Authors: Rima Jean
This day just keeps getting better.
The guys were laughing about something, but they lowered their voices as they came to a stop behind her. She knew it was silly, but she felt like they were staring at the back of her head, their eyes boring holes in her scalp. It's not all about you,
Marya. Get over yourself. She was sure those guys were jerks to everyone. She'd just made herself an easy target.
Marya Helwe." It was said as a statement, not a question. She could do nothing but turn around. The guy in the red bandana stood between his two friends, his hands tucked casually in the pockets of his baggy jeans. He stared right at her with eyes that caught her off guard -- a dark, almost opaque green, glittering with amusement.
"What?" she stammered. Something inside her cringed -- she wasn't ready for this, whatever was about to happen. She despe
rately needed sleep. But those striking green eyes told her that, ready or not, here came a challenge. Another challenge.
"This place has been on pause, waiting for you to get here," he said, drawing out his words. "And now you're here, so we can f
inally start digging."
"I didn't tell anyone to wait for me," she said crankily, avoiding his gaze. "Is that why you're being so rude to me?"
He looked surprised. His dark eyebrows rose, and he tilted his head coyly. "Rude? This is the first time we've ever spoken."
Marya hesitated. What could she say? You made fun of me? What, were they in third grade? He watched her, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Marya shrugged and turned back around, seething. She would handle him after she'd had eight hours of sleep. She'd let him win this battle.
"Luke," one of the other guys said to him, changing the subject. Luke, is it? She didn't like having her back to him. When she'd finally gone through the line and was able to catch glimpses of him secretly, she decided he looked like a thug, with his bandana and five o'clock shadow.
His dark brown hair that badly needed a cut, the ends curling around his jaw and the back of his neck. His stretched black t-shirt with bleach stains. His shapeless jeans that barely clung to his hips. His big black military boots.
A hoodlum, her father would say, his thick accent making her smile.
"Oh my God," Amy said, flopping down next to her at the empty table. "I've totally missed my chance to get dinner. I just got so caught up in talking to Connie..."
Marya said, pushing her plate towards Amy. "You can eat mine. I'm not hungry."
"No!" Amy cried, aghast. "You have to eat. What if we share?"
"Honestly," Marya groaned, "I just want to go to sleep. I'm dying."
"You can't go to sleep yet," Amy said through a mouthful of chicken. "We have that meeting after dinner. Attendance required."
When would she stop feeling completely out of the loop? "Required meeting. Great. That'll be fun."
"Well, we start digging tomorrow bright and early, so Margot needs to lay down the ground rules," Amy said cheerfully, tearing a piece of flat bread in half. "You should taste the hummus, it's really good. The chef, Farris, makes an awesome hummus."
Marya grunted, putting her head down on the table. The hummus couldn't be as good as her mother's. She'd survive without it. She looked up suddenly and asked, "Does Farris brew a mean pot of coffee as well?"
With her second mug of coffee wrapped tightly in her hands, she followed Amy to the library after dinner, where the meeting was to take place. As she walked in, Felicity wagged her finger. "Absolutely no food or drinks in the library."
Will this day just end already? Marya tossed back the hot, bitter liquid, draining as much of the cup as she could. She hurried back to the kitchen, deposited the mug in the sink, and jogged to the library, where the meeting had already begun. Amy waved to her from the very front, pointing to an empty seat beside her. Marya would have been perfectly happy sitting all the way in the back with her eyes half-closed, but she couldn't turn Amy's offer down in front of the entire team.
Ducharme stood at the front of the room, behind a display table that was covered with historical literature and pieces of artifacts. She acknowledged Marya's late entrance with an icy look. "As I was saying, Tell Zeynoub is the site of an Iron Age Moabite and, later, Nabataean village, dating back to 800 BC. Of course, you have all read the literature I assigned."
There was a general murmur of assent.
Ducharme seemed satisfied. "Good. Now before I show the slides of the site and summarize our findings thus far, I would like to get the technicalities out of the way." A schedule was passed around, and Marya blinked away the fatigue to read it. Ducharme continued, "You must remember that excavating is hard physical labor. Breakfast is at 4:30 am sharp. At 5 am, the bus will take us to the Tell in the highland plains. The ride will last about 25 minutes. We will spend six hours in the field every day. We will break for a quick snack at nine, and then get back to work until noon. Pottery washing and reading, processing of objects, lithics, bones and other samples take place daily, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30, and you must attend, no exceptions. Is everyone clear?"
