My ex, Damon (from Shadows Over Sentosa), was born in Sicily and came to Australia when he was very young. When he was in his mid-twenties, his mother wanted him to accompany her to visit the graves of his grandparents and father there. At the time, the idea held no appeal for him, as he was busy preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Egypt. They had a long, heated argument over it, but he would not change his mind.
Damon went on his travels to Egypt, which included sailing down the Nile in a rustic houseboat. This was over thirty years ago, when things were more settled in that part of the world. He toured the Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile, near Luxor, and went to the ancient pyramids at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. The desert sands felt like a surreal landscape to him, as if he was wandering through a dream.
His route eventually took him to Cairo, where he explored the streets dressed in traditional Arab garb, the long white robe or thobe, with the black-and-white cheered headdress called ghutra, bound at the crown by a black iqal cord. He grew a dark beard, blended in with the locals, and was generally not bothered by the hordes of beggars with their hands outstretched for bakshish, or alms.
But he did not quite manage to avoid everyone.
One night, as Damon lay sleeping in the hotel room, he woke up suddenly to find an elderly couple standing beside his bed. He sat up and stared at them, feeling more curious than alarmed to have intruders in the place. Their features looked vaguely familiar for some reason. The man bent over him in a threatening manner, his face dark with anger.
'Rispettare la famglia!' He shot a torrent of rapid-fire Italian at him in a thick Sicilian accent, ordering him to respect the family. Words to that effect.
Damon's first reaction was to refuse. This so angered the old man that he grabbed hold of Damon's right foot, squeezing it hard. The effect was startling and painful.
'Obbedire!' he growled, demanding obedience.
To appease him, Damon hastily agreed. Then, the woman took the place of the man, sitting down at the edge of the bed. He could feel the mattress sag down, the gentle pressure of her lips as she kissed him on the forehead. She promised that he would be rewarded with good fortune for his obedience.
The next moment, it seemed as if strand after strand of necklaces were placed about his neck by invisible hands. He could feel his head bowing down, his shoulders and neck straining to bear the weight.
When he woke again, it was morning. There was no elderly couple, or anything around his neck. His first thought was to dismiss it all as some weird waking dream. But his right ankle was still throbbing from where the old man had grabbed it, and his shoulders ached.
Later that afternoon, as Damon was wandering through a bustling street market in Cairo, he caught sight of something glinting on the ground. There, at his feet was a thick gold bracelet, made to fit a woman's wrist.
He asked the shopkeepers and people around him in the marketplace. To his surprise, no one hurried forward to claim it, or snatch it from his hands. No one had heard of a missing bracelet, nor did they seem at all bothered. The only one who showed any interest was the man from the nearby gold shop, who eventually talked Damon into trading the bracelet for a few gold pendants for his mother and sisters.
Damon and I met the following week, during a stopover in Singapore, on his way back to Australia. He told me of his strange experience in Egypt and gave me one of the pendants. A small head bust of Queen Nefertiti in 18-carat yellow gold.
I have no idea if Damon ever went back to Sicily with his mother. We have parted ways for many years now, but I still have that piece of 'ghost gold'.