An Apostle’s Tale 2.6 – Opening of the Ears

pyramidtours1Djamose wasn’t sure what to make of Ba-baht’s comment, but managed to convince himself it meant something good. Bib-useka removed a small, lidded fish-grass basket from his sack and bowed low to Ba-baht, confirming for Djamose’s his opinion of the man’s importance.

“What’s your business in town today?” asked Ba-baht, not appearing to care.

“Do you remember that canal we re-lined last Bastet? With any luck today’s pay-day.”

“The only thing Geb-shu-ef hates worse than spending a deben is spending it on a dung-eater,” Ba-baht grunted.

Bib-useka looked sideways at Djamose to see if he’d caught the insulting reference, but the boy didn’t look particularly offended. In fact the boy had caught it, but it was the first time he’d heard the term and he simply couldn’t imagine it had anything to do with him. Bib-useka bowed to Ba-baht again.

“If it’s okay with you, I’ll leave Djamose here for a minute and let you two get acquainted.”

“You leave him right here with me,” Ba-baht crooned. “This is my big chance to get in good with the next High Priest of Bibleb!”

Djamose didn’t get the joke and was almost alarmed when Ba-Baht started cackling like a chicken laying an ostrich egg. Bib-useka flashed a smile that looked more like pain and excused himself, retreating across the path to the pyramid. Djamose waited several moments while Ba-baht finished appreciating his own wit.

“That’s quite a name you have, Djamose,” observed Ba-baht, sinking back onto his side, exhausted by his cleverness. “”The Storm Gave Birth to Him.’ I’ll bet you’re quite the troublemaker.”

“I am not!” cried Djamose, surprised and displeased. “I’m the first-born son of Bib-useka and the strong right arm of Bibleb.”

“Easy there, boy, I’m just making conversation.”

The boy wasn’t entirely mollified, but decided to give the peculiar stranger the benefit of the doubt. A bowl, a jar and a fresh loaf rested on the papyrus mat next to Ba-baht. A blanket was thrown over his legs and a broken, but serviceable, wooden headrest sat within easy reach.

“Do you live here?” the boy asked.

“Nope,” said Ba-baht. “I just work here.”

“Did you build the house?” asked Djamose.

“That would be a trick, seeing as how I got my hooves from Set himself.”

Ba-baht pulled the blanket away from his legs to reveal two withered vines, shriveled and twisted and shorter even than Djamose’s.

“You could say I’m not really suited to the building trades.”

It was an uncomfortable sight, but Djamose was enjoying his interrogation of Ba-baht and instantly steered the conversation back along a more pleasant avenue.

“Who lives there?”

“Nobody lives there. It’s a shrine.”

“To Bibleb?”

“No, not to Bibleb!” barked Ba-baht. “To Sobek.”

“Are you a priest of Sobek?”

“Hardly. I like to think of myself as Sobek’s ambassador to Bibleb-Akhet.”

It was clearly a favorite joke and he started laughing again, so hard that he appeared to be in real danger of choking. Djamose used the interruption to check on his father’s whereabouts. Bib-useka knelt under the shrine’s porch in a familiar posture of supplication, which seemed to Djamose strange and a little troubling. Gathering himself, Ba-baht continued.

offeringSobek“When your dad or anybody else from Bibleb-Akhet comes to Ta’ Sobek, they have to stop here and make an offering. I keep the offering.”

“So your job is to collect the offerings?”

“No, that’s more like my pay. My job is to keep track of who’s offering what and let everybody in Hawat-ha know if somebody isn’t giving their share.”

“Sobek lets you to keep the gifts from his altar?” asked, Djamose, aghast.

“I think Sobek would be insulted if I didn’t,” Ba-baht said. “The trash you people leave isn’t fit for a great god of Egypt. It’s barely enough to keep me alive, and I don’t live much better than a dung-eater.”

Djamose fleetingly wondered who the poor dung-eaters were and how they’d come to be so disfavored by the gods and Ba-baht, then returned to the perplexing topic at hand. He had received that morning a new perspective on the proper commerce between gods and men, and while he could accept that one might in all piety eat bread upon which a god has already fed, he didn’t believe for a moment that any god would sit still for the wholesale looting of his treasury.

“You’re not a priest of Sobek, but you take all of his offerings?”

“From here, I do. I sell them in town for whatever I can get, which isn’t much.”

“And you don’t think he minds?”

“I know he doesn’t.”

Djamose’s next question asked itself.

“Then why does anybody bother to leave offerings here?”

If Ba-baht could have stood, he would have. Instead, he pushed himself up to a seated position and straightened his crooked back until it felt like somebody was driving a hot knife into his spine.

“Because they’re not offerings to Sobek, you young idiot. They’re the price of admission. If you filthy dung-eaters want to do business with honest Egyptians you have to pay for the privilege. You stink of foreign spirits, and you should be grateful we Shai-nefer-Sobek let you clean our latrines.”

This time there was no escaping the indelicately direct allusion. He means me, thought Djamose, with a jolt. He thinks I’m a dung-eater. He thinks the Children of Bibleb are dung-eaters. It seemed impossible that such an idea could exist in the world.

“Look, Djamose,” continued Ba-baht, more gently. Ba-baht wasn’t a good man, but he wasn’t exactly a bad one, either, and as a cripple he understood what it meant to dwell outside the margins. “Your dad’s a nice guy, and you seem like a nice kid. I don’t have anything against you personally, or against anybody in Bibleb-Akhet. But you’re about to find out that I’m the closest thing to a friend you’re going to find in Ta’ Sobek. That’s just how it is.”

For Djamose, his grand adventure was starting to feel like a most uncertain enterprise. He was very keen to take leave of the misshapen liar, proceed into Hawat-ha and disprove everything he’d just heard.

“My father isn’t a dung-eater, and neither am I,” he declared with all the dignity and force he could marshal. “And the People of Bibleb don’t steal from his house and sell his things. If you were smart you’d build a shrine to Bibleb right next to that one and ask for his blessings. Then you’d see who is the greatest god.”

Ba-baht smiled indulgently. Djamose found it deflating.

“I’m sorry, boy, but there’s just no profit in Bibleb. There’s no market for him in Kemet, you see. And there never will be.”

Bib-useka hustled up just then. Hearing his son’s outburst, he’d rushed over hoping to stifle Djamose before he offended a man who could make no end of expensive trouble for Bibleb-Akhet if he felt like it. He was relieved to find Ba-baht in an agreeable mood and Djamose tractable.

“I was just telling Djamose about my little kingdom here, and how much I like doing business with the good folks of Bibleb-Akhet.”

“I thank you for that kindness, Ba-baht.”

“Well I thank you for that kindness, Bibi. And now, if you’ll pardon me, all this talk has tired me out.”

Bib-useka bowed low.

“Sobek’s blessings upon you, Ba-baht. And what do you say, Djamose?”

Djamose wanted to say that Ba-baht was a crazy, broken devil and he would hate until death.

“Blessings upon you, Ba-baht. Your shrine is nice.”

Ba-baht eased back on his mat and closed his eyes. Bib-useka took his son by the hand and the two began walking. A few moments later, and with all the suddenness of walking through a door, Djamose stepped out of the barren and bankrupt desolation of Bibleb and into the rich green plenty of Sobek.



An Apostle’s Tale 2.5 – The Offering Keeper


Djamose’s first actions in land of Sobek were to trip on his own feet and splay headlong into the dirt. His first sensation was of sand in his mouth. His first emotion was surprise, followed hard by confusion. Rolling over, he sat up to face his father.

“Why did you push?” he asked, too stunned to be angry. “I was going!”

Bib-useka stepped forward, helped Djamose to his feet, brushed the dust from his skirt.

“I’m sorry, Djamose. Are you okay?”

“I was going. You didn’t have to push. Why did you push?”

Bib-useka could have told Djamose that his country was not kind to the Children of Bibleb and there was value in being introduced to it with grit in your teeth. He could have said that he pushed him forward else he surely would have pulled him back, marched him home and hoped in vain that he would never have to endure the cruelties and degradations that were his birthright. 

“Because your grandfather pushed me,” he shrugged. “And his father pushed him”

Indeed, the fathers of Bibleb-Akhet had been pushing their sons into Egypt at least since the time of Ahmosis, and quite possibly much longer than that.

“It’s just something we do.”

“Well, it’s stupid,” said Djamose, who understood the authority of tradition well enough, but didn’t understand that one.

“Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. Why don’t we forget it?”

Except that Djamose had already forgotten it. He’d no sooner gathered himself sufficiently to notice the green paradise stretching away to the horizon than he fell victim to a very different kind of shock. The parched desert falling away before him ended abruptly in a wall of graceful palms, the line between sand and sumptuousness so straight and sharp it might have been cut with a butcher’s knife. Lush fields carpeted the land beyond, criss-crossed by shining blue ribbons of cool water. The far distance blazed white, like Ra somehow brought to ground, and although Djamose had never before seen more water in one place than could be held in an earthen jar, he somehow knew he was looking at that impossibly vast accumulation called sy-Sobek. Its scintillating face burned into his mind like real fire, and the wonder of it left him all but speechless.


“It’s where we’re going,” said Bib-useka, suddenly all business. “Come on.”

Djamose was lucky he didn’t fall flat on his face again. The path was rocky and rutted, but he never once looked down, his eyes fixed on the marvel of Ty’ Sobek as if he was afraid that if he glanced away it would disappear like a dream. The smell of life was so strong it felt like food in Djamose’s nostrils. The air felt as cool as dawn, as thick as wet clay, as soft as old linen. His head was a storm of thoughts and questions and urgent observations, but none substantial enough to emerge through his mouth.

acaciaFather and son walked in silence toward Sobek’s verdant fence, and in short order arrived at what Djamose initially took for a very strange house. It stood on a low stony prominence to the right of the road, a sharply angled mud-brick pyramid perhaps 10 feet high with a dusty portico jutting out toward the road. The entire structure was covered in white plaster, mottled by a dozen patch jobs of varying age and sparingly painted with faded botanical motifs. That it looked nothing like any house Djamose had ever seen didn’t affect his judgment, since it didn’t look like anything else he’d ever seen, either. To the left of the trail directly opposite the pyramid hunched a tired and especially thirsty-looking acacia tree. A tattered blanket thrown over its branches did little to augment the meager shade beneath its thin canopy, and under that poor shelter reclined the first Child of Sobek that Djamose had ever seen.

“Good morning, Ba-baht!” his father called out, with a wave. “Sobek’s blessings upon you!”

The figure weakly raised one arm and as quickly let it fall.

“Doing any business today?” asked Bib-useka, cheerfully.

“I’m not getting rich, Bibi,” the man replied, without rising. He was thin and dry brown and seemed to be built of brushwood and rotten leather. His voice was reedy and high and, Djamose thought, unpleasant to the ear. Still, since only his mother and maybe two or three of his father’s closest friends would presume to address his father by the rather familiar diminutive “Bibi”, and then only rarely and only in private, Djamose was pleased to conclude that Ba-baht was either a very dear friend of his family, or a man of great position in Hawat-ha, and probably both.

“Old Weepy’s a tight one,” Ba-baht went on, “and getting saddled with a load of wet dirt didn’t exactly loosen him up. That Ptahbesu is a real bastard,” he chuckled.

“Yeah, the donkey didn’t look too happy either,” Bib-useka nodded. “Ba-baht, may I introduce you to my son, Djamose? This is his first trip to Hawat-ha and he’s very excited.”

Ba-baht yawned and stretched out his arms, crackling audibly and exposing the one tooth left in his mouth. It was a sorry yellow specimen sticking straight-up and dead-center from his lower jaw.

“Is he now?” grinned Ba-baht. “That’s a shame.”


An Apostle’s Tale 2.4 – A Short Walk

Bib-useka rose and turned toward the village, motioning his son to follow.

Neither spoke as they made their way along back along the temple’s tumbled avenue. Skirting around the south side of Bibleb-Akhet, they joined the wide, rutted track that served as the eastern highway a short distance outside of town. Almost immediately they encountered a man Djamose knew well, a jovial fellow the village children called Weepy because his left eye was forever shedding tears. His real name was Bib-ret-ka, and he was returning from the Land of Sobek leading a donkey saddled with two enormous baskets practically overflowing with half-dried mud. The cruelly burdened beast plodded and panted in the most pitiful way.

“Hi, Ret-ka,” said Bib-useka with a wave. “Is that poor donkey going to make it?”

