Isis rises with the dawn, a feeling of unease in her stomach. She kneels before the sun until the skylark sings its wakening call and then bathes in a bath of incense and lavender. She recites her spells that she knows by heart but would never divulge except to those in need. Her long, thick jet-black hair, dressed with ointment, moves as one. She dresses in a simple silk wrap, tied at the waist. Her chest is bare, a long gold chain runs from neck to navel.
Isis moves with small footsteps, the skirt restricting her movement. She counts the steps as she enters the temple. She is aware of the daily crowd of people who gather, hoping for her help. It is not easy. There are choices, and some are not always the right one.
She lowers herself onto the stone throne and adjusts her tall headdress. It is heavy and unstable, and sometimes she wishes she could remove it. But that would not please the Gods, especially Horus. She fingers the knot hanging from a leather strap around her waist, seeking comfort. She knows that evil is around and always ready to catch her out.
Isis takes three long breaths and then nods to her chief priestess.
‘Isis, there are many who need your protection.’ The tall, young woman looks like a bird of prey as spans her arm across a sea of bowed heads. ‘Who shall be first?’
She does not hesitate, she always chooses the same position whether it be man, woman or child. Her gaze roams for a second across the room before settling on the fifth person to the right of her.
‘You,’ Isis commands. ‘What is it you require protection from?’
A tiny figure stands up slowly and raises his head. Isis takes a sharp intake of breath as the eyes of the child flash with red and orange. Demons. Not wanting to alarm the child, she beckons him forward, helped by his mother with a gentle push from behind.
‘We will need to retire to the inner chamber,’ she advises the priestess. This is not something she can perform in front of others. As the priestess turns to the crowd and bows low, a slow moan of regret rises from the floor.
‘Come child, do not be frightened.’ Isis takes his hand in hers. It is cold and heavy, like that of someone whose soul had left for another world.
‘What name do you go by?’ she asks as she leads him to her chamber.
‘Jabari.’ The child speaks to the floor.
Isis lifts his chin with a finger.
‘Ah, Jabari, you are brave then, like your name?’
He shakes his head, and Isis sees the opaqueness behind his eyes.
‘Have you been having dreams, Jabari?’
The boy nods and chews at his bottom lip.
‘Dreams that frighten you?’
‘Who have you told?’ Isis indicates to the priestess that she should leave and locks the door behind her. She opens a small rosewood box and whispers into it before moving within a circle of stones and waits.
‘I’ve told my mother a little, but not everything. She thinks I am lying and has brought me here to beg forgiveness.’
‘I know you tell the truth, Jabari. There is an evil presence within you.’ Isis puts her palms together and chants until the boy has fallen under her trance. She steps out of the stone ring and kneels in front of him.
It is difficult; the demon is strong, and the child reaches out clawing at her skin with long dirty fingernails and spits in her face. Isis continues to cast the spell, her voice becoming lower and lower as her powers fight with the evil. Isis knows that if she falters for a second, the demon would win and possess her. Calling on Horus for strength, she battles, closing her hands around the child’s neck as the demon forces her to squeeze. She does not stop, nor open her eyes even when the child whimpers and falls limp into her arms. She feels the chill wind leave, hears the snapping shut of her rosewood box and relaxes her grip.
The boy lies on the ground, his skin the colour of slate. She reaches for a glass phial from her belt and releases the stopper, wafting it under his nose. His hand twitches and he coughs, spluttering like a newborn baby. His eyelids flutter, then open.
Isis sees her smile reflected in the clear brown eyes of Jabari.