Q. So, Meri, you’ve only been here a short time.
A. Yes, just a few months.
Q. What do you think of the palace?
A. The palace is beautiful. There is so much gold! But I don’t really want to be here.
Q. Then why are you here?
A. That is a very long story.
Q. Why don’t you go home?
A. I can’t. Besides, I don’t want to be there, either.
Q. Sounds complicated.
A. It is. I guess I don’t really belong anywhere.
Q. Do you have any good memories of home?
A. I remember baking bread with my imma. We would get the wheat that we had already harvested and ground up. We’d mix the dough, form it into loaves and put it in the oven behind our house. The whole time she would sing to me, teach me songs her mother had taught her. Or sometimes she told me the stories of the gods. But it was our time together. Imma had something that she did every day with each of us, at least with the girls. She switched the chores every few months so we learned how to do all the things we needed to know, but making the bread was my favorite.
Q. What’s the harem like?
A. We get the best food, the best clothes—it’s a beautiful place. But it’s actually quite a snake’s nest. Everyone wants to be first, even though the king isn’t sleeping with his wives or concubines anymore. His one true love is Nefertari. But they fight amongst themselves constantly. I try to stay out of the way. Since I don’t have any of his children, I’m pretty much invisible.
I like walking in the garden and picking the fruit. I’ll bring in a basketful and leave it in the middle of the room. It’s kind of funny—no one knows who puts it there, but they all just expect it now.