Pottery Fragments with Various Inscriptions
Predynastic, Naqada III
Egypt ca. 3100 B.C.

It’s hard to hear the call over the din of the party, and May wanders out of the large temple hall and into a side room full of animal-headed gods. It’s her credit card company. She tells them she doesn’t have time and the voice on the other end tells her it’s important. She owes $80,000 and her account has been suspended. There’s a list of impossible charges. A car in California. Gasoline in Alabama. A spree in Nebraska: four big screen televisions and three shotguns. May paces the small gallery with her phone to one ear and a finger pressed into the other, catching glimpses of her face and her green dress reflected in the glass display cases. Someone has stolen her identity. A suspicious bank transfer to the Bahamas. Big losses on a Russian online gambling site. All of this is explained to her by a calm-voiced woman named Devi. The phone reception’s poor, and May wanders a little deeper into the galleries in search of better service, past mummies and jewelry and painted sarcophagi. Her heels click loudly on the marble floor.

Head reeling with champagne, May starts to vent. “I don’t understand how someone could do this to me. I work for a bank. This year has already been—” She reaches into her small purse and tries to pull out her cigarettes and ends up spilling everything onto the floor: cash and coins, a balled-up tissue, credit and business cards, sunglasses, an ultrasound printout of a ten week fetus, keys, lipstick, a black plastic lighter. Clattering sounds. She curses. She hopes no one comes in on her like this.

Devi makes sad, sympathetic noises as May stuffs items one by one back into her purse. She’s trying to pry a coin from the hard floor when she feels her shoulders start to shudder uncontrollably and notices her throat clenching. She sobs into the phone and suddenly she’s crying and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand in a dimly-lit room full of pottery shards.

“Miss? You’ve been the victim of a crime. You should contact the police. Taking action might make you feel better.”

But May keeps crying. She’s the victim, she knows, but inside her is the sickening guilt that she’s brought this on herself, that whoever has stolen her identity is laying bare a truth that’s always frightened her. Other people are more real: a person couldn’t run off with their lives so easily. They’re solid and stable. But her identity is so easy to steal because there isn’t much to it to begin with: a few friends she doesn’t see enough of, family in different countries, a job that asks her mainly to be a moving statue. She isn’t really herself, she’s fake, like the forged Modigliani.

The sobs subside. She thanks Devi. Slipping her phone back into her purse she catches a glimpse of herself reflected in one of the display cases. Puffy eyelids, mascaraed tears. Eerie, uncertain eyes. No-one can see her like this. She has to clean herself up, find a bathroom. Still sniffling, she walks down a half-dark hallway. More mummies, more jewelry and sarcophagi. The sounds of the party grow fainter, the lights in the hallway dimmer. She turns, turns back, turns again. The glass display cases give off a disorienting sheen. She feels like she’s moving in circles. More animal gods, more jars, more jewelry, more mummies. After what seems like a long time she arrives at a well-lit doorway. It’s closed off by a heavy black rope and a sign saying STAFF ONLY. It would be even better, she thinks, to find a bathroom where no one can see her. She unhooks the black rope and re-hooks it behind her.