“He’d better,” Ret-ka grinned, “or he’ll be supper tonight. That’s good mud, and it cost me a fortune.”

“It looks kind of wet. No time to dry it out?”

“I asked Ptahbesu if I could spread it out in his empty stock pen and come back for it tomorrow,” said Ret-ka, absently wiping a tear from his cheek. “He said if I dropped a single grain of it on his side of Wadjet’s Teeth he’d sell the whole lot to his son-in-law and I could fertilize my plot with sand. What a bastard.”

“One of these days somebody will come up with a curse he can’t shake,” said Bib-useka. “He wears so many charms he sounds like a rattle when he walks.”

“All in Bibleb’s time. So, where are you two off to today?”

“Believe it or not, Hawat-ha,” said Bib-useka. “I think it’s time I shook Ptahneferset’s rattle about that canal job we did during the Feast of Bastet.”

“Set’s flaming butt,” said Ret-ka, rolling his eyes. “You’re better off trying to get paid by my donkey.”

“And, of course, Djamose here is five years old now and it’s about time he paid a visit to our neighbors.”

To Djamose’s surprise, Ret-ka breathed a deep, sad sigh and shook his head.

“Wow, that takes me back. Worst day of my life. There’s no coming back from that trip, eh?”

He leaned down and fixed Djamose with his weepy eye.

“Don’t you worry, Djamose. The Lucky of Sobek are just that – lucky. You’re as good as any man there. Don’t ever believe any different.”

Djamose just nodded. Worry about what? He knew without having seen it that Ta y-Sobek was an earthly paradise of beauty and wonder and plenty. What could he possibly have to fear in such a place?

“Anyway, good luck to you both,” said Ret-ka, tugging the donkey’s halter. The animal complained loudly, but started plodding forward again. “And don’t forget – the supple reed outlasts the flood.’”

“Unhappy is the river free of water,” Bib-useka nodded sagely, clasping his hands in front of his face. “And Bibleb’s strength be upon your donkey.”

They started walking again, toward Ibhi Wadjet. Breaking against Wadjet’s stubby teeth, the yellow rays of Khepera’s morning light cast shadows on the ground that reached out to them like Set’s black fingers. Djamose was in a hurry. His father was taking his sweet time. He wasn’t looking forward to the morning’s errands.

“Tell me again where we’re going,” Djamose begged, skipping a few yards ahead. His young imagination burned like altar fire, his simple mind constructing, destroying and rebuilding a succession of indistinct wonders that must certainly lay at the end of the path to Ta’ sy-Sobek.

“We’re going to the town of Hawat-ha,” sighed Bib-useka. He’d been about Djamose’s age when he’d taken that journey with his own father, and although time had providentially erased the event’s specific details, he supposed he’d been just as giddy. He sighed again. It seemed a cruel thing to do to the boy, but it couldn’t be helped. Better I should be with him, thought Bib-useka, than he should find out how things are on his own.

“What do they eat?” Djamose supposed the residents of Hawat-ha ate nothing but beef and pork and cheese and grapes, all of it drowning in honey.

“They eat bread, like we do. And peas and lentils, and dates.”

It was a diet wholly out of tune with Djamose’s luxurious mental menu, and while he didn’t for a moment suspect his father would like about it, he had no trouble disbelieving every word. As the path began its gentle rise to the crest of Ibhi Wadjet, the boy had the distinct sensation of floating upward as if on a breath of wind.

“Tell me again what we’re going to do.”

“We’re going to see the man that I’ve been working for. His name is Geb-shu-ef, and he owes us a lot of money. If he pays us, we can buy something to take home. Would you like that?”

Djamose did like that, so much that for a moment he couldn’t speak for the hot excitement jammed up in the back of his throat.

“Like what?” he finally rasped.

He really had no idea. Djamose was familiar with commerce only in the most abstract and theoretical terms, having never laid eyes on a product that was available for sale. His imagination failed him, and he almost shouted with frustration.

“We’ll see,” said Bibuseka, most unsatisfactorily.

His brain finally catching up with his ears, Djamose’s heart suddenly turned cold.

“Why do you say ‘if he pays us’? Why wouldn’t he pay us? You said he owes us a lot of money. Doesn’t he have to pay us?”

“Geb-shu-ef is an important man, and he’s careful with his money.”

