Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Leaving By Stealth


            Dathan’s eyes widened. “What are you doing here, Eliab?” He knew that the slave had delivered corn to the palace only two days before and shouldn’t show up again that soon.
Eliab gripped his shoulder and looked him straight in the eye. There was none of the cowering slave-like mannerisms in this Israelite.
“You are a first born son, yes?”
Dathan nodded.
“You have a first born son, yes?”
Dathan nodded. His throat tightened, remembering his wife’s fears for Salke.
“You must flee, flee Egypt. Flee for your life. The death angel will smite all first born sons’ of Egypt tonight.”
“But where can I go?”
“Goshen,”
“But—“ But Eliab was off racing as if his very life depended on getting back to work as soon as possible, which it very well did.
Dathan’s thoughts were in turmoil. He made many mistakes and accepted harsh reprimands.
Go to Goshen? How could we? He could not leave Grandfather. That would be cruel, and besides he would rain curses down upon our whole household if we did.
“Dathan, move!” He flinched as a whip lashed against his bare back. “Don’t bother stopping for lunch you worthless scum. You’ve got less than nothing done today. “
Dathan tried to do better, he really did, but it was impossible. Finally, when no one was looking he slipped off, He had to speak to his wife.

“”Dathan, what happened? Why are you home so early?” Dathan took her by the elbow and lead her beneath the tower date palm nearby.
“We must flee, flee into Goshen,” ‘
“But why? Why now? We never have before. What about your grandfather? He would never go.”
 Dathan cupped her face between his long slender hands and tipped her head upwards.
“The Death Angel is coming tonight.”
“For Salke?” Rebaethaih shrieked.
Salke threw down the cat he had been playing with and came running.
“What about me?” he demanded.
“Go,” his father said sternly, “Go back to your playing. We will tell you when the time is right.”
Salke turned glumly away. He took the cat by the tail and swung it, something he had never, ever done before, and was amply repaid with scratches. He slouched further away and leaned his head against the cool wall of their small home. His heart was heavy, his throat thick with dread.
Dathan lowered his voice; put his head closer to Rebaethaih’s.
“We can only be spared if we put the blood of a lamb on our doorposts –“
“But we can’t do that! Our neighbours would kill us if we brought a lamb into the area. You know how the people despise” –
“Nor have we enough time. We know not the correct rituals. It must be a perfect lamb, one without blemish. We must go. To Eliab’s. He has invited us.”
A cool autumn wind was blowing. He lead her by the hand back into their dimly lit abode. Dathan picked up his infant daughter and sat down on a reed mat. Rarely do I have time to hold my children during the day, and if we don’t move decisively, we will be minus one before the morrow.
Rebaethaih was hovering over Grandfather, tucking a blanket here, adjusting a pillow there.
“What will we do with grandfather,” she whispered when she came back.
Dathan looked sad. “He could not and would not come. We will ask As-lehg-umah (a neighbour) to watch over him tonight.”
“Then we will go? Take the family and flee into the land of Goshen?”
Dathan nodded. “Salke!” He called. “Come!”
          Salke appeared instantly, his face drawn and pale.
“We will be leaving; by stealth. Death stalks our land, we will flee to Goshen.  Mama will take the young children and go to market. After a long wait I will disguise myself as an old, old man with a walking stick.  The neighbours will assume that grandfather wanted to go for a short walk. You will help me. We will take a different, a quieter route.”

          Grandfather stirred in his sleep and muttered. They all froze. After he had settled down once more, Dathan gave whispered directions. Even the smaller children seemed to know this was no time for curious questions or foolishness.

Soon they were off.