A guy takes off for the weekend, escaping family and work pressures; stopping at various places along the way to reflect on Biblical passages and how they relate to his life. Each chapter begins with a rewritten version of a Bible passage, including accounts of Cain and Abel, Isaac, Elijah, the Disciples and Paul. The writer reflects on these men in various places including a traffic jam and a cemetery. Similar in style to The Bloke’s Bible the travelling nature of the story allows further exploration of being a bloke with faith.
An extract from the book
Abram Goes Awol
When do you eat the last bit of bread in your possession? When you’re fat and healthy, while your body’s still able to make good use of it? Or d’you wait until the skin is hanging off your brittle bones and the muscles have melted away like wax? He’s seen this day coming for a while of course. No matter how much you pack for a long journey sooner or later the rucksack’ll be bare. His wife’s hungry too of course, so there’ll be barely enough to go round. The servants haven’t eaten in days. The concubines are losing their sheen by the hour.
Abram sits on a rock and wonders. Was it really such a good decision back there? Standing beneath that widescreen vista of a million stars, hearing that voice boom across the night like the roar of a celestial lion, it all went to his head. It was so thrilling then, made his spine shudder and his hair stand on end. The voice of God booming at him from the great unknown. Those rich mellow tones of hope megaphoning their way across the universe right at him. Who wouldn’t have been impressed, who wouldn’t have expected the world to open up like a massive yielding oyster.
A camel grunts and spits behind him, he hears the glob of saliva land on the rock inches from his backside. Abram turns and cusses at it. In the hot sunlight there are no stars in the sky, in the unwieldy daylight there is no promise of a future or a hope. What’s he to do? Turn back and go home to a retirement of grumbling and sour memories? Or press on and see what’s down in Egypt?
God never told him there’d be a famine. There was no mention of rumbling stomachs and carpet-pile tongues when this all began. Where are you now God? Where are the gleaming promises? He scans the bright sky but there’s nothing up there. Just the burning sun and an increasing number of ragged vultures.
Sarai slips down beside him and sighs. She’s tired and hungry too but she’s still so beautiful. He’ll love her forever, he’ll do anything to protect her from harm. It breaks his heart to see her suffering like this. And all because of him.
“We could be in Egypt in a couple of days,” she whispers, her almond eyes pleading for his agreement. “It won’t be giving up, Egypt won’t be like turning back and going home.”
She smells perfect, she always smells that way. Even here in the desert heat when everyone else stinks like a baboon’s backside.
“They say he’s a predator,” Abram mutters, flicking at the bits of dried blood that border the broken nail on his right thumb. “They say he’ll do anything to get his well-oiled paws on visiting women.”
She nods and there’s a shudder about her body as she does it.
“God’ll get us through it,” she says.
“Oh sure. Easy to say that when we’re starving and looking over the fence at Egyptian corn. What will you say when you’re pinned under the king’s torso and I’m buried in his back yard?”
“Let’s face that mountain when we have to…”
Abram laughs a cynical laugh but he still stands and turns his face towards Egypt.
Before they know it they’re standing in front of Pharaoh and his dancing girls; the man’s a giant lump of seeping lard - all mouth and no trousers.
He cuts an ugly figure, with a stomach like the side of a pyramid, he barely looks at Abram, he only has eyes for Sarai.
Abram feels the anger and fear collide in his empty stomach.
His eyes burn like lazers into the king’s neck but Pharaoh couldn’t care less, he’s got a vacancy in his harem and Sarai has the perfect credentials.
“Welcome to Egypt,” he booms, and Abram remembers another booming voice, not so long ago, not welcoming him but sending him out, urging him to take a risk and give up real estate forever. Surely this isn’t the distant land that ageless spokesman had in mind.
“I’ve heard of you Abram, you’re famous - but I knew nothing of your family. There’s not a face like this in all of Egypt. And I should know, I’ve studied them all very closely.”
His glistening cheeks are an inch from Sarai’s now. She can smell the fish on his breath.
Abram summons his courage, steels himself for the moment he knew would come. With God on his side he can do this, with God on his side he can face anyone and be strong, with God on his side he can speak truth and act justly… with God on his side he can say,
“Sarai’s my sister.”
One big fat whopping yellow lie.
Pharaoh’s eyebrows raise a little, this is not the answer he was expecting.
“Really? I thought…”
“No, no, she’s my sister. Aren’t you… dear?”
Sarai turns slowly, so so slowly, and her almond eyes are on fire. That exquisite face is a bleak, hopeless mask. She opens her mouth but her mind is not engaged, her brain is flipping somersaults as she tries to keep up here.
“Yes,” she whispers. “Whatever you say.”
Abram winces as he hears her, she gives nothing away but he knows her too well, the merest flicker of her eyes tells him everything. The betrayal may have saved his life, but something inside Sarai is about to die.
A week later and Abe’s well in with the royal court. He spends his evening’s jawing with the local big shots, putting the empire to rights and lamenting the troubles of the local camel bladder-ball team. They’ll be out of the premier next season. And things looked so good when it all began, how it could turn so sour so quickly?
Three floors below things don’t look so rosy for Sarai either. Every night she tarts up with the other concubines. Three hours of polish and perfume, paint and powder. The king likes his women like oil paintings, flawless and uncomplaining as he satisfies his every royal whim. She’s seen the other girls return from a night in his boudoir, sometimes they limp back, and inside they’re always broken. It’s rumoured that tonight will be her big night. You go girl – you give the king a night he’ll never forget, you get to be the royal mattress for ten hours. What an honour. She’s so stressed about the whole thing she’s bitten her nails down to the quick and lately small patches of eczema have broken out all over her body. Still that may prove to be an advantage of it turns the royal loins cold.
