Dr Greta Sykes – The day I met the Queen of Sheba

Sykes LE Mag July 2023

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Live Encounters Magazine July 2023

The day I met the Queen of Sheba by Dr Greta Sykes.

An episode from my next novel ‘Saints and sinners in a cyclical time’

King Solomon and Queen of Sheba
King Solomon and Queen of Sheba circa CE 1280, Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

I woke up. The linens around me were soaked. My eyes were glued together with something so I could hardly open them. When I raised my head I felt dizzy and sick. I crawled under the duvet and tried to breathe calmly. It was impossible. I could hear my heart racing as if in an attack of fever that seemed to explode my brain.

I got up to make a cup of tea. It was not long before I felt dizzy again. I grabbed the hot cup quickly and made my way back to bed. I began to realise I had a fever. It was not just my imagination. I had caught something like cold. I fell asleep soon after drinking tea and began dreaming. I was in a foreign land. A desert land rich in plants and fertile soil. A woman was walking towards me dressed in silks of the richest kind, ornamented with flowers and birds.

Her dark hair was fastened high up on her head and she looked at me with huge dark brown eyes and an encouraging twinkle playing around her mouth. She spoke to me, asking me to join her on a visit to a king in a nearby country. When I agreed, she led me to a palace where guides and servants were waiting with a caravan of camels laden richly with goods. She ushered me to sit on one of the camels and she climbed up to sit in front of me. She evidently wanted entertainment. Why she had chosen me I cannot fathom.

‘I am Makeda, the queen of Sheba of the Sabaean people. I hate travelling just with men which is how it usually ends up, because the women always find more work to do and they’d rather stay at home. I feel lonely with just men. So I want you to come with me. We are going to leave my country Saba today to visit king Solomon. He is not far away but it will take us a couple of days on our camels. He has written beautiful love songs. I want to bring him presents to thank him for his songs.’

Who was I to object to such an adventure, especially as I was wrapped up in the cocoon of my feverish sleep. The camels started rocking from side to side. The saddle fitted two and I held on to Sheba, as she told me people called her. Behind us trotted a long caravan of camels laden with wonderful presents. Sheba told me, ‘ We are bringing him more precious goods than anyone has ever brought him. We have gold, precious stones, spices. Myrrh is my favourite,’ she added and then quietly whispering,

‘It has powerful erotic forces. I shall introduce it to him! ‘

I could only marvel at my vivid dream. I saw myself on the camel’s soft, furry back swaying, wrapped in a colourful cloth, Sheba in front of me telling me fantastic tales from her life.

‘You probably don’t know this, but we have an ancient culture in my country dating back thousands of years. We became rich trading in goods that are becoming more sought after as more people began to build their own kingdoms. Solomon is one of them. These were nomadic shepherds until recently. He is one of the best. He writes poetry which I find very seductive. I have decided to pay him a visit. I think I have fallen in love with him because of his poems. 1 must see him. I am telling you this in confidence. It is not for the public. Am officially on a trade mission. We are a trading people who have links across the Arab world. Solomon has become our new trading partner. I am going to overwhelm him with beautiful things.’

I did not notice when we arrived at king Solomon’s palace or what happened to me, who brought me into the palace and put me to bed on soft pillows and wrapped me in woollen cloths. I cannot recollect how long I slept in my fever or who looked after me.

I know I had hot teas and flat bread and fruit stood next to me. I hardly touched it. Days must have gone by. The scent of Jasmine and the song of exotic birds stay in my mind. I was brought to wake up when Sheba wanted to go home and we both sat on the same camel as on the way out. She raved about Solomon and told me what a wonderful lover he had been.

He had covered her with kisses and with petals of roses. He had recited her favourite poem. Again and Again. It went like this.

I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride.
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices.
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey.
I have drunk my wine with my milk.
Eat, Oh friends, and drink freely, Oh beloved.
I sleep but my heart is wide awake.
A sound, my beloved, is knocking.
Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove,
My flawless one. My head is drenched with dew.,
My hair with the dampness of the night.

Sheba repeated the poem to the rhythm of the camel’s footsteps. It was hypnotising. I felt the intensity of her physical lust for Solomon and fervent love for the poem permeate my body like a drug. We both felt an intense lust riding in the night on the camel. We rode for days and nights. We avoided the hottest part of the day, because I could not cope with it. I was still weak and needed constant liquid and small bites to eat to keep alive. I was even tied to Sheba’s back to stop me falling off. She kept up a constant flow of stories about her intimate life with Solomon.

‘We had a beautiful meal that night after I asked him a number of riddles which he answered correctly. He swore that he would not do me any harm, and I swore in return that I would not steal from him. The meals had been spicy, and I woke up thirsty at night and went to drink some water. When Solomon appeared, he reminded me of my oath. I said: “Ignore your oath, just let me drink water.”

That same night, Solomon had a dream about the sun rising over Israel, but being mistreated and despised by the Jews, the sun moved to shine over Ethiopia and Rome. Solomon gave me a ring as a token of faith. We shared some riddles: ‘Without movement while living, it moves when its head is cut off’, and “Produced from the ground, man produces it, while its food is the fruit of the ground”. The answer to the former is, “a tree, which, when its top is removed, can be made into a moving ship”; the answer to the latter is, “a wick”.

Then she told me that she was pregnant with Solomon’s child. She frolicked about it and announced that the birth could be soon after we got back. After our return I was put immediately back into a darkened room with lotus flowers and the sound of running water from a fountain. A young girl kept a flow of drinks and fruit coming to my divan table next to me. As I began to recuperate, I was allowed out into the gardens of her palace. I marvelled at the exotic flowers, the cacti and fine trees and waterways that were looked after by her many gardeners. One day she stepped out with a small bundle of a human being in her arms, looking full of joy. She had given birth to a boy.

‘l am calling him Menilek or ‘son of the wise man’. Zadok the priest will anoint him and give his blessing,’ she added. That evening we both celebrated her beautiful son and my recovery. We had a rich menu served in the garden on a long table that was covered with fine linen cloth and laid with golden bowls and beakers made of pure gold. In front of us was rich variety of food, salads, bread of different sorts, falafels, all manner of meats cooked in spicy sauces or skewered and roasted over a fire. We had wine and drank and toasted each other. I began to remember where I had been before I met Makeda. I realised the dream and the illness had mixed up everything. I had to start from the beginning. So, I told Makeda the following story,

‘l was born into fire and flames that tore into the sky and brought down lumps of meteors and burning spears from the heavens from far away. I flew out of my mother’s womb like a bird escapes out of a nest when the crows come to hack it to death. Luckily, I had wings. I did not fall. I sailed with the other birds that were escaping from the meteors and we settled on meadows near the sea, a swamp with juicy green grass and hiding places. I grew up among the geese that had come with me. To be honest I don’t know if I was born by a goose or by a human.’

© Dr Greta Sykes

Poet, writer and artist Greta Sykes has published her work in many anthologies. She is a member of London Voices Poetry Group and also produces art work for them. Her new volume of poetry called ‘The Shipping News and Other Poems’ came out in August 2016. The German translation of her book ‘Under charred skies’ has now been published in Germany under the title ‘Unter verbranntem Himmel’ by Eulenspiegel Verlag. She is the chair of the Socialist History Society and has organised joint poetry events for them at the Poetry Café. She is a trained child psychologist and has taught at the Institute of Education, London University, where she is now an associate researcher. Her particular focus is now on women’s emancipation and antiquity.

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