Friday, June 1, 2012
Fiction Friday - ONE MORE TIME, Chapter 47C
“My name is Joshua,” he said. They took me eleven years ago. I think I was Bildad’s first human theft. I’d been out in the hills with my father’s sheep, a boy of fourteen. Some men approached me and asked for a drink. I turned my back to get the water skin, and one of them hit me over the head with something hard. Since then, they beat me with great regularity. My father tells me I was a rebellious young man and perhaps hadn’t outgrown it yet.”
A few of the men laughed, including a loud guffaw from his father. “I came back in the same group as Mariah.” He sat down again, earning an embrace from his mother.
Mariah stood up, took a deep breath, and plunged forward. “I have a story, too.”
“Louder, Mariah, we can’t hear you,” shouted one old man.
She took another breath, and spoke louder. “I had gone to the river to bathe early in the morning. Nobody else was around at that time, or so I thought. But as I started to remove my cloak, someone grabbed me from behind. I tried to scream, but the man held one hand over my mouth. He and another man that I later knew as Bildad dragged me into the trees, where they bound and gagged me. They took me to Jerusalem.”
A woman who had a baby with her stood up. “Mariah, your two children were born in captivity, is that not true? What will you do with the children?”
Mariah smiled at Jonas. “My husband is their father. He adopted them.”
The other woman burst into tears. “My husband is unwilling to accept my little one.”
The man sitting next to her shifted and scowled.
Jonas stood up. “My friends, I know this is hard for you, but think how hard it will be for this child if you don’t keep her. What will you do, Bartholomew, sell the baby into the same bondage that your wife suffered under for these past years?”
Jonas walked to Bartholomew and placed an arm on his shoulder as he gazed at the young woman. “You must have known these captors wouldn’t treat her gently. She didn’t choose to become pregnant by these men, but she also doesn’t want to kill this innocent child or sell the babe to a stranger. It wasn’t your wife’s fault, and it wasn’t the infant’s fault. Will you punish them for what they couldn’t help?”
Bartholomew’s stubborn scowl melted a little.
Jonas patted his arm. “Accept this child. After the brutality your wife endured, she may not be able to have any more children. Would you not rather have one who has your beloved’s blood than no child at all? Or even if you have more children, would you throw this part of your wife away?”
“I hadn’t thought of the babe being a part of my Rebecca.” Bartholomew turned to her. “Perhaps we should talk further.” He peered at the sleeping baby. “She does look like Rebecca.”
Another young man stood up, maybe twenty years old. “My name is John. I’ve been gone five years. While I was gone, my parents moved, I don’t know where. Perhaps they wouldn’t want me back even if I find them. I’m not a child any more. I have no home, I have no work, and I’m hungry.” The young man’s chin jutted forward over clenched teeth.
Jonas raised his glance to his sister. “Miriam, would you bring some food for our guest? There may be others here who are hungry as well. Perhaps have the servants bring out some bread, cheese, and wine for our friends.” Then to the young man he said, “Perhaps I know your parents.”
“I’m the son of Jonah and Dinah. My father was a gatekeeper.”
“Ah, yes. I know them. They haven’t moved far, John. They are in Leontopolis, only a mile away. They were here just last week. I sent word to them of the meeting, but they didn’t want to come. Your father was afraid seeing so many people who had returned except their own son would be too much for your mother. Your father has missed you, but your mother made herself sick worrying about you. She’s not strong. It’s farther than you should go on a Sabbath, but I think our God would understand. They live on the street called ‘Beth,’” he said, his eyes twinkling.
The young man’s eyes looked damp. He nodded, and looked toward the door to the house where Mariah had gone. “If it’s all right with you, sir, I’d rather not wait for the food. He started for the courtyard gate just as Miriam reappeared with servants carrying trays of food. He hesitated only long enough to take a good-sized slice of cheese and a loaf of bread.
The next person to stand up was a woman of perhaps forty. Paul notice one side of her face scarred. The eye on that side of her face looked milky, and her hair included almost as much gray as brown.
“My name is Shalisha. I arrived home to find my husband had died. We had no children, and my parents died many years ago. I have no one. I don’t know what to do. Is it possible that any of you might have work for me? I know how to do most things needed in a home.”
Hamath whispered something to Dorcas. “We have need of someone who can wash clothes and sew. Our housemaid is getting older and her hands are stiff. If you’re able to do these things, we can use your help.”
Several surprised gazes turned in his direction. Paul suspected Hamath hadn’t been known for kindness toward unattractive women in the past.
Shalisha smiled gratefully. “I can do these things,” she said.
No one else stood up. By this time, Tamara had snuggled up in Paul’s arms and drifted off to sleep. The other children had settled down, too, sitting close to the parents that had so recently returned. Most of the people seemed reluctant yet to talk about their feelings, but perhaps they needed to get to know each other better before they would “let go.” Finally Paul, still seated, spoke up. “Would you all like another chance to get together?”
There were murmurs of assent, people looking at each other and smiling.
“Then let’s meet together again,” Jonas said. “Next Sabbath afternoon again, here.”
“Maybe we could each bring something to eat, to share with each other,” Sarah said.
Paul grinned, wondering if this would be the world’s first potluck.
“Each household could bring something. And could we meet at mealtime, since we would be sharing a meal?”
Jonas nodded. “At the sixth hour, then.”
There were more nods of agreement, and people gathered up their children to leave, stopping to thank Jonas and welcome Mariah back.
Shalisha walked to their house with Dorcas, who explained what her duties would be. Hamath walked on Paul’s right side, carrying Orphah, and they spoke of their experiences. Sarah walked on Paul’s left, holding Gideon’s hand as he chatted happily about how fun it was to play with the other children.
Paul noticed Tamara didn’t have her doll. Startled out of his reverie over the meeting, he stopped and touched Sarah’s arm. “We need to go back, We don’t have Tamara’s doll.”
Tamara yawned and smiled. “It’s okay, Papa. I gave Abby to Zillah and Ezra. They don’t have a doll, and they need her more than I do.”
Paul squeezed her. “I’ll make you another one, Tammy.”
“Okay, Papa,” she said, and laid her head back on Paul’s shoulder.
Sarah looked grave.
Paul could guess what she was thinking. He remembered how Tamara had given her favorite doll to a little girl in the hospital suffering from cancer and a favorite stuffed toy to a little boy who had been burned. One after another, she had given all her toys at the hospital with her away to the other children at the hospital. It was as though she knew she wouldn’t need the toys.
Paul could feel the knot in his stomach tightening.