Sarai watches the palace eunuchs descend the golden steps into the harem and she bites her lip, putting a crack in her lipgloss. These half-men do the king’s dirty work – they pick the women and line them up, making sure they’re subservient and well-groomed, horror stories abound about the girls who said, “No” to the royal appetite. Yet Sarai knows. She shouldn’t be here. She’s better than all this. She thought Abram was too. But now she wonders. As she sits and adjusts her braided skirts she really wonders. Is he up there plotting to get her out? Is he pacing the floor and breaking his heart over his deceitful cowardice? Or is he playing cards and swapping stories about bladder-ball, enjoying his freedom and eyeing up the local girls. Perhaps he even has his eye on one of the other women from the harem, free and wandering about up there on a night off, three floors above her misery.
It takes four attempts to activate the central locking on my Ford Money-pit. My key is old and the rubber casing on it long perished. I get in, ignore my seatbelt, swerve out of the drive and head straight out of town. Past the kids’ school, past the police station and the local supermarket, past Cutter’s with all its history. Out, out into the stratosphere, well the ring road anyway, where I promptly get lost and drive endlessly round and round in circles for a while. I don’t really know where I’m going, and I never really intended to get in my car at all today.
My wife left half an hour ago with my wallet and our three kids for a long bank holiday weekend with her brother, his wife and their posse of little darlings. We barely said goodbye to each other, adopted forced smiles that looked more like gashes in a broken window, and then I watched while she struggled to force too many bags into too small a boot. I went out to help her but she snarled like a rottweiler with PMT and when my wife’s in that kind of mood her bite is most definitely worse than her bark.
So having three empty days I planned to use the time creatively – i.e. go back to bed and do nothing for seventy-two hours. Just lie there and watch the fast food cartons pile up round my chin. So why did I jump in the car with my one remaining credit card and a half-filled rucksack and take off like Abram into the sunrise? Well of course I’m running away, at least for a weekend. And of course I’ll come back. But for three heady days I can take off and just drive, no destination, no deadline. Just journeying. Nowhere to go, no one to please, no one to entertain. Just me and my mile wide selfish streak. Bliss.
Biss, bliss, bliss.
What can you do with three days? What do you do when everything else falls away and for seventy two hours it’s as if your normal dull world doesn’t exist. Anything can happen. You can be anyone. It’s Groundhog Day – nothing has any consequences. You’re James Bond, Indiana Jones, Vasco de Gama, Captain Scott, Tintin, or in my case, Johnny English. But I can still go anywhere and be anyone. So I drive. I drive past all the places that suddenly seem like little prisons to me. The workplace, the playgroup, the shops. And the church. Davey’s on the road again and the years are falling away. I’m a rocketman on my way to Mars, I’m gonna go go go. Till I notice my petrol gauge is low and I have to stop for fuel. No worries. I put a tiger in the tank, air in the wheels and a ton of chocolate in the glove box. Yorkies of course, what else for the man who’s left everything.
I get coffee too and a double chocolate doughnut, and for a few distracted minutes I have my first quiet time in months, slumped behind the wheel with the sound of juggernauts revving up inches from my left shoulder while a torrent of four by fours thunder by on my right . I pull out my little black Bible and thumb through the tattered pages for someone else on a road trip. Abram, he’ll do. Get on your camel mate and ride. Off into the unknown, forget your troubles and your mortgage, start doing some real living. Only with him it isn’t just for a weekend – it’s forever. No more cool evenings lounging in the back garden with a can of Jonah Smith’s. No more trips down to B & Q for some new shelves and a bit of decking. You won’t need that discount card anymore Abe, you’ll be in a tent for the rest of your puff. You’ll see your life out under the stars from now on, when God promised this guy a future littered with bright lights he really meant it. Abram spent every last one of his final days adjusting guy ropes and brewing up on a calor gas stove.
Maybe that’s why Egypt seemed so appealing – perhaps the truth was setting in and Abram was weary of life on the back of a camel. It wasn’t the road trip he’d imagined. Sand for miles and no neighbours to invite round of an evening. And where was it all going to end anyway? The lot of them nothing but a pile of clean white bones with a couple of frisky vultures crouching on top? Maybe Egypt held a new life. Maybe this was the land God had meant. It was suddenly full of a million bright lights, twinkling African stars that could offer Abe a promising future. Or maybe it really was just a pit stop. A pull in to a convenient service station to pick up some fuel and fast food. Either way it all went very wrong. Like so many road movies the happy couple knock on a stranger’s door and encounter hell. Abe’s left pacing the floor wondering at the audacity of his own cowardice, Sarai’s stuck in the royal harem scratching off the days till it’s her turn to jolly the royal loins. How the mighty fall. One minute he’s the father of the faith, the next he’s the father of lies. How could he have done it? How could he have started so well and ended so badly?
Just when you’re on the up a spectacular down comes along to remind you how human you really are. Sometimes I’m most susceptible to the fall when I’ve just been flying higher than ever. But I don’t want to think about that. I know that I could do an Abram, I know I can lie and turn tail, rip open my superman costume to reveal yellow underwear, but I’m just beginning. I’m packing the camels and heading off into the unknown. It won’t fall apart. I’ll be careful. Whatever that means.