Flock without a Shepherd
by Nodi Ipp
Written in 2003 after reading an Australian Newspaper article – ‘Rejected Sheep’
Ishmail stopped suddenly. He stared out into the night. Then he whispered, “What’s that?”
“Don’t know”, hushed Moshe, “What d’you think?”
“Sounds like sheep”.
“Yes!” said Moshe his voice tightening, “Sheep!”
…. but even before they could listen, their eyed locked in bewilderment Ishmail choking “IS! It IS. It’s SHEEP! Listen!”.
Through the still night across a breathless sea drifted the distant bleating of sheep. It sounded as if there were quite a few. More than ten. More than twenty even. Maybe a hundred.
They were mystified. It didn’t fit. It didn’t make sense!
“Let’s go! Start rowing Ish”. Moshe sounded composed. But he wasn’t.
“ It’s that full moon again, the world’s upside down, sailor’s who bleat, sheep that sail. And the storm! Let’s use the motor instead”.
The 50 horsepower motor took first time and with a last glance into the liquid indigo night, they buzzed off home.
“Ishmail look!”, yelled Moshe above the motor.
“What now? A ship”. The port light could just me made out. “Seems a bit close to shore Mosh?”
“No, its far! Forget it Ishmail. Anyway I want to get home”. Moshe set the throttle to maximum cruise and began to relax. He breathed deeply then sighed as his muscles softened. He could feel the relief flooding his veins. He was already imagining Ruth and the kids laughing and playing and he smiled to himself. Then,
“Moshe, Mosh! Wait wait, stop!”
“What now Ish? I’m NOT stopping.”
“No wait. Listen! I want to look at it.”
“You want to LOOK! ….. Loook Shmook! No! I don’t!”
“Yeah, come on! We don’t have to go all the way, just close enough to see the outline. The moon’s so beautiful. Maybe the ship’ll look amazing. Come on Moshe, we have enough fuel. We know the sea. It’s our sea you always say that. We know it better than anyone so how could anything go wrong? We’ll be safe.”
Moshe slowed the boat and switched off the engine. He turned to Ishmail and standing up with his hands on his hips, peered intensely into his eyes. A light breeze from the sea had started and the boat began to sway.
“That’s the edge of the storm. So we have at least 12 hours now”, said Ishmail.
Moshe’s eyes were processing his brain, then, “Okay let’s go! Adventure! But IshmaEle, I will hold you personally responsible for anything that happens! RIGHT!”
“Right, don’t worry. Your Yiddish survival instinct’s ‘got you going’ again Moshe. Relax, it’s just a strange boat with a green light inviting us to come and see. And maybe it’s carrying sheep.”
Moshe started up the motor again. They buzzed across the Red Sea toward the little green dot punctuating the night’s horizon. Neither uttered a word, only they were consumed and flooded with a swirling imagination as the evening sky murmured.
Earlier, a full moon had risen. The sun had set, simultaneously. They’d watched the moon’s first light peeping over the edge of the distant range like a quicksilver tongue, while the sun blended yellow and orange as an alchemist warms the turquoise blue into dark indigo. Steadily the moon had risen full firstly stronge orange, softening into pink and tinted peach.
I am the lucid pool of calm,
full with peace and soothing balm,
forever tracing the flaming arc,
on the primal journey of Life’s spark
Now, the full moon hung above the horizon staring at them. A white orb porthole open for the romance of an Arabian Night whose dream blends reality, waxing and waning wanderings and wonder. Mystery spun its thread of gossamer into grandeur. The dome of the night echoed with their thoughts, then danced with their souls. Something rose into a resonance of knowing, stitched together by the gossamer threads into a bond of trust creating a cloak of unity between their hearts. In their own dream time world the men shuddered. Shivers tingled simultaneously down their spines. In the zone of deep mystery and memerised, they gaped at the many coloured coat which flew across the heavens.
After about ten minutes Moshe pointed through the mesmerizing hum of the motor.
“There! On the horizon.”
“Mm”, answered Ishmail.
Another ten minutes.
“Strange! It seems much further, hey can you smell something?”
Both sniffed the fresh sea breeze.
“What is it? Can’t place it. I know it, but…..”
