Thursday, May 8, 2014


          The question is often asked “What if I find that I’ve come to the Dark City without my soul?” An intelligent question, this, and its asking is the mark of the discerning traveler.

          After all, so very many things can happen to one’s soul! Perhaps, as you approach the gates, clutching your papers in one hand, your stout yataghan in the other, with the hood of your burnoose up to protect you from the bright moonlight, your soul is lying in bed, fevered, surrounded by learned shamans distractedly waving juju rattles and pdas. Then again, your soul may simply have gone walkabout, and be camping in the Alcheringa, never dreaming that you didn’t read the note it left on the mantle.

          In good truth, it is easy enough for a soul to have wandered off, to have gotten lost, or stolen, or to be languishing on a shelf in a pawn shop in Algiers, its ticket left behind in that wallet you threw away. On the other hand, your soul may have left you in a fit of blind rage, or gripped by ambition for a new career. It may – alas! all too probable these days! – be a refugee, or in hiding, or on the run from the Mob. Or perhaps you have a time-share soul, and it’s the turn of that professor from Ohio, the one who always leaves cryptic notes and a piece of baklava behind?

          Such things happen, and the Dark City can accommodate the soulless visitor. Near the gates, alongside the moneychangers and the chiropodists, you can easily find the booths of the ka rental agencies (most will have a sphinx standing guard. If it asks you what walks on four feet at dawn, two feet at noon, three feet at dusk, and wrote Buddenbrooks, the answer is Thomas Mann). For a very fair price you can rent a scarcely-used Egyptian ka which will flutter behind you, or perch on your shoulder,  for the duration of your visit. It’s wise to spend the extra money and rent a ba as well. Otherwise, you’ll suffer the inconveniences of being morally imbalanced.

          Aside from serving as your soul, the ka and the ba have many uses. The ka, for example, can carry messages or very small packages. The ba, which will assume your semblance, though only a foot or two in size, can be dressed in appealing colours, and is likely to be well-versed in the martial arts. Should you rent one, keep in  mind that its duties overlap those of a conscience. For minor infractions it will simply kick you sharply in the ankle. For a really major sin it may beat you senseless. Remember that the Egyptians had no prohibitions concerning drinking, though. When in doubt as to whether some act you’re contemplating might have shocked the average 12th Dynasty Memphan, abandon your plans and go to a bar. You’ll probably enjoy it more anyway.

          With the perspicacity which has won you plaudits everywhere, you say (In that annoying treble piping of yours) “It sounds as if having as ka and a ba following me about is just the ticket, and sure to impress the folks back home when I tell them. But suppose – just suppose, mind you – I die while here on vacation or for purposes of business? What happens then, since my soul is still selling furniture back in Ashtabula?”

          Never fear! The ancient Egyptians had a well-developed and enjoyable afterlife which was the wonder and envy of the ancient world. Simply spend the small sum the ka rental place asks for insurance and then, should you die (and you may not; a trip to the Dark City is, statistically, less dangerous than dancing on a tightrope over an active volcano), you will be whisked with your ka and your ba before Osiris. He’ll ask a few simple questions about the finer points of Egyptian theology (covered in the complimentary booklet that came with your ka), and weigh your heart on a scale against a feather. Simple as that! Depending on the weight of your heart and the type of feather being used that day, you’re guaranteed either an eternity of good beer and pleasant company, or a secure job chained to an oar and rowing the Boat of the Sun through the sky.

          When buying the insurance, do check on the burial clause. Egyptians were served in the afterlife by avatars of the small, lifelike figures with which they were buried. Be sure that your policy guarantees you a pyramid of your own and genuine carved figurines. Some of the shadier companies have been known to bury their clients with a handful of small green plastic soldiers. It’s awkward in the next world to be followed about by servants who have difficulty balancing a tray since their weapons are glued to their hands, and Seth will not invite you to any of his parties.

No comments:

Post a Comment