The old man stood against the back wall in the small room, watching his wife tend to Makara. He knew she would soon ask him to fetch a jar of water and another cloth. So he waited. Silently. The old woman brushed the dark, damp hair back from the girl’s forehead. When the pain came again, she held Makara’s hand and whispered soothing words in her ear. He knew it would be over soon, but that didn’t make it more bearable. Each time the girl cried out, he felt his own stab of pain inside his chest, making it hard to breathe.
“Nekonekh, please bring the water and the cloth now. It is almost time.”
The old woman spoke to the old man without turning. She remained focused on Makara. The girl’s cries had increased in intensity—from moans to screams. Nekonekh hurried out of the room and went to the community well, which was a few steps away from the house. As he filled the earthen jar with water and made his way back, he cursed Khufukaef. The being had lain with his youngest granddaughter and left her with child.
Khufukaef was one of the inhabitants of the Theban hills. They were strange people, with powers the Egyptians did not possess. There were stories of miracles. Blades that could cut the hardest stone as if it was butter. Wheeled sledges that could move the heaviest rocks as if they were the weight of feathers. He had even heard of chariots that consumed liquids and moved without horses, and litters that flew passengers through the sky. Nekonekh’s neighbors said the Thebans were gods.
At the house, the baby’s birth was imminent. Nekonekh handed the old woman the jar of water and cloths he had purchased earlier in the market. She wet one and pressed it to Makara’s forehead.
“Take a deep breath and push, sweet Makara. Push.” Another scream escaped the girl’s lips as she forced the baby into the world.
Nekonekh acknowledged that the Thebans’ powers left him in awe. He had encountered Khufukaef many times when the being came to the market to buy goods from the Egyptians. Khufukaef was taller than Nekonekh and slim. Unlike the Egyptians’ rich brown skin, the Theban had a faded complexion. It mimicked the color of the sun-bleached desert sand. His eyes were not deep brown, like the eyes of Egyptians. His were deep blue, almost the color of lapis lazuli, with a circle of gold around the black pupils.
Those blue eyes, Nekonekh knew, were mesmerizing. Khufukaef was able to control the minds of the Egyptians. More than once, those probing blue eyes had penetrated Nekonekh’s thoughts and thwarted his ability to follow the sound reasoning and judgement of his own mind. He was sure Khufukaef had controlled Makara’s mind. Why else would she lie with him as a wife lies with a husband? She was the most compassionate girl in the village, with a spirit that bestowed kindness to everyone. She was also the most beautiful. She looked like her grandmother had looked as a young girl. Flawless complexion. Deep brown eyes and lashes that were long and full. Her hair, which fell to her waist, was thick and dark. Like her grandmother, she could have had her choice of any young man. Nephi had wanted Makara as his wife. The young man was a good match, and the families were supportive. But now…
The old woman’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“Nekonekh, the baby is emerging. Come close and be ready to help.”
As he saw the top of the baby’s head, Nekonekh was grateful for his wife’s skill at bringing new lives into the world. Makara cried out once again, and the old woman grasped the baby’s head.
“It’s coming. Have the blanket ready.”
She guided the newborn out of the girl’s abdomen and handed the child to Nekonekh.
“It’s a boy. Wrap him, so he stays warm.”
His wife turned toward the girl and murmured. “Makara, you have a beautiful, healthy baby. Rest for a few moments, and then it will be time for you to hold your son and take care of him.”
Nekonekh studied the boy’s tiny face as he bundled him in the receiving cloth. He was bright red from the birth. Still, Nekonekh could see that he bore traits of both his mother and the Theban that fathered him. He was fairer than most Egyptians. His skin color resembled his father’s, but deeper and richer. His hair was dark, the color of his mother’s. When he grew older, the true characteristics of his eyes—if he possessed the powers of his father within them—would be revealed.
