WHAT THE BUTLER DID
Ahmed, the butler’s steps sounded hollow as he walked down the long corridor to where Pharoah’s Chief Administrator sat writing. Ahmed waited until the administrator stopped and raised his head.
‘Tell me why you have come here today?’ the administrator asked, his voice echoing in the long hall.
‘It’s about Pharaoh’s dreams,’ Ahmed, the butler, answered.
‘And the reward, I suppose?’
Ahmed nodded slightly in acknowledgement. “And the reward.’
‘Can you interpret dreams?’ the Senior Administrator asked.
‘No, but I think I know someone who can,’ Ahmed answered.
“Well, a few years back, someone interpreted a dream for me and things turned out just as he said they would.’
‘What was the dream about?’ the administrator asked, then, leaning forward, ‘Hey, aren’t you the butler in the palace? Why don’t you tell Pharaoh yourself?’
Ahmed hesitated. ‘Well… well, to be honest, it might bring back some awkward memories, and Pharaoh hasn’t slept too well since he had the dreams, and you know how he can be.’
The administrators eyebrows rose interrogatively. ‘Awkward memories?’
Ahmed smiled to dismissively. ‘I was in prison for a few days. Nothing serious, a mistake really, but I’d rather not remind him.’
‘Well, I was accused, wrongfully, of selling some wine. They found the real culprit and the executioner did his thing to him and the baker who’d been selling loaves. The way Pharaoh is, I just don’t want him to have second thoughts.’
‘Are you suggesting that Pharaoh is fickle?’
Ahmed held his hands up in rebuttal. ‘No, no, nothing like that, I mean, the baker deserved it, and it’s years ago.’
‘Do you want me to make an appointment, or what?’ the administrator asked, frowning..
Ahmed shook his head. ‘No, I just thought, if I gave you the name, you could pass it on and we could split the reward fifty-fifty.’
The administrator’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. ‘I don’t understand why you would want to split the reward. What’s wrong with this name you want to give me?’
‘Nothing, he’s a sort of slave, works in the prison.’
The administrator laughed. ‘You want me to tell Pharaoh that a prison slave can interpret his dreams? What kind of a clown do you take me for? And for that, I’d get half the reward!’
‘He’s not really a slave like you’d normally get. Some Bedouin brought him from Palestine,’ Ahmed explained.
‘You mean he’s an illegal immigrant?’
‘I wouldn’t go as far as that.’
‘He’s from Palestine, you say, but he wouldn’t be one of those Chosen People, would he? Of course not, ne-ver!’ the Senior Administrator said sarcastically.
‘His name’s Joseph, is all I know. We never talked about Chosen People and that.’
The administrator looked askance at Ahmed. ‘Is there anything else about this slave? How did he land up in the prison anyway? If he can interpret dreams he could be rich in no time. What else is there, old son?’
‘Well, he was sent there because Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying it on with her but you know what she’s like. By reputation I meant, I wouldn’t suggest someone like you ….’
The administrator laughed again. ‘You really expected I’d fall for this? I’m to take one of those heathens who wont accept Pharaoh is a god, who just happened to try to rape a governor’s wife, I’m to take him to Pharaoh and tell Pharaoh this is a miracle worker who will interpret his dream for him, and, for that, if I don’t get my head chopped off, you’d be good enough to give me half of the reward? Guard,’ the Senior Administrator shouted, ‘come and take this fool away.’
The guard, dozing in the heat by the distant door, almost came awake. He looked in the Administrator’s direction.
‘No, no,’ Ahmed said waving his hands in protest. ‘It’s not necessary to get the guard, I’ll see myself out, but, when I tell Pharaoh that I told you about this chap and you refused to pass on the message, he won’t be too pleased.’
‘Never mind me. You’d better do something about it before the end of the month because that’s when Pharaoh takes a look through the record of who comes to me and, when he sees your name, he’ll want to know what it was about.’
Later, standing behind Pharaoh’s chair, waiting for Pharaoh’s arrival in the evening, Ahmed’s hands had a quiver. He tried to ignore it but he kept having visions of spilling wine on Pharaoh’s robe as he gave him his goblet. It got worse when Pharaoh, irritable from lack of sleep, stormed into the dining apartment and sentenced a page to ten lasshes for coughing as he passed.
Ahmed kept his head down so as not to be seen staring at his godly master but disintegrated when he glimpsed, fuzzily, through the hair of his eyebrows, that Pharaoh was looking directly at him. Not just looking but pointing.
‘Prison!’ Pharaoh shot the word out.
Ahmed didn’t move, couldn’t move.
The guards moved towards him.
‘Leave him be,’ Pharaoh shouted. He stood looking at Ahmed. ‘You told me some story about having a dream interpreted when you had that spell in the tronk. Right, Ahmed?’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ Ahmed whispered, not raising his head.
‘Bring him to me,’ Pharaoh ordered.
‘He may be dead for all I know,’ Ahmed pleaded.
‘Then you’d better go to Hell and bring him back,’ Pharaoh told him. ‘You’ve got two days.’
As Ahmed climbed on to the ass he’d hired from the stable, its spine raised like the mountains of Syria and smelling just as highly, he muttered to himself. ‘Sends me off to find this Joseph, no transport of course, but be back in two days. If I can’t find this Joseph, I’ll just disappear into the dessert on this flee bag.’
The ass refused to move. Ahmed beat it, but it just carried on chewing its dribble.
Ahmed shouted for the stable owner but people were diving into doorways. Ahmed twisted to see what was scaring them and saw six mounted guards of the Household Cavalry racing towards him. Now I’m for it, he thought.
‘You’re to come with us,’ the Sergeant shouted.
‘I’m on a special mission for Pharaoh,’ Ahmed shouted back. ‘If you throw me in jail I can’t do what he told me.’
‘You’ll never get it done on that charger of yours,’ the Sergeant laughed. ‘Get up on this camel, or you will be in jail,’ the Sergeant ordered.
When they found the prison and Joseph, Ahmed threw his arms down in frustration.
‘He stinks,’ Ahmed pointed out to the Sergeant. ‘And look at his clothes, in tatters, I can’t take him to Pharaoh like that!’
‘Not my problem,’ the Sergeant told him. ‘But, if you value your head, you’ll get that scruff to the audience chamber quicker than quick.’
Ahmed thought of the audience chamber, its cool marble tiles, the women in their fashions, the air thick with their perfume as they sipped lemon water and flirted with each other’s husbands but he could see no way out. If they’d let him come on the ass he’d have been long gone.
As they walked into the audience chamber, the crowd parted from the smell, but, from the way he looked about him, you’d have thought Joseph was dressed in fine silk, didn’t even bow to the throne. Blasted Chosen People, thought Ahmed, he’ll get us all an interview with the executioner.
Ahmed couldn’t hear what they were saying but Pharaoh was smiling as he called him over.
‘You’ve done me a signal service,’ Pharaoh told him. ‘As a reward I’m putting you in charge of the vineyards and winemaking.’
‘Congratulations on your promotion,’ the Chief Administrator said to Ahmed as he withdrew from The Presence.
‘Promotion! It was bad enough serving the wine but at least I could dump it and blame the vintner if it was a bit dodgy. Now I’m the vintner and what I know about making wine you could write on a scarab shell with a hammer and chisel. All this promotion does is multiply my chances of being the guest of honour at an execution.’
‘You’ll make a fortune, be able to sell the dodgy wine to the merchants and pubs, tell them it’s from the Royal Vineyard and you can name your price.’
Seeing Ahmed’s doubt, the Chief Administrator went on, ‘Would you rather be his replacement?’ he asked, pointing at Joseph.
Ahmed looked at Joseph, thinking, ‘Roof over my head, he looks well enough fed, worst that can happen is a few blows from the warder’s cudgel, just relax and go with the flow. Besides, he always seems at peace. When I talk to him I feel I’m just missing something that would change my life, but, then, just as I think I’m about to find out what it is, I remember I owe the moneylender for the house, and I’ve got the kid’s school fees to think about.’