The Lion Returns

This is the sixth part in The Stutterer, a fiction series by the author. Installments run on Sunday mornings. You can find the first five parts here.

Moses entered Egypt through dark streets. It had been forty years since he had walked through this city, but even in the dark he was not lost. He found the door of his mother and father’s house and knocked; a small flicker of light moved past the window. A man, slightly taller than Moses, with broad shoulders and curly hair, opened the door. The candle he held at his waist accented his sharp chin and unmistakable, raven-like nose. The two stared at each other for an eternal second, their hearts booming, beating blood against thin skin walls, both suddenly believing in miracles.
“Moses?” the man said.
Aaron dropped the candle and embraced the brother he had thought was dead.
“Moses! Come in, come in! Thank HaShem you’re alive!”
They spent the night talking about their separate lives. Aaron told Moses about their parents. Their father collapsed at work and was beaten to death. Hearing the news their mother fell into her bed and never again got up. Aaron then moved to Miriam; she was married, with children and grandchildren. Moses then shared his life, how he had run until his legs collapsed beneath him, of the shepherds at the well, of his sheep, and of his wife and children. Then as the sun was peeking up over the edge of the earth, he approached the reason for his return.
“Aaron,” he said, “I’ve come to free you from slavery. I’ve been told to lead our people out of Egypt.”
Silence filled the room.
“By who?”
“By God.” The sun by this time had entered the house; the city was about to wake up.
“Of course,” Aaron said at last. “It has to be you.” He didn’t elaborate. He just sat looking out the window.
“Well that settles it then,” he said finally. “When do we begin?”
They walked to Miriam’s house. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this, you know…” Aaron said. He knocked on Miriam’s door: a full knock, the knock of a man who builds things. At first Moses thought it was his mother who answered. She had grayer hair, but did the same thing with her eyebrows when confused. She looked at Aaron, then at Moses, then back to Aaron, then back to Moses. Then she started to cry. She ran her hands over his face, and through his hair, and pressed them against his chest.
“Can this be true?”
She looked at Aaron and he nodded. She looked at Moses and he tried to smile, and nod, and speak, and cry—but everything happened at once, so that his face mushed into something resembling a pile of crushed olives. She ushered the two of them inside and Moses, with Aaron’s help, explained where life had taken him and the reason for his return to Egypt.
“No,” she said, her gaze directed at the floor.
“Miriam, it has to be him,” Aaron said. That was all he said. Moses suddenly realized that they had shared a lifetime of experiences that he had missed out on, and he wanted to ask why it had to be him. Why did he have to uproot the life he had built? Why was he forced to come back and remember all the things he had tried so hard to forget?
“We don’t need saving,” Miriam said. “I never expected to see you again Moses. I’m so happy you’re here, and I don’t know what happened that day, but God has long since abandoned us. Your brother has gotten mixed up with some strange people, who have filled his head with wild notions of prophecy and fantasy and destiny and mutiny, but not the –y word that matters. This city is still not safe for you Moses; people still have not forgotten. Please stay the night, I’ll make dinner for our family—together again—but then you need to go. I wish you could stay but this, unfortunately, is reality.”
Aaron stormed out. He returned at dusk and said to Moses, “Come with me.” He led Moses to the bank of the river, near the spot where this journey had started. There a group of men had gathered and seemed to be waiting for them.
After introductions the leader said, “Since our banishment from Eden we have been trying to go back. We thought we had found the Garden in Babel but God said no. We thought we had found our leader in Noah, but God said no to him too. There is no Eden here. We know because nobody should have to suffer like we do. Nobody in Paradise should be forced to work with bleeding hands. Nobody should be forced to wait anxiously by, wondering if their husband, or their son, or their father will make it home. Ever since that dream all those years ago we have been waiting for our lion to roar. We never doubted he would; never did we wonder whether those lost boys had died in vain. And now,” he paused triumphantly, “We finally have our lion.” At this the whole circle looked at Moses; he felt like their eyes had entered his blood, and they were fighting away the last remaining doubtful little men inside.
“Moses,” the man said. “It’s time.”
The next day, flanked on all sides by the men from the river, Moses walked to the palace. He walked up the familiar steps of his childhood and into his former home. His head and heart were confused—make a left to go to the kitchen, make a right to get to the courtyard—but his feet seemed confident. They arrived at the great double doors that led to the court of the Pharaoh, and Moses felt his feet give way—as if they were saying, “We got you this far, the rest is up to you.” But before he had time to doubt his task, one of the men kicked at the doors and they opened to a panorama of gold. At the far end of the room sat Rameses. As Moses walked further into the room his eyes met his brother’s and they stared at each other, the room slowly shrinking around them. Rameses looked older and wiser, but tired; he had those same sad eyes as when they were kids, since the day his grandfather had put an end to the games.
“I’m not here to hurt you Rameses,” Moses said. “I only have one simple request, one that comes with the weight of the Almighty God behind it. If you don’t listen there will be consequences, so please, for me, Rameses, Brother—” he took a deep breath, “Let my people go.”
(Photo: David Berkowitz)