Embracing the Enemy
The sweat stung his eyes. Even though he sat in the shade of their outcrop, the heat of the day bore down on him, seeking to drive him away, back to where he belonged. And even though this land was all he had ever known, a far off land called for him with every beat of his heart. This was true of all his people. They did not belong here.
Jakob blinked the sweat from his eyes as he peered down the dusty trail.
He was waiting for Akman.
Jakob absent-mindedly swept away small stones from around his feet, quickly forming a neat clear surface around him. It came second nature to him now. This had been the first job he remembered being instructed in. Unsure just how old he had been when he first accompanied his father to the pits, Jakob tried to remember how many rainy seasons had passed since that first trip.
Seven or eight, he thought to himself, so maybe I was about three or four. This was the normal age for boys to accompany their father, dusting the earth of sticks and stones to form a clean surface on which the bricks could be formed. As the years passed and his strength grew, Jakob was given other small tasks, running messages for those who brought the straw, tending the sick or wounded, or cleaning out the molds and stacking them to be used again. Jakob could remember his father's strong back gleaming in the bright light of the Nile Delta, straining as he labored in the clay pits of Egypt. His father was a strong man. A proud man. A man who was not only skilled in the art of forming bricks, but who knew the worth of building strategic relationships.
Jakob's musing were broken by the sound of undergrowth being disturbed behind him. His breath caught. He should not be this close to the house. Tensed, and bracing himself for the sting of a rod across his back, Jakob turned slowly, expecting to see the looming figure of a guard. Instead, his breath rushed from his lungs as he saw the old ewe stripping the few remaining leaves on a nearby bush. He quickly scanned in each direction to be sure, doing a quick head-count as he went. Good, his little flock was all close by, and no one could be seen in any direction.
Jakob stretched his legs as he strained his neck around the side of the rock. It was not unusual to wait a long time for Akman; he too needed to be careful who saw him walk this way.
While Jakob's memory was not clear about the early days at the clay pits, he remembered as though it were only yesterday when he had first met Akman. It was three years ago, just a few months before the first rains. Jakob's father had been assigned to the property of a great lord of the region, one who, as was often mentioned, had access to the property of the Pharaoh himself. It was not unusual for his father to be re-assigned just before the rainy season. Jakob's father was renowned for his ability to craft bricks in a fashion that could withstand even the heaviest storms, and many sought his work to prepare their homes for the season ahead of them. Jakob had seen many lavish homes, most of which contained additional properties to house livestock. At not quite twelve-years-old, Jakob would wonder why a camel or donkey would need a shelter that dwarfed his own home, which housed his father and mother, along with he and his younger brother.
The day that Jakob met Akman was such a day as this. Never had Jakob seen such wealth flaunted for all to see. Even slaves here were dressed in finer cloth than he had ever seen before. The grounds of the compound were lush and green, and Jakob could see the canal that watered these grounds entering through the high wall on the east side, undoubtedly connected to one of the many waterways that found their life in the great river that ran through the heart of Egypt. From that day to this, Jakob had only seen their new master three times, yet each time had seared hatred into his heart. Their master was a cruel and fearsome man. Many bore the marks of his indiscriminate punishment, meted out with no restraint. And while he seldom swung the whip on his own slaves in person, it was said that his eldest son was not spared the sting of his father's wrath.
It had been on a warm evening, as the light of day slipped over the horizon, that Jakob first saw Akman. A battered young boy, a thorn in the sole of his father's foot, Akman had sought refuge outside the walls of his family compound. It was no place special really, just a slight depression in an otherwise flat landscape. It was against the very rock that Jakob now leant against that he had first seen Akmon, dirty tears drying on his face, red welts crossing his shoulders and arms. It was here, in a lonely and broken place, that two very different worlds converged, and a brotherhood was born.
As Jakob waited for Akman, he recalled the many times he had done this since that day. He recalled the laughter, and the tears. He remembered the questions they asked in order to understand, and the stories they told one another in an attempt to escape the walls that hemmed them in.
Now, again, he was waiting for Akman.
They had not seen each other for many weeks. Things were different now. The world as Jakob had known it was changing. As he reflected on all that was happening, Jakob watched the newest addition to his little flock pick itself nimbly around the rocks that littered the earth. Father had warned him to not get too close to the flock, but this one was different. The offspring of their finest ewe and strongest ram, the little lamb was noticeable from the moment of its birth.
