The Countdown- Day 8
I started my day as she always had, drawing water from the communal well to help my mother prepare the morning meal. The two buckets seem heavier today. I could feel them pulling down on the opposite ends of the beam that was balanced on my shoulders.
Why do I always have to get the water? I'm thirteen now, I've got my whole life in front of me. But little did I know at the time, that my young life was about to change.
I hurry past the other girls hauling water. There was no time for chit chat today. I can hear them calling behind me about my stuck-up attitude, "Look at Anna! She thinks she's so special because her aunt is the local harlot."
I normally would stop and brag about my plans to follow in her footsteps and that soon they would all be working for me. I had reason to be stuck up. But not today, no time to talk about plans. They were thrown out the window, the same window with the scarlet red cord hanging from it.
Father's words echo in my ears clearly, "Tell no one. My sister has a plan for us to be saved from the invaders. We all have to go to her house and stay there. Fetch the water and get back here as soon as possible. We've got a lot to do." His face looked worried as packed more things into the sack than it could possibly hold.
The last few days have been tense. The last few weeks really. Normally, spring is my favorite time of year. My friends and I would spend lazy days down by the Jordan dipping our feet in the water and picking flowers before the rains came. But not this year.
For the longest, we never knew why we had to stay inside, the whole city was locked up tight. But Father sat us down last night and explained it all. And it was scary, scarier than the stories he used to tell me about the demons that would come and take us if we didn't do our chores, or offer the proper sacrifices, or go to sleep at night!
I'd heard Father whisper about the desert enemy before. I would pretend to be asleep when he and the other men would drink around the fire and talk about current events. I always was a "daddy's girl."
Now, these invaders were all everyone talked about everywhere. Mother was worrying over it with our neighbor, Achzib, while grinding the meal this morning. I wanted to be with them listening to the latest gossip rather than gathering water.
These Israelites, as they were called, had somehow crossed the Jordan even though it was at flood stage! This was the time when the river would overflow its banks and we couldn't go anywhere near it. I thought it was weird, but it really worried Father. He had us offer extra sacrifices and pray to about 20 different gods last week!
That was before he spoke to his sister. After that, he seemed to have a new lease on life. But it was all about secrets. I can see why he didn't tell me till last night. I can't hold secrets any better than these leaking buckets I'm carrying can hold water. That was the other reason I left the girls down at the well so fast this morning, there is no way I could keep this a secret!
It seems my aunt Rahab had secretly kept some spies from the Israelite camp hidden some time ago. Now they promised to keep us safe when the city is destroyed. I couldn't believe my ears! My hometown was going to be destroyed. And even more, my aunt, the most respected harlot in town was conspiring with the enemy! And worst of all, my Father had joined her and expected us to follow along.
Talk about a tense family discussion! Mother always went along with dad on most things, and so did I. But this was entirely different. I mean, wouldn't this make us traitors? We talked late into the night and Rahab even came by to talk to us.
Mother came around sooner than I did. Aunt Rahab was my favorite and she spoke soothingly to me, "Anna, the men promised me that we would be saved. And their God does not tell lies. He's better than all of ours." She then told me an incredible story of how the Hebrew God freed his people from Egyptian bondage over 40 years ago. "He can be trusted, he's worthy of our worship," she said.
All of this was making sense. Father confirmed what his sister said, "Remember, Anna, it never made sense to you that we would do such terrible things as part of worship. Just imagine, you could have many brothers and sisters if the greedy gods didn't demand child sacrifice!" He reached over and wiped a tear from my mother's cheek as he said this.
They had told me that I was their only child because the others were needed to make the rains come at the right time or to make the gods happy. We all followed our religion, but we secretly didn't agree with it. So really, my family had always kept secrets.
But this was our biggest secret of all, and it was hard to keep to myself. As we packed everything up and moved into the cramped apartment on the wall, I had an idea. The tiny room where I stayed was dark and the musty smell tickled my nose. I could tell this was an area Aunt Rahab didn't use very often. The main rooms of her home always smelled of lavender and incense.
My idea was that I would keep a journal or a diary to recount our time in our "secret annex" during the last days of Jericho.
The Countdown- Day 7
Last night was tense. I guess that's only to be expected when a space meant for one with the occasional visitor is now forced to house thirteen. The number of people was the same as my age. Looking back, I find that ironic.
I will now list those in our cozy little abode. Besides Aunt Rahab, there was Father, Mother, and me from my household. Father and Rahab had two other brothers. Along with their wives, there are three children between them and Grandma and Grandpa.
All of us kids were put in that musty room in the corner. There was O'bal the oldest, he was sixteen. Jobab and Hobab were twins. They were considered lucky and a gift from the gods. That's how come neither of them had been sacrificed.
Most of my neighbors in Jericho only had one child to pass on the family name, the rest were always offered up in sacrifice. After talking to Aunt Rahab last night, that really didn't make any sense at all! Obal would always be the one to raise the tough questions. "Would you want a brother or a sister if your parents kept one?" He asked me once all the grown-ups were asleep.
I told him I'd be happy with either one, only glad not to be alone. He called me silly for not having a choice. He called me silly for most things though. He didn't ask the twins because he figured they would say a sister for sure since they already had each other. We were all like brothers and sisters so I was glad we would all survive together.
We all woke to the sound of horns blowing! I thought it was a nightmare. The sound pierced my ears like the needle that Mother uses when weaving fabric. "Where's that coming from?" The twins yelled at the same time; they often did that. They once told me that it was purely coincidental, never planned. That added to the idea that the gods were speaking through them.
We all ran into the room to see our parents squeezed up to the window looking toward the rising sun. Father explained, "It's the entire fighting force of the Israelite army and they're heading this way!"
His brother, Uncle Jago, replied, "So much for the sneak attack. Those horns are deafening!"
"And why are musicians out front?" This came from my Uncle Darius. Like his son Obal, he always asked questions. Everyone had an opinion and they all spoke at the same time.
Grandfather raised his ancient hand for silence, and we all listened. Everyone always listened to Grandpa. "Why are they going around the city? It would seem like they would storm the gate or find some other vulnerable spot." He finished rubbing the stubble on his chin.
"Look!" One of my aunts called out, I'm not sure which one. "They're going around the city and coming back from the other side. They're not attacking?” She asked in desperation.
Grandfather answered, "It would appear they're not attacking, at least not today." He said thoughtfully as the assembled troops marched off into the distance.
Aunt Rahab provided details as we prepared and ate a hurried breakfast. "Did you notice what they were carrying in front of the musicians? And by the way, they aren't just musicians. They're priests, priests of the Most High God."
"You seem to know so much about them, Daughter." Grandmother said, almost like a question. She had a way of doing that so that she got the information she wanted without being nosy. I've admitted things to my grandma that my parents have been trying to get out of me for months!
Aunt Rahab replied, "Yes, I'm anxious for any information I can get about them. So, I make sure all my visitors provide any details they have as part of their payment. The Israelites always carry the ark of the covenant with them when they go into battle. It represents the presence of God in the camp. And it's always covered so that no one can look upon it or else they could die."
We all stared in amazement as she recounted detail after detail about the exploits of the Israelites. We kids stopped our chores to sit and listen. Obal even had to reach over and close my mouth. I was so embarrassed that he caught me gaping in astonishment. I'm sure he'll never let me forget that.
The Countdown- Days 6-2
The next five days were terrible! You never know someone until you've been cooped up in a room with them. I've always gotten along with my cousins. Sure, they tease me because I'm the only girl, but it was always in a good way. This was different.
We found all sorts of things to argue about beyond just the smallness of the room. And I think the hardest part was that we couldn't leave the house. The weather was beautiful. I could smell the spring flowers that proved that a hot summer was near. I remembered how much fun we used to have hiding among the many idols sold at the market. The birds sounded so happy. Their songs beckoned us to join them outside.
But Aunt Rahab, kindly Aunt Rahab, became as stern as any Egyptian taskmaster in keeping us inside. She was so afraid that the Israelites would come and catch us. She constantly reminded us that we needed to stay in her house. She treasured that scarlet cord that the spies used to climb from her window. Obal spoke up, "It's not like they are gonna sneak up on us. Every morning, we hear those horns long before we see them. We'd have plenty of time to get back inside before they arrived."
Aunt Rahab wasn't having it and she had already convinced our parents. So, that cramped, little, musty room became our playground, our school, our whole world. I won't even go into the bathroom assignments. We may have been like brothers and sisters, but I was growing into a lady. Obal understood, but the twins were a problem...like I said, I won't go into the details.
Each day was the same. The Israelites would march around the city once while blowing their horns and then they would return the same way they came. After they left, Father would rush out and bring in water for the day. Well, at least I didn't have that crummy job anymore. My uncles would get to the market and bring back what we needed for the day. So, the women focused on keeping our small room clean and tidy.
The men felt they were faster and could get back in time if the Israelites attacked. At mealtime, we would listen as the men brought us up to date on what was going on outside in Jericho. Uncle Darius spoke first, "Everyone is scared senseless. Nobody has any confidence in the army anymore."
Uncle Jago nodded in agreement and added, "There's a sense of dread no matter who you talk to."
Grandmother spoke up again with a questioning statement, "I wonder if all the Israelite men know not to attack us."
Aunt Rahab was quick to remind us that we were safe here and not to be afraid. The cord was there for a reason. I still shiver when I remember her words, "They swore in the name of their God, and his servants don't lie!'
These Israelites are so different from the people of my hometown. I sure hope Aunt Rahab is right. Each day she tells us more about how the Israelites were cared for by their powerful god. I'm starting to share her confidence, we all are. It's contagious.
The Countdown- Day 1
This morning is different. The Israelites don't return to their camp after marching around the city once. They march around a second time, still blowing on the horns. We stare out the window wondering what to expect. A third trip around the city. A fourth, fifth, and sixth. None of us can speak, all we can do is watch. After the seventh circuit, something different happens.
The march stopped. The proud city of Jericho is completely surrounded by the Israelite army. We all look to Grandfather for answers, he had an answer for everything, whether he could back it up with proof or not. I had learned long ago that sometimes he was making some things up. He spoke quietly, as if those outside the house could hear him. "A seventh circuit on the seventh day. This increased activity must mean something." I didn't think he was making anything up this time.
Uncle Darius and his wife went and opened the door to get a better look. This brought a real scolding from Aunt Rahab, "Shut that door! No matter what happens, everyone please stay inside! We don't know how the true God will protect us, but this is the only place of safety!" She had to yell to be heard over the blowing horns. Uncle Darius and his wife put up a brief argument but stepped back.
Their son, Obal, squeezed my hand. He asked, "Why don't they listen?" I didn't answer but I was glad he was here with me. Suddenly, the horns stopped. We waited. Then we heard a shout. Aunt Rahab called it "the terrifying war cry of the men of Israel." It was so loud; can you imagine over half a million men all screaming at the same time?
It so loud we could actually feel it. No, that was no sound we were feeling. The floor was shaking, the lamp fell off the table from all the vibration. "What was that, an earthquake?" Uncle Jago asked anyone who would listen. Uncle Darius and his wife didn't wait for an answer.
"They've forgotten us! We've got to get out of here!" Those were their last words. They rushed out the door...and fell to their deaths. It was my turn to squeeze Obal's hand. His scream mingled with theirs as they fell. We all just closed our eyes. I felt tears stinging my cheeks as I felt his pain. He squeezed my hand back.
Then Aunt Rahab's arms were around us both and I heard her soothing words, "I'm so sorry!"
When the rumbling stopped. Father looked out and reported there was nothing outside of Aunt Rahab's house. He spoke with a sense of disbelief, "The entire wall has collapsed, there’s nothing left standing except this portion of the wall!" We could hear the men of Jericho rushing out to face the invaders but there was clearly no spirit in them to fight after such a spectacle.
At that moment, two Israelite men approached, "Rahab, are you here?" They asked and seemed genuinely relieved to find her and us safe. Aunt Rahab welcomed them with confidence, "Your God remembered us!"
I looked back at my hometown, what was left of it. The rubble of Jericho was on fire. Obal joined my family and now he really would be my brother. We were taken to an area away from the battle.
So, as I said before, little did I know that my life was about to change eight days ago. My days will probably return to gathering water and household chores, but it will be different. My whole life is in front of me, but it will be a different life. My family and I are now proselytes. We've joined in the worship of the only true God, Jehovah, all because of the faith of my Aunt Rahab, "the former harlot."
Interestingly, over 3,500 years after "fictional" Anna, there was the real-life Anne Frank who was also hidden in "a secret annex" for some time. Instead of being saved by Israelites, or Jews, she hid because she was a Jew. And her diary was part of an awfully long and terrible story that does not have a happy ending...not yet!