Mount Sinai

Do you remember when we walked up Mount Sinai? X asks me. In the middle of the desert? How long ago it seems now. Woken up in the middle of the night by our Bedouin guide who’d forgotten his torch because they can see in the dark? Trudging over desert rubble in the deep black except for the lights dotting the surrounding mountains, which our guide told us were the hermits’ lights? You almost shed a tear, didn’t you? You told me you could have been one of those, and I told you you were an idiot. And then you were bitten by that camel you got too close to in that pitch dark, weren’t you? And I laughed. That was the best part of the whole thing. We stumbled into a group of Bedouins we couldn’t see until we’d bumped into them. Calm people, the Bedouins. Maybe just bored of taking people up and down a big rock day in day out. But they must make many times their average wage, you said. We trudged uphill for hours to get to the top by dawn. No way old Moses could have done this without these paths and steps, you said, this is hard enough, and I laughed at you and told you you were a fool. How old was Moses anyway? you asked, and I said what does it matter, he obviously he never did it. So the whole tribe is waiting for him down there, you said, that must’ve been a bit stressful. You haven’t even read the book, I said, what do you know where they were?  The bald German woman who’d brought her poor uncomplaining little girl and who blanked you when you smiled at her. What kind of help was she expecting at the top? What were you expecting? Some great revelation? No, even you were beyond that by then. What were we then, tourists? I felt ridiculous. I hated you for getting me out of bed, for dragging me into the desert in the first place. I half expected you to start mumbling the Jesus prayer. Christ, I would’ve pushed you down the mountain. People wound their way up the mountain from different directions like streams of ants. Are we all going the same place? you asked. Where did they come from? and I laughed at you. The sky getting lighter as the climb got harder. Strong tea brewed by the Muslim Bedouins at outrageous prices, about the same as Caffe Nero. You started whingeing about vertigo. And when we got up there, do you remember? It was cold and overcast, not much of a sunset. I was bored and cold and tired and hungry. Well just think how those poor people felt walking through the desert, you said. They didn’t, I said, they wouldn’t have survived. Where did all these people come from? you said, and I sniffed. What the fuck am I doing up here with this asshole? I thought. Grey-faced Europeans singing their dreary Protestant hymns, drowned out by a group of exhausted old South American Catholics chanting their erotic prayers and waving their arms about: Abra tu boca, Seňor, dame tu lingua… They’ve probably saved up for this trip for years, you said. A few pale Eastern Europeans leaning on rocks. And the bald grumpy German woman with her child, giving you the evil eye. How you worried about that! And then, in the morning, knackered and dusty, after we’d generously tipped our Bedouin, eating breakfast in the monastery and taking a photo of the burning bush which the Orthodox monks still lovingly tend. Remember? The photo that came out bleached by the scorching sun, which you take everywhere we go? Ah, that was actually moving, wasn’t it, it moved both of us, didn’t it? It moves us both each time we look at it, doesn’t it? he says.

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