“But you’re an important man, too. You’re the priest of Bibleb!”

“I’m not important to Geb-shu-ef, and he’s not afraid of Bibleb.”

That someone – anyone – would not fear to displease Bibleb was an idea entirely new to Djamose, and he wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“At the temple you said we were entering the land of our enemies.”

“I did say that.”

“But we’re going to Ta’ sy-Sobek.”

“That’s where we’re going.”

Djamose’s thoughts skipped to a night a few months before when he’d wandered too far in search of fish-grass and got caught alone in the Red Land after Osiris had retired to his sepulchral throne. The Great Bull Khonsu had been falling low to the horizon, bearing the weight of a nearly full moon upon his back. The desert about Djamose was to him as familiar as the huts and alleys of Bibleb-Akhet, yet in that pale, oblique illumination he didn’t recognize any part of it. He knew very well where he was, but couldn’t reconcile what he knew with the testimony of his eyes. He felt something like that now.

“Are the People of Sobek our enemies?”

For a long moment Bib-useka didn’t answer.

“No, they’re not our enemies. But they’re not our friends.”

It seemed quite impossible.

“But we’re all Egyptians! How can Egyptians not be friends with other Egyptians?”

Again, his father walked in silence for a time before speaking slowly, carefully.

“We all live in Egypt, Djamose. Who is Egyptian sometimes depends on who you ask.”

That answer made no sense to the boy, who was in any case losing his appetite for the topic. His journey to Hawat-ha, long anticipated and launched with the highest of expectations, was beginning to seem like a questionable venture, and talk of enemies and men who cared nothing for Bibleb was taking a toll on his optimistic nature.

They continued in silence, giving Djamose a better opportunity to focus his attention on Wadjet’s rapidly approaching teeth. From a distance they’d appeared to him as jagged, formidable, menacing. From a perspective of perhaps 100 yards they assumed a very different aspect. They were tired-looking fragments of crumbling rock slowly collapsing back into the desert. It was obvious to Djamose that the spirits of those moldering hulks had fled them long ago, and it seemed to him careless of Wadjet to have allowed something so closely associated with Her illustrious self to have fallen to such an abased state.

The smell of water was stronger here, and of growing things, and of the smoke of dung fires. As he came near enough to put a hand on the powdery surface of the monolith to the left of the path he became aware that the deep westerly shadows concealed a strange tapestry of carved figures. In some ancient time a dozen lines had been cut into the weathered rock, dancing figures that held no meaning for him. In a somewhat less ancient time the panel had been defaced with what Djamose took for a crude representation of a human foot and leg, and which had been carved to a depth of more than an inch, obliterated a large portion of the mysterious text.

“What does it say?” Djamose asked.

“I don’t know,” said Bib-useka. “It’s very old.”

In fact, nobody in Bibleb-Akhet could decipher those puzzling runes, the talent of literacy having passed out of that village many generations before.

“What’s the leg for?”

“The leg is a symbol of Bibleb. It marks the beginning of Bibleb’s domain.”

Not coincidentally, in the hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians, it was also the most basic symbol representing the sound at the beginning of the names Bibleb, Bes and Bastet.

“So we put it there to let people know when they’re entering the Land of Bibleb?”

“Um, kind of the other way around.”

“We didn’t put it there?”

“The People of Sobek put it there.”

“So they’d know when they entered Bibleb’s land?”

“So we will know when we’re leaving it.”

Djamose wasn’t sure he saw the difference, but the way his father said left no doubt that there was one. Bib-useka moved to the stone abutting the trail on the south, and stopped in front of a cracked and dusty mud shrine that stood to his waist. A small clay pot sat in its offering niche. It was about the size of a duck’s egg and stopped with a plug of palm wood. He picked it up and placed it in his sack.

“Good old Ret-ka. He, at least, remembers his duty to Bibleb. It’s disgraceful how many come and go without making a consideration.”

They were still west of the stones. Djamose could see the broad gap between Wadjet’s Teeth, and see the light pouring through the very short passage between them. He could step through any time he wanted, but, faced with the actuality, felt suddenly rather comfortable where he was. His father walked over and stood directly in front of him, placing a tender hand on his shoulder and staring directly into his eyes.

“None of us get to choose our place, Djamose.”

