Joseph couldn’t believe his eyes. Before him. Eleven brothers. They were all there begging for food – begging him for food after they sold him to be a slave. After everything he had been through; the beatings, the whippings, the punishments, the back-breaking labour and the traumatising branding and after all that they thought they could ask him for a favour. The notion made Joseph want to laugh bitterly.
But of course. They didn’t know that he had been through all of those things. They didn’t even know who he was: their brother who they hated so much once upon a time.
Despite all of the anger he felt cold as ice running through his hot veins he knew he wasn’t a cruel man and looking down upon their gaunt pleading faces he knew he couldn’t deny them their request. But he knew that he couldn’t let them get off easy – they had tried to commit fratricide and hurt him more than he ever thought possible.
He held up a silencing hand, to which they all obeyed and hush fell over the room they were in as the brothers waited for his verdict.
“You shall dine.” He announced to the brothers before turning to a servant by his side. “Bring them each a sack of corn and dates.” He told the servant kindly. He turned his gaze back to his brothers and they all started thanking him – the scene made him rather uncomfortable. He had never once had a kind word said to him by his brothers. This grovelling and thanking felt wrong, not just because it wasn’t normal for him, but more because he knew that this thanking wasn’t because they loved him as a brother it was because they feared his power and his wrath.
To hide the embarrassment he reached over to his golden wine glass and brought it to his lips, finishing the last dregs of the red drink inside. Now the servant came running in with 11 sacks filled with food and Joseph suddenly knew how he had to punish his brothers. He would scare them. Terrify them with the fate that he had had to survive and suffer through.
“Eat your fill my friends.” He smiled upon them benevolently with wicked thoughts brewing in his imagination. As they ate his eyes scanned the room and at the back sat Benjamin. He was the youngest and most beloved brother of all of them. He remembered from his time with them Benjamin was young and kind and all the brothers were fiercely protective over him.
He would be perfect. Every brother would feel the pure terror at seeing their youngest dragged away in chains. He beckoned the servant over and whispered to him discreetly to put the golden cup in Benjamin’s sack when he was finished.
When the brother’s had eaten their fill Joseph beckoned them to the front of the hall and spoke to them again as the servant hid the cup in Benjamin’s just as instructed.
“Thank you my friends for the company and hospitality. I hope you were all satiated with the food?” This question unleased another bout of gratitude once again making Joseph uncomfortable – so he held up a hand again, silently demanding them to cease which they did. After a few formalities he dismissed them, but as Dan was closing the door behind them Joseph shouted.
“No!” Dan paused and looked back to him. “Come back!” Slowly all the brothers shuffled through, with Benjamin at the back of the lot.
“One of you has dared to steal from me?” His voice rang crisp and clear and the tension in the room suddenly appeared. Tension accompanied by complete and utter terror. “In my entire career my kindness ahs never been met with such a lack of respect and gratitude. Which one of you did it? Which one of you stole my golden cup?”
As he expected a terrified silence answered his question as the boys knelt trembling at his feet. Joseph paused for a moment, allowing himself to enjoy his revenge before continuing the charade.
“Fetch you sacks and kneel in a line before me.” They did as instructed. He saw Benajmin kneel at the end and went to the other demanding that one by one the brother’s empty their sack. Each turned their sack upside down and pips of the fruit and the remaining corn would scatter the floor.
Each brother with an empty sack felt relief but every remaining brother sweated more and more until it was their turn to be reveal as innocent.
Soon Joseph stood over Benjamin who knelt at his feel, trembling his face pale and sweaty with stress.
“You.” Joseph said, as he did to the other brothers, and pointed at Benjamin who upturned his sack. The clattering of the golden cup was almost deafening in the silent hall. Each brother stared in disbelief. The palpable terror of the brothers’ satisfied Joseph but he wasn’t finished yet.
“Seize him!” He hissed staring into Benjamin’s eyes which were wide with raw fear. Two guards stamped up to Benjamin each seizing him under one arm and pulling him to his feet. Benjamin started hyperventilating and tears began spilling from his eyes.
Jospeh was about to continue his plan to terrify each brother more but was shocked out of his cruel roll when Asher suddenly spoke;
“Please.” He said looking up at Joseph from where he was kneeling. This shocked Joseph. He knew each would feel the loss of Benjamin but he didn’t think his brothers were the type of men who stood up for another.
“Excuse me?” He said walking over to Asher.
“Please, sir. Let our brother go. He must have been framed.” Joseph blinked completely shocked for a moment, unable to believe what he was hearing. He lowered himself to one knee in front of Asher’s kneeling form.
“Are you accusing me of lying?” He hissed at Asher who immediately saw his mistake. Suddenly, Asher lowed his forehead to the ground, further making himself lower than his unknown brother, before reaching up and grabbing Joseph’s hand as a mark of respect.
“No, master. I would never.” Joseph pulled his hand out of Asher’s grip as quickly as possible. The title he had been called by his own brother brought bile into his mouth. He stood up and not so gracefully stumbled away from his bent over brother.
He might have been embarrassed by his stumble but he knew none of the brothers had seen as they too had lowered their foreheads to touch the ground.
Suddenly, Gad’s voice sounded from his hunched figure.
“He did not mean to accuse your highness of lying. He only meant to express that Benjamin is the kindest and most trustworthy of anyone, sir.”
“He would never sir.” Chimed another brother.
“Please forgive him master.” Another said. The voices were bouncing about the room from one hunched figure to another. Each begging and proclaiming Benjamin’s innocence.
Joseph couldn’t believe what he was seeing or hearing. These weren’t the brothers he grew up with. These weren’t the brothers who hated and spurned him before selling him as a slave. These weren’t the brothers he knew. They were kind and compassionate and terrified for their brother’s sake. Through all of this Joseph’s eyes flitted back to Benjamin. He would have collapsed if he wasn’t being supported by the two brutes either side of him. His head folded into his chest but his tense shoulders were clearly shaking with harsh breaths.
“Take me instead.” Gad’s voice rung out over the others. Joseph felt the sudden wave of unadulterated shock as if it had been a blow to the chest knocking all the air out of his lungs. This plea was then uttered by another and another and another until there were eleven men prostate before him, each begging for a punishment they didn’t earn to save their little brother.
Their little brother who was crying and panicking in the corner and this was all his doing. He felt as though his head was spinning.
“Enough.” He demanded. He couldn’t listen to this anymore. He couldn’t stand it when people begged him or called him sir or master. The though made him cringe because he knew what it was like on the other end of that interaction. He hated it. And he had done this to his own brothers.
As he demanded silence fell upon the room and he slowly made his way to Benjamin who still had not raised his vision from the floor. Joseph reach out and took Benjamin’s chin, raising his head and his gaze to meet his own. As he touched Benjamin he flinched away, making Joseph’s stomach turn.
“Look at me.” He said to Benjamin who was trying not to cringe under his touch. Benjamin’s eyes searched his face and Joseph saw no recognition in his eyes.
“Do you not recognise me?” He asked his brother, who managed to look more terrified than before.
“No, master, I’m sorry.”
“Do you remember your brother? Joseph?” Benjamin’s eyes opened wider in shock before his eyes scanned his face once again.
“It can’t be.”
“It is.” He responded, smiling.”
“Joseph?” One of the brothers questioned from behind him. They had now all sat up but were still kneeling. He nodded.
“Yes.” They faces morphed with shock and Joseph couldn’t help but laugh. “Stand up, please.” He said walking over to them. Gad was the first to envelop him into a hug, making Joseph smile. He had missed his brothers. And soon each brother was joining the big hug. There was laughter and smiles. The tension of the room completely bleeding away.
Too soon they pulled away but Joseph noticed they were still one missing. He glanced over his shoulder to see Benjamin still held in a bruising grip by his thugs.
“Let him go.” He told them who immediately let go of his little brother and stepped away from him. “Come here.” Joseph said to his littlest brother as he opened his arms. Benjamin ran into his arms, almost knocking him over in the process, and hugged him tighter and for longer than any of the other brothers.
He whispered into Joseph’s chest.
“I’m sorry.” There was raw pain in his voice.
“It’s okay.” Joseph reassured him, raising his hand to gently hold the back of Benjamin’s head as they hugged. “I planted the cup, I know you didn’t steal anything.”
“No. I meant I’m sorry, for all those years we bullied you and for selling you. I’m so so sorry.” His choked a little on emotion and Joseph could feel tears pricking at his own eyes and before he could respond he was met with a chorus mirroring Benjamin’s heart-felt apology.
For the first time he knew his brothers were being kind and true and that how he knew they had become honest men.