This is the fourth part in The Stutterer, a fiction series by the author. Installments run on Sunday mornings. You can find the first three parts here.
Moses dreamt of beautiful things. His stepmother had once given him gold cuffs; he used to hold them up to the sun and marvel at the way they highlighted the dirt on his sister’s face. She’d get mad and he’d run away, but the sun would always tempt him again. He did it to the statue in the courtyard too—it showed the Pharaoh standing over a lion, looking tall and proud. Moses would wander around until he found the proper angle, then shift his wrists so that the lights seemed to be coming out of the Pharaoh’s eyes. When he got bored of that he liked to mimic the Pharaoh’s pose: chest out, hands pressed to his sides, with his foot stomping the lion’s neck. He stood like this for as long as he dared, and, if only for a second, he felt kingly. Then a flock of sheep entered the courtyard and Moses realized he was no longer dreaming. He opened his eyes to the indolent sky, remembered he was sitting against a well in an unknown place, and saw from one side a group of women approaching with their sheep, and from the other a group of men. Sensing something he wanted no part of he scurried behind a nearby bush and waited.
“So we meet again,” said one of the men. He smiled as he said this showing off a mouth that could’ve used a mirror.
“So it seems,” said the lead woman.
“Don’t worry, we’ll leave some water for you.”
“No, it’s our turn this time!”
“Don’t worry,” said the man again, “We have less sheep now.”
“All looks the same to me,” said the woman.
As she said this the shepherd trolled over to her, so close that his breath blew her hair back. He said, “You see Malak over there? You haven’t seen him before; he’s my sister’s kid. Well, anyway his flock is pretty small. But me? Well,” he pressed against her, “I got a nice big flock. Wanna see it?”
She slapped him and turned away. He just laughed and yelled to his friends to bring in their sheep. Moses wanted to help the women, but every time he made to move, the dead Egyptian’s face flashed before he eyes. So he just watched as each shepherd brought his flock to the well. Maybe this was how it was done in the country; what did he know of this life? In Egypt he had people who cleaned his bedroom, washed his linens, cooked his meals—even his clothes had been chosen for him! He was no better than those sheep; he had been led to the well his entire life, and all he knew how to do was drink.
The shepherds, meanwhile, sat in the shade, smoking and spitting onto the grass around them. The big man got up and splashed some water on his face, then stood hunched over, dripping. The other men did the same, until the sand around the well had turned to an ugly brown.
When their sheep had had their fill the men left. Moses then watched the women struggle with the pulleys. It took two of them to raise a full bucket from the bottom and even then the process was slow.
“Do you women n-n-n-need help?” he said. Their shoulders stiffened and then drooped as they turned towards him, expecting yet another group of shepherds come to take their water. But seeing only one man, with no group, and no sheep, they remained silent. “I can help lift the water, if you’d like.”
So it came to be that Moses spent the next chapter of his life as a humble shepherd, tending to his sheep and letting his mind wander among the open pasture. He had good sheep; they were well behaved and didn’t talk much. But Moses didn’t mind when they did—they stuttered too!
At night he would come home to find his wife waiting for him with a smile and a warm meal. After the perfunctory questions about his day and his sheep, she would say something like, “Oh my gosh, listen to what Dina said today. I went to her house to make bread and all the sudden she says, ‘What do you know about Danny?’ And I gave her a look like, ‘What do you want to know?’ And she said, ‘Oh just the basics.’ So of course I told her what I knew and…” And as long as Moses nodded his head now and then, or said, “Hm…” or “Interesting…” Zipporah went right on talking.
One day out in the pasture Moses saw a fire in the distance. Most fires fizzled out quickly, but there was always a danger that it would catch something and spread, so Moses walked over to make sure it was under control. He saw it was contained to one bush, and after making sure nothing else was around it, he headed back to his flock. It started to rain, a blessing for the fire problem, but a nightmare for his sheep. He hurried, hoping to corral them before any ran off in fright. Yet the faster he ran the harder it rained, until the pellets crashed into Moses like daggers. His sandal came off in a puddle, and as he turned around to pick it up, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The rain poured down, but the fire still burned.