He could feel the chill of the mountain air seeping into his bones. The plain expanded from the mountain’s foot as smoothly as an inland sea, its distant shores invisible in the golden haze of the setting sun.
The temporary settlement that dotted the area seemed to belong to some nomads of this place. Hamza first heard the collective bleat and then saw the sheep returning amidst an air full of golden dust.
Through the fleecy turmoil, he saw a tall shepherd moving towards a large tent. The man was wearing a homespun cloak, and looked exceptionally graceful, strong and stately. He watched, fascinated by each single movement of this man, who seemed to have a kingly bearing even in this desert setting. He was walking among sheep as if a king was moving among his subjects.
As the man reached a tent, a woman emerged with a pitcher of water and greeted the man with a smile. The gentle woman, who must have been his wife, was wearing a loose flowing robe with a head covering. Her face had a soft ethereal quality which he had never seen among the coarse nomadic tribes he had encountered in the Thar deserts of India. Who were they? He knew that a lot of gypsies still preferred a nomadic existence, but these nomads seemed very different.
The woman who was looking towards the mountain pointed out something to the tall man, who turned to look. Others also arrived on the scene. They too stopped to look at the mountain. A hush fell suddenly on the assembly. Even the sheep seemed to fall silent. Hamza whose back was towards the mountain, turned to look at the object of attention.
The hill soared for thousands of feet into the sky. There was nothing to halt the upward path of the eye, except here and there, an irrelevant tuft of vegetation curling from the rock-face on a single stalk or a straight damp smear of some spring’s overflow, like a snail track. But near the top, a strange luminescent glow was visible, lighting up the cloud layer that must have been near to its source.
Was it some kind of forest fire at the top? Hamza turned to look at the nomads. These people seemed equally perturbed about the cause of the light. The man was saying something to his wife. He gestured towards the path in the mountain and then towards the setting sun, which suggested that he was going to identify the cause of the fire, and promising to return soon.
Hamza felt a strong urge building up inside him. He wanted to talk to that man. But what was he supposed to do? Wait for his return or go after him? Hamza decided to go after him. He too wanted to see the source of the fire.
The shadows were lengthening. The sunlight was now mellow and golden. A deep gorge opened before Hamza, which narrowed and rose along a chasm between the mountains. He saw the man climbing steadily, and scrambled behind as fast as he could. Hamza had barely reached the end of this gorge when the sun dipped below the serrated edge of the hilly range. The mountain ahead turned greyish blue - sad, cold and threatening.
As darkness descended, the trail insensibly climbed higher and higher. Hamza had initially wanted to catch up with the man, but as he was climbing steadily and fast and Hamza was unaccustomed to steep climbs, he abandoned the idea and decided to catch up with him at the top, near the source of the mysterious fire itself.
The trail turned into a narrow ascent between overpowering volumes of rock, winding among boulders and gnarled trees and opening at last into a slanting world from which all sight of the plain was obliterated. But a turn of the path led from this labyrinth into the most brilliant moonlight, and the mountains were suddenly robbed of the menace and their oppressive weight. All was silver and light. The scene was magical in quality and miraculously silent.
Hamza started to enjoy the climb. He estimated that in another hour he would reach the source of that fire. But, then suddenly the silence was shattered by the screech of an owl. Hamza looked upwards. From a rock face, huge yellow eyes were surveying him impassively as if sizing him up. At the same time, a movement in the scrub caught his eye. A small rat like animal with hind legs like a tiny kangaroo jumped from the scrub, looked at Hamza with surprised large limpid questioning eyes and hopped quickly behind a rock. The large owl suddenly took off and flew ahead, as though the scurrying of this animal was a signal for him. Had he gone to inform others? Was Hamza trespassing into a forbidden territory? or violating some kind of sacred ground, where he didn’t have the right to come at all? He laughed loudly. Was it fear, or the effect of the moonlight that made him see a conspiracy in the simple movements of nocturnal animals?
But the owl had robbed the moonscape of its ethereal beauty. The mountain once again loomed mysterious and threatening. Horrid thoughts of insects and slithering reptiles lurking under the rock pebbles that lay strewn on the trail, began to gnaw at him. Gradually he started regretting his impulsive decision to follow the man. That man was so familiar with the terrain, he knew its dangers. He should have waited for him at that settlement. He remembered that nomads were always known to be very hospitable. Had he stayed on with them, he might have by now been savouring a roasted calf or a hot cup of coffee instead of this offensive odour.
