The Eroding Self

Deir el-Bahri - Temple of Hatshepsut - facing northwest الدير البحري - معبد حتشبسوت - باتجاه شمال غربي

Deir el-Bahri - Temple of Hatshepsut - facing northwest الدير البحري - معبد حتشبسوت - باتجاه شمال غربي

Photo Credit: Ross Burns/Manar al-Athar


Once there was a girl who ran into the golden rays of the Sun, relishing the blazing heat on her young skin. She shut her eyes against its blinding light and giggled as she stumbled, a staggering dance to the clinking melody of her anklets. Her braid flew behind her, wild and carefree, her bare feet thumped the sandy ground, prepared to carry her wherever she pleased.

She called out for her brother with a voice that felt familiar to me, then she seemed to realise something. The melody faltered, her foot tangled in her clothing, her braid whacked her back as it caught up with her and she tumbled headfirst to the ground. She shook the dust out of her hair and squinted into the bright day. Her lips curved into a smile as she saw me before her.

Now that she was closer, realisation and curiosity filled me. Of course, she had every right to come here, to me, yet I could not help but wonder why she had left the palace.

The girl was transfixed by the splendour of my walls in front of her, looking as if they would stand for a hundred years, and then a thousand, and then a million after that. My columns stood high and strong as they still do, holding the roof up far above the heads of the crowd below; yet the girl reached out to the ceiling, longing to feel my warm stone beneath her fingers.

She picked her scraped knees off the ground and disappeared into the shadows I provided, where the cool air raised the hairs on her arms and soothed her lungs. She stayed there for a while, smiling to herself, before she moved on into the first courtyard.

She lay down on the soft grass and let herself cool in the shade that my trees provided, picking a fallen fruit off the ground and taking a hesitant bite. The flavour burst in her mouth, fresh and sweet, and as she giggled and looked for more, I was filled with a sudden fondness for this girl. Birds chirped their playful melody above her and spring flowers of all colours and shapes filled the air with their honeyed smell. But the Sun had already begun to grow stifling, and she ran towards the next floor. She cast a longing look at the fruit on the trees, too high for her to reach, and decided to leave the courtyard.

She focused on the grass beneath her feet, running and running and running, until she felt something softer and stopped. She took a few steps back and saw a small patch of daisies, most of them crumpled by her frantic rush. One daisy stood proud on its frail stem, uncrushed, its yellow centre looking up at the girl like a tiny sun. She seemed fascinated by the small flower, despite the many more colourful flowers my courtyard provided. She plucked the daisy from the ground and placed it in her braid, smiling at how the bright flower contrasted her dark locks. I marvelled at this girl, who looked so similar to the statues and portraits I serve to protect, and yet was so different. For a moment, I wished that she would stay like this forever.

She finally reached the top of the temple, and she was back in my shadows. Panic seized me as she walked to the chapel on my right – I knew what was in there, and I knew how she would react. But my blessing and my curse is that I will never change, never move, never speak. Hers was that she would.

She walked in, and was immediately met with the face of her brother in a carving on the wall. His expression was as cold and serious as the stone it was made from, and the girl was eerily reminded of her father, profound and kingly even on his deathbed. She turned away, not wanting to look at this version of her brother.
Then she saw her own face.

The statue of Princess Neferure stared back at her like a twisted mirror from behind the statue of her mother, King Hatshepsut. It was small, much like the girl, but the Princess’ expression was solemn and mature, and the girl’s head tilted in confusion. She felt no connection to the statue, though she knew she should – she even remembered when it was made. If that was supposed to be her, why did it look like someone else? The caption under the statue read ‘His Beloved Royal Daughter, God’s Wife, Neferure’ – the role she must take over now that her mother was ruling.

The girl fell back from the version of her that did not exist, shut her eyes tight, clutched her daisy in her hand and curled into a ball, as though willing herself to stay a child forever. She heard shouts from the courtyard below and knew that they were still looking for her, but she clamped her hands over her ears and refused to listen.
Inevitably, Princess Neferure returned to the palace. By sunfall, she was side by side with the King. This was the last time she ran from the palace.

A new image of her is added to her mother’s palace, taller this time. It shows her carrying out her duties, next to her mother, her brother. The two of them rule together, while the Princess fades into the background, the images of her eventually wear, and they are captioned with the same title, over and over and over. Her braid is no longer visible and is tucked away under a blue-green wig, the colour of a resplendent lotus.

The daisy is left crumpled on my floor. It rots, and so does she.

I never will.