“Me too”, shouted Ishmail in the din.
As the silhouette got closer and bigger they became more and more transfixed. The moon beamed a pathway to heaven across the sea.
“ANIMAL!” shouted Moshe.
“That’s it, farm animals.”
“Sheep!” Moshe let go the throttle in shock and gripped Ishmail’s shoulders. There they were in the middle of the night, on the calm Red Sea digging their fingers into each others shoulders with the boat’s motor spinning and screeching.
“Switch it off Mosh, switch it off, we gotta think. Shit we gotta think. This is mad.”
Without the throbbing motor, the sudden silence whammed their senses like a vortex vaccum of stillness, except for the sound of sheep bleating plaintively across the calm sea.
“Pass my bag, I need a jersey”, said Moshe as Ishmail took off his t-shirt to face the heat. They huddled together on the bench seat of their boat. Two middle eastern fisherman. Archetypal! Biblical! Millennia of Moshes and Ishmails have fed the palettes of villagers. But now their fishing lines were packed away and attention focused on the looming image silhouetted by the moon, from which emitted the uncomfortable odour of sheep.
Moshe whispered, “That ship is gigantic. Look at it. It must be full of sheep. That must be the biggest flock of sheep ever. And the ship, it’s as big as the Ark. What the hell is going on?”
“It’s another Ark”, said Ishmail, “Full of sheep. Allah, what is going on?”
“This is madness!” hissed Moshe, “I must be dreaming. Am I dreaming Ishmail?”
“No!” whispered Ishmail, “No this, this is real. Listen again”.
No bleating. Their faces twisted into consternation as they strained their ears. Nothing!
Moshe whispered, “What now? The boat is real, we can see that?”
“But what of the sounds, the bleating?”
Again he nodded.
Instinctively they stopped to listen. All they heard was the lapping of the water on the hull. Then,
“Yes, yes, there it is, they’re at it again. Okay, that’s it, I’ve had enough, I’ve got to get out of here Ish, it’s enough. OK!”
“Yeah, okay, let’s go, enough is enough.”
On the way back there was mostly silence. Both were ponderous. How were they going to tell their families what had happened? They wrestled with their thoughts like biblical figures struggling with the angel of truth. For, what seemed to them truth would surely not be believed by their brethren back in the village. Their tall story reputation would only be strengthened in the minds of everyone.
“You know, we may have to keep this to ourselves,” said Moshe.
“Yeah, imagine telling them we saw the biblical ark floating under a full moon and it was full to the brim with animals, but all of them were sheep, bleating and complaining of being at sea, as if lost and rejected by nature.”
“You’re right Ishmail. We will go to sleep and say nothing except that it was a bad night for fishing”.
“Yes, and when we wake up tomorrow we’ll talk. We’ll check if we were dreaming, or, if we had the same dream or, if by some small chance, this night really did happen”.
“Good”, said Moshe with determination.
They both nodded dreamily as they sped through the dark toward shore.
Blondie was looking out at the big moon as it rose above the mountain. She saw the beam cut its liquid path across the water.
“Hey Barney, when do you think the cruise is going to end?” she said.
“Dunno Blondie, but I sure miss my family”, he answered.
“Yeah, your dad is a real stud. He’s so well liked by the farmers. They give him all the best food and his very own pen. What’s he got that’s so special, I just can’t work it out? Remember him at the Royal Show last year, all proud and important?”
“Yeah, we were such little lambs then. I was so proud of him. But now I think he’s a pain. So stuck up and fat he can hardly walk anymore. Nice thick coat of wool though. Maybe that’s it! He stopped greeting me awhile back, when I stopped jumping around and gambolling with everyone. Anyway forget him, he’s never been on a cruise like we have huh! I wonder if we’ll get to meet up with Zelig again. Did you know he was lucky enough to have gone on the last cruise.”
Blondie hardly heard any of it, “I suppose they’ll take us to new farms. We’re the best. Maybe there’s a shortage of wool. We must be the best sheep. That’s why they take so much trouble. Such a big ship. Cousins brought together from all over the place. So many packed in. I love to hear stories from the South West. They seem to have a really easy life compared to us. We’re the scroungers, they’re the easybleats”.
“You know Blondie, this morning I heard one of the workers reading in the newspaper how worried they are about us. Did you know we were supposed to have got off by now. It said, “Rejected Sheep Cruise On”. Why would they reject us? It’s never happened before. I mean none of our brothers and sisters ever came back from their cruise. I can imagine them wandering on luscious green grass, like when the rains come in winter. Do you think we’ll meet up with any of them Blondie?”
A breeze wafted through the rooms and the boat tilted to port. It was so calm and peaceful then.
“Yeah I can see them on some gristle munching under the woolly sheep gods floating above. Diddle daddle, gambol and jump, fiddle faddle. What a wonderful life! Sip sparkles from a mountain stream. Yep, the farmers really care for us don’t they Barney”.
“Of course they do. I mean it gets hot on the land and when the food gets eaten and there is little left, they must send us off so we can be looked after Blondie”.
“I know, yes!”
“I am so happy to have been an Australian sheep. You know the newspaper says, the kind owner of this cruise told everyone that he is trying to find the place to let us off and that he would not jeopardise our welfare. But he said that the situation is serious and so he would manage it, for the welfare of the animals.”
“That’s us Barney. It’s amazing, what a wonderful thing. Such care. Such good people. I wish though they’d give us a little more space to spread out and even lie down without being tramped on.”
“Naa, I like it like this, its all cosy and snugly, all the soft bodies squashed in. Like cushions for each other. You know what I do, I rest my head on Jimmy’s tail, or where it would have been had they not cut it off and have a little nap every now and again. It’s wonderful. I have to wake up every time he needs to, you know what Blondie. Hey, what’s that? Blondi, what’s that buzzing?”
“Sounds like the farmer’s motor-bike. Out in the sea? The farmer’s coming to muster us. Oops, getting ready to run Barney, my hearts pumping. You know, the dog once jumped on my back and bit my neck. Lucky the farm hand put some red stuff on it to stop it bleeding.”
“I hate the dogs too, they make me so scared. But Blondie, think about it, we haven’t been mustered for 3 weeks now, being cooped in this ship. Thousands of us, Baaa! Actually I’m sick of it, Baaa, and it seems others are too. Baaa! And there’s the moon Baaa, and now the muster is on, Baaaa and Baaa and BAAA!”
“Calm down Barney, don’t get all excited like the rest of them. Don’t be a follower like other sheep. But yeah, that motor-bike does get the blood rushing hey, baaa! A motor-bike on the sea? How strange! And anyway where can we run to, I mean really? You know humans, they are a bit stupid sometimes. I like to humour them and pretend I’m scared and innocent.”
“Yeah, it makes them feel better about themselves and also they’re less pushy with us. Actually, quite a violent flock hey, baaaa!”
“Think about it Barney, it’s not so bad here you know. A cruise is a cruise. I got a bit sea sick when we sailed out of Fremantle into that wind, but, I seem to have got used to it now.”
It sounded now to Blondie that the whole ship was Baaa-ing. She just couldn’t help herself, so she Baaa-ed too! And then the sound of the motor-bike muster stopped. Everyone stopped too. There was silence. Everyone listened, waiting for the muster from the sea to resume. But nothing. So they started again anyway. Softer, less excited. And the breeze got stronger.
Deliverance from the Storm
The storm hit after noon. It had been a wild morning that simply went from bad to worse. Most of the village was obliterated under torrential rain and tempests unimaginable.
Moshe knew what was going on. He knew that this was another of those floods he had learned about in the bible. So he called his family when the first palm cracked its bough across the heavily gutted road. “Ruth come, we must get to high ground. I told you God is sending another flood. We really did see the Ark when we went fishing last night”.
He had decided not tell her that it had only been filled with sheep and not with pairs of every animal like the old one of Noah’s.
“I think it’s a sign that we’ve been chosen to survive the new flood. So come on, to high ground, let’s go. Each of you take a package, it’s food to last until we get saved by the Ark”.
“My God, he has lost it”, mumbled Ruth. She watched him and thought, he has been acting so strangely. How can I go with him. Another flood, he’s mad. The biblical flood. Insane! THE ARK. Oops, he’s dangerous. “Yes dear, you go, prepare a place for us, we’ll follow you”.
“No no, I’m not waiting, you must come now, can’t you see how dangerous it is. The flood is coming.”
There was a banging on the door. It opened. “Come on”, shouted Ishmail, “We must get out of here. Get to high ground. Didn’t Moshe tell you, the flood is coming”.
Ishmail’s wife and two children were waiting outside in a blizzard of rain. Amina looked shocked and frightened as she clung her 2 year old to her chest. She shouted, “Do we have to go?” The palm trees were bending and bowing to the power of nature, swaying wildly like giraffes in a fight.
“Yes, let’s go, let’s go. We’ll go to the cave”.
The cyclone wreaked havoc. Giant waves, extreme winds, hail balls the size of coconuts. The two families took shelter in the cave along with many other villagers. It was packed, but safe as it was quite a distance from the flying debris in the village. The normally tranquil Red Sea was wild. It poured down the main road of Kalamgedi and flooded the lime brick houses. The farm animals fled up the hill. There was mayhem.
Nature was wild. Nature was angry as darkness descended on the chaotic screeching and howling. Then a weird thing happened. It was as if the weather suddenly stopped, almost in a sudden jolt. Everyone looked – puzzled, fearful, hopeful – what was going on. And there was nothing. In fact, nothing was going on. Everything stopped, all the wild turmoil abated and it was silent. Ishmail looked at Moshe. They were watching across the sea for any signs of the Ark and were certainly not at all prepared for this sudden stillness. Everything was silent, even the villagers were hushed. The moon was struggling to show itself through the thick clouds, but hardly a glimmer helped the fear stricken people. Ishmail and Moshe were quiet. They were wondering what God had in store for them now. They had been doing a lot of praying. All the years of studying the Koran seemed to be well worthwhile at this time. Moshe was happy he had had a barmitzvah and felt ready to take on the job of his namesake Moses. And in the dark silence that was the eye of the storm, everyone fell asleep.
Just as suddenly as the eerie silence had arrived, pandemonium struck again. The storm was back, wild as before. The villagers wailed and prayed, they crouched and hugged, they cursed the evil Devil and begged the good God. Two storms in one night, it was just too much to bare. So they all held each other close and sang and hummed songs of prayer and songs of family, songs of community and songs of God. It didn’t matter which religion or which God and there was no time for blaming either. After all, everyone believed in the bible and Noah’s Ark and even though Ishmail and Moshe were good story tellers, this time they seemed to have been right. Everyone knew that help, no matter where it came from, would be good. So Jews sang Muslim prayers and Muslims chanted Jewish incantations. It was enough just to hum along when they didn’t know the words, for the terrible tumult of nature had destroyed all the barriers between the people. Right now, differences in petty beliefs as well as fundamental values just didn’t matter. They were all in it together and everyone, even the sceptics prayed hard.
In time exhaustion took its toll. By day break, everyone was asleep. Ishmail was dreaming, “sheep, more sheep, Allah, why are you hounding me with sheep”.
Moshe, opened his eyes and closed them shut as quickly as he had opened them. “He knew he was dreaming, because all he could see was sheep. He even heard them. So he tried again. He peered between tight eyelids and sure enough, there they were, sheep. The biggest flock of sheep he had ever seen and they were eating everything they could get their hungry mouths on. He shouted, “Sheep”. And Ishmail jumped out of his sleep, shouting “sheep”. There they stood, in each others arms staring out into the dream that was real. Sheep stretched for miles around. And it was inexplicable.
From the vantage on the hillside the villagers gaped. For not only were there sheep everywhere, but lying on its side down the beach, was the biggest ship they had ever seen. The Ark had been washed ashore in the cyclone. It was vanquished, bereft of life, soon to be a rusty iron relic of meaningless magnitude. And sheep were everywhere, set free from the shackles of the ark by a most a macabre set of circumstances. And nobody understood anything. There was no shepherd to lead the flock.
Exclusion rejection betrayal. And now, the flock was together and free.
What happened to the sheep: http://www.banliveexport.com/features/cormo-express.php
Yet it is continuing to happen in the live food trade from Australia, with much suffering for the sheep.
Ed 15 – 4 – 2014