The boy just stared at him, expecting more.

“I love you, son.”

“I love you too, dad.”

Bib-useka softly turned his son to face east, and then, with a vigorous shove that almost knocked the boy off of his feet, thrust him through Wadjet’s ragged teeth and straight into the yawning mouth of Sobek.

An Apostle’s Tale 2.3 – Offerings

“I have an idea,” said Bib-useka, with a quiet, conspiratorial air. Reaching into his sack, he withdrew a pair of thumb-sized figures crudely carved from palm wood and even more crudely painted. One purported to be a soldier, the other a hippopotamus, and neither was capable of living up to its aspiration without a substantial investment of on the part of the observer. They were, in fact, Djamose’s two and only toys.

“Here,” he smiled, holding them out to his son. “Put these on the altar.”

Djamose didn’t know what to think. The impulse to cry was quite extinguished now that his immediate problem was solved. On the other hand, the offering his father proposed posed an entirely new and no less dire one.

“Those are mine,” said Djamose.

“Yes, they are.”

“They’re my toys.”


Just as desperately as Djamose wanted to present something, anything, to Bibleb, he didn’t want to part with those shoddy figurines. The citizens of Bibleb-Akhet liked possessions as much as anyone else, they just came by them far less frequently. Fact is, the misshapen soldier and unrepresentative hippo were the first items Djamose had ever owned that he couldn’t wear. Bib-useka had presented his son with the playthings, neatly wrapped in fish-grass, the night before as the family was settling down to sleep. Djamose had begged for a few intimate minutes alone with the toys, but his father had merely laughed, set them aside and blown out the lamp. Come morning they’d been fully occupied preparing for their journey to Ta’ y-Sobek. That moment before Bibleb’s altar was exactly the second time Djamose had laid eyes on his first private property, and it seemed impossible to him that it could also be the last.

“I haven’t even played with them yet,” said Djamose, unable to prevent a pleading note from creeping into his voice. In his distress he didn’t think to wonder why his father was carrying his toys around in his bag.

“Then Bibleb will like them even more.”

At another time, in another place, Djamose might have been inclined to dig in his heels and defend his claim to those precious trifles, but there in the presence of his expectant god, with his father and priest demanding tribute be paid and Ta’ Sobek beckoning to him from the east, he simply couldn’t summon the will. He felt caught like a gull in a net.

“Go ahead,” Bib-useka patiently urged. “Offer them to Bibleb.”

His face still mashed in the dry earth, Djamose reached up without a word and accepted the little statuettes from his father’s hand. He was achingly aware of how superb they felt in his own – clean, smooth, and humming with stories beyond telling.

“Now, without getting up, see if you can put them on the altar.”

Djamose crawled forward as slowly as he thought Bib-useka would permit, pathetically trying to delay the inevitable. All too soon he reached the base of the altar and, reaching up as high as he could, just managed to push the objects over the edge and onto its weathered surface.

“Now say what I say,” his father instructed. “O Bibleb, I am your servant.”

“O Bibleb, I am your servant,” echoed Djamose. He fleetingly wondered if he should take a stab at a priestly tone, but found he had no heart to try, or even to care as much as he probably should.

“Your servant brings precious gifts, O Lord.”

“Your servant brings precious gifts, O Lord.”

“Accept these gifts from your servant.”

“Accept these gifts from your servant.”

“Your servant comes in prayer. Look with favor upon your servant. Your servant journeys to Ta’ y-Sobek. Your servant enters the land of his enemies. Protect your servant in the land of his enemies, O Bibleb. Hold your shield before your servant. With your spear strike down your servant’s enemies. Bibleb’s servant asks this. Life, health, strength to Bibleb.”

“…Life, health, strength to Bibleb,” concluded Djamose. He heard his father rise, but decided it better not to follow suit without orders and kept his face to the ground. Worship, he thought, was somewhat more complicated than he’d formerly believed. Bib-useka bowed low toward the sanctuary and clapped his hands together four times, and then twice, and then four more times. Then he collected his son’s toys and from the altar and placed them back in his sack. He would sell them at the market in Hawat-ha, as he’d planned when he carved them, and they would fetch a better price for having not been pawed by a child’s grubby fingers. It was a shabby little trick to play on his first-born son, but, among the Children of Bible, shabby little tricks often meant the difference between sufficiency and want.

“You can stand up now, Djamose.”

Rising, Djamose immediately noticed the figurines missing and his heart leapt into his throat.

“Where did they go?”

“They’re Bibleb’s now,” said Bib-useka.

Djamose was dumbfounded. Clearly the god had emerged from his sanctuary and taken possession of the figurines while he’d been groveling in the dirt. The wonder of it left him stunned, and hugely disappointed.

“Did you see him? What does he look like?”

“Our eyes can’t behold Bibleb’s unless he chooses to reveal himself,” Bib-useka instructed. “He didn’t choose to reveal himself today.”

Djamose felt better, and a little relieved. He wasn’t sure he was up to beholding the god’s terrible majesty just then.

“But why didn’t he take the food?”

“He did take the food. He had a very nice breakfast.”

“But it’s still there.”

Bib-useka laughed. Djamose thought his father to be in rather high spirits considering the personally calamity that had just befallen his only son.

“Gods don’t eat like you and me, with hands and mouths. Bibleb ate the smell of the bread, and the flavor of the meat, and the spirit of the offering. The offering itself is his food. Do you understand?”


Bib-useka laughed again and stuffed the food parcel back into his sack.

“You will. Now do what I do.”

Facing the shrine, Bib-useka bent at the waist and held his arms over his head, palms forward, which pose Djamose mimicked awkwardly, but acceptably. 

“O Bibleb, your servants depart. Be pleased with your servants’ gifts. Look upon your servants with favor. Protect your servants. The servants of Bibleb depart. Life, health, strength to Bibleb.”

Djamose had made his first offering to his god. He hoped it had been worth it.

An Apostle’s Tale 2.2 – Empty Hands

As the holy son of a long line of holy fathers, the titular moral compass of his community, and the conduit by which his flock approached their divinity, Bib-useka maintained a sizeable mental library of useful axioms and platitudes.

“Unhappy is the river free of water” was a favorite, it being obvious enough to preclude argument, vague enough to accommodate virtually any crisis of faith or fact, and satisfying to the average Egyptian’s bedrock conviction that advice delivered up by way of the Nile, however inscrutable, had to be good. Another standby, “Ask not of Bibleb what you ask not of yourself”, was handy at deflecting aggrieved supplicants’ more unrealistic prayers, and a great time-saver. Of more practical bromides, none were more direct – or more profitable – than “Every journey begins at the Temple.” Few of Bibleb’s faithful would consider venturing much beyond His austere dominion without first making offering and obeisance at His sanctuary. All by itself that compact chestnut yielded about 60 percent of Bib-useka’s wherewithal, which is why he repeated it at every opportunity.

“Every journey begins at the temple,” he said, taking Djamose by the hand and leading him westward through the village.

Djamose was quite literally vibrating with excitement, anticipating his first journey into the greater nation of Egypt and unto the warm bosom of his undiscovered countrymen. It seemed to him a proud and very grown-up thing to be allowed to personally ask Bibleb to speed his feet and protect him on the road ahead, although he didn’t for a moment believe that such blessings and protections were necessary. He half-dragged his father through the winding lanes to Bibleb-Akhet’s western boundary where, between a disintegrating lump of mud-brick that was both home and exile to a young woman whose mind had become infested with violent spirits, and the town’s offal pit, began an ancient avenue leading straight and level into the Red Land.

The way was paved, although most of the paving stones had long since found other employment, and those that remained served more to impede progress than to facilitate it. Low, compact mounds composed of the broken pieces of baked-clay bricks marched beside the broad aisle at precise 22-foot intervals, 24 of them on either side stretching ahead across the desert. No resident of Bibleb-Akhet could remember seeing those sorry heaps in any better condition, and the last person who could speak authoritatively regarding their original form and function had apparently died before doing so.

The priest and his son picked their way along the once-stately boulevard to its end and stood together before a once-stately shrine, an imperfectly rectangular box about five feet high, and long enough and broad enough for three grown men to lie down within. That three grown men might attempt to do so was unlikely, since the sole access to the shrine was the ubiquitous “false door” of Egyptian invention, a purely cosmetic representation allowing passage only to gods, spirits and imaginative musings. The mud-brick upper structure squatted precariously atop the uneven remnants of neatly laid stone walls, hinting that the shrine had once afforded a somewhat grander aspect. The few and scattered vestiges of white plaster still clinging to the roof and walls could, at first introduction, be easily mistaken for a random application of bird dung. Nevertheless, that crumbling, sun-baked carbuncle upon the face of the desert was the divine and august abode of Bibleb, and that it contained wonders beyond mortal description Djamose had no doubt.

Releasing his son’s hand, Bib-useka stepped forward, un-slung the fish-grass bag he’d been carrying from about his neck and fell prostrate in front of the altar. In marked contrast to Bibleb’s unlovely shrine, Bibleb’s altar was a thing to be admired, a precious block of smoothly finished black granite standing waist high and at one time embellished at its top corners by four “horns” not typical of the Egyptian devotional aesthetic. That one of the horns and the corner upon which it had stood were no longer in evidence was not deemed by the Children of Bibleb to hamper the performance of the altar’s holy office, a sensible position considering that five generations of the town’s collective productivity couldn’t hope to replace it.

“Bibleb, I am your servant,” Bib-Useka intoned, effortlessly assuming the timbre and cadence reserved to the priestly classes. “Bibleb, your servant is before you.”

Without rising, he reached into the fish-grass bag on the ground beside him and withdrew a small quantity of bread and dried goat meat wrapped in coarse fish-grass fabric. Reaching up, he set the offering on the dusty altar and continued.

“The servant gives food to Bibleb. The servant gives strength to Bibleb.”

He motioned Djamose to join him at the altar. The boy moved forward, dropping to his knees and planting his forehead in the sand. A powerful thrill surged through him. Djamose had worshiped at Bibleb’s shrine many times before, but he’d never before been there alone with his father, had never before witnessed the personal communion between the god and his priest, and had certainly never before approached Bibleb as a direct petitioner. That he was fated to become Bibleb’s strong right hand he already knew, but his first taste of that heady reality set a thousand sistrums ringing within his head.

“Bibleb eats and grows strong,” chanted Bib-useka. “The gift of the servant is the strength of Bibleb. The strength of Bibleb is the joy of His servant. Life, health, strength to Bibleb.”

Face-down in the dirt before his god, Djamose felt his spirit rise like a falcon in flight, borne aloft on the mighty wings of a benevolent destiny. Bibleb was his god, and he was Bibleb’s servant, and their special bond transcended all ages of that ageless land.

“Now it’s your turn,” whispered his father, without raising or turning his head.

Djamose fell to earth, instantly and hard.

“What?” he hissed.

“It’s your turn,” said Bib-useka, kindly, but insistently. “Give something to Bibleb.”

The boy’s hot rapture turned to cold horror. He had nothing to give. Why, he screamed in his head, didn’t I bring something? That he hadn’t the first idea what might constitute a suitable temple gift didn’t even occur to him. What he knew for certain was that his first semi-private audience with Bibleb was ending in disaster before it had a proper chance to start. His triumph was plummeting in ruin, his euphoria choked by ashes, his divine bond smashed to splinters.

“Go ahead,” coaxed Bib-useka, gently. “Make an offering.

Utterly paralyzed, it required Djamose several moments and all of his five-year-old will to speak.

“I don’t have anything,” he breathed, his eyes wide with alarm and still staring straight at the ground. “I didn’t bring anything.”

His father knew that, of course. It was as he’d intended.

“Hmmm…”, murmured Bib-useka, turning his head slightly and knitting his brow in concern. “Bibleb must have a gift. I don’t know how we can leave for Ta’ Sobek without Bibleb’s blessing, and I don’t know how we can get Bibleb’s blessing without an offering. Nobody comes to the temple without an offering, Djamose. Nobody. This is bad, son. Very bad.”

Djamose’s unhappiness couldn’t have been more complete if Sobek himself had stormed up the ruinous avenue, ripped both of his arms from his body and ate them while he watched. He was going to cry, and he knew it. Bawl and blubber right in front of Bibleb and in front of his father and such a weak and impious worm as he could never be appointed the great god’s earthly instrument. He was just summoning up the wind necessary to express his abject misery in long and full-throated wails when his father clucked and raised a single finger.

“I have an idea.”