We had packed off our beautiful daughter to Lyon and, suitably sombre, we decamped to the British Museum and made our separate ways. I gravitated to the Egyptian section and was held by the unexpected.
I stared at them for some time, these two skulls. Two of them revealed advanced tooth decay, but then again they were over four thousand years old. They were nut-brown and smooth and my hand itched to stroke them. For a moment they appeared more substantial, more alive than the dim reflected shadows shuffling behind me.
All three were creatures from an alien world, one frozen in artefacts and stone, papyri, symbolic tomb paintings. All three resonated, evoking vivid images of red deserts, dense swathes of reeds beneath dark blue skies, gargantuan pillars, priests caught in their shadow, jackals scrabbling in moonlit tombs. Time drifted by.
Two skulls became five.*
But we had a train to catch and I a full bladder that demanded attention.
One death is a tragedy a million a statistic. It is why charnel houses and ossuaries hold little interest beyond the macabre. All those stories crying out for attention. Too many. But those skulls and their lives stayed with me for the rest of the day and the day after that.
I found myself looking, not at people, but at what lay beneath, their skeletal structure and skulls. Would a skeleton bother to brush his or her teeth? Probably, and with them their fibula and tibia, sternum and pate. None of them would scowl. Skeletons can't.
The Tube rattled as bone clinked on bone, flesh-sweat and flatulence no longer present in my new skeleton kingdom. Neither, too, were beautiful women. They were the first to regain their flesh as my reverie faded. Still, one day we to will be calcified or turned into ash – except for those lucky few who will end up behind glass cases to be scrutinised by idlers from the C66th.
*With gratitude to http://minascience.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/london-calling-british-museum.html
I had no camera that day.