To my nephews: Drew and, when he is old enough to be subverted by it, Luke.
Moses was a spotty boy with reedy legs and a reedy voice, who dwelt in the ancient land of Egypt. But he never really felt at home there. “I don’t see the point of all these angular buildings” he said to himself, “and there’s never enough milk and honey to go around. Perhaps I should leave and see the world?” So he climbed to the top of the tallest pyramid to plead his case to Pharaoh.
He huffed and he puffed, but he did not fall down. Pharaoh sat atop a pyramidal throne of gold under the blazing sun, an uncomfortable yet traditional arrangement. Three score slaves and six fanned him steadily with palm leaves, to steady the ship of state and keep it from the shoals of capriciousness. No-one wanted a repeat of the infamous ‘bricks without straw’ edict, handed down on the hottest day of the year. Moses paused to catch his breath and gather his thoughts, borrowing a palm leaf to cool himself. The movement caught Pharaoh’s eye. “What are you doing here, boy?” thundered the tetchy ruler from his lofty perch. In accordance with protocol, Moses fell to his knees and gave voice to his dilemma through the medium of song, giving a spirited performance despite his weak voice.
"…and if my mates could come too, that would be grand” added Moses as an afterthought. Pharaoh was not unmoved, he sipped from a vial of chilled date juice while the slaves beat faster, considering his response. While impressed by the lad’s rhyming of ‘double’ with ‘trouble’ he could not ignore the disrespectful form of address and somewhat ominous, bullying tone – that was no way to talk to the son of Ra! He took a bite of a McPharaoh burger and hardened his heart.
“No, I will not let you go!” proclaimed Pharaoh with finality, spitting a spray of pharonic crumbs.
Moses was outraged, he turned his back and stamped and stomped his way to the base of the pyramid. “There’ll be trouble all right” he wheezed. First he borrowed his mate Aaron's best poking stick. Then he took an enormous bottle of dye from the scribes' hall and the biggest bucket he could find and went down to the river Nile, life of the land. He poured the dye into the river, turning its waters red. With the stick he parted the reeds and parted the waters, searching up and down the bank for his warriors of justice, until the bucket was full to the brim.
Moses waited until night fell then crept back into the town. He sneaked and stole his way through the alleys, taking a ladder from outside the house of a window cleaner. He slinked through the streets, listening for the buzz of the bazaar, the market at the centre of town that never slept. The voices grew louder and clearer, the crowd sounding more agitated than usual that night. With a furtive glance in either direction Moses leaned the ladder against a tall building and climbed it awkwardly with the bucket. He tiptoed across the flat roof and peered down on the bustling bazaar below.
Moses carefully set the bucket down near the edge and crouched next to it, hidden by the darkness. Quickly, he reached down and started to fling the contents of the bucket into the crowd – it was full of frogs! The first dived into a cauldron of soup, to the shock and disgust of the queuing customers. “My soup!” cried the Maker of Soups, as the frog jumped out of the cauldron and into a basket of bread. The second fell onto an art stall, spilling paint everywhere. The splattered frog left a trail of froggy impressionism across the canvases as it hopped its way to freedom and safety. “My art!” exclaimed the Artist. The third landed atop the head of a light brown calf which reared in surprise, landing with an audible crack. “My foot!” wailed the Farmer.
The hubbub below became uproar. “There’s a boy up there!” shouted a voice. “I think I know him!” exclaimed another. With a defiant cry of “Obscenity!” Moses grabbed the bucket and flung the remaining frogs high into the air as a kind of amphibian smoke screen, and sped across the roof. He climbed down the ladder as fast as his spindly legs would take him and fled into the night.
There had been trouble all right!
Too scared to go home he retreated to the banks of the Nile. Making a bed for himself among the rushes he lay down to sleep. But he slept poorly, unused to the night sounds of the river and the calls of strange beasts.
The next day Pharaoh was furious! He hadn’t even finished his morning coffee before he was bombarded with complaints from the vendors of the bazaar, in hastily constructed and shoddy verse to boot. Their ‘frog chorus’ was frankly a debasement of music.
“A plague upon that pestilent Moses! May he be beset by bothersome boils! May lice and flies bite at him! May a thousand locusts devour his sandwiches! I’ll shake him ‘till he knows not night from day!” he shouted angrily. The slaves cowered in terror, such was the force of the curse. “This won’t stop at childish pranks if I don’t act now! Fetch me a scribe and the chief constable!”
Moses awoke late, itchy, blotchy, bleary-eyed, hungry and unsure that his actions had been wise. He saw no path before him but to walk home and make himself a sandwich. He nervously whistled his way back to his house but when he got there a shock was waiting for him. A papyrus had been nailed to his front door. “By Pharonic decree” it said “the person known as Moses is hereby prohibited from all contact with frogs, newts, toads and all other amphibians, by the will of the Moon and the will of the Sun.” Moses had been given an anti-social behaviour order! He hung his head in shame, his appetite quite vanished. Perhaps he’d gone too far, he mused.
Moses turned away despondently. The boy walked down an unspecified number of streets and out into the desert. For forty minutes he wandered, and for forty minutes more, until his weary feet took him to the foothills of Mount Horeb. Who should he meet there, but Burning George! He wore a shiny suit and a broad smile, and stood in a pool of black liquid that was inexplicably on fire. Yet somehow the flames never quite reached his brain.
“Hi Moses” said George cheerfully. “I heard all about your problems. People poured scorn on my attempt to alter the political landscape of the Middle East too, if you can believe it. Stay the course Moses! Never apologise! Never explain!” Moses wandered off the consider George’s words. Yet he decided not to heed them, as he was clearly a blathering imbecile. So he went instead to the Mount Horeb gift shop, and there made of careful purchases four.
And Moses descended from the mountain and sought out the people of the Bazaar. And to the Soup-Maker, and to the Artist and to the Farmer he did gift wondrous tablets. Yet they did not play Angry Birds upon them, for it would not be devised for millennia and more, but instead played a game of stacking blocks, and were content. And unto Pharaoh did Moses present a cushion of surpassing comfort, that he might sit more easily, and there was peace between them. And when Moses was grown Pharaoh did allow him to go on a cheap package holiday to Ibiza, where he did discover girls – but that is a story for another time.
And they all lived happily ever after, or at least until the Romans invaded.
No frogs or slaves were harmed in the making of this fable. One slave did cut his hand on a palm leaf but he’s all right now.
Music Credits: Excerpts from Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash and We All Stand Together by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus.