When the Gods Fell (Final Installment)
Sekhet, Amunet, and Anitza hide underneath the bed until the locusts leave. Anitza admits to the two Egyptians that she is an Israelite, then leaves, saying she must return to Goshen, the land in Egypt where the Israelites live. After she leaves, boils break out in the palace making everyone ill and mad with pain. As Sekhet is wishing she would die, Anitza returns and assists her. She and Sekhet don’t speak about their bad parting, but there is no longer any tension. When Sekhet finally wakes up, free of illness, Lady Nefertari’s chambers are empty. They have gone to a safer city to wait out the plagues. Sekhet meets with Amunet and Anitza who convince her to with them to Goshen where they will be safe.
As they go, a dark cloud looms over them. Just before it catches up with them, Anitza pulls them into a dark house.
It takes a second for my eyes to really adjust. We’re in a small house. The floor is dirt, but is covered in papyrus mats. A single slit in the wall serves poorly for a window. A few candles are burning down to the stub in the corner. A low fire is burning in the stove.
Two little children with dirty faces and wide eyes look up from where they were playing with a small kitten.
“Anitza,” says a woman who sits near a stove. “What is the meaning of this?”
The fire casts gentle shadows across her lined face. Her dark, curly hair is pulled up away from her neck. A long shawl is draped across her shoulders.
“Immi,” Anitza addresses the woman. She says a few words in a language I don’t understand. And the woman nodded.
She turned to us.
“You’re welcome here, though I do not think all of Goshen will feel the same,” she said, gesturing for Anitza to close the door. “Anitza will give you proper clothes. Supper is almost ready, and her father and brother will be home soon.”
I looked questioningly to Anitza who led us to a trunk in the corner.
“Immi doesn’t approve of the fancy Egyptian clothes,” she said, opening the trunk and pulling out odd clothes of second-hand fabric. “Our people have always valued modesty and decency above all things.”
She gave me a pile of earthen colored cloth.
“This is your belt,” she showed. “And this goes around your head when you go outside. It’s the opposite of a headdress.”
It seemed so backwards to me, but I quickly changed and wiped the kohl from my eyes. The fabric encasing me was rough, but not unreasonably so.
I sneaked over to the window and peered outside.
“The Egyptian storm won’t harm you here,” said the woman. “But I wouldn’t go outside. Not if I were you.”
“A storm?” I asked.
She joined me at the window, her eyes searching the clouded horizon. Over Egypt, a hurricane raged.
“Yahweh has sent hail over all of Egypt. It will be over soon, and then there will be only darkness.”
“This God is surely a terrible God,” I whispered. It was not intended for her ears, but she heard it nonetheless.
“I wouldn’t say such things if I were you. Yahweh is powerful, but He is not unreasonable or unjust.”
“Unjust?” I question. “He has destroyed my gods, taken away my family.”
“Sometimes horrible things happen for good purposes. That’s what Moses tells us. It won’t be long until we leave this place to go to the land our God has promised to give us. ‘A land flowing with milk and honey.'”
“Sounds like a good place, ” I said. “But it doesn’t seem that there’s any room for Egyptians there.”
“There is room for everyone” she smiled. “As long as you are willing to worship Yahweh.”
I shook my head and moved away from the window.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“I’m Sekhet,” I said.
“I am Burushya, ” she said, the name rolling off of her tongue easily. “Being named after a god of Egypt will not serve you well here,” she warned. “You and your friend should consider changing your name if you are to stay with us.”
I had not thought of staying for a long time. I had not thought of anything very far into the future.
“Look,” she pointed out the window. “The hail is moving away from here. Soon there will be darkness all over the land.”
I visibly shivered at the idea of cold darkness all around.
“You have no reason to fear,” she said. “We aren’t affected by the plagues here.”
Even so, I lay awake all night long, the only light coming as a sliver from the small window. The sleeping bodies’ of Anitza’s family members rose and fell in random succession.
I silently wondered where my family was on this night. Where they safe? Or had they been overcome by the storm?
The latter was an idea too hard for me to bear. I decided firmly to not think of such things. My family had abandoned me in their desperation for a better life. I hoped they found it, wherever they were.
The next morning, it was light in the land of Goshen, but Egypt was obscured by a thick darkness that started way of in the distance like a storm of death.
For three days the only indication that Egypt had ever existed was an inky-black smudge on the horizon.
For three days, I kneaded dough until my hands were raw, made reed dolls for Anitza’s younger siblings, and pretended to sleep when the sun set. Instead, I would lie awake, dreading the darkness that comes with closed eyes.
On the fourth day, Egypt reappeared in the distance, and Burushya came back from the well with news from Moses.
“We are to prepare a feast and be ready to leave,” she announced. “Yahweh is going to send a plague of death over the Egyptians. Every first born that is not covered by the blood of a slaughtered lamb will die. We must be ready for the Passover of God’s spirit.”
I swallowed my heart back into my stomach.
“What about our families?” Amunet asked.
“There’s nothing to be done, I’m afraid,” Burushya said. She was not particularly sympathetic of our cause. Though she had a kind heart, we were still the ones who had enslaved their people. Of course, she had never stopped to think that Amunet and I were slaves too, but the tables had turned now. I could accept her apathy.
The house was sent into an uproar. There had to be bitter herbs, and a perfect lamb, and all these strange customs that I had little understanding or patience for. The bread had to be unleavened, the lamb had to be a male, and so on, and so forth.
Moses would come to our side of the village every once in a while, and while people ran out to greet him, Amunet and I hid, our scarves wrapped tightly around our faces so that we could barely breath. I was terrified that his searching eyes would find me, condemn me to the fate that was sure to fall on every Egyptian.
I cried for my family often, but no one sought to comfort me.
Finally, the day came when we were to slay the lamb. When Anitza’s father brought the knife down, silencing the helpless bleats, I looked away and hid a tear.
They painted the blood on the door frames, saying that the Spirit of death would turn away from the doors covered with blood.
No one was to sleep, we were to be ready to go as soon as daylight broke. I was too scared for rest or tears. Death was to pay a visit. It was the final plague.
Neither Amunet nor Anitza came to sit beside me. They paced or busied themselves with a bit of work. I jumped at every creaking door, every rattling shudder, the tips of my fingers frozen like death and locked around eachother tightly.
Before Ra had even risen, cries were heard outside, some nearby, others as far away as Egypt. Death had come and gone, but still I waited in misery until I felt a hand on my head.
“Sekhet,” Anitza said. “We cannot call you that anymore.”
I looked up.
“It’s my name,” I replied in a defeated whisper. “It’s all I have left of me.”
“Yahweh desires that we give up of ourselves and surrender to His will,” she smiled down at me. “You are my sister now. I should like to give you a new name, a new start.”
I shook my head as a tear rolled down my cheek at last.
“I have a lot of surrendering to do.”
She reached for my hand and pulled me to my feet and over to the small window.
“We can call you after the beginning of a new day, yes? Zarah.”
I tested the foreign name on my tongue and found it surprisingly good.
Outside, Moses was gathering his people together, they were preparing to leave this place forever.
I felt Amunet’s shoulder bump against mine, and Anitza squeezed my hand.
“Look, Zarah,” she said, smiling with hope. “The sun is rising.”