“Only an animal worries all the time about the next meal.”Naguib Mahfouz
How could he judge her? Who was he to judge her? Hadn’t she been patient enough?
Mariah still remembered how she had lost her son, her only child, and even that only increased her faith – perhaps exactly because her son was taken away. Once when she was a young girl, she would often wonder about how strange faith was – the very reasons – the loss of a dear one, floods ruining everything one owns, etc that should cause one to lose one’s faith often end up increasing it. Her own life had a similar trajectory – she first gave serious thought to religion after the death of her mother who was killed by her master’s whip and by the time her father died a few days later of starvation, she was seriously religious. He had managed to marry her to Jacob in his last days thus ensuring that she won’t be left alone.
It had only increased when Pharaoh had decided that Jews weren’t suffering enough already and decided to add to their misery, perhaps because faith gives her strength in form of a promise of a redeemer, if not for her, then perhaps for her son. How each of Pharaoh’s successive cruelties had only increased her faith! Even as she saw her husband fell prey to whip of his master, dying a year after their marriage leaving her with a child to feed. Her husband – Jacob, who was such a comfort to her after their parents. She had thanked him for being kind enough to give him John. When he took away John too, she still didn’t grudge him. Perhaps it was better than making him suffer Pharoh’s cruelties. She herself might have done some wrongs, but Jacob’s soul was as pure as that of a child. Jacob didn’t deserve the cruelties visited upon Jews. But then, shouldn’t he then have taken away her son too? And all the Jew children? Perhaps that is what he intended to do when, years ago, he let Pharoh kill so many Jew children.
Even now she thought of Jacob as a lover instead of a husband – ‘lover’ being a word showing purity that was there in her relationship with Jacob, rather than the material arrangement which was contained in words like ‘marriage’ and ‘husband’.
She could never forget how she had taken to bed when her son was born – she was so weak that she couldn’t move for weeks. And they were so poor that they didn’t have enough to fill all their bellies every day. How often did Jacob miss his meals for her and her son! She had felt as if she was dying. And in fact, she would always think that she had actually died in giving birth to her son and had been brought back to life by her lover.
And it was this Jacob, that he took away. Perhaps, she reasoned with herself, he wanted to give her a chance to pay back the debt she owed to Jacob for this second life by letting her look after him in his last days.
She reasoned so, because like every other Jew in Egypt, she needed to have something to believe in. And something about her personality – along with the fact that she had lost all her family except for her infantile son, gave her the airs of a saint. People started thinking of her and behaving toward her as if she was somehow closer to God, precisely because she had suffered from so many misfortunes. And started expecting from her words of hope – reasons for them to live on. She, who herself had so little to live for.
And yet, she discovered she was easily falling into this role – her mere presence seemed to give them assurance. But what could she have told them to give them hope? The lives of Jews seemed to be a long walk in a graveyard – with so many dying and dead all around them. What consolation could she give to people living such lives? Ruth, her neighbor and who thought her really wise, offered an answer in form of a question when she asked her whether what they say about coming of a Messiah who would save the chosen people true?
Without knowing what Ruth was saying, Mariah nodded and, very soon, discovered all about the stories about a messiah who was supposed to save the Jews. Initially, she didn’t believe it herself. But she preached about the Messiah, all the same, to give people to give them some sort of hope.
Over time though, she somehow came to believe in it herself. So much, that her whole life became a wait for this saviour who was bound to show up any time soon.
Eight years she waited before she finally saw him, suffering so many hardships in the process – only a few months ago her master had raped her. And now she was pregnant with the baby of that man. She refused to abort it, not wanting to kill the innocent life. But she knew with a second child, life would be tougher – how long must she wait? She sometimes asked herself in desperation. A new fear now started haunting her that it would never happen. That she and her children must live all their life that may as well could the life of an animal.
Ruth knocked at her door to tell her about him. A man preaching a few miles away – calling himself the messenger of God. She followed Ruth calling for her son to come with her. She said nothing until she actually saw the man – neither able to bring herself to believe in good fortune (when were Jews ever so lucky?) nor able to reject the hope.
