Friday, January 27, 2012
Fiction Friday, ONE MORE TIME, Chapter 35
When Paul and Sarah were able to talk later, they decided a white robe drenched in olive oil, his skin and hair also smeared with the oil, might be enough in firelight to make him look ghostly. Red dye on the robe where his leg had been bleeding might be the convincing touch. They quickly made their way to Jonas shop to enlist his help.
When they told Jonas the plan, he laughed. “I can provide a white tunic dipped in olive oil. The greasier it looks, the more convincing it might be to Bildad. And if the bottom of the robe were black, it would look as if you were floating. Ah—I just had another idea, too. How about if I hide in the bushes and play a drum softly before Paul appears? I have a few other friends who could play trumpets...”
Sarah clapped her hands. “I can hardly wait to see his face!”
Paul turned to her and grasped her shoulders. “No, Sarah, you can’t be there. If anything goes awry and you were captured, you’d become a slave and might never see Tamara again. One of us has to stay with her, and it has to be you.”
Sarah hadn’t thought about the danger involved. “Oh, Paul, I don’t want you to be hurt or put into slavery again. What if this fails and both of you are captured?”
Jonas turned to Sarah. “There is danger, Sarah. You’re right, we shouldn’t do this. We can’t deprive Tamara of her papa again. Nor Dathan of his abba, I suppose.”
Paul shook his head in disagreement. “No, we have to do this, Jonas. Somewhere, the woman you love is in slavery enduring God only knows what. We have to try. Do you have friends who would go with us in case we get into trouble?”
Jonas nodded. “Several people in this town have lost members of their families to this slaver.”
“I have a few friends in Hamath’s household, as well,” Paul continued. “We will take as many reinforcements as possible, leave them in hiding and hope they won’t be needed.”
After they finalized their plans, Jonas began to close up his shop while Paul and Sarah made their way back home. Jonas and Paul would meet back at his shop at sundown with their friends.
Before they left, Paul held Sarah and Tamara close. “If we don’t come back in the morning, you will know the worst has happened,” he said. “We won’t be able to get back in the gate until it’s opened in the morning. I don’t expect anything to go wrong. Bildad is highly superstitious, and God knows he has a lifetime of guilt to plague him. Pray for us, okay?”
Tamara gazed at her Papa with tears in her eyes. “My friend Jesus said it would be okay. I told Him about it, and He says He will help you.”
Paul, Amad, and several of the other male servants and slaves went back to Jonas’ shop. Dorcas, Proteus, and Thecla had been informed of the plan, and they all gave their approval for the group to go with Paul.
Paul made his way with his friends to the marketplace. He was surprised how many men Jonas had with him. He had the robe, and it literally dripped with olive oil. A gruesome red dripped down the front. Jonas slaughtered a goat for the next day’s meal, and the blood made the crowning touch to Paul’s outfit.
The group made their way two or three at a time through the city gate, not wanting to go through in a large group and possibly put the slave caravan on the alert. Paul felt certain most or all of the slaves Bildad had were gotten by dishonest and unwilling means. In this age, sometimes people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts, and sometimes unwilling debtors were sold to pay their debts. The men Paul brought with him were all in servanthood or slavery by choice or by inheritance. Jonas’ friends were probably all free men. It made no difference—they were united in purpose this night.
Paul didn’t don his ghostly robe or get himself oiled up until they were hidden in a cave not far from where Bildad was camped. They joked as they whitewashed Paul’s face and poured oil over Paul’s hair. It would take all the soap in Tyre to get him clean again. The robe was heavy—Paul was glad he didn’t have to walk far. They made their way across the intervening space between the cave and the slavers’ camp, and Paul was amazed at how quiet the thirty men could be. Paul worked his way forward, easing his way between one tree and the next until he was close enough to begin his play.
He stepped quickly out from behind a convenient bush, rising up to his full height. A soft drumroll began behind him. Trumpets blasted from all around the campsite. He deepened his voice and called out, “BILDAD.” All twelve of the men by the campfire jumped to their feet and fell over each other trying to escape the apparition, hiding in a large tent behind them. Even the grossly fat one, Bildad himself, moved quickly for one so heavy. Paul raised his voice and bellowed, “BILDAD! BRING ME BILDAD! BRING ME BILDAD NOW!” A louder drumroll echoed each of his dramatic pronouncements.
Three men came forward, dragging and pushing Bildad to the forefront. The man was seemed petrified and was kicking and scratching, trying desperately to get