Book Excerpt: The Expected One

"It's gorgeous," Maureen replied, picking up a silver pendant. Prisms of color darted through the shop as she held the jewelry up to the light, illuminating her writer's imagination. "I wonder what story this glass could tell?" "Who knows what it once was?" Mahmoud shrugged. "A perfume bottle? A spice jar? A vase for roses or lilies?" "It's amazing to think that two thousand years ago this was an everyday object in someone's home. Fascinating." Giving the shop and its contents closer inspection, Maureen was struck by the quality of the items and the beauty of the displays. She reached out to run a finger lightly over a ceramic oil lamp. "Is this really two thousand years old?" "Of course. Some of my items are older still."

Maureen shook her head. "Don't antiquities like this belong in a museum?"

Mahmoud laughed, a rich and hearty sound. "My dear, all of Jerusalem is a museum. You cannot dig in your garden without unearthing something of great antiquity. Most of the truly valuable go into important collections. But not everything."

Maureen moved to a glass case, filled with ancient jewelry of hammered, oxidized copper. She stopped, her attention grabbed by a ring that supported a disc the size of a small coin. Following her gaze, Mahmoud removed the ring from the case, holding it out to her. A sunbeam from the front window caught the ring, illuminating its round base and showing off a pattern of nine hammered dots surrounding a central circle.

"Very interesting choice," Mahmoud said. His jovial manner had changed. He was now intense and serious, watching Maureen closely as she questioned him about the ring.

"How old is this?"

"It's hard to say. My experts said it was Byzantine, probably sixth or seventh century, but possibly older." Maureen looked closely at the pattern made by the circles.

"This pattern seems ... familiar. I feel like I've seen it before. Do you know if it symbolizes anything?" Mahmoud's intensity relaxed. "I cannot say for certain what an artisan meant to create fifteen hundred years ago. But I have been told that it was the ring of a cosmologist." "A cosmologist?" "Someone who understands the relation between the earth and the cosmos. As above, so below. And I must say that the first time I saw it, it reminded me of the planets, dancing around the sun."

Maureen counted the dots aloud. "Seven, eight, nine. But they wouldn't have known there were nine planets back then, or that the sun was the center of the solar system. It couldn't be that, could it?"

"We cannot assume to know what the ancients understood." Mahmoud shrugged. "Try it on."

Maureen, suddenly sensing a sales pitch, handed the ring back to Mahmoud. "Oh, no, thank you. It's really beautiful, but I was just curious. And I promised myself I wouldn't spend money today."

"That's fine," said Mahmoud, pointedly refusing to take the ring from her. "Because it's not for sale anyway." "It's not?"

"No. Many people have offered to buy that ring. I refuse to sell it. So you may feel free to try it on. Just for fun."

Maybe it was because the playfulness had returned to his tone and she felt less pressured, or maybe it was the attraction of the unexplained, ancient pattern. But something caused Maureen to slip the copper disc onto her right ring finger. It fit perfectly.

Mahmoud nodded, serious again, almost whispering to himself, "As if it had been made for you."

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