I saw the Great Pyramid and got thirsty.
Maybe it was all the sand. So dry and yellow, it seemed to stretch on forever. It even made the sky look dry.
I poked my mom in the side. "Mom, I'm really thirsty."
"Not now," she said. She had one hand up on her forehead, shielding her eyes from the bright sun as she stared up at the enormous pyramid.
What does "not now" mean? I was thirsty. Now!
Someone bumped me from behind and apologized in a foreign language. I never dreamed when I saw the Great Pyramid there'd be so many other tourists. I guess half the people in the world decided to spend their Christmas vacation in Egypt this year.
"But, Mom — " I said. I didn't mean to whine. It was just that my throat was so dry. "I'm really thirsty."
"We won't get you a drink now," she answered, staring at the pyramid.
"Stop acting like you're four. You're twelve, remember?"
"Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too," I muttered. "All this sand in the air, it's making me gag."
"Look at the pyramid," she said, sounding a little irritated. "That's why we came here. We didn't come here to get a drink."
"But I'm choking!" I cried, gasping and holding my throat.
Okay, so I wasn't choking. I exaggerated a little, just trying to get her attention. But she pulled the brim of her straw hat down and continued to stare up at the pyramid, which shimmered in the heat.
I decided to try my dad. As usual, he was studying the handful of guidebooks he always carried everywhere. I don't think he'd even looked at the pyramid yet. He always misses everything because he always has his nose buried in a guidebook.
"Dad, I'm really thirsty," I said, whispering as if my throat were strained to get my message across.
"Wow. Do you know how wide the pyramid is?" he asked, staring at a picture of the pyramid in his book.
"I'm thirsty, Dad."
"It's thirteen acres wide, Gabe," he said, really excited. "Do you know what it's made of?"
I wanted to say Silly Putty.
He's always testing me. Whenever we go on a trip, he always asks me a million questions like that. I don't think I've ever answered one right.
"Some kind of stone?" I answered.
"That's right." He smiled at me, then turned back to his book. "It's made of limestone. Limestone blocks. It says here that some of the blocks weigh up to a thousand tons."
"Whoa," I said. "That's more than you and Mom put together!"
He turned his eyes from the book and frowned at me. "Not funny, Gabe."
"Just kidding," I said. Dad's a little sensitive about his weight, so I try to tease him about it as often as I can.
"How do you think the ancient Egyptians moved stones that weighed a thousand tons?" he asked.
Quiz time wasn't over.
I took a guess. "In trucks?"
He laughed. "Trucks? They didn't have the wheel."
I shielded my eyes and stared up at the pyramid. It was really huge, much bigger than it looks in pictures. And much dryer.
I couldn't imagine how they pulled those big stones across the sand without wheels. "I don't know," I confessed. "I'm really thirsty."
"No one knows how they did it," Dad said.
So it was a trick question.
"Dad, I really need a drink."
"Not now," he said. He squinted at the pyramid. "Gives you a funny feeling, doesn't it?"
"It gives me a thirsty feeling," I said, trying to get my point across.
"No. I mean, it gives me a funny feeling to think that our ancestors —
yours and mine, Gabe — may have walked around these pyramids, or even helped to build them. It gives me kind of a chill. How about you?"
"I guess," I told him. He was right. It was kind of exciting.
We're Egyptian, you see. I mean, both sets of my grandparents came from Egypt. They moved to the United States around 1930. My mom and dad were both born in Michigan. We were all very excited to see the country our ancestors came from.
"I wonder if your uncle Ben is down inside that pyramid right now," Dad said, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand.
Uncle Ben Hassad. I had nearly forgotten about my uncle, the famous archaeologist. Uncle Ben was another one of the reasons we had decided to come to Egypt over the holidays. That and the fact that my mom and dad had some business to do in Cairo and Alexandria and some other places.
Mom and Dad have their own business. They sell refrigeration equipment.
It usually isn't very exciting. But sometimes they travel to neat places, like Egypt, and I get to go with them.
I turned my eyes to the pyramids and thought about my uncle.
Uncle Ben and his workers were digging around in the Great Pyramid, exploring and discovering new mummies, I guess. He had always been fascinated by our ancestors' homeland. He had lived in Egypt for many years. Uncle Ben was an expert on pyramids and mummies. I even saw his picture once in National Geographic.
"When are we going to see Uncle Ben?" I asked, tugging Dad's arm. I accidentally tugged too hard, and the guidebooks fell out of his hands.
I helped him pick them up.
"Not today," Dad said, making a face. He didn't like to bend over to pick up things. His stomach got in the way. "Ben's going to meet us in Cairo in a few days."
"Why don't we go up to the pyramid and see if he's there now?" I asked impatiently.
"We're not allowed," Dad replied.
"Look — camels!" Mom poked me on the shoulder and pointed.
Sure enough, some people had arrived on camels. One of the camels seemed to be having a coughing fit. I guess he was thirsty, too. The people riding the camels were tourists and they looked very uncomfortable. They didn't seem to know what to do next.
"Do you know how to get down from a camel?" I asked my dad.
He was squinting at the pyramid, studying the top of it. "No. How?"
"You don't get down from a camel," I said. "You get down from a duck."
I know. I know. It's a very old joke. But my dad and I never get tired of it.
"Do you see the camels?" Mom asked.
"I'm not blind," I replied. Being thirsty always puts me in a bad mood.
Besides, what was so exciting about camels? They were really gross-looking, and they smelled like my gym socks after a basketball game.
"What's your problem?" Mom asked, fiddling with her straw hat.
"I told you," I said, not meaning to sound so angry. "I'm thirsty."
"Gabe, really." She glanced at Dad, then went back to staring at the pyramid.
"Dad, do you think Uncle Ben can take us inside the pyramid?" I asked enthusiastically. "That would really be outstanding."
"No, I don't think so," he said. He tucked his guidebooks into his armpit so he could raise his binoculars to his eyes. "I really don't think so, Gabe. I don't think it's allowed."
I couldn't hide my disappointment. I had all these fantasies about going down into the pyramid with my uncle, discovering mummies and ancient treasures. Fighting off ancient Egyptians who had come back to life to defend their sacred tomb, and escaping after a wild chase, just like Indiana Jones.
"I'm afraid you'll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,"
Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
"I've already appreciated it," I told him glumly. "Can we go get a drink now?"
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it — probably forever.
We drove from al-Jizah back to Cairo in the funny little rental car Dad had picked up at the airport. It wasn't a long drive, but it seemed long to me. The car was just a little bit bigger than some of my old remote-control cars, and my head hit the ceiling with every bump.
I'd brought my Game Boy with me, but Mom made me put it away so that I could watch the Nile as the road followed along its bank. It was very wide and very brown.
"No one else in your class is seeing the Nile this Christmas," Mom said, the hot wind blowing her brown hair through the open car window.
"Can I play with my Game Boy now?" I asked.
I mean, when you get right down to it, a river is a river.
An hour or so later, we were back in Cairo with its narrow, crowded streets. Dad made a wrong turn and drove us into some kind of market, and we were trapped in a little alley behind a herd of goats for nearly half an hour.
I didn't get a drink till we got back to the hotel, and by that time, my tongue was the size of a salami and hanging down to the floor just like Elvis's. He's our cocker spaniel back home.
I'll say one nice thing about Egypt. The Coke tastes just as good as the Coke back home. It's the Classic Coke, too, not the other kind. And they give you plenty of ice, which I like to crunch with my teeth.
We had a suite at the hotel, two bedrooms and a sort of living room. If you looked out the window, you could see a tall, glass skyscraper across the street, just like you'd see in any city.
There was a TV in the living room, but everyone spoke Arabic on it. The shows didn't look too interesting, anyway. Mainly a lot of news. The only channel in English was CNN. But that was news, too.
We had just started to talk about where to go for dinner when the phone rang. Dad went into the bedroom to answer it. A few minutes later he called Mom in, and I could hear the two of them discussing something.
They were talking very quietly, so I figured it had something to do with me and they didn't want me to hear it.
As usual, I was right.
They both came out of the bedroom a few minutes later, looking kind of worried. My first thought was that my grandmother had called to say that something bad had happened to Elvis back home.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Who called?"
"Your dad and I have to go to Alexandria. Right away," Mom said, sitting down beside me on the couch.
"Huh? Alexandria?" We weren't supposed to go there until the end of the week.
"Business," Dad said. "An important customer wants to meet with us first thing tomorrow morning."
"We have to take a plane that leaves in an hour," Mom said.
"But I don't wand to," I told them, jumping up from the couch. "I want to stay in Cairo and see Uncle Ben. I want to go to the pyramids with him.
We argued about it for a short while. They tried to convince me there were a lot of cool things to see in Alexandria, but I held my ground.
Finally, Mom had an idea. She went into the bedroom, and I heard her making a phone call to someone. A few minutes later, she came back with a smile on her face. "I talked to Uncle Ben,"she announced.
"Wow! Do they have phones in the pyramid?" I asked.
"No. I talked to him at the small lodge he's staying at in al-Jizah," she replied. "He said he'd come and take care of you, if you want. While your dad and I are in Alexandria."
"Yeah?" This was starting to sound outstanding. Uncle Ben is one of the coolest guys I've ever known. Sometimes I couldn't believe he was Mom's brother.
"It's your choice, Gabe," she said, glancing at my dad. "You can come with us, or you can stay with Ben till we get back."
I didn't have to think about it for more than one-eighteenth of a second.
"I'll stay with Uncle Ben!" I declared.
"One other thing," Mom said, grinning for some reason. "You might want to think about this.
"I don't care what it is," I insisted. "I choose Uncle Ben."
"Sari is also on Christmas vacation," Mom said. "And she's staying with him, too."
"Barf!" I cried, and I flung myself down on the couch and began pounding the cushions with both fists.
Sari is Uncle Ben's stuck-up daughter. My only cousin. She's the same age as me — twelve — and she thinks she's so great. She goes to boarding school in the United States while her dad works in Egypt.
She's really pretty, and she knows it. And site's smart. And the last time I saw her, she was an inch taller than me.
