I wrote all of that at our dining table while drinking the beer that Neshi had left in the jug before he went into his room and passed out. Have I explained to you guys what beer means in Mitsrayim? It isn’t just something that you drink for fun; it’s like water and milk, essential to life, and everybody drinks it. Kids off the breast go straight to beer. It’s the one thing that keeps everybody happy here: Mitsrim, Ya’akovim, Israelites, Nubians, Hittites, and anybody else who might somehow wash up in the Two Lands. At least half the country is, well, happy, at any given time––the other half is hungover or sleeping it off. Women make it at home, and a housewife who can’t make beer won’t be married for very long.
Happiness is measured in beer: “Her love is so overpowering that I need no beer to be happy.” We all drink it all the time. And this beer is also helping me to forget how stupid I’ve been. I should have known that Snofru only wants one thing, and that he’ll take it wherever he can get it. I should have known better than to think that anybody could understand what I’m going through. I can see that Neshi and Khushim are right about the Mitsrim having turned against us; most of them don’t distinguish between Ya’akovim and Children of Israel. After everything that’s happened to their country but didn’t happen to us, they hate us all. It looks like muti was right about what they wanted to do to her, too––hell, for that even Ya’akovim like Nefeg were ready to act like the worst of the Mitsrim.
That’s what I mean about beer. I didn’t just realize that we’re right and they’re wrong, or vice-versa or anything like that. No, I finally see that just about everybody is wrong just about all of the time because nobody really believes in anything except getting what they want the way that they want it––and getting it now. So I drank some more beer and thought about what I wanted. All I could see before me was Mitsrayim, an almost empty Mitsrayim. No “incidents,” no ruined city, no people, really. Only me, walking by a tomb in the City of the Dead and going up to the part of it where Mitsrim leave food for the dead person to eat, and squatting down and going to the bathroom all over the food there in Snofru’s tomb just so he could choke to death after he was already dead and I could––
“Eppi.” My mother’s voice was soft and hoarse. “Wake up. Come on.” I’d fallen asleep with my hands folded under my head on our dining table. That’s something I forgot to mention about beer: it’s really good at putting you to sleep, even when you don’t think that you’re tired.
“Nubemnehem,” our main servant, “says that you drank almost a whole pitcher of beer.”
“Muti, you’re alive! They didn’t…?” I explained what I’d been afraid of, but my mother just smiled.
“No, love, I’m fine. All I did was sing for about six hours, then Pharaoh had some soldiers bring me home.”
“So you’re all right, thank El. What happened, though? Why were you there for so long?”
“Are you all right, after everything that happened out there?” She nodded toward the door.
“Yeah, I’m fine. How’d you know about it?”
“Neshi told me.”
“Neshi.” I’d forgotten about him. “Where is Neshi?”
“Out back,” in the toilet. “He was at the table with you when I got home.”
“When was that?”
“About five minutes ago.”
“What time is it?”
“About an hour yet to sunset.”
Neshi came back from the outhouse. “So?” He didn’t seem to notice that I was awake.
“There isn’t much to tell. When Moses and Aaron came in, they went off into a corner with Sesi, just the three of them around a low table. Sesi told me to keep singing because this was going to be the last time he’d have the pleasure of hearing me. After what had just happened with the darkness and all the Goshenites invading Pi-Ramesse, not even he could afford to be seen associating with Ya’akovim. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ he told me. ‘Just one of the burdens of office.’
“So I kept singing while they were off in a corner. I couldn’t hear anything, but I could see that Pharaoh and Moses were talking to each other directly, so they must have been speaking Mitsri. They talked and banged the table and stood up and sat back down again and banged the table until finally Pharaoh stood up one last time and kicked the little table over and screamed. I really thought that he might start crying. ‘Screw you, uncle!’ he said. ‘You can’t do it.’
“‘Yes I can, Sesi. I’ve done everything else I’ve promised, haven’t I? Or rather, Ehye has done what He promised. And He’ll do this, too.’
“‘Bullshit!’ I’ve never heard Pharaoh talk this way. ‘I’m sick of you and your god and your bullshit! Get out and don’t come back. I don’t ever want to see you again.’
“‘Don’t worry, Sesi. You won’t. But when you don’t, it won’t be here.’
“‘Get out! And take your riddles with you!’ And he sent guards to show them out. ‘And you, Nye-Nye, go back to your people now and stay there.’ And he ordered some of his guards to take me home.”
“So you don’t know what he was talking about with Moses?” Neshi asked and muti shrugged.
“Did you know that Nefeg wanted to abduct you and Ipuy’s planning to sleep with you?” That was me.
“How do things look out there?” Neshi gestured toward the city.
“Strange and––what’s the word? Ominous. Like something bad is going to happen?” Neshi nodded. “The city’s packed, but I guess you already knew that. The flocks that our brethren brought with them have eaten every plant and blade of grass that was left. It’s all gone now, and the streets are covered in cow pies and pellets from the sheep and goats. The smell is horrible––the animals and the dung and all those people so close to each other, and most of them also using the streets as a toilet. There are soldiers all over the place now, grim-looking and heavily armed, to make sure that there’s no more theft or looting and to keep us from attacking the Mitsrim and the Mitsrim from attacking us. Moses was making a speech in the outer gardens of the palace, but the guards wouldn’t let me stay to listen. I could see his messengers all over the city, though, all the way home, so something must be happening.”
Neshi was baffled. “If Pharaoh was as upset as you say, Moses must have threatened him with something even worse than what’s happened so far. I just can’t figure out what it could be.”
“I’m sure the messenger will get here soon enough. And I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, we’re not going to like it.’ Whatever it was, muti was starting to get bored with it. She was even yawning. “I’m going to go and take a bit of a nap. All that singing, you know.”
Neshi went with her and I stayed where I am right now, and have just this second finished bringing my book up to date. The stuff about me and Neshi and muti has just finished happening and now I’ve got nothing to write about, except maybe my innermost feelings. These are:
- I hate Snofru
- Snofru is a dick
- I’ll never chase a boy again; it makes you look easy
- I’d like to start wearing make-up
- I hate Snofru
- I’d like to start menstruating
- I hate Moses, too
- Snofru is a dick
- Moses is a dick
- Snofru and Moses put together are a big dumb double-dick and I wish that they’d both go to hell
- No, I wish that they’d never been born
- And just to round things out to the number of Ya’akovi––excuse me, Israelite––tribes, Ya’akovi boys are stupid and ugly, and Mitsri boys are worse.
And that’s what I really feel, direct from the bottom of my girlish heart. If you think that there’s a theme to it, you’re right. If I’d been born a Mitsri, I might not have found out what a dick Snofru is until it was too late. So I’ve got to be fair to Moses and Ehye; the pranks that they keep playing on the Mitsrim saved me from wasting any more of my time on that human woodpecker. Maybe this hasn’t been completely bad, after all: they might have been destroying my life, but at least they destroyed it all the way and took the bad part along with the good, so that I wasn’t left with Snofru and nothing else. That would have been like catching the plague in order to get rid of the sniffles. Now I almost want to leave Mitsrayim––almost. We could have just moved to another house, as long as I never have to see Snofru again.
It isn’t fair. There’s no reason for people like Snofru to be born, anymore than there’s any reason for Meryt to have to marry something like Nefeg. But neither of us is engaged anymore, and all it took was the complete disruption of the course of nature and the life of an entire country. I don’t know what anybody else thinks, but as one of the principals here, I say it was worth it: anything that makes Snofru suffer is good. I don’t even mind if it makes me suffer, too, as long as he suffers more.
As for Moses, he really should have never been born. I’d love to see him suffer, too, preferably at the hands of all the people who have already died because of him. I’d like to see Herya and her family stand up in their graves and spit in Tuthmose’s face. And tear his arms off and kick him in the throat so that he wouldn’t be able to talk anymore––‘cause his messenger is hollering in the street, yelling for us all to come outside and hear the word. “Your lives depend on this. Those who do not heed the words that I am about to speak will not be here to go out of Mitsrayim.”
“Does that mean we get to stay?” yelled a smart-ass in the street.
“Forever,” said the messenger. “With everyone else who is buried here.”
My mother and Neshi came out of their room and the three of us went outside. The streets were still full of loitering Goshenites, scratching themselves and chattering like monkeys. Meryt and her parents, followed by a whole troop of their servants, were coming out of their house at the same time as we emerged from ours.
Joshua, the guy who turns up here whenever Moses has a message for the public at large, was standing on a couple of stone blocks that had been laid on top of each other in the square at the head of our street. He was talking, but he wasn’t making much sense. I mean, you could understand the words, but the things that he was saying didn’t seem to have much to do with anything that had been happening. “Let each family get a sheep for itself and slaughter it. Dip some hyssop in the blood and use it to spread the blood on the lintel and doorposts. Do not go out of your houses until morning. When the Lord passes to strike the Egyptians and sees the blood on the lintels and doorposts, He will pass by that door and not allow the pestilence to strike your houses.”
“And what about…” Someone tried to ask a question, but Joshua just got down from his stones and walked away without a word of explanation. Ten seconds later we were surrounded by wheedling Goshenites trying to sell us sheep.