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An Artisan of Mesopotamia
Somewhere around 350 B.C.E:
If I am found out, I’ll be in big trouble.
Why do I even bother writing in this journal? Nothing good will come out of this. I was not meant to write, or even say the name, but I can’t help myself. I want to be acknowledged out in the world, and what better way to start than record your life in a small, vulnerable booklet.
Writing secretly is hard. While my father is a merchant, my mother is a farmer. She worships the gods over anything, and if she catches me writing, she will whip me and send me to Sidon’s altar to be sacrificed for sure. Please, not that. Anything but that.
How will I express myself then, without getting into trouble? How will I channel out my anger, happiness, and sadness everyday? How will I convince myself of my true feelings for the world? Writing is my way. Don’t think that I’m crazy or anything, it’s just the way I work. Baal would always like someone who would write to help herself.
Now I am talking to no one. Have I gone mad?
The candlelight is flickering out; I must stop. The sun has passed into the mountains. Do I hear footsteps outside my room?
I am in my secret hiding place. Even if I wanted to, I cannot write its location in this journal because then, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. My apologies.
I am here because yesterday, Mother almost caught me writing when she noticed the glow of the candlelight emanating from my room. It was sheer luck that she did not notice the book I had tucked under my arm when I threw myself into my bed in order to cover up my tracks. The haste of which I did so has left a considerable amount of itching; the cotton, flax, and wool is so irritating to my skin. My skin is so dark; it’s very strange. There are light brown spots everywhere; are they from the sun? Very curious.
Today, I accidentally cut my pointer finger on a thread of one of the cloths I was weaving. I didn’t notice it until one of my fellow weavers pointed out that my blood was staining the cotton. The leader got really mad at me, and smacked me so hard with the palm of his hand that I crashed into my loom. My cheek still stings from the hit. I hate him...I hate being a weaver...I hate all of it!!! Why...why did I have to be a weaver? I hate the idea of it!!! GAH!
I am so scared now. I am afraid that, because of the waste that I made, the leader will whip me with all his might. If everyone sees the scar on my back, they’ll call me a demon or a monster, or something worse. It’ll be the end for me.
Day 3 :
Today, instead of a whipping, the leader let me off on a break, with a sharp, “Think about what you’ve done!” I have never felt so relieved in my life. To pass the time, I took a walk around Carthage. Oh, how busy Carthage is! I personally think that Carthage is the greatest city out there; as a center of trading and wealth, I don’t think even the Romans would dare attack us! I took a stroll through the marketplace, and watched other merchants sell purple dye, exotic foods, papyrus, silver, gold, jewelry, barley, mint, maps, toys, pottery, glass, pets, and cloth. It was awfully noisy; I do not understand how my father can endure such a racket. I bought a serving of beans and rice, with a side of nuts and fruit, and sat down in full view of the harbor to eat my lunch. The lake is so lovely when the sun shines upon it; it glitters like the fabulous trinket I watched my father bargain away when I was 6 years old. The lake was filled with ships and boats of all shapes and sizes, and men walked by, chattering noisily. As I stood up to take my leave, a man grabbed my arm and asked, “Why are you here? Women are supposed to be at work now! Here you sit and eat lazily while your kin work their hides off every day! Have you no shame?!”
I was very shocked. I told the man about my predicament and who I was, and he stopped and nodded at me once before letting me go. I will never forget.
Today, the man who spoke to me in such a harsh manner yesterday came to visit me after work. His name was Dagon, one of the king’s “eyes and ears”, and he apologized to me for his behavior. He said I looked too old to be wandering without husband and work. At that statement, I told him that I had not gotten married yet and that I was only 13. He stared at me in disbelief and then started lecturing me about why it was important to marry and bear children. I only partially understood what he said; my mind was off wandering again. Before he left, he spoke to Mother and Father about what he said. I can’t believe how nosy Dagon was! I will remain a maiden if I choose, and he or the king cannot do anything about it!
Later, I took off my cotton garments and looked at my reflection in my water bowl. My hands caressed the scar on my stomach; the spider-shaped scar I had gotten when I was a child. I had always believed that it was a punishment from Baal, from playing with the plow Mother used too much. I shudder at the thought of the iron pike stabbing me in my stomach, and the pain released in my cry as the pike went through to the other side of my body. How I survived is even unknown to me. All I remember is the horrible, horrible pains wracking my body and the wails of my parents, friends, and myself. It must’ve gone on for days on end, and now that memory-the scar- goes with me wherever I go, imprinted on my body like the mark of Mot.
I am rather sad today. It appears that across the place where I weave cloth is a glass-blowing group. I could feel the heat emanating from the house. I could hear the cracking of sand being melted to make glass. I’ve always wondered what the sound was; now I know. But the thing is, today, they had an accident. It was hot, and the sun was shining exceptionally bright today. All of a sudden, there was a loud banging, and then screams came from across the road. All of the weavers in my group got distracted and couldn’t concentrate on working with the loom. The leader was upset, and told us to go check it out while he guarded the ribbons of cotton, linen, and wool; there had been recent thefts of cloth. As I ran over to the glass-blowers, I thought that I could hear sobbing. When I reached the house, a crowd had formed, and I could make out 2 people carrying something in between them. When I looked closer, it turned out to be one of the workers, Thamut. My gaze was stuck on the huge glass shard sticking out of his chest, still glowing from the heat. Thamut’s eyes were open and unblinking, and I could tell that he was dead. Burn marks covered his hands and face. Suddenly, a woman came rushing out of the crowd screaming, “MY SON! MY SON!!!” She bent over his body and cried, tears streaming down her cheeks and dripping onto Thamut’s face. I felt awful sorry for her. Poor Thamut. What an awful fate.
Today was the due date for a shenti that I was working on. I was sad to part with it. Made out of a light blue linen with a white trim along the bottom, I thought that it was a masterpiece. So soft to the touch.
The son of another
glass-blower, Perdaht, came by to pick it up for his father, Hamilbo. A nice boy. When he saw it he exclaimed, “What a beauty! A job well done.” He then tried it on himself, and seeing that it was a fit, thanked me then took his leave. A bit overwhelming, but I’m glad that I was able to make something for someone. I guess that’s a bright outlook for being a weaver.
As I was walking home from work, I saw a couple of really fancily-dressed boys leave a building carry scrolls of papyrus. They seemed civilized and intelligent. Later, I learned from my father that those boys went to a place called “school”. “What is a school?” I asked, and my father told me that “school” is a place where they teach you things that will help you later in life.
I then asked him why I couldn’t go to “school”, and do you know what he told me? He said it was because I was a GIRL. How does that matter in anything?! Then, in retaliation, I asked him why he didn’t go to school. My father got this nasty look in his eye and said in a rush that school was only for high-class boys who didn’t know how to take care of themselves. He then walked away, calling me a nosy, stupid girl.
What is wrong with this world?
Aghh! My fingers hurt so bad today. I spent the entire morning and afternoon weaving cloth. Today the leader burst into the room screaming that we needed to make a robe for the king within 5 hours. Everyone just stared at him for a while, until he started threatening us to get working if we didn’t want to get whipped. It was all a rush. Some people went to go fetch materials to weave with, and most of everyone joined up into pairs to work at one loom each. We worked as fast as we could; the fastest we’ve ever worked.
I got paired up with this girl named Anahita. She was very snobbish and doubtful of my skills. She kept on saying about how she wanted to work in another higher group rather than ours, and how she expected to be treated highly and respectfully. I got really offended and annoyed, but I held my anger back because her skill was very good. She wove the linen and cotton with such grace, with firmness and gentleness. I am glad that she was there to work with me, even though she was really conceited. Together, with the material that we bought from the traders and merchants that visited the harbor to sell goods, we created a portion of the robe that even Baal himself would be jealous of.
When we finally put all of the portions of the king’s robe together, we thought that we could finally see true beauty to its very core. I thank the merchants and traders from the bottom of my heart for supplying the materials that we used. How nice the gold buttons looked on the rims!
Today went normally. After we managed to finish the king’s robe yesterday, the leader calmed down, and with a smile, told us to continue what we were doing beforehand. I practically collapsed with relief when I saw Anahita working at her own loom. I really despise that girl.
For my midday meal, I had some fish with olives and dates. It tasted a bit watery, especially the fish. As I headed back to the work group, I watched the birds play in the harbor, undaunted by the great ships that stood rocking back and forth. It was peaceful, and the wind blew freely. How I love this time of year.
I continued working until the sun was just above the peak of the mountains. By that time, most of the people had gone home. I was one of the last ones in the building. I took my leave, and headed home. I had a supper of milk and some fruit that my father earned from a trade today.
Now, I am in my room writing again by the candlelight. I’m sure to put a piece of papyrus in front of the flame, not too close, to block the illumination from reaching outside. It works nicely. Mother hasn’t noticed yet, but I know that sooner or later she’ll start to notice signs of my midnight activity.
It stinks like crazy outside. I think that they are making dye. I’m glad that I am not a dye maker; I’d smell for ages.
I need to go to sleep now. It’s really dark outside; the sun has vanished and the glow of the candle will be even more visible to my enemies.
My shadow dances against the walls as I move to put the candle out...