhibition room, mingling with the singing and chatter of the students and the annoyed complaints of the visitors, while the aubergine-faced head teacher’s sudden rage was failing to pierce through the whole cacophony. Standing still behind the wall of the cabinet and wrapped in worn-out rags, the mummy was not bothered by any of this. What he found peculiar (if disturbing) was how all the noise was causing the cabinet’s glass to rattle.

As the Pharaoh’s former treasurer, the mummy knew exactly how valuable this opaque material was. He remembered staring at many of the favoured officials’ shimmering glass amoulets with envy. “Am I in Aaru, then, surrounded by treasures? Was I worthy of heavenly paradise?

But the exhibition room looked nothing like the endless meadows of the East that he was promised. Instead of green fields of rushes, all he saw were shining cabinets, drenched in glaring white light far more fierce than the warm rays of the rising sun over Aaru. 

“Yet, this must be the paradise, for a second life is given to no-one else but to the people who deserve to enter those heavenly realms.” In his life, he had been terrified of death: and whatever this place was, at least he could be alive…

“I am alive, and that is all that matters,” he concluded.

Peak visiting time at the museum: a tide of families and student groups wash back and forth over the gleaming floors.

Many of the visitors came in from the gift shop, their hands full of souvenirs. The most popular items, by far, were the overpriced Egyptian god baby onesies. Watching through the cabinet, the mummy noticed the tiny gods scattered amongst the visitors. He couldn’t believe his eyes, seeing a dozen Osirises dashing around the exhibition space.

Two small lookalikes of Isis and Horus stopped suddenly in front of the mummy, staring at him menacingly. The gods spoke in a strange, holy language, while exchanging meaningful looks and pointing him. “Am I being sentenced?” he pondered, terrified. 

Silence came over the room for a second. Suddenly, small Horus burst out laughing, his finger still pointing at the cabinet; Isis started giggling too. Puzzled and embarrassed, the mummy tried to understand the holy declaration he was given. But even before having the chance, Horus and Isis were dragged away and silenced by people larger than the gods themselves. “Who are these people that can tame my gods?” he wondered. 

Every wall of the large room was abundant with ancient treasures; the mummy came to rest his eyes on reassuringly familiar items: lavish garments, shimmering weapons, decorated pots; he was a man of taste, with a rare appreciation for crafts compared to his fellow officials.

A movement in the far corner of the room caught his eye. Four carnelian canopic jars, displayed next to another mummy and adorned with a luscious gold pattern, disappeared from his sight as a man blocked their view. The mummy saw this white-gloved thief grabbing the jars swiftly off the shelf and tucking them behind some pots in a different cabinet. Utterly outraged, the mummy thought,“Without the canopic jars, he is denied an afterlife! How can any human in this room allow this abomination, not saying a word?” Little did he know that these holy objects of burial were merely being relocated to the Ancients Crafts section.

The mummy let out a cry for help. Some visitors seemingly turned to him immediately, and he desperately explained what had happened and some of them turned towards the person rearranging the artefacts. One of the visitors aimed a large handheld weapon, and the next thing the mummy remembered was a flash of bright, white light in his eyes, and the muffled noises of an angry dispute. No matter how modern the Egyptian Collection tried to be, flash photography was still not allowed. 

Increasingly disconcerted, the mummy’s suspicion lingered: he, alone, wouldn’t be able to stop the thief. Nobody was willing to help. No matter how much he pleaded with those approaching him, most left without a word. Although the room was buzzing with conversation, no-one seemed to hear or understand what the mummy was saying. Bewildered, he could not understand this indifference. There was a thief in the room! Though they spoke a foreign tongue, he was certain that these visitors were just the same as him: living, breathing humans. 

Was there a barrier in the room? One that separated him from the others? All the mummy saw was his glass wall. ’Paper-thin, transparent; surely this wall can’t put a divide between us?’ he repeated to himself, with weakening conviction. He began shouting, straining his lungs – all without answer. He then turned to desperate measures. All he wanted now was to hammer on the glass wall, break through it and stomp it to shards. Leaning forward, he stuck the frame with all his wrath: the visitors gasped as an ancient mummy suddenly fell forward, banging against its display cabinet, cracks spreading across the glass surrounding it. 

The pane did not break, but there seemed to be freedom for the mummy. People were rushing towards him, helping him escape from his cage, finally welcoming and understanding him. Determined not to waste any more time, he began telling the visitors about the thief, but he was suddenly grabbed by the waist and dragged out of the room. Nobody even turned their heads to acknowledge his screams. The mummy was free from his glass confines but caught in the tight clutches which ruthlessly shifted him around as though he were a mere corpse. 

After that, the mummy spent a long time trapped in the dark, unable to move. He had stopped screaming: his voice was gone. It started to feel as though he didn’t exist at all. 

When light entered his eyes again, the mummy saw fields and sickles, ceramic pots and garments all bathing in the warm rays of light around him. ‘Is this Aaru, then? Was I worthy of heavenly paradise?’ But then he saw the familiar hordes of visitors starting to trickle in, dressed in the same strange clothes as before, small gods running around, not taking notice of hum. He realised that a thin glass wall was back before his eyes. Maybe this was Aaru, maybe not. But at least he was alive; he was terrified of death.