"O.K., everybody up. We're leaving."
"Everybody to the riverside.”
Men walked through the streets, calling out in the early morning. The sun was barely above the pyramids and the head of the Sphinx. The camels still dozed in the villages.
"Habiru, Levites, Benjamins. Everybody to the river, please."
It was the day of the departure, everything seemed ready, everyone was packed, and the gifts of the Egyptians had been tucked away with family items.
"Rise and shine."
Heads came to windows.
"What's the matter with you?" The gatherers called up to them. "Don't you know what day it is?”
"Don't you know what time it is? Look at the sun. Why so early?"
"Have to be out of here by noon."
"We can't start wandering in the desert an hour later?"
They massed at the edge of the river, a crowd in coats of all colors, tattered garments, and rich silks, with mules and carts and camels. Stacked on some carts were the “gifts” of the Egyptians, what severe critics have since called “loot.” Many carried their whole lives on their backs.
"Do you belong here? We're Benjamins? You don't look Benjamin to me."
"I have no idea where I belong, does it matter in the desert?"
"You should be with your own kind."
They will be a stream clogging the roads, a polyglot mass, entirely different from the ancestors who had come as conquerors generations ago, who had ruled Egypt, and who had learned of holy altars and circumcision from their Egyptian hosts.
Troops stood on the sand behind them, defining the space where the dispossessed must assemble. A cadre of escort in tunics with golden sashes, wearing bronze swords, assembled before them.
"We're ready," said a captain of young middle age, tall and well formed, but not heroic, a cousin of the Royal House doing his military service.
"As ready as we'll be," said his lieutenant, crinkling his nose as he looks at the mass they must guide out of Egypt into Semitic lands. Across the narrows. Where in the world will they leave them? A place, they have been instructed, from which they cannot easily return, should the Dynasties once more falter.
Horns sounded over the dark brown marshes. Along the banks there was a quiet mass. Some prostrated themselves, others knelt before bulls, and others raised their hands toward heaven. There was clearly a variety of worship. Some horses of the Guard whinnied impatiently.
Horns sounded again. The foremost struck tents, loaded carts, gathered up children. Commands were given in different tongues to nations that never had one speech. Torches were lit to lead the way in different quarters; black smoke billowed into the brightening morning.
"Well," said the captain, "we'll get them somewhere."
The captain's horse rose on its hind legs, he raised his sword and lowered it, and galloped across the marsh.
It took 40 days for the crossing, each day the marsh was filthier, more glutted with the residuals of departure and despair. Each day the troops moved closer to the sea, tightening the band, diminishing the space of the assembly. When all the exiles crossed, the horses went right to the water and rode patrol along the banks.
Expulsion. Exile. Exodus. Time will pick the words. Beyond the sea were fields more than desert, less than pasture. The motley, mixed, and incoherent mass, not yet a people, more than an idea, moved on, stopping to graze animals when they can, resting at rare green places that remained from the time it had rained there. They came upon small stone or mud hut villages, killed the men and children, took the animals and the women, sometimes occupied the place, sometimes came and went like a pestilence, like a destructive horde. Often they fought amongst each other, always strife between the tribes, the towns, whatever groupings they have come from.
Like the Zodiac, the months of the solar year, later the Apostles, there were twelve major groupings. New groups joined, mixing into one tribe or another. Some tribes fall to history, forgotten. The people who will someday arrive will not be the same who left Egypt.
Near the equinox, the days are long; they approached land arable but not empty. In their chaotic state they could not possibly conquer even a promised land. The captain gave up hope of his own return to Egypt, called them into a vast circle. He walked among them, nodding, smiling, a statesman and a politician. He climbed a platform. He read what he said he has brought down from the mountain.
"I am the Lord, thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
"Why did he do that," Jahve asked himself, watching the crowds below, "that will only cause trouble."