She wasn’t disappointed. She needed only to see him once to know that he was speaking the truth. She saw Moses’ face and saw God in him. The others were skeptical – one of them argued ‘even if he is speaking the truth, he still grew up in Pharoh’s house – under the care of a princess. Why would God let his messenger grow in the house of his enemy? Can anyone from Pharoh’s house ever be trusted?’ All their life they had seen the rich and powerful devour the poor. Why would the order of the world ever change? And it was in this skepticism, the people nearest to her carried their conversation. From their conversations, she gathered an account of Moses’ past life – though it was heavily spiced by rumors.
However, she couldn’t understand their ignorance – how could they not see what was obvious to eye? One need only look at Moses to see God’s element in him. Or was it only she? Was she truly closer to God as people thought she was? And could she, thus, see what others didn’t see?
But even if their own account was true – he had killed a slavemaster and was on the run because Pharoh had set a death penalty on him. Didn’t that make him deserve their respect? When was the last time anyone had spared them a thought?
She told them, knowing how much she was respected by them and that she will be heard, to pay attention to what Mosses was saying. Seeing that Maria too thought that Moses was their Messiah, Ruth, who was standing nearby, felt even more delighted. She went down on a knee and told Joesph with a smile to focus, pointing her finger to Moses and telling the child that he was their savior. Maria smiled knowing how much Ruth loved Joseph – never being able to conceive a child herself.
Maria turned her own attention back to Moses and obserevd how his face always had an easy smile on Moses’ face – an inoffensive, yet rebellious smile. A savior with a smile. It was this smile that made people listen to Moses.
There was a sort of beauty in his face that was a promise in itself – it wasn’t any particular feature in him, in fact, anyone else with those features would be utterly ugly. The source of beauty lied somewhere else – she couldn’t put her finger to the reason but she didn’t try hard. It is ridiculous to want to analyze the music – the wise thing to do is to lose oneself to it. She let herself be mesmerized by Aaron’s words. She needed no other proof – for others, the trick was done by a couple of magic tricks.
But why wasn’t Moses speaking for himself? Why must he let that other man speak for him? Wasn’t it strange that a messenger should need a spokesperson? Was Moses too pure to speak directly to Jews? Such were doubts that were raised by some skeptics who refused to believe in what their eyes had seen earlier that morning.
These doubts too, though, were answered in the following days – especially when Moses sent ten plagues to Egypt. It won him the trust and love of all Jews. Only her ten year old Joseph didn’t like it, “but the children who died, were they wrong too? Why should they pay for faults of their parents?” he asked in dismay. She stared at him in shock. She didn’t wonder how come he was clever enough to ask such a question. Rather she was troubled that he should say anything against God and made him promise he won’t do such a thing again.
She herself didn’t feel sorry for them. Why should she? They didn’t feel sorry for Jews when they were torturing the later.
And then, Moses decided to lead them to the promised land. There were questions even now – why should messiah lead them into deserts? Why shouldn’t Egypt itself be made promised land? “But isn’t it more probable that promised land should be a land other than the land on which God’s people had suffered for so long?” she had argued back as if it was the most logical thing and it was absurd for people to think otherwise. There were still doubts – what will they eat or drink in deserts?
She didn’t know but she had faith. Faith born out of love for God and Moses. And wasn’t she right to do so?
He had it rain bread.
It rained bread!
Mary knew no one else could doubt Moses. Yet, it was the first time she wanted to question God. If he could rain bread, why did he let her parents die of starvation?
Like most others, she had taken more bread than she and her son could have required for one meal. Joseph was somewhere far away playing with other children. Her son was undernourished – not having eaten enough all his life. And although he had promised that it shall always rain bread, a mother’s heart couldn’t rely completely on that promise especially when she had seen her son cry for more for food for years and seen her parents die of starvation.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. The place had been filled with chaos as soon as it rained bread. And instinctively everyone had grabbed as much as they could and ran for a quiet corner – the instinct of a people who had been starving for years. When they saw bread rain, every one of them wanted to be left alone with his or her meal.
And amid this chaos, she fell on the ground. Her pregnant belly hit the ground. None of God’s people was humane enough to help her up. She would lose the unborn child and fell unconscious. When she came to, she didn’t need to be told what had happened. But she still couldn’t stand and no one seemed wiling to help her. Moses and his friends had retired into their camp (Did they too eat God’s bread?) while others were still busy with their meal. She couldn’t bring herself to stand up until her son came and helped her up – his eyes full of terror and tears.
Having found themselves a place to sit, she made him calm down, gave him a great number of kisses and gave him the bread but refused to eat herself. She sat there looking at her son eating his fill but lost to outside world. Along with loss of her baby, something else seemed to have broken inside her – she felt a shiver run through her every now and then. But she tried hard to hide her anguish, not wanting to worry her son.
After he had eaten, they lied down. He fell asleep quickly, holding tightly to the leftover of bread. A look of satisfaction was on his face – the satisfaction of a person who was no longer hungry. She didn’t look at him. She just lay on ground herself and tried to fall asleep to the sight of stars.
Next day, she discovered that her son had got dysentery – a case common with many other people. Having starved for so long, their stomach seemed to have got out of practice and was unable to digest a full meal. Many others were simply unable to eat. A few had vomited.
So much for God’s bread…..
Yet, they didn’t judge Moses or his God. They were far more in love for the two. They told themselves very soon they will get used to plenty.
They cheered as Moses came on stage. She didn’t – she just stood there, still undecided as to what she should do.
Moses came on stage and started insulting them – telling them what fools they were to wish to take more than they needed – so filled with Greed and gluttony (apparently some of them had hidden bread away) and how God judged them for that.
His followers did feel guilty. The scarcity of food had made them think the food was same as gold and thus what they had done was out of ‘greed’. Not Mary though.
She had had enough.
Hadn’t she suffered enough already? Who was he to judge – he, who had never been a human, not even for a day! Who hadn’t ever known poverty or hunger!
Even as Moses laid down rules as to how people should behave when it rained bread, she wandered for a moment whether she should tell Moses about the loss of his unborn child. But she decided not to. Suddenly it all seemed meaningless, ridiculous. In a moment, she realized she was a fool to be angry at Mosses – who was after a good and compassionate man; a mere tool in hands of a higher power. It was him she was angry at. And she knew he will always find more ways to judge them,
She was a fool to think that he could ever do anything for humans – he, who could make it rain bread and yet let people die of hunger. He who could bring down a three-day long night on Egypt and Yet decided to let Pharoh and his slave-masters torture them for years. He who had taken all that was hers. What kind of crazy love had she developed for him when all he ever did was robbing her of things valuable to her!
And, at this moment, she felt tears run down her cheeks. She, who had no tears for her lost child, she wept – though, her features staid hard, as she turned around and away from people, away from Moses. She realized that even if God had even vaguely hinted at her misery, had said a single consolatory word or, even if, he had said nothing but also not decided to give them a guilt trip – that would have been enough to maintain her faith. But he had decided to pass judgment on her and others. It disgusted her! He was so like her slave masters who first degraded them to animal existence through tortures and humiliations, and then judged them, calling them lowly beings. She now understood that the only reason this God could do something for someone was to make them sing of his greatness. He let Pharoah torture generations of Jews so that he could win their submission.. Oh, Moses! you are a fool. you haven’t freed Jews, you just changed their slave-master.
Her son and some of her friends saw her leaving the gathering and asked what had happened, especially worried by the blood on her clothes. She didn’t answer them. She just asked Ruth to look after her son and went on. Some of them still called her, but she went on as if she couldn’t hear them. Her son wished to run after her but was stopped by Ruth.
She didn’t know where she was heading. She knew she won’t survive for long in this desert and after deserting God. At least, this desert, this land that had nothing but loathsome sand in it, at least it seemed a truthful picture of God’s world but she walked and walked the whole day. That night, she would fall down, too weak with hunger – though still feeling righteous in not eating God’s bread. In her last moments, she thought she saw lights of the camps – she thought about her son, who must learn to live without her. She thought of God who was now taking away that last of her possession. She remembered the story she had heard in childhood – how God had created light in the first day and for a moment, she felt, the creator and creation, God and light both seemed same – she thought there was God in it, that light, much like he had shown himself to Moses in the flame of burning bush. But only for a moment, the very next moment it occurred to her that the caravan can’t possibly in her sight (having a whole day to move away) – light must be imaginary. That, in reality, there was no light, no god; only an illusion.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan