Adam and the Snake
❧ in which Moe tries to cope with his senile grandfather, who believes he's the first man ever born and who blames everything on his cheating snake of a father-in-law ❧
Primus Inter Homines - Semjaza the Snake
Primus Inter Homines
Moe felt on more solid ground when it came to writing the family history part of his story, largely because his grandfather Adima had kept meticulous track of their past. Moe remembered how as a child Adima would sit him on his knees and tell him about their family's trajectory from the Far North, to Memphis, to Eridu and then to Uruk. Yet when Moe tried to get more details from the old man, he realized that Adima had lost much of his memory. A great deal of what he said was complicated and confused.
Adima became adamant about the strangest things. For instance, he insisted that he was the one who started it all. And by it all Adima meant the entire history of their family -- from the first impoverished emigrants to the scattered families of the Assyrian Empire. Moe wondered what happened to his earlier version, the one about his parents who had crummy jobs in Egypt and then made an arduous journey across the desert to the decrepit city of Eridu? And what happened to the story Adima used to tell before that story -- the one about his grandparents who fought a cedar monster in a twisting valley north of the Karakoram?
But now Adima insisted that he was The Original. Number One. Not only that, but his people descended directly from Heaven! Out of respect for the old man's final wishes (it couldn't be long before he made his journey down itno the dusty shadows of Irkalla) Moe decided to let him have his way. He'd keep in the part about Adima being the one who started it all, although he wasn't so sure about the part where Adima saved the world from the depraved Viper of Uruk. There was only so much he could expect his readers to believe.
In a last ditch effort, Moe tried to get at least a few clear facts about their family's time in Egypt and the great valleys of the North. Grandpa, tell me, which city did you come from? Did you come from the west shore or the east shore of the Caspian Sea? But the old man cut him short. Adima made him swear to write that he was their family’s first and only figure, that there was no question of northern valleys or Caspian Seas. He alone had started everything. He alone had stood up to Semjaza the Snake.
Semjaza the Snake
Adima foamed at the mouth and spat at the engraved image of Semjaza. He then broke into tears, holding in his trembling hands the wedding portrait of his mother next to the sinister fiend. (Actually, Adima never had a step-father, but Moe figured this was Adima's way of avoiding the uncomfortable truth.) Adima's tears dripped onto the clay engraving, smudging his mother's eyes and elongating her nose. Adima literally wept into the past, and in his weeping transformed it into a watery mess. He blubbered in the general direction of Heaven: To think of my beautiful mother -- married to that sneaking cheat Semjaza!
The old snake was a legal scholar and a politician, one could see that all too clearly in his phosphorescent green and blue eyes. His words dripped venomous honey, and his litigious sophistry hypnotized everyone around him -- just like the snake in the old tale, Kaa and the Forty Lawyers.
According to Adima's mother Meritaman, Semjaza would go to the brothel -- debauching his wedding vows with Assyrian tarts and whores -- and then argue his way out of his devilry by saying that it was a natural urge. Semjaza said that monogamy was an insult to the nature of man. He said that we shared this urge with goats and sheep and monkeys, and she had no right to stop him. He would say to her, The lust of the goat is the glory of God. Imagine!
Adima burned with shame and anger when Semjaza brought his Nineveh whores home with him. Too often he heard his mother cry under the fig trees in the depth of the afternoon.
It was of course Meritamen who told Adima about their One True God, who she called Amun. She told him about how He would wreak vengeance on the evil forces of Semjaza. Meritamen also said that the whores Semjaza slept with ought to be stoned to death. Their children ought to be hurled into the darkness -- or at least made to live in the garbage heap on the outskirts of town.
Meritamen added that her children didn't come from Semjaza. They weren't seeded by the Evil One, but came to her from Above. From the Sun. From Amun. Fully formed, like chickens from the market. There was never any question of an egg.
Adima screamed, The Semjaza clan are whoresons -- worms crawling through a pomegranate! Semjaza is a demon, with horns and a tail!
Adima’s eyes then suddenly misted over with kindness, as he explained how his progeny was saved from the scourge of the evil one. He repeated the story Meritamen had sung over his cradle of reeds and bitumen, the one in which their family had burst from the sky in a sun shower, forming a sparkling pure realm of crystal waters surrounded by fig trees and singing angels. They were the fruit from a perfect tree. They came from on high, and landed on The Golden Bough. Far from the Semjaza worms.
Then Adima's finger shook like a lightning rod in the air. He screamed at his grandchild as if he saw a demon perched on his left shoulder: The fruit must never be picked from the tree!
Next: The Journey West