Only Nekonekh and his wife knew about the relationship between Makara and Khufukaef. The girl had sobbed the day she told them a baby was coming. Khufukaef would not take her as his wife. He said the Thebans would not allow it. They prohibited marriage between Thebans and Egyptians. If his people learned of the child, its life would be in danger.
Nekonekh was furious when Khufukaef refused to marry his granddaughter. Rage burned inside him like a hot fire iron. It pierced a burning hole through his heart and lungs and filled his mind with anger and hate. One evening, when the Theban came to visit Makara, Nekonekh confronted him. His rage had returned — raw, fierce, and all-consuming. His emotions left little room for rational thought.
“If a union is forbidden, then why did you lie with my granddaughter, my lovely Makara?” Nekonekh shouted. “You bewitched her with your blue eyes and your mind tricks. You must take responsibility for your actions!”
Then he struck Khufukaef’s face with his fist. The punch, fueled by Nekonekh’s fury and outrage, knocked the Theban to the ground. Blood seeped from a gash on his forehead—red blood, blood that could be human blood. At that moment Nekonekh was certain the Thebans were not gods but mortals, like the Egyptians. They were injured like Egyptians. They bled like Egyptians. And they could be killed like Egyptians.
Makara needed a husband, and the baby deserved a father. Nekonekh would not let Khufukaef turn his back on them. While his wife had tended to Khufukaef’s injury, Nekonekh devised a plan for his granddaughter and her unborn child.
“Khufukaef, when the baby arrives, you will take Makara and the baby and sail to Greece. You will marry her there and start a new life as a Greek family. The Thebans won’t know where you went. The child will remain a secret.”
“I have a good life here in Egypt,” Khufukaef replied as he held Nekonekh’s gaze. “I can refuse to leave. You have no power over me.”
The Theban’s insolent words filled Nekonekh’s heart with fresh anger. His hands drew into fists. His jaw tightened, and his teeth clenched. The tension in his brain pounded on his skull. Not wanting to strike the Theban again, Nekonekh took a deep breath and relaxed his hands. He waited until his anger subsided and stepped closer to the Theban. They stood face to face, inches apart. Nekonekh looked straight into Khufukaef’s eyes. Then he spoke, his words precise and deliberate.
“I have seen you bleed. I know you are not a god, but a mortal man. If you do not accept your responsibility as a father, I will end your life. I promise you that. Either way, the Thebans will never know about the baby.”
Nekonekh felt no fear. He would do anything for his granddaughter and the child even if it meant Khufukaef’s death by his hand.
Several days after Nekonekh confronted Khufukaef, the Theban returned to the old man’s house.
“What do you say?” Nekonekh asked as they again stood face to face. The Theban met and held the old man’s glare as he answered.
“I accept your plan.”
Now, as Nekonekh handed the newborn to Makara, his chest tightened, and his eyes became damp. A feeling of loss and great sadness overcame him. Khufukaef, Makara, and the baby would travel up the Nile River to Alexandria. From there they would sail across the Mediterranean Sea to Crete. Nekonekh would never see his granddaughter—or his great-grandson—again. He would be unable to protect Makara and the child. The boy would grow up without him, without his Egyptian family.
“Tomorrow, you and Khufukaef must take the baby and start your journey. My friend, Ophelos, will guide you. Through him, I have arranged for your passage. Change your names and live as Greeks. Never come back to Egypt. It is the only way for the boy to stay alive and safe.”
Nekonekh leaned down and kissed the baby’s forehead. He then kissed his granddaughter’s cheek. As she started to nurse the child, he left the room so his wife could assist the girl with her newborn.
Outside the house, the air was hot and dry. Nekonekh looked up at the sky. He prayed to Ra that Makara and the boy would live a safe and happy life. Nekonekh had no choice but to trust that Khufukaef would care for them. As he thought of their impending departure, Nekonekh’s throat constricted. The house would feel empty without them. He would feel empty without them. As the sun warmed his upturned face, the old man wept.