Suddenly Hamza became more conscious of the repulsive odour. As he rounded the bend, he saw a large hyena blocking the trail about hundred feet ahead. Till now, he had only seen the hyena in a zoo, but growing up on Indian folklore, he had heard a lot about their habit of entering villages and carrying off sheep and calves or even children from beside the sleeping mothers. They also had the evil reputation of violating graves by digging up recently buried bodies and feeding on them. And it seemed to him that true to its reputation, the animal now blocking his trail was extremely ugly and repulsive.
Hamza stopped, groped around, and threw a rock at it. He had heard that the hyena was basically a coward and had been known to retreat at the slightest suspicion of danger. But the animal ahead was probably too hungry. Instead of retreating, it started growling threateningly. Hamza was without any weapons. It was too dangerous now to proceed on the trail in the night. He decided to go back to the security of the human settlement. But he didn’t want the hyena to get the impression that he was afraid. Hungry animals were known to attack at the first sign of weakness. Hamza started backing slowly. As he rounded the bend, he saw the hyena turn its ugly face towards the moon. Its mouth opened and with canines glistening in the moonlight, it sent the hills reverberating with the cacophony of a mad woman’s laugh.
Hamza could bear it no longer. He turned and started running down the trail. He wanted to get away from the place as soon as possible, but again he stopped. Now the trail ahead was blocked too. He saw a pack of wild dogs blocking the narrow chasm. The dogs had large ears and spots on the right flank. He had read somewhere that amongst all the predators, a pack of wild dogs were known to be the most aggressive, persistent and ferocious. Even the greater cats avoided them. There seemed no way he could bypass them. He looked behind. The hyena was close and rounding the bend. Hamza knew that these hungry predators would not leave him now, unless he could find a tree or a ledge. He looked around in desperation. A vertical pillar like rock formation was near. He ran towards it. The dogs and the hyena too seemed to sense the abject fear of their quarry. They started closing in. Hamza tried to climb the rock, but the rock was slippery. He managed to climb a few feet up. The pack of dogs had encircled him now. One of them jumped to snap at his leg but his jaw closed in on empty air. And suddenly Hamza started losing his hold, he was slipping directly into the salivating jaws of the dogs. He closed his eyes and fervently prayed to his God to get him out from this nightmare...
“The light you saw was the start of the ministry of Moses.” Father Joseph was looking at the jungle of skyscrapers from the wide glass wall of Hamza’s apartment. He was a friend of Richard and a Bible scholar. His work was recently published, under the title, ‘How the Pentateuchal traditions were transmitted’ Richard had already told him about his dreams and he had come straight from the church to Hamza’s apartment. Throughout the narration, he had maintained an absolute silence without any interruptions or questions. It was only when Hamza finished his monologue that Father Joseph began speaking dreamily. “How strange it feels when one considers the fact that you personally saw an event that had actually occurred more than three thousand years ago... All the while that you were fighting wild dogs and hyena in the mountain and Moses was climbing higher and higher for a tryst with destiny, who knows what sufferings were being encountered by Hebrew families in Egypt. The same moon must have been shining on the opulent palaces of the Pharaoh and on the slave labour camps, where the slaves were rebuilding the fortified cities of Pithom and Remesis. I wish you could have stayed behind and waited for the return of Moses.” He looked literally crestfallen. “Just imagine, the source of light you missed seeing last night was God’s light Himself, the most mysterious event in the history of humanity. It was the key incident in the whole drama. The gift of Moses’ staff came from within that fire. The plagues, the turning of Nile into blood, the shadow of death, the exodus, and the parting of the sea all followed later. It was that light, the fire that was all important. I wish I could have been in your place, I would have definitely waited for Moses to return instead of taking this stupid risk and losing the chance for ever. Oh my God!” He covered his face with both hands.
Hamza and Richard looked towards each other. Richard had a slight smile on his face.
“I am sorry Father, I regret that I do not have any control over my actions in the dreams.” Hamza said gently. “But, I will appreciate if you could enlighten me on these events of the past. I would like to know, how much of these incidents have received corroboration from the knowledge of the world and how much is considered a myth. I want to probe deeper into this matter and want you to help me out as much as possible.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish