The following tale was written as an assignment for my Pepperdine OMAET program – ED633 Educating Today’s Learner class in Fall 2001:
In the days of Gilgamesh the king, a farmer’s proud son named Thresh came to the city to find work. He wanted to make something more of his life than being a simple farmer’s son. After days of searching the only job that he could find was with Talmuk, one of the kings’ hundreds of brickmakers.
Talmuk was a wiry old man with boundless energy who barked orders to his many toiling apprentices as he endlessly paced from his office to the rows of ovens then out to the quarry and back to his office. Talmuk saw that Thresh was well-suited for working in the quarry, digging the endless loads of dirt and clay needed for making the king’s bricks. Thus, the farmer’s son spent his first few years with Talmuk with shovel in hand moving dirt and clay from the miles of deep pits to Talmuk’s stockyard. This was hardly what Thresh had in mind when he came to the city. But he hoped that Talmuk’s connection with the king would eventually lead to something more meaningful than shoveling earth.
Thresh was well into his third year with Talmuk before the old man let him join a group of workers who spent weeks hiking out to the forests surrounding the city looking for the best wood to be used in making the king’s bricks. Thresh was months with these men before anyone told him how they knew which trees were the best. He was there to provide the muscle needed to bring these big trees down and loaded onto the ox-carts. Thresh didn’t mind the labor, he was just happy to be out of the clay pits.
Thresh was five-years with the woodsmen before he was finally called back to Talmuk’s place to learn how the wood was actually used in making the king’s bricks. Thresh was amazed to discover that wood that his father would have used to make a dining table or dresser was cut into slats to make the frames that the mud and clay was poured into to make the bricks. This beautiful wood was then put into the ovens and as the mud and clay hardened into bricks the wood was charred until all that was left was the brick and a pile of ash. It seemed like a waste to Thresh but he knew that Talmuk must know what he’s doing because the king was giving Talmuk larger and larger orders.
So Thresh’s muscle now was called upon to cut the lumber into slats of exact sizes and qualities. And as before in the quarry and out in the forest, Thresh dedicated himself to creating the best slats anyone had every seen. Finally after two-years at his post, Thresh was asked by Talmuk to take a load of their bricks to a job site on the other end of the city.
It was the first time that Thresh got a chance to see how their bricks were being used. As he approached the job site he saw acres of bricks piled high with hundreds of brick-layers and their apprentices toiling on a wall that seemed to stretch out for miles to the horizon and stood almost tall enough to touch the clouds. Thresh’s mouth dropped open the whole last five miles as they approached the wall. And just as he thought his amazement might end he saw that the wall was high enough and thick enough to have hundreds of apartments and shops right in the wall. There was a whole city built right into this wall.
When one of the job foremen saw how amazed Thresh was and heard whom he worked for, he invited him to join him as he went to inspect one new section of the wall. He showed Thresh how the bricklayers so perfectly applied the mortar to the bricks that you couldn’t wedge a thin knife between the bricks and boasted that this wall would stand for thousands of years. As Thresh gently brushed his huge calloused hands across the bricks in the wall he started to cry. He suddenly realized that without even knowing it, he had certainly become something more than a simple farmer’s son and that his work would stand for centuries.
Story by Joe Bustillos (c) 2001, Artwork by Ludmila Zeman.
In a literal sense the wooden frames enabled the mud and clay to become bricks. Figuratively, Talmuk enabled Thresh to realize his dream, though it took place in a way that Thresh had not imagined and also took much longer than he expected.
Ludmila Zeman’s artwork comes from her excellent three volume picture book on the Epic of Gilgamesh: “Gilgamesh the King,” “The Revenge of Ishtar,” and “The Last Quest of Gilgamesh” published by Tundra Books, Montreal, Quebec 1992, 1993, & 1995 (ISBN: 0-88776-283-2, 0-88776-315-4, & 0-88776-328-6