Eyeliner of the GodsKatie MacAlister
Eyeliner of the Gods
Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2004, 2016
All rights reserved
Originally published 2004 by Dorchester Publishing
Distributed by Smashwords
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Eyeliner of the Gods was originally part of a two book set that looked at the same group of people but from different protagonists. The second book, Chloe, Queen of Denial, was written by my good friend Naomi Nash. Both books went out of print a few years after publication, and it’s only now that I finally dusted off the original file, and brought it back to life.
I hope you enjoy Jan’s adventures in Egypt. Especially with the mysterious (but hunky) Seth.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Other Books By Katie
ANCIENT MUMMY CURSE ENDED BY INTREPID TEEN!
CAIRO (JanNews) Sixteen-year-old American January James arrived in Egypt earlier this month and single-handedly solved a centuries-old curse attached to the mummy of…
“Crap. What was the name of the person who lived in the tomb?”
The woman sitting next to me on the bus pursed her lips and squinted her eyes at my notebook.
“Sorry,” I said, sliding my hand over it so she couldn’t read what I’d written. “This is confidential. I’m a journalist. Or I will be some day. I’m hoping to sell a couple of my stories about my time at the dig, so I’m sure you understand if I can’t show it to you now. Do you get the Shocking News Today! here in Egypt?”
The woman, who wore a white head scarf called a hijab, flared her nostrils at me and looked away as if she’d smelled something bad. I did a covert pit-sniff check just in case my deodorant had given way on me after the long flight from Paris—the heat in Cairo was enough to strip the air from your lungs—but the Ps checked out okay, so I just figured that she must be one of the conservative women Mrs. Andrews had told me about in her “dos and don’ts of going to Egypt” lecture. Most of the stuff she had told me was about how to be polite in another country, but some of it concerned how women were treated.
“I’m not wicked or anything because I’m traveling alone,” I explained to the woman. She didn’t look very convinced. In fact, she tried to avoid my eyes, but I felt it was important that the first person I talked to in Egypt not have the wrong impression of me. Start off as you mean to proceed my mom always said. “Mrs. Andrews—she’s our school principal—told me that Islamic rules say that men aren’t supposed to harass women they don’t know, but some men don’t pay attention to the rules and look for women traveling on their own, figuring they’re slut city, but I’m not. Just in case you were wondering. I don’t even have a boyfriend! My sister April tried to give me Stan, her old boyfriend, but I draw the line at hand-me-down boyfriends.”
The woman’s nose looked pinched, as if she was trying not to breathe while sitting next to me. She glanced around the bus, obviously looking for another seat, but it was standing room only in the airport-to-Cairo bus.
“There was this guy last year who I really liked, a senior, and man, I’m telling you, he was all that and a bag of chips, but he didn’t even know I was alive, and I heard later from my friend Mina that he went off to be a monk or something, so that’s probably why he didn’t notice what guys usually notice about me.”
I peered down at my chest. Even wearing April’s loose Big Apple tee, my boobs were right there were anyone could stare at them. And guys did. The dawgs. Like I could help having big breastages?
“Anyway, Mrs. Andrews said that in Egypt I shouldn’t make eye contact with unknown men, or be nice to them, or anything like that, but that it was okay to be nice to a woman, which is why I’m talking to you. Only—” I bit my lip and tucked my pencil into the spiral top of the notebook. “—what if the woman I talk to is lesbian? Would that be the same thing as talking to a man? What if she’s a weirdo, into all sorts of pervy things like bondage and stuff? Wouldn’t that be just as bad as being nice to a regular guy? And what about gay guys? Are they OK to talk to? Man, this being polite to people in a different culture stuff is hard when they don’t give you all the rules.”
The woman, her eyes now tinged with desperation, tried to slide away from me, but the bus was an old one, and there wasn’t a lot of seat space, so she really didn’t have anywhere to go as the bus crawled its way through downtown Cairo.
I looked at the woman a little more closely. “My name is Jan. It’s short for January. And yes, before you ask, I was born in January. My dad named me. He named the last five of us, because Mom had run out of names by then. He died right after October was born, but it’s okay, because I was only two so I don’t remember him or anything, and then Mom remarried Rob, who is really nice and can’t have kids because he only has one noogie, so he got all ten of us with Mom. Rob’s an artist, of course. Who else would marry my family?”
The bus swerved to the side, throwing the woman next to me up against my shoulder. She made a horrified gasping noise, and quickly dragged herself off of me, half-rising out of the seat as she scanned the bus for somewhere else to sit.
I looked around, too, suddenly realizing that I had been so busy writing what was sure to be a killer story, not to mention reassuring my seatmate that I wasn’t Jan the Wonder Ho, that I hadn’t been watching for the stop the airport map showed was right next to my hotel. The bus, which earlier had been traveling down the busy downtown Cairo streets of offices and modern buildings, was now honking and swerving its way down a different part of town where the streets were narrow, dark, and filled with as many people as cars. The old, scrungy buildings that lined the street were a solid mass of open-fronted stores overflowing with everything from leather bags to big brass things (water pipes?), wooden walking sticks, brightly patterned clothing and colorful scarves, jewelry, food, wicker baskets filled with who knew what, and a gazillion other things that I didn’t have time to take in.
“Flash! You’re lost, Jan,” I said to myself as the bus slammed to stop while a donkey was dragged across the street by a guy in a long white-and-black robe. Donkeys! Uh oh—I’d gone from industrial, modern Cairo to something out of an old mummy movie in just the amount of time it took to tell a woman I wasn’t a perv. “I’d better get out before I end up at the pyramids or who knows where,” I muttered as I stuffed my notebook away in the bag that had been wedged between my feet. I hoisted all five hundred pounds of it, dragging both it and me into the aisle of the bus, groaning to myself about my
luck in being so wrapped up with taking notes at the airport that I’d missed meeting the volunteer coordinator.
Worst-case scenario was that I’d have to walk. It couldn’t be that far back to the touristy part of Cairo—I’d only been gabbing for a few minutes, after all. “And besides,” I told the hijab woman’s back as I followed her while she pushed her way out the door of the crowded bus, “I swore to myself before I left home that I was going to use this month in Egypt to lose all the blubber that my mother insists on calling puppy fat despite the fact that I’m not a puppy, and if I was, it would mean she was a b—Uh…never mind, I probably shouldn’t say that word here. Mrs. Andrews say profanity was a big no-no. Hello? Mrs. hijab lady? Bititkalimi ingleezi? Poop!”
She didn’t answer my question about whether or not she spoke English, but the way she melted into the crowd more or less answered the question. I slung my duffel bag strap over my shoulder and jumped out of the way when the bus started forward, coughing as the diesel fumes swallowed me in a blue-gray cloud of haze. I had to admit to being a bit worried about the fact that I was lost in a strange city.
“Come on, Jan, get a grip,” I told myself as I started down the crowded sidewalk. “You want to be a journalist, and everyone knows that journalists always do exciting things like getting lost in the middle of Cairo.”
Someone grabbed my sleeve.
“Hey!” I whirled around, and came face-to-face with a leering guy with ugly black and yellow teeth. He said something that I was sure wasn’t nice at all. I shook my finger at him. “My principal told me about you! She also told me what to say: Áram! Evil!”
The guy blinked at me in surprise as I yelled the word at him, but I didn’t wait to see how he was going to respond. I spun around and started walking quickly the way the bus had come, weaving my way through the crowds, stacks of things for sale, dodging dogs and donkeys and small boys sitting with wicker baskets of food who yelled at me as I went by. The noise was incredible—people were chatting, laughing, yelling, singing, and calling to each other over the dull throb of traffic, the blare of car horns an underscore to the loud, high pitched singing from someone’s radio, all of which blended with a thousand other noises that you don’t know exist until you suddenly find yourself stranded a half-world away from your home.
My stomach growled as I marched down the street, the spicy odor of cooking meat wafting out from one of the shops. The smell of the diesel belching out of the cars that worked their way down the street was nasty, but there were other scents that were a lot more pleasant—musk and patchouli from an incense place, the familiar smell of oranges from a nearby orange vendor, and lots of nummy restaurant smells that had me swallowing back gallons of saliva and reminding myself that I was supposed to be on a diet.
“It’s not fair,” I muttered as I stopped in front of a store that had the most delicious-looking pastries displayed on a cart. “Here I am in exotic Egypt, and I’m not allowed to eat anything but water and ice cubes.”
Two people nearby stopped to stare at me. Belatedly I remembered that Mrs. Andrews had said I should always have a companion when touring the cities, but I hadn’t intended on having to walk through half of Cairo to get to the hotel. I moved on.
“It’s like this,” I said to no one in particular, practicing the excuse I’d offer the volunteer coordinator as I lugged my bag (evidently now filled with lead and anvils and other hard, heavy things that were slowly dragging my shoulder down) through the quickly darkening narrow street. “I got lost at the airport and missed the group connection to the hotel.”
Oh, yeah, that sounded lame. Lame-o-lame. Lamer than George W. Bush in jogging shorts.
“Um…maybe this is better. Sorry I missed you at the airport, Ms. Sorensson, but I had to go to the bathroom really bad…ugh. No. She’ll think I’ve got the Big D if I say that. And I’d die if anyone thought I had the trots.”
I came to a corner and paused. The street ahead narrowed even further so no cars were able to drive down it, which, considering what I’d seen of Cairo drivers so far, was a blessing, but I was trying to retrace the bus’s path.
“OK, here’s the deal—I’m a journalist, and I was positive the guy in front of me at customs was a smuggler, so I had to hang around and take notes on him, and that’s how I missed the meeting with you…” I sighed. “You know you’re in trouble when the truth sounds weirder than fiction. You also know you’re in trouble when you stand around talking out loud to yourself, especially when you have an audience.”
My audience was apparently not appreciative of the fact that I had arrived in their city. A group of four guys in really ugly shirts lounging around outside what looked like a tobacco shop yelled cat calls across the street at me. The people walking around me gave me really unpleasant looks; even the women scowled as they tromped around me. Lost, alone, and without a good excuse for missing my contact at the airport, I turned to the left and tried to look innocent and not at all like a she-cat on the prowl for some lusty, busty action, praying all the while that I was heading in the direction of the Luxor hotel.
“Moomkin almiss bizazeek?” The sneering voice, accompanied by a tug on my bag had me spinning around, clutching the duffel bag tightly in case some of the street kids were thinking of doing a five-fingered rocket job on me. It wasn’t the kids, though…it was the guys from the cigarette shop.
They were all pretty young, all but one in thin cotton shirts that looked like they were made out of the same material as my grandmother’s kitchen curtains, and tight black pants. The guys weren’t even cute, and if I have one rule in life, it’s that the very least a guy who is going to hit on me can do is to be droolworthy. These guys weren’t even remotely cute. They did, however, smell like they’d taken a bath in cheap men’s cologne.
One of them, the one closest, teased his fingers through the wispy little bits of a beard that clung to his chin like snot on a doorknob. He said something to else to me. I stuck my nose in the air, remembered I wasn’t supposed to make eye contact with men (sheesh! So many rules just to come to one country!) and tried walking away, but Mr. Wimpy Beard had my bag.
“Áram!” I yelled at him, trying desperately to remember the other phrases the Dig Egypt! people had listed in their program guide as useful Arabic. There was something about saying “stop touching me” that was supposed to be useful…oh, yeah. “Sibnee le wadi!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
I guess they weren’t expecting me to yell, because two of the four hissed at me and backed off, but the other two, including Beard Boy, just laughed and tried tugging my bag toward them.
“Illegitimate sons of a donkey,” I snarled, which was Rob’s suggestion of a good insult. They didn’t seem to get that at all, and Mr. Laughy Pants just laughed even harder, jerking me and my bag forward until he had a hand on my wrist.
I looked around for a woman to help me, like both Mrs. Andrews—who had been to Egypt before with the school choir—and the Dig Egypt! people had recommended, but the women who were scurrying by all had bags of groceries, and no one seemed to be inclined to help me.
“OK, I can do this,” I told myself, trying to pull free from the Bearded Wonder. “Áram, áram! This is going to make— áram all ready!— for a really great story. No newspaper will be able to resist buying it. I will probably win the Pulitzaaaaiiiii! take your hand off my arm!”
While I was struggling with the first guy, the second one slipped behind me and copped a back-of-the-arm grope. Which just wigged me out. And he pinched, too. Hard! I jerked my hand and bag away from the Beard Weenie, stomped on the foot of the second, and deciding retreat was obviously called for, threw myself into the dark caverns of the nearest shop, racing around shelves and cases to the back, where I stood panting just a little and sweating a whole lot as I peered down an aisle of dusty sandstone statues toward the entrance.
The two guys stood in the doorway, obviously looking for me. I ducked behind a big fake mummy, and watched as a little bent old man in
a dusty blue caftan pushed aside a bead curtain and scuffed his way out into the shop. Behind him, pausing in the bead doorway, was another guy, a dark figure in a black muscle tee, black jeans, and a long ebony braid that hung down to his shoulder blades. The two touchy-feely guys said something to the old man, but he waved his hands in a shooing motion and must have told them to get lost. They didn’t like that and started coming in to the shop, but the guy in black stepped forward and said something that had them hesitating. After a couple of what I was sure were snarky comments, they left.
I used the sleeve of my tee to wipe the sweat off my forehead, (Don’t make that face; I didn’t have anything else). Dragging my duffel bag by its handles, I carefully made my way down the aisle toward the old man who was waving an ancient black feather duster over some objects on a shelf in a dark corner. The guy in black was up at the front of the store, bent over a case near the doorway.
I’d had enough of the guys in Egypt already, so I kept my voice low when I approached the old man.
“Ahlan wa sah.” The Dig Egypt! lit said it was polite to say hello and goodbye when you entered a shop.
The old man, humming softly to himself, gave a little jump and spun around clutching the feather duster. He squinted at me and raised his hand to his face like he was going to adjust his glasses, then made a tch noise when he realized he wasn’t wearing them.
“Salam alekum,” he responded, which I knew meant ‘peace be with you,’ a polite greeting. I also knew the correct response, thanks to Mrs. Andrews.
“Wa alekum es sala. Um…do you speak English? Inta bititkalim?”
“English, yes, yes, speak English much small, much small.” The old man beamed at me. “Insha'allah, you speak slowly.”
“Whew. No problem. I’m afraid my Arabic is pretty bad, but the Dig Egypt! people say that we should pick it up quick enough once we start hanging around the workers and stuff. My name is Jan, January James. I’m going to be working on an archaeological dig in the Valley of the Servitors. The tombs out near Luxor, you know? Anyhow, I’m here for a month to work on the dig. I’m going to be a journalist, and I thought this whole Egypt thing would give me a lot of things to break into the biz with.”