The following piece was awarded joint Third Prize in the OU Students Association The Outside World Writing Competition for Freshers Fortnight 2021 (20 Sept – 3 Oct). The author, Ziggy, is living in Torquay, Devon, and is currently studying BSc Maths and its Learning.
Odd, seeing blackberries in Egypt, Alexandria.
There’s definitely a tangled scrub, wedged
Between an exceptionally dead banana stalk
And the last remains, just hanging on, of
What looks like a rubber plant eating itself
Through the sandy pavement. The brambles
Are surprisingly ripe. I would like to eat a few
But can’t reach them unless I hack down
The boughs of the gnarled growth guarding.
I’d have to be a giant slayer for that, though,
Or Sleeping Beauty’s prince incarnate. I’m
Neither. The fruit has taken up residency
In Ras Soda, possibly the roughest place
To live in the city: migrant villagers vying
For space with tuk-tuks, taxis, trains, time.
Tourists? No, they would have no need to go.
The workers now stuck, jobless, trying to
Get back home. ‘You see that?’ Ragab points
To a derelict building site. Someone, recently,
Has tried to erect a shopping mall, but failed.
I see a crater in the ground. ‘Guess what once
Stood there?’ Ragab is an archaeology student,
Born in Ras Soda, made good. “An older mall?”
I crassly say. ‘A temple!’ Ragab oozes. ‘Built
To Isis herself, by Ezadoras. Her charioteer.’
“Here? In this wasteland?” I blurt out. “But apt,”
I add, imagining the Roman racer sparring
With reckless rickshaws and carefree cabbies.
‘She healed his broken leg after he crashed
His chariot,’ Ragab explains. ‘Maybe right
About here!’ Ragab digs the dramatic heel of
His right foot into what seems like a random
Spot on the street. “I’ll google it,” I say. “Later.”
Later, I do. The pantheon was a vital sanctuary.
Four Ionic pillars adorned the threshold - the
Third, a colossal citation to the ancient goddess
Of marriage, motherhood, nature, magic.
Isis is portrayed tall, wrapped in a sarong
Styled dress. She wears the horns of a cow,
And the Sun disk on her head. Isis holds the
Situla – the jar filled with the holiest of water.
The jar is engraved. With blackberries.