Again, there was a soft murmur from the participants.
Ducharme nodded. "Now I will assign teams. Each team will have a supervisor, and the supervisors are Liz, Stafford, Edward, Connie, and Aaron."
began assigning students to each supervisor, and Marya waited to hear her name with bated breath. She silently prayed that she not be assigned to Liz. "And finally," Ducharme said with a smile, "Edward and Marya, our two Americans, will be the final team, and they will be working at the Iron Age Gate."
heard a book slam. She tried to look around furtively to see who this Edward guy was, the other American and Ducharme's "pet," as Amy had called him. Instead, she met the green eyes of the hoodlum Luke, who shot her a crooked smile and winked. Behind him, Liz looked flushed and... angry. Marya quickly shifted back around in her seat. I'm confused and... tired.
The slideshow dragged on for what felt like a century. While the subject matter would have been interesting to
Marya under different circumstances, she could think of nothing but her bed for the entire hour. When it finally ended, she nearly flipped her chair over in her attempt to escape the library.
Marya," Amy said from behind her, "do you want to hang out on the patio with the rest of the clan? We're going to chill for a bit before hitting the sack."
"No, thanks, Amy,"
Marya answered, her words slurred. "I'm dead on my feet."
Amy smiled sympathetically. "Alright. I won't make any noise coming in. And I'll set our alarm for 3:30."
Marya stumbled back to the hostel and kicked off her shoes before falling into the small, hard bed. Everything will make sense tomorrow, she reassured herself.
At 3:30 in the morning.
The new girl's not here.
It was the first thought that occurred to Luke when he arrived on the patio, his waterpipe in hand. The moment he crossed the sliding doors, his eyes scanned around for her. Was that disappointment he felt? He frowned. Maybe a little.
Kneeling on the concrete, he began putting together his hoo
kah. He really wanted a cigarette, but Liz had been harassing him to quit every summer for years now, so waterpipes were a decent alternative. Plus, smoking the hookahs was a social activity, and a way for the supervisors to get to know the new volunteers. The volunteer he really wanted to get to know, however, wasn't here.
He sprinkled the strawberry-scented tobacco in the clay bowl,
then covered it with foil. He fitted the bowl to the hookah stem, poked holes in the foil, and lit the coals with his lighter. He took a deep drag on the hose as the door opened and Liz stepped out, smiling at him.
She beckoned to the new volunteers, asking them to join them at the hookah. Liz was a pro at this -- she'd been coming to Jordan with Dr.
Ducharme for many years now, since her freshman year in college. She helped pull chairs up around the waterpipe, introducing herself to the new, timid faces.
"I've brought individual mouthpieces, she we don't share germs," she told them with a laugh, tossing her auburn dreads over her shoulder.
Tentatively, they passed the hose around, Liz talking animatedly to each new volunteer in turn. Luke was content to simply watch and listen; the truth was, these people didn't interest him much. Archaeologist, in general, was a boring lot. Introverts, most of them, and he was no exception. Liz leaned into him as she talked, occasionally touching his arm. He wasn't stupid -- he knew what she was doing.
Marking her territory.
It made him want to smile. Liz wasn't his girlfriend, but he enjoyed their summer dalliances. He didn't really mind that she "claimed" him each summer, ensuring that any wide-eyed coeds stayed away from him. Unfortunately for Liz, Marya wasn't here tonight to see the show. Oh, he knew Liz was threatened by the new girl -- a petite, dark-haired, golden-skinned Syrian-American girl with enormous black eyes. Just my type. And she was feisty, too. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning every time he thought about how she'd dealt with crabby old Ducharme.
Talk faded; people began to wander off to bed. Luke sprinkled more tobacco into the pipe, lit some fresh coals. Liz curled up in her chair and rested her head on his shoulder.
"When do you meet with them?" she asked him softly.
He let the smoke coil from his lips before answering. "Tomo
rrow night." His gut tightened with anxiety at the thought. Not now. Don't think about that now.
She didn't say anything for a long moment. Then, "You set that whole thing up, didn't you?"
"What whole thing?"
She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him. "You asked
Ducharme to be that new chick's field supervisor."
He could hear the hard edge to her voice, the jealousy. "So what?" he asked nonchalantly. "Come on, Liz. You know nothing will happen."
"But you're attracted to her," she demanded, a tremor in her voice.
Luke chuckled. "Whatever. She's cute. She's a kid." He passed the hose to her and met her eyes with casual indifference. "She reminds me of people from my past. That's all."
Liz didn't say much after that, but she indicated she'd forgiven him when she began playing with his hair. The sensation of her fingers rubbing his scalp made him drowsy and aroused him, just a little. She knew this. With her breath hot on his ear, she asked, "Can I visit you tonight?"
"Yeah," he said, sitting up. He put out the coals and took the
waterpipe apart. Liz had already gone back to her room by the time he walked off the patio. He strolled by the women's hostel on the way to his room, and he glanced at the open windows, ugly curtains fluttering in the breeze. Marya Helwe was probably fast asleep. Which room was hers, he wondered?
Not that it mattered.
An earsplitting buzz
jarred Marya awake.
She sat up in the dark, completely disoriented.
Where am I?
She stared bleary-eyed at the flashing red lights on the clock, at the groaning mound of blanket that stirred across the room. The curtain over the window fluttered with a dry breeze, and outside a car horn honked in the distance.
Amman, Jordan. ACMER.
She rubbed her eyes. Today was the day everything would make sense.
Throwing on her "dig" clothes -- t-shirt, loose cotton pants, thick-soled boots, and an Outback safari hat looped around her neck -- she wandered out of the room towards the bathroom. Liz came out, looking bright-eyed and ready for the day. She gave
Marya what might have been meant as a smile, but came across as more of a sneer. "Ready to work today?" she said as she breezed past.
Marya managed to say before locking herself in the hot bathroom.
Breakfast was a quiet affair, as the team members shuffled around holding plates of eggs and cups of coffee. Amy wasn't talkative this
morning, sleepily scooping hash browns into her mouth. Eating breakfast was required, Marya had been informed, since the heat and physical labor would be too much for someone with an empty stomach. She wasn't much of a breakfast person, but she choked down the eggs and toast before settling back with her mug. Just as she took her first sip of coffee, an abrasive honk from outside shattered the early morning peace.
"Here we go," Amy sighed, shoving her plate aside and standing up.
The sky was still dark as they climbed into the battered old bus, one at a time. Amy took a window seat in the front, and Marya sat beside her. Across the aisle, Luke leaned against the window and propped up his boots, pulling a tattered baseball cap low over his eyes. Marya made a concerted effort not to look at him.
As they roared through Amman and into the countryside,
Marya couldn't drag her eyes from the window. The excitement of being in Jordan and on an archaeological dig returned to her in a rush, and butterflies beat madly in her stomach. Amy fell back asleep, snoring gently. Marya looked around the bus to see that most of the team was snoozing, save for Dr. Ducharme, who was reading something, and Luke -- who was watching Marya from under the brim of his hat. When their eyes met, he gave her a small, curious smile. She looked away quickly.
In the twilight, the fields were washed in violet light, pale and dry. The hills in the distance were barren, dotted with small shrubs and rocks. The further out they drove, the less there was to see. It amazed
Marya that people could live out here. When the scenery had gotten as bleak as possible, the bus came to a stop. Her teammates stirred from their naps as she peered from the window in awe. They were in the middle of nowhere.
One by one, they descended from the bus into the cool morning air. As the sun peeked over the horizon, the sky glowed soft orange. Before them loomed Tell
Zeynoub, the hill's unusual shape hinting at the treasures within it. The supervisors gathered at a green tent pitched at the base of the tell, receiving their instructions from Ducharme.
"Good luck," Amy said, patting
Marya on the arm. "I'll see you when we break."
opened her mouth to ask Amy who Edward Marshall was, when Luke sauntered over and handed her a shovel. "So, we each get a shovel," he said. "Shocking, I know. I've been digging at the gate two years in a row, and have yet to find a damn thing."
Marya said, her brow furrowed. "What are you doing? Where's Edward Marshall?"
