9. “behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites:” Day 6
Early in his slumber there was no threat of dreams nor the slightest chance of waking him though he were set on fire. As the night wore on, however, the good sleep that comes with an early bed efficiently worked its recuperative repairs to soul and mind and the heaviness of slumber lessened. As Joseph emerged from the deeper waters of near total unconsciousness to drift toward the shallows of lighter sleep, he passed through the channel of dreams, and was carried in their currents. Every image and vivid scene was of his trip down that ruthless, roaring, raging river, or related to it. He saw Mary standing helpless on the shore, then running and falling as she sought to intercept him at the cattle track that had been her escape. He saw rain pouring in curtains and sheets like the face of a waterfall, the heavy drops beating him down in to a muddy puddle and leaving him there curled into a ball and whimpering in defeat.
In another moment he dreamed that the weight of the water on him was so heavy that he could hardly stand and watched himself as he staggered and lurched under the strain. Then he looked and saw a wall of onrushing water coming at him, much as it must have that dark night, and took him with it away from all that he held dear. In yet another he saw himself running to and fro looking for shelter from a rising tide of water that threatened to swallow him up. In the compactness of a visual dream he ran from mountain to mountain, peak to peak in search of escape from the ever deepening waters that pursued him. Then, facing the waters of the world and seeing vast rivers, rivulets, cascades, streams, gullies, the oceans that existed and this that chased him he could see them all at once. He turned to confront them directly and face them head on, challenging them to do their worst. He boldly waded, swam (though we know what kind of swimmer he was), paddled and kicked through them all, rolling in even the slenderest threads of water his dream presented, and thrashing by every manner and stroke of human propulsion through the biggest, deepest bodies of water imaginable.
Then his dream took a sudden turn and people entered in to it. He heard voices but could only return blank, uncomprehending stares. His voice had been taken and he was left mute! He was robbed of his understanding and totally left unable to function in a throng of people from various tribes, nations and tongues. He was useless to himself let alone anybody else. Then the people ominously began to press in to him, crowding him closely and pushing into and against him with crushing force. He had to do something to save himself but was unable to stir his heavy limbs or effect any useful effort. They were on him now so close, shaking him and grabbing his clothing. Oh what could he do, helpless man. He began pushing them away, quitting their hands from his robes, his carpet, and clutching his pillow as if it were - Mary! She was there to help pull him from the throng and she began rocking his shoulder back and forth to...to do what. “Mary, wait,” he said. “That’s not doing any good.” “But you must get up and right now,” she said in a surly voice not her own, “we’re leaving.” “Oh” was his reply, and he turned over as he said it, opening his eyes to see Yacoub squatting over him, his hand still on his shoulder. “Cumi,” he repeated, then walked away.
It was still dark. Joseph rubbed the sleep from his eyes and in the dimly lit scene before him saw shadows flitting about. A momentary recall of his dreams flashed in his head and he said, “I will not be defeated. I will carry the water, not it me,” and started to rise. The aches in his bruised body gave him pause, then he continued up, shaking out the pillow, his robe and rug. Darkened figures continued their work and he heard the dull reverberations of vigorously shaken rugs and carpets, the sound of straps sliding past one another as cinches were tightened and the slap of dusted palms. He quickly rolled his rug, grabbed his pillow and stood, only to be left bent by a cramp in his stomach. He felt a frisson of cold in his body shake him briefly before getting to the task of finding Yousef. The young man quickly responded to his call and Joseph found his way to the camel. “Sabaa al khir, Yousef” (good morning to you) Joseph said. “Don’t you people ever sleep?” “Sabaah an noor,” (morning of light) Yousef quickly but courteously responded, “malish,” and grabbed the bedding out of Joseph’s hands to run it over to its rightful bag, Joseph believed.
There was a word Joseph had heard more than once: malish, ‘never mind’ or ‘forget it.’ With these people if an issue wasn’t worth fighting over, then malish was the order of the day, to his observation. Seemed easy enough and a way to live contentedly with whatever might befall the vagrant trader whose pursuit of vocation was often secondary to either avoiding or contending with nature’s hardships, pranks and pitfalls. She probably often cost them dearly in terms of unfulfilled promise at watering holes, unseasonable weather, animal attacks and who knew what manner of other accidents and caprice. “Malish, it comes with the territory,” many a hardened man had probably told many a grieving mother, in the only consoling phrase years of such life had left to him. Why that idea should strike Joseph at the moment he had no idea. Maybe it was because he suddenly noticed what was missing from the scene. There were no children’s voices, few women, certainly in proportion to the men, and no baby’s cries. Had there been a plague or some catastrophe, Joseph wondered, his stomach tugging at him again for attention. Had they been sold? He determined to try to find out on the journey.
Yousef returned and slipped a corded band from off one of the tightly flexed legs of his camel, which Joseph noticed had acted as hobble. The camel shook its leg a little and began to walk toward some brush, when Yousef doubled the long, round chord into two hoops, dropped it over his head scarf and gave the camel a poke at the front shoulder with his wooden riding crop. The camel instantly dropped and Yousef nimbly mounted, signaling Joseph to jump into place. They rose aloft once more on their swaying camel’s back, and they were off. Joseph noted the positions of the stars and it seemed that they were generally headed in the right direction, but unable to see the river bed he could only estimate. He did know that if they crossed the river that would be his stop, and he would have to say his goodbyes to these kind people. The group went on its plodding way for what Joseph guessed was 100, then 200, then at least 500 yards (which he gauged as cubits of course), and still they hadn’t crossed the river. Then the haze of the night sky parted and he saw the north star away off to his left. That meant that if they didn’t cross the river but didn’t follow it either they would come the road he and Mary had left to make their riverine encampment, which he could then follow to her, or so he hoped.