The Pharaoh and His Antique Hats

Pharaoh paced back and forth nervously on his cold marble floor. He stopped to peer at himself in the large mirror in the hallway of his huge office. The gold frame sparkled. The face staring back at him did not. He noted dark circles under his eyes, his wrinkles sagged a bit, and the black shoe polish he painted his hair with showed traces of gray. He noted that his dark blue suit still looked perfectly pressed and though his tie was slightly askew, he still looked like a king.

Then he called for his hairdressers three. “Come quickly,” he said. “My hair needs a new coat of paint. And get my face doctor to come and remedy the sags.”

Just the day before, Sue, his ancient Cleopatra, had perched next to his throne made of gold and adorned with rubies and sapphires. Her throne stood regal, also gold, and adorned with diamonds and emeralds. She had stretched out her hand to pat his. Then in a voice between a grumble and a mumble, said, “Make sure you don’t give in to the demands of the muddled masses. I keep telling you to change your hats whenever the people become dissatisfied or hungry. Why didn’t you squash this rebellion the moment it started? Now our dear son Gamal and I have to flee to safety in Paris.”

She stood, wearing her demands like an old cliché. Pharaoh sank his head in his hands, trying to drown out the drone of her voice. One eye shifted upwards towards her face that sternly looked down at him. He noted the embroidered lace lining her collar and sleeves had yellowed, complementing the pale sallow color of her face. He wondered how he, the mighty Pharaoh, ruled the Land of the Pyramids, yet Sue managed to rule him. Not a pretty sight. Not a pretty sight at all.

A chariot of fire bearing the emblem of a golden eagle landed near the grand palace of Pharaoh, and carried off the ancient Cleopatra and her son Gamal and their entourage. Pharaoh remembered how he sighed as he watched the chariot and its occupants disappear into a puff of clouds. Later, after studying himself in the mirror of his office, Pharaoh feasted on quail, roasted lamb, ducklings, and spinach. As he sat munching down his feast, Pharaoh thought of wearing his finest new hat for the day in hopes of pleasing his starving masses. He spoke aloud to no one in particular. “Today I shall wear my new blue hat. I’ll show my people that I am a new man with bold new ideas. Hmmmm, this food is delicious. I must remember to pay my compliments to my new chef. The last one lost his head because he forgot to sauté my vegetables just right.”

Pharaoh’s bodyguards heard the muttering but didn’t seem to understand just what Pharaoh was stuttering. “Do I look nervous,” said he. He swiped his mouth with a purple napkin and then began to wring his hands in hysterical abandon. “I can’t leave the Land of the Pyramids. Not now,” he said. “I’ve been here forever. I’ve stolen the people’s money. I’ve hoarded my riches and deprived the people of their basic needs. I can’t step down from power. It would be demeaning. What fools these are out on the streets, demanding me to leave. Don’t they know that a pharaoh rules forever?”

His hairdressers three appeared just as Pharaoh stumbled back to his office from his dining room. They immediately set to work polishing Pharaoh’s hair, lifting up wrinkles on his fallen face, mending crevices, and stitching up rifts. After some hours of work, Pharaoh looked at himself in his golden hand mirror. “Ah,” he said. “That’s much better. I almost look human again. Where’s my new blue hat for the day? Call the photographers and let them paint a portrait of me in my new hat. Once the protesters see me wearing a new hat, they will bow in allegiance and forget their hunger and empty pockets.”

And so it was. Photographers painted a new portrait of regal Pharaoh wearing his new blue hat and dark blue suit. He looked at his portrait of the day. There smiling, well, almost smiling back at him, was the new Pharaoh. His lips colored red, his cheeks painted orange, his eyelids painted purple. “I make a fine spectacle,” he said to his hairdressers three. “My muddled masses will grovel in the streets and return once more to their poverty and hunger. As long as I wear a new hat, nothing can go wrong. I’m in control.”

The hairdressers three nodded in agreement and mumbled something like, “Of course your majesty. You are in complete control and the Land of the Pyramids is yours once again.”

Pharaoh then summoned Omar, his vicegenerate. “Make sure all the people see my new portrait.” Pharaoh said in a dictator-like voice. “Can you see how well I look in my new blue hat?”

Pharaoh noted how Omar studied the new portrait. “Yes, your majesty. You do look stunning indeed. Now everyone will cease to speak of freedom, reform, and the idea of you leaving the throne. Cleopatra and Gamal can return and all will be well. You must ignore international calls for a smooth transition of power. Power must remain in your hands always.”

Pharaoh nodded. His new blue hat almost tumbled off his square head. In the distance, he heard crowds shouting for his dismissal, trumpets blaring, and Molotov cocktails crashing upon upturned pavements. “Bah,” he said to Omar. “When the crowds see my new hat, they will change their minds and they will know that I am here to stay. Now that my stomach if full of my fine food, I need to get some sleep. Who cares if everyone else is starving? As long as I am full, that is all that matters.”

He dismissed his vicegenerate with a wave of his hand. Through a secret tunnel, he made his way to his palace, flanked by a hundred body guards. A thousand torches lit the way. Home at last, Pharaoh slipped into his gown, shed his new blue hat, and jumped into his lush bed. He had his fiddlers three strum soft music so he could sleep. He covered his eyes with a black velvet shade. He tossed and turned and with more near hysterical abandon and unconscious mutterings, sought to lose himself in sleep. Though his eyes were covered, Pharaoh still saw flashes of bright lights, bombs bursting in air, and shouts of freedom ring through dark alleys. The fiddlers’ soft music did not drown out the anger of the crowds, the thud of bricks landing on human flesh, or shut out the smell of burnt skin. He knew that his people once more would sleep their night in the wild, huddled together in that dreaded place called Freedom Square.

And though Pharaoh changed his hats countless times and into countless more colors, his people still swarmed around Freedom Square. They shouted for his departure. Their shouts were no longer the whispered shouts of weeks before. Men, women, and children chanted for Pharaoh to leave and sang songs of liberation. A million hands waved flags in unison for Pharaoh to step down. The people decided that the days of tyranny had ended. And Pharaoh could no longer drive them into the sea. His dungeons were full of prisoners, but his masses though still masses were no longer muddled. What’s worse, the idea of freedom seemed to be contagious and was spreading to neighboring domains.