“Nile, what’s a ‘Karen?’”
Nile held back a sigh. She knew the dangers of explaining new slang to old immortals. It didn’t take long for her to realize they were pluralizing and adding “the” to slang or pop culture references (“Copley made sure any mention of you was deleted from the Facebooks”) on purpose to deal critical psychic damage, and she really didn’t need to hear Joe rhyme “Nicholas” with “rickroll us,” or tell Nicky “weird genuflex, but okay” as the latter explained how he went from being a Catholic priest (“priests were not necessarily celibate, but I sure was”), to fighting in the Crusades (“Frankish invasions,” Yusuf had corrected), to “all and more” with his Muslim former nemesis (“Legal marriages, or are we counting any union ceremony? Because our adelphopoiesis was in the 1100s” ).
“Oh, um . . . that’s like when an entitled racist white woman shows up five minutes before closing, asks to see the manager over an expired Target coupon, and tries to get some underpaid teenage cashier fired,” Nile explained, unsure of how to explain the nuances of how the name wasn't just a name, but commentary on the privilege and entitlement of white women as a whole, to a 6,700 year old immortal.
“Oh. I wrote someone a letter of complaint once."
Nile was puzzled. Maybe Andy didn’t quite get it. That was normal in the old days, right? Writing a strongly worded letter? Nile pictured Andy writing a letter in a Regency era gown, but that didn’t seem right, so she pictured her in a riding coat and breeches. Much better.
"Oh. Well, that’s fine, just writing a complaint doesn’t make you a Karen. That was, what, hundreds—”
“—of years ago? It’s not like it got popular enough on Yelp to be reposted to a Buzzfeed Karen listicle.”
"It’s in the British Museum.”
“. . . Wait, you wrote a complaint to Ea-Nasir?”
“How do you know about Ea-Nasir? ”
Memes, Nile thought.
“Art history,” Nile said. Not technically a lie.
“Oh. Oh god, was I a Karen?” Andy made a retching sound.
“No, he had it coming.”
“I burned down his house.”
“. . . Okay, so you do have the ‘can I speak to your manager’ haircut . . .”
Mid 18th century BCE
The night after he returned to Ur, Ea-Nasir had an uninvited visitor. The only people he’d been expecting were his family and servants, but they would not be returning from their stay with family friends until the next day. He did not know the dark-haired, blue-eyed woman, just as tall as he was if not taller, who’d shown up at his home, but he was very well aware of the fact that she was dressed in threadbare men’s clothing and carrying a menacing-looking pāltu of the people of Kabturi, and a flaming torch.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“I wrote to you about the copper ingots you sold me. You can call me Antu.”
“Pleasure, I’m sure.”
“Wish I could say the same.”
“How did you find me?”
“I have my ways.”
“And what quarrel do you have with me?”
“I needed new bronze weaponry, but your copper was too low-grade and grainy to be of any use.”
“Ah, what a pity. It always varies, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t play games with me, Ea-Nasir.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You used to be a reputable salesman, buying and selling copper for the palace, but lately there’ve many men who you’ve cheated, all of whom would very much like to kill you, or at the very least, set fire to your house.”
“Ah, and you’ve come early,” Ea-Nasir said, gesturing at her torch. “Should I be expecting an angry mob?”
“No, no, no. You and I are going to talk, and at the end of our conversation, you’re going to set fire to your own house.”
“Okay, so technically, I didn't burn down his house.”
“You got him to burn down his own house?”
“Well, no, the buildings there were almost completely fireproof.”
“Let me get this straight, nobody's house burned down?”
“So . . . what was the whole point?”
Mid 18th century BCE
“Preposterous! Why would I do such a thing?”
“You have a lot of angry customers. Nanni, Arbituram, Idin-Sin, and Ili-idinnam, and many others have been chatting amongst themselves about their plans to set fire to your house with you and your family in it tomorrow. I suggest you beat them to it.”
Ea-Nasir’s eyes widened.
“And why would I do that?”
