I perch, fatigued, in the eerily illuminated chambers of the Pharaoh’s palace. I am a lowly slave, whom people jeer at as they pass or don’t even grace with the courtesy of a contemptuous sneer. Even the little children smirk disdainfully at me. I rub my eyes dejectedly.
My task is to sweep the king’s immaculate, gleaming floor, and I utilize the opportunity to glean information about what is brewing inside the fancy palace bedecked in gold. Let me take you on a tour through my bleak existence.
I pry open my eyes at the crack of dawn. But I have no time to mosey through the musty, cramped hallways and linger over a meager breakfast. My twin brother Eliyah, the only other one enduring from our sextuplet, and I share a simultaneous yawn.
My older sisters and brother, the sole survivors of the sextuple older than mine, are bustling around, helping the little ones fumble with lacing up the remains of our tattered sandals. My father is noticeably absent, his presence a yawning gap that nobody can bridge. He is forced to sleep on the dirt floor outside at the fields, lest he lose a few hours of work.
A man barges in, his armor gleaming, brandishing a sword. My sisters are hustled off to plug away at barbaric labor under the heat of the blazing sun. I am lucky. I evaded the decree to have men accomplish women’s tasks and for women to execute men’s labor. Instead, I struggle to ensure that the pristine floors in the palace stay spotless, at the cost of my life, should I flounder.
Eliyah straps on his sandals in a flurry, and breaks into a sprint. “Bye, Ima,” he mumbles. He doesn’t need to strain his voice; Ima can hear him clearly over the din that our family of 22 makes. Our apartment consists of solely one room. It cracks Ima’s tender heart to hear him so melancholy and forlorn, but there is nothing she could do. If he’d dwelled two hundred years ago, he might have yodeled and been sanguine, but all the jubilant and jovial spirits have long since dissipated.
I hurry outside, the humid air slapping my face with more force than the crack of my master’s whip. I traipse through the marketplace, my face burning fuchsia with every derogatory remark thrust at me.
I trudge through the desolate fields where young and old are laden with loads far too cumbersome for them. They are sapped of physical strength, shadows of sunny personalities. Their shoulders are slumped from the work; their souls are slumped in defeat.
In order to vanquish the resilient, valiant Jews, Pharaoh needs to quell the morale and vigor of the slaves. So we are forced to do compulsory, arduous labor under the simmering heat, for absolutely no purpose, other than to crush our souls. This was one element of the diabolical plot to eliminate us. We labor for hours, only to have the building disintegrate before our anguished eyes.
I arrive at the castle, cleverly manipulated so it seems to float on the Nile, where a scoffing guard in a glistening sheet of armor makes a minute notation in his role book.
The pillars are adorned with hieroglyphics, carved by learned scholars and embedded with precious stones. Rugs woven with silky threads are splayed on the floors. Shimmery curtains, with a frilly lace top draped on the windows, prance in the early morning light. Diamonds catch prisms of light and emit rainbow kaleidoscopes. The ceiling is an arched dome, with the skylight sending showers of golden light.
Icy tendrils of fear clasp my heart. I am dilatory by nature, and my overseer threatened to whip me if I am tardy one more time. I surreptitiously slip in, for my overseer is thankfully bustling around, not observing me.
I spend the day scrubbing, my cheeks vermilion from the excursion. When the sun is blazing, in the heat of the day, I am tossed a scrap of stale bread. I devour it, ravenous, under the watchful eye of the overseer. After a brief respite, I am hustled off to complete my task. At last, the day has come to a close. Stars wink at me under the cover of an inky black sky. I trudge home, spent. I have no surplus energy to think or even dare to dream of redemption. I am a slave, and that is that.
Suddenly, the crack of a whip lands on my back and I yelp impulsively. There is a wicked Egyptian man with a sinister, malicious cackle lurking in the corners of his lips.
“Hey, Jew,” he sneers, his voice dripping with venom, “Come clean my house.”
Any self-respecting individual would adamantly protest, but I am not a self-respecting individual. I am a slave. So I meekly trail behind him, subdued, as he heaps chores on me.
I have no right to protest. Pharaoh has decreed that common citizens can force Jewish slaves to do menial labor for them, even after an energy-sapping day of arduous labor!
I complete the excruciating work in record time, but the man constantly finds excuses to whip me. I press my lips together to clamp the compelling urge to yell.
I scamper out of the house, and run home. There is no succulent, nourishing meal to refresh me. Instead, Ima wearily wipes sweat off her brows and hands me the skimpy portion she has preserved. She whiled away the day plugging away at barbaric labor, or trapping fish and water for Abba.
I nibble it slowly, trying to savor the taste. I swallow the lump that has risen instinctively in my throat. I imagine a world of freedom, but cannot fathom what that would entail.
I am a slave, through and through. If only the redemption would come!
(Some information was taken from Let My Nation Live by Rabbi Yosef Deutsch.)
By Shoshana Glatt,
a sixth grader at BYQ