That was last Christmas, I guess. She thought she was really hot stuff because she could get to the last level of Super Mario Land. But it wasn't fair because I don't have Super Nintendo, only regular Nintendo.
So I never get to practice.
I think that's what she liked about me best, that she could beat me at games and things. Sari is the most competitive person I know. She has to be first and best at everything. If everyone around is catching the flu, she has to be the first one to catch it!
"Stop pounding the couch like that," Mom said. She grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet.
"Does that mean you changed your mind? You're coming with us?" Dad asked.
I thought about it. "No. I'll stay here with Uncle Ben," I decided.
"And you won't fight with Sari?" Mom asked.
"She fights with me," I said.
"Your mom and I have got to hurry," Dad said.
They disappeared into the bedroom to pack. I turned on the TV and watched some kind of game show in Arabic. The contestants kept laughing a lot. I couldn't figure out why. I hardly know a word of Arabic.
After a while, Mom and Dad came out again, dragging suitcases. "Well never get to the airport in time," Dad said.
"I talked to Ben," Mom told me, brushing her hair with her hand. "He'll be here in an hour, hour and a half. Gabe, you don't mind staying alone here for just an hour, do you?"
Not much of an answer, I'll admit. But her question caught me by surprise.
I mean, it never occurred to me that my own parents would leave me all alone in a big hotel in a strange city where I didn't even know the language. I mean, how could they do that to me?
"No problem," I said. "I'll be fine. I'll just watch TV till he comes."
"Ben's on his way already," Mom said. "He and Sari will be here in no time. And I phoned down to the hotel manager. He said he'd have someone look in on you from time to time."
"Where's the bellhop?" Dad asked, nervously pacing to the door and back.
"I called down there ten minutes ago."
"Just stay here and wait for Ben, okay?" Mom said to me, walking up behind the couch, leaning over, and squeezing my ears. For some reason, she thinks I like that. "Don't go out or anything. Just wait right here for him." She bent down and kissed me on the forehead.
"I won't move," I promised. "I'll stay right here on the couch. I won't go to the bathroom or anything."
"Can't you ever be serious?" Mom asked, shaking her head.
There was a loud knock on the door. The bellhop, a bent-over old man who didn't look as if he could pick up a feather pillow, had arrived to take the bags.
Mom and Dad, looking very worried, gave me hugs and more final instructions, and told me once again to stay in the room. The door closed behind them, and it was suddenly very quiet.
I turned up the TV just to make it a little noisier. The game show had gone off, and now a man in a white suit was reading the news in Arabic.
"I'm not scared," I said aloud. But I had kind of a tight feeling in my throat.
I walked to the window and looked out. The sun was nearly down. The shadow of the skyscraper slanted over the street and onto the hotel.
I picked up my Coke glass and took a sip. It was watery and flat. My stomach growled. I suddenly realized that I was hungry.
Room service, I thought.
Then I decided I'd better not.
What if i called and they only spoke Arabic?
I glanced at the clock. Seven-twenty. I wished Uncle Ben would arrive.
I wasn't scared. I just wished he'd arrive.
Okay. Maybe I was a little nervous.
I paced back and forth for a bit. I tried playing Tetris on the Game Boy, but I couldn't concentrate, and the light wasn't very good.
Sari is probably a champ at Tetris, I thought bitterly. Where were they?
What was taking so long?
I began to have horrible, frightening thoughts: What if they can't find the hotel? What if they get mixed up and go to the wrong hotel?
What if they're in a terrible car crash and die? And I'm all by myself in Cairo for days and days?
I know.They were dumb thoughts. But they're the kind of thoughts you have when you're alone in a strange place, waiting for someone to come.
I glanced down and realized I had taken the mummy hand out of my jeans pocket.
It was small, the size of a child's hand. A little hand wrapped in papery brown gauze. I had bought it at a garage sale a few years ago, and I always carried it around as a good luck charm.
The kid who sold it to me called it a "Summoner." He said it was used to summon evil spirits, or something. I didn't care about that. I just thought it was an outstanding bargain for two dollars. I mean, what a great thing to find at a garage sale! And maybe it was even real.
I tossed it from hand to hand as I paced the length of the living room.
The TV was starting to make me nervous, so I clicked it off.
But now the quiet was making me nervous.
I slapped the mummy hand against my palm and kept pacing.
Where were they? They should've been here by now.
I was beginning to think that I'd made the wrong choice. Maybe I should've gone to Alexandria with Mom and Dad.
Then I heard a noise at the door. Footsteps.
Was it them?
I stopped in the middle of the living room and listened, staring past the narrow front hallway to the door.
The light was dim in the hallway, but I saw the doorknob turn.
That's strange, I thought. Uncle Ben would knock first — wouldn't he?
The doorknob turned. The door started to creak open.
"Hey " I called out, but the word choked in my throat.
Uncle Ben would knock. He wouldn't just barge in.
Slowly, slowly, the door squeaked open as I stared, frozen in the middle of the room, unable to call out.
Standing in the doorway was a tall, shadowy figure.
I gasped as the figure lurched into the room, and I saw it clearly. Even in the dim light, I could see what it was.
To be Continued......
Author Notes: Stay out for part 2......