The grapes were shining. Giving off light, a reflection of the raging firestorm in the city below.
“It is true, then.” he said, looking up at the red, shaking sky; a canvas of hell, “These are the days of the Apocalypse.” Silent tears streamed down his cheek, pooling up in the shallows of his beard. A piece of cloth appeared in the corner of his eye, dapping his moist skin. He turned to look. It was her veil, still covering her hair. Seeing his surprise, she withdrew her makeshift handkerchief, letting her hands rest on the box between her legs.
It was beautiful; black as night and etched with fantastical carvings given life by the inferno that his home had become. For her to bring it with her, through that horrible carnage, it had to contain something of incredible value. He took a closer look. The imagery was brutal. Monstrous demons, decapitated limbs and yawning maws with rows of jagged teeth giving him second thoughts about even touching the thing.
A myth from his childhood came to mind – the story of Pandora’s Box, containing all the evils of the world, the opening of which was the beginning of the fall of Man. As if thinking aloud, he said, “Pandora… In Greek her name means ‘All Gifts’.” He snorted. “The Devil’s irony, calling death, disease and war…” (gesturing towards the city as he spoke) “…gifts. Since Time began, we have bowed our heads, accepted our fate, said our Inshallahs. But how can it be His will that this city, this country, this culture, birthplace of poetry and beauty, should be picked apart by a bunch of trigger-happy butt-headed boy-men? Don’t they see that they are plunging the world into fire? The cowardly dogs even use drones!”
He shuddered, the memory of the mindless metal birds blotting out the sun an all too recent one. He looked at her, almost accusingly. “Are you sure you didn’t let them out of that box of yours? What in the name of the Allmighty is that, anyway?”
She looked at him, her eyes betraying no emotion. Slowly, she lifted her hand and picked one of the grapes hanging overhead. It was fully ripe. Eyes still locked on him, she put it in her mouth. Chewing. Swallowing. For a fraction of a second, her eyelids fluttered. “Hope.” she said.
“Hope remained. In the box.”
“And that’s supposed to comfort me?! My home is raped, the sky is burning, the world is ending, and you find solace in that ancient fairy tale?! Unless you actually have Hope tucked away in that infernal thing, don’t start getting all rosy with me. There is no hope, no faith, no love, and God is laughing at his children.” New tears came to his eyes. Ashamed, he turned away, and again, in the corner of his eye, he saw her veil move towards him.
“Stop it, woman!” he cried, jerking away.
Silence. Only screams and gunfire and conflagration. But otherwise: silence.
Then, staring out into the distance, she said, “Surely there is something wrong with your ideas of God…”.
He didn’t look at her. “And you are an expert, I suppose?”
“…if you think Our Beloved would not be so tender.”
“Those very words were born from this soil, these grapes. The greatest poet this country has ever known drank of their wine and made paintings of words to unravel the secrets of the Universe.” She smiled. “He was radiant, that one.”
“If you want to see what is in my box, I will show you.”
He turned then, curiosity winning over misery. Her fingers slid down to the edge of the lid, and for an instant he was filled with fear that he’d be assailed by a host of escaping terrors, but then the box was open, and his jugular was still mercifully intact. He risked a glance inside it.
“Nothing?!” He looked up at her, but immediately averted his eyes. She couldn’t be…! A wild blush crept to his cheeks, eyes fixed on the empty receptacle, while he heard the tell-tale rustling of fabric. Her elegant fingers came into view; they folded the cloth together and lowered it into the box, before closing the lid.
“Apocalypse…” she said, “In Greek it means ‘Unveiling’. Now look at me.”
And in a voice filled with awe he said, “Who are you?”
All around him the grapes were shining. With the light of dawn.