His green eyes, bright in the light of the rising sun, crinkled at the corners. "You're looking at him."
"But I thought --" Marya stammered. "Isn't your name Luke?"
He lifted the shovel to his shoulder. "Edward Lucas Marshall. I go by Luke these days. Some people -- such as Professor
Ducharme and my father -- insist on calling me Edward." He smiled. "Now that we've cleared that up, shall we get to work?"
followed Edward Lucas Marshall up the steep incline of the tell, panting when she reached the top. Below, the excavation was carefully sectioned off. Within each section, two or three team members clustered together, digging, sifting, sweeping. He pointed to each section in turn. "The Moabite town is made up of four main parts: residential, industrial, religious, and the six-chambered gate." The gate was at the very tip of the tell, and as they jumped into the pit, Marya noted that, of all the sections, they had the best view of the valley.
Following Luke's lead, she began to dig. She'd read the excavation manual and knew all the procedures, but this was still her first time. The dry earth crumbled beneath her shovel, revealing stone beneath. When her shovel clanged against the rocks, Luke said, "As soon as the Bedo
uin show up, we'll have some extra help. They'll help us break and move the big rocks."
She nodded, stealing a look at him. So the hoodlum Luke was the other American and
Ducharme's protégé? She would have never guessed. "So what's an American doing at a Canadian university?" she asked as she worked.
"I go to NYU. I just dig with the Canadians in the summers," he a
"You're a grad student? In archaeology?"
"More or less," he answered. "Working on a Ph.D."
"So you're what, twenty-five or something?"
Luke straightened, pausing to look at her. He grinned. "Well, aren't we just full of questions this morning? You weren't so interested in conversation yesterday, if I recall."
shrugged, refusing to look at him. "I was jetlagged and cranky yesterday. It wasn't the best day. And I didn't realize I'd be working with you until, well, now."
After a pause, he said, "I'm twenty-seven. And you're twenty-one, entering your senior year at the University of Texas."
Marya let out a laugh. "How do you know that?"
He threw another shovel-full of dirt out of the pit. "I'm a field supe
rvisor. I'm expected to know everything about my minions."
"I'm your minion?"
"You're my minion. For the next six weeks, anyway." He smiled at her, wiggling his eyebrows.
She turned her head so he wouldn't see her smile.
He had a certain charm about him, she had to admit. She knew guys like Luke. His features were too rugged to be handsome, but confidence oozed from his gaze, his posture, his swagger, his voice. Girls fell for guys like Luke all the time. Girls who weren't Marya.
They conversed casually as they worked, the sun rising in the sky and bearing down on them. A whistle sounded and Luke stretched, co
ming out of his crouch. "Break time."
They slid down the side of the tell to the tent, where an ice chest was opened and small Arabic pastries, filled with meat, potatoes and spi
nach, were passed around. They sat on the ground and ate as Ducharme listed the chores to be done before they headed back to ACMER for the day.
Amy flopped on the ground next to
Marya, her face smudged with dirt. "I'm starving," she proclaimed, shoving a pastry into her mouth. Between mouthfuls, she asked, "So how did it go with Edward Marshall?"
stole a look around to make sure he wasn't sitting nearby. He sat at the farthest point from her, on a flat stone, beside Liz. Marya answered quietly, "He goes by Luke. And it was fine."
"I heard he can be tough on the volunteers," Amy said, taking a swig of water from her bottle.
"Really? He seems nice enough," Marya said, glancing pensively over at him again. She kept her head down so that her eyes were shaded beneath the brim of her hat. Liz was sitting very close to him, touching his thigh with her hand.
She would have to ask Amy about that... later.
She had just swallowed her last bite of food when it was time to climb back up
the tell and get back to work. The sun was hot by now; Marya could feel the sweat and dirt and sand sticking to her skin. They dug in silence, except for the occasional instruction from Luke.
The time passed in a blur of heat and dirt, and when the whistle sounded, indicating cleanup time,
Marya swore she had dirt in every pore. When she said as much to Luke, he laughed, swiping at the sweat on his face with his forearm. "Wait until the six weeks are up. You'll have Jordanian dirt coming out of your snot for weeks."
They closed down the fieldwork and climbed back on to the bus, a cloud of dust hovering around them. The ride back was more animated, and the volunteers talked about their work and laughed with each other. Amy talked the whole way back, but
Marya couldn't help but notice that Luke sat in the back this time, next to Liz.
The bus had barely come to a stop in front of ACMER when the volunteers rushed off, practically running to their hostels. "What's the hurry?"
Marya asked Amy.
"It's all about the food," Amy explained. "First one off the bus gets to shower first, and then gets first dibs on lunch."
Marya folded her arms across her chest. "And what if I don't shower before lunch?"
Amy laughed. "You won't have very many friends, that's for sure."
Marya sighed as she stepped off the bus.
I already don't have many friends.
The lab work began soon after lunch, and
Marya was already beginning to fade. She soaked the pottery shards they'd found that morning in a bucket of murky water, scrubbing them with a brush. She heard a girlish laugh and looked up to see Liz and Luke bent over the same bucket, their hands entwined within. For some inexplicable reason, her gut clenched.
Why do you care, Marya? They're both assholes. They belong together.
She busied herself with recording pottery samples with Amy, sitting at a stone table beneath an arbor of climbing vines. Her concentration broke when she heard the muezzin's Call to Prayer carry on the breeze. She stood and walked to the balcony, closing her eyes and letting the familiarity of it all wash over her, soothe her.
"Are you Muslim?" Amy was at her side, peering curiously at her.
Marya answered. "I mean, my parents are, technically. We don't really practice."
"Oh," Amy said. "I guess I thought... Because of the Call to Pra
"It's a cultural thing,"
Marya explained. "A spiritual thing. It's not religious. Not to me." She blinked, noting the pink-streaked sky. "It's sunset already."
Amy groaned. "I know. And I have to go attend Margot's lecture on object registration in a few minutes."
"Skip out," Marya said with a sly grin.
"I can't," Amy answered. "It's for class credit. Margot would string me up if I didn't show."
"That sucks," Marya said, stretching her arms over her head. "So when do we get to explore Amman?"
"On the weekends.
In groups. Margot strongly discourages us from leaving ACMER alone." She looked at Marya sheepishly. "You know, because of this whole 'Arab Spring' thing. Plus, by the time the lecture is over, I'll be ready to hit the sack."
stared out over Amman, her fingernails scraping against the low stone wall. She wouldn't be able to explore the city until the weekend? Damn. She suddenly wished she had gotten Ash's phone number.
As the work of the day ended, some volunteers went to the library to write reports or research, while others, like Amy, went to
Ducharme's lecture. Marya found herself ambling around ACMER, wondering what to do with herself.
Helwe." Luke smiled as he walked by, holding a tall hookah in his hands. "Some of us are going to smoke shisha on the patio, if you're interested."
"Oh, okay," she said uncomfortably. Feeling stupid, she followed him to the patio, where the remaining team members sat in a circle, bathed in the twilight. Two hookahs already bubbled in the center, and the smell of roses filled the night air. Liz sat barefoot and cross-legged beside Luke, her head tossed back, her ivory skin luminescent as she sucked on the mouthpiece of a
recognized the other team members in the circle -- Steven and James, two quiet Canadian undergrads who hung out a lot with Luke; and Amber, the petite blond girl who kept to herself. Steven passed Marya the shisha, and she took a nice, long drag. Waterpipes reminded her of childhood summers in Syria, laughing with her cousins and eating sunflower seeds into the wee hours of morning. Her father and uncles would sit together smoking, drinking tea, and discussing politics. Those were some of her best memories. But things changed when she was thirteen or fourteen, much to her dismay. Suddenly her male relatives became distant, spoke over her rather than to her. She was excluded from their camaraderie and scolded by her female relatives for being too loud, too boyish, to disobedient. It was then that she realized she didn't belong in their world.
The volunteers didn't speak much. Everyone was tired from the long day and buzzed from the shisha, and the sounds of the night relaxed
them. Marya found herself watching Luke smoke, the way his lips curled around the mouthpiece, the way his cheeks puckered as he inhaled. He made perfect circles with the smoke, and wispy Os hovered above his head, ascending into the night. When she met Liz's hard, glittering gaze, she pretended to stare at the mosaic on the wall behind him.