Friday 17 August 2012

The Hidden History of Noah's Ark

Noah sat in his tent and looked out at the desert.

It was boring. He was bored. He acknowledged it to himself with a sneer. The trade in goatskins and sour wine was all very well, but it didn’t mentally satisfy. It lacked, as his son Ham had informed him just that morning, a certain something. His life, Ham had insinuated, needed zing.

Noah thought Ham was full of faeces.

Noah sighed. The desert never changed, the goatskin trade never changed, and his wife never changed. She wasn’t even as liberal as old Abraham’s Sarah and would have a heart attack even at the thought of presenting him with her slave girl. In fact, come to think of it, that was one of her grouses; that she didn’t even have a slave girl when all her friends did. Thinking of her depressed Noah, so he began counting the goatskins in his ready stock, and estimating the orders he would have to place to meet expected demand. As always, this was a job of such overwhelming interest that he fell swiftly asleep.

Noah dreamed. In his dream he was standing in front of a hill covered with bushes. One of the bushes was burning with a crackling flame. As he came close, the bush began shouting at him.

“Stop,” the bush shouted, “and take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.”

Noah looked down at the ground. It looked pretty much like other ground. “I’m not wearing shoes,” he offered.

“Don’t talk back,” the bush snapped. “That’s the problem with...” What it intended to say cut off with a snap and crackle, because it had burned down to the ground. With a shower of sparks, another bush further up the hill burst into flames.

“ I’ve decided to flood ‘em out of their holes,” the second bush said, incomprehensibly. Noah blinked. “Beg pardon?” he asked.

“Don’t interrupt, I said,” the bush sizzled. “Or I’ll...” and because it was a small bush, it burned down too.

By now one after the other, all the bushes on the hill were bursting into flames. As no rain had fallen in many months, and since none of them was of any great size, none lasted long. Noah was bombarded by a medley of information, commands and exhortation.

“Stand straight when I’m talking to...” spat one bush. “It is I the Lord your...” crackled another. “Rain rain come and stay, come again every day, until Little Johnny’s drowned and the Earth washed away,” sang quite a large one. “Blasphemers! Criminals! Ingrates!” ranted yet another. One by one they burned down, and soon enough Noah was standing again in blessed silence, no wiser than he had been, on a hill covered with grey ash.

“Wake up, Noah,” said someone, shaking him. Noah opened his eyes and saw an old man in a white beard and white nightgown. The old man’s beard and hair were matted and stuck with burs and his white nightgown long overdue for a wash. The fingernails on the hand which was shaking Noah’s shoulder were long and grimy. He looked awful.

“Who are you?” asked Noah automatically. “A customer?”

“No, not a customer,” cackled the old man. “I’m...”

“I don’t buy from anyone but the regular wholesalers,” Noah explained hastily. “And I don’t need any help at the business. I haven’t enough work to keep myself busy as it is.”

“Will you listen?” the old man grimaced angrily, showing worn and stained teeth. “I want to...”

“You ought to meet Shem, my middle son,” Noah said. “He runs a laundry business. He’ll have your nightgown washed cheap. Just tell him I sent you. And about that hair and beard of yours, my youngest son Japheth’s wife is a beautician who-“

Shut up Noah!” the old man screamed, spittle flying from his lips. “Let me speak!”

“OK, OK,” Noah said, shrinking back from this lunatic. “Keep your hair on.”

“As I was telling you,” said the old man, “I’ve decided to flood ‘em out of their holes. If they aren’t for me they’re against me. They’d better not misunderestimate me now!”

“What are you talking about?” Noah asked. “Who are you anyway?”

“Who am I?” the old man said, outraged. “I am what I am.”

“Whatayam?” asked Noah. “That’s a strange name. Is it Native American or something?”

The old man blinked. “What are you talking about?” He looked at Noah suspiciously. “I said...oh, damn it. I am the Lord your God.”

“God?” Noah blinked at the old man’s dirty nightgown and matted hair. “Looking like that, you want me to believe that you’re God?”

“What can I do?” God whined. “Nobody cares for me any more. Nobody gives me the sacrifices I deserve. Do you think I want to look like this?” His nostrils began to flare with righteous anger. “And that’s why I’m gonna flood ‘em out of their holes,” he shouted. “I’m gonna drown the earth, see if I don’t!”

“Uh...” Noah tried to shrink as far away from God as possible. “Why are you telling me this, anyway?”

“Noah, you idiot,” God said then, “I’m giving you the chance to be famous. Here’s what I want you to do...”

It was several weeks later. Noah stood at the mouth of his business tent and waited for God. God was late, and Noah was getting tenser with every passing moment. Finally there was a puff of smoke and God appeared, fuming.

“I was looking all over,” said God without preamble. “And you know what?”

“What?” Noah asked stupidly.

“I didn’t see anything!” God shouted. “No damned Ark! Not even a keel laid down yet. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Uh, Lord,” Noah stammered, “it’s like this, you see...first, I couldn’t get hold of the gopher wood you wanted me to get. It’s too expensive. I can’t raise the funding.”

“So?” God sneered. “Take out loans, mortgage everything you’ve got. Approach the banks, the moneylenders, everyone. Steal if necessary. What does it matter? You won’t have to repay a copper coin. Everyone’s going to be dead...except your family.”

Noah pondered that a moment and decided he could live with that. He then turned back to God. “And how am I going to find a marine architect for this? I’m no shipwright. If I try building this on my lonesome, it’s going to go down like a stone.”

“So hire one,” God said, yawning. “You won’t have to pay him either. He’ll be drowned.”

“Don’t you think I tried?” Noah asked. “The first one looked at me like I was crazy when I told him to make a ship so far from the sea. The second...well, the second told me he didn’t make cattle carriers. The third called in the cops and accused me of planning a terrorist attack, and it’s lucky for me that they simply decided I was a harmless madman, or –“

“All right!” God snapped. “You just go ahead and design it by yourself, and we’ll see about the floating bit later. And about the animals, now –“

“Yes, about them,” Noah said warily. “The authorities want me to show them my zoo licence. The pet store owner’s association want to investigate me before selling me even a kitten. The animal rights people are planning to picket me for cruelty. What am I to do, Lord?”

“Brazen it out, or bribe them, or whatever,” God said. “I really don’t care how you go about it. I want that Ark built in seven days.”

“Seven days?” Noah squeaked. “You’ve got to be joking.”

“Seven days,” God said. “Or else...”

“All right,” Noah said, gulping. “It will be done in seven days.”

It was, of course, not done in seven days.

“What’s the problem this time, Noah?” God asked.

“Well, Lord,” Noah began. “I did as you said and borrowed money left, right and centre. I even financed a little highway robbery. I’m in hock so deep I’ll never get out, and now...”


“My subcontractor has gone on vacation to Turkey. I managed to get the wood, but all my labourers have quit working here to go canal digging over by the river. The pay’s better there and they have health insurance, they said. So I have to build the Ark with my own two hands. How can I do this, Lord?”

“How about your sons Ham, Shem and...what’s his name, Japheth? What about them?”

“Oh, Lord. Ham has decided on a career as a rock star, so he and his brothers have gone and formed a heavy metal group. Do you know what they’re calling it?” The spittle flew from Noah’s mouth as he shouted in outrage, “The Ark!”

“Anything else I should know?”

“The media.” Noah was still shouting. “The bastards have made me into a figure of fun, you know that? The local comedians are running stand-up shows on me. All my life I worked hard and acquired a reputation, and now...”

God wiped Noah’s spittle off his face. “This time three weeks,” he said quietly, “the rain will fall.”

“Tell me something,” Noah asked. “If you’re so omnipotent and omniscient, how come I have to do all this donkey work, and how come you have to ask me all these...” he saw God’s eyes getting bloodshot and quickly backtracked. “Sorry, Lord. I’ll have it built in three weeks – somehow.”

“See that you do,” God said, “or I might have a rethink on that too.”

“Something else has been bothering me, Lord.” Noah scratched his beard, accidentally murdering some of his favourite lice. “If you fill the world with water, the sea and river water will mix, right? So won’t sea and river creatures die in each other’s water? So how do you intend to save them?”

“That’s my business,” God said. “You attend to yours and I’ll see to mine.” He turned to go.

“Uh,” Noah said, desperately. “One other thing.” God turned round, his eyes glittering with anger. “What now?” he snapped.

“Food, Lord,” Noah said. "What do the animals eat on the Ark? And what do we eat, my family and I?”

“You eat...the animals, of course,” God said. “Whichever you choose is fine with me. And let the animals eat each other. It’s all the same to me.”

"So how do I save them?"

"Who the hell cares?"

Noah stood on the deck of the Ark and watched the rain come down.

It rushed down from the grey sky and crashed down on the deck, sluicing over the side. No, Noah thought, that was what it was supposed to do. Instead, it fell right through the deck, through the chinks in the planks and through the holes.

“What are those holes?” God thundered from above.

“Woodpeckers,” Noah said despairingly. “Woodpeckers and boring beetles. What else?”

“The animals will be drowned!” God shouted.

“No they won’t,” Noah said. “Half of them have broken out already, by the hole those rhinos made in the hull, and the rest are going now. And good riddance, too, because I never thought of cages to keep them away from each other. Have you ever tried to restrain a bull elephant, huh, Lord?

"Besides," he continued after a pause, "the water will flow out through the chinks in the bottom as fast as it’s coming in through the top.” He waited, but God said nothing, so he continued, almost conversationally, “And, Lord, you might take a look around. The rain’s not flooding anything. It’s all draining into the ground.”

“What?” God spluttered. He flashed lightning angrily, almost frying the Ark. “”

“It’s I, you old idiot.” With a hiss of mirth, Lucifer came out of the earth. “I just opened the sluices and let everyone in Hell have a drink and a bath. After all, we don’t see so much water every day, y’know.” Still cackling, he vanished.

The rain began to slacken.  In moments, the thunder and lightning stopped, and the clouds began to clear.

“Well, Lord?” asked Noah, in what was only a thin drizzle. “What do you want me to do now?”

There was no answer.

“At least tell me how to pay off my debts!” Noah screamed.

There was no answer.

And that is how Noah decided to run away from his creditors.

Mount Ararat seemed far enough.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2010/12


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