Perfect in every way, Jakob had taken a special interest in this little one. Travellers and merchants had told of places where Jehovah covered the earth in dazzling white, a colder substance than Jakob could even imagine. In honour of these stories, his little lamb had been named 'Snow'. Every one of his little flock had names, and each would come to him if he called, but Snow was different. Snow would turn to him at the sound of his voice; would find shelter in his shadow during the heat of the day. Snow would make a great breeding ram one day, it was a lamb like this that could make a flock strong, bringing wealth to it's owner.
Jakob smiled as he whispered Snow's name, watching his little lamb turn and run to him. Placing his hand on the lamb's head, he felt Snow press into him as if he too appreciated the friendship.
Jakob cared for all his father's sheep.
But he loved this little lamb.
Jakob's head whipped up to gaze down the path. Akman limped toward him, obviously with some discomfort, but with a smile on his face. Jakob's face creased at his Egyptian friend, who was not too proud to address him in his own language.
"Shalom," came his reply.
Two boys from two worlds embraced.
"Have you been waiting long?"
"Since yesterday," teased Jakob, punching his friend in the arm, and then immediately wishing he hadn't, as he saw pain arc across his friends face.
"I'm sorry Akman! Are they nearly healed?"
Akman raised his tunic to reveal festering scabs that still marked his body.
"They are getting better, though if someone punches one…", and with that he swung an arm, smiling at Jakob.
Akman looked weak.
Things had been hard for the Egyptians lately. Akman's family had not been spared.
Jakob took some bread from his little bag, broke it and passed it to Akman.
They sat together in comfortable silence as they ate.
"Tell me more of this man, Moses. Have you seen him yet?"
"My Father has,” replied Jakob. "Father says he is sent by God."
"Which one?” Akman questioned.
"Father says there is only one God, and that He does not live in a river or the sun or moon; that He fills the whole earth and the heavens, that He is known by the name, 'YAHWEH'."
"What does that mean?"
Jakob simply shrugged his shoulders. There were many things he heard his father speak of that were difficult to understand. He glanced again at the sores that still inflicted his friend. He remembered seeing darkness stretching over the land. He recalled the great river running red.
"I don't know. But I think it means He is powerful."
The two boys continued to sit quietly as they finished their meager meal. When the conversation continued, there was no mention of gods or plagues. If you had passed by that place, you would simply see two young boys playing like any two boys anywhere in the world. Stones were thrown, first to see who could throw the farthest, then to see who could hit a small rock balanced precariously on another. Jakob was by far the better arm of the two, but would try to encourage his friend by not winning too quickly or easily. The game ended when Snow wandered dangerously close to the 'landing zone' and Jakob feared his friend's accuracy may prove fatal for his little lamb.
As the boys shared a few drops of water from a small skin Akman had brought with him, they laughed as they enjoyed the shade produced from the dropping sun. Their time was drawing to a close. Akman would soon be missed. Jakob had responsibilities to attend to.
They sat quietly together once again.
"Do you know what will happen next?"
Jakob had no reply.
He didn't know what was happening. He could not warn his friend.
In a matter of months, Egypt had been all but brought to her knees. Jakob heard rumours of a great journey, that his family would join the others and return home.
He wondered what that was – where that was.
Jakob looked at his friend. He thought of Akman's father, and all the others like him in this harsh land. He saw again the pride that burned in their eyes, even after all had been lost. He wondered if the Pharaoh would ever let his people just walk into the desert; would ever just let this 'slave nation' simply wander away.
Again there was silence between them.
"My father will be looking for me soon", and as Akman spoke, Jakob could hear his voice tighten from fear. "He is taking me up the great river to seek out other markets, to replace the livestock we lost. We will be gone for the remainder of this week I think."
Will you be home for the full moon festival?"
"I think so. We never miss it. Father is an important official and he will want to be seen by the people."
"Then I will wait for you right here, the day after the full moon."
Jakob carefully embraced his friend.
"Remember, I will be waiting for you."
He waited till he could see Akman no more before calling his little flock. Checking that Snow was close by, he turned for home.
To be continued…