“If you torch your home, you can fake your death and avoid paying your debts. People have seen me come here on foot with a torch. Trade clothing with me, hide your face, and you’ll escape unscathed. Intercept your family during their return, and ensure safe passage for you and your family and leave for Dilmun permanently.”
“Why would you help me?”
“I’m not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. I want 20 of your good copper ingots, the ones I paid for. The kind you sell in Dilmun, where your business is still reputable.”
“But they won’t find a body.”
“I’m sure I can find one of a height.”
“I don’t know about this,” Ea-Nasir fretted. “And I wouldn’t be caught dead in that.”
“Well fine, wear your own clothes and be caught dead. Your choice. Did you think I would have worn my finest silks for this? If we are successful,” and Antu knew she would be, “I would like you to send your servant to my house with the ingots. I won't tell a soul about your secret. Leave it to me.”
“I guess I’ll have to trust you.”
“You have no choice,” Antu replied gleefully.
Ea-Nasir took the torch.
Nanni found it more than suspicious (and convenient) for Ea-Nasir to have died after knocking over the sesame lamp oil on himself, but the body was burned beyond recognition, clad in Ea-Nasir’s garments, still recognizable by his neighbors because wool didn’t burn easily. Although part of Ea-Nasir's house had to be sold and incorporated into his neighbor’s (no doubt a direct consequence of his disreputable business dealings), no one else was hurt because the fire was confined to the room where Ea-Nasir kept his unfired tablets.
Nanni took solace in the fact that next to him, there was a tablet with a map to Ea-Nasir’s house drawn on it. Someone else had evidently had enough of the man, and had sought him out for revenge.
“But you died! I found you after you’d burned to death.”
“I thought you would find the corpse of some misfortunate stranger! I didn’t know you meant yourself. And yet you stand before me, with not even a heat blister. How can this be? Are you . . . the goddess Antu?” Ea-Nasir gasped in disbelief.
“What do you think?” Antu felt a little bad using faith to manipulate someone, but she was older than most civilizations and their gods, and was letting him draw his own conclusions.
“And yet you saw me come back to life after burning to death, need I remind you, to help you fake your death. I trust that you shan’t tell anyone what you saw?” She didn’t know if he was a religious man, but she knew that most wouldn’t risk angering a god.
“Good. Now off you go to Dilmun.”
“So you wrote a customer complaint and got yourself fired. That doesn’t make you a Karen. That’s . . . something else entirely.” A lot, was what it was.
“How curious,” Leonard Woolley had thought, when he’d received the mysterious parcel in 1930. Someone had left a package with no stamps or postmark on the doorstep of the expedition house. The package was signed “Antu,” a minor Mesopotamian deity. Inside was a small clay tablet featuring a map with a few roads and irregularly shaped buildings that almost fit together like shards of broken glass. Only one building bore a label, but he could not read the cuneiform, which to him looked like bird prints. He’d suspected it was the doing of his friend Agatha, a mystery novelist who’d just become his young assistant Max’s fiancée, and thought little of it.
“How very curious,” Woolley had thought again, when he realized that the tablets he’d found were in the exact location indicated on the mysterious tablet. Were they what the mysterious “Antu” wanted him to find?
“How curious indeed,” Sir Charles Leonard Woolley had thought after the sword tapped him on both shoulders and he arose a Knight Bachelor.
He died in 1960 not knowing what was on those tablets, which were translated by A. Leo Oppenheim later that decade.
“I’m not saying that my complaint was on one of those tablets . . .”
“But you’re not not saying it either.”
“So that was your revenge that whole time!”
“Who said anything about revenge?”
“I did. Instead of immediate petty revenge, you burned to death, played the long game, and made sure he’d be shamed for all of time.”
“If I hadn’t done that, those tablets wouldn’t have been fired. I did it to preserve history!”
“You’ll have to explain that one, too.”
“I will,” Nile said, with wry exasperation. “So . . . What’s it like to burn to death?”
Andy gazed into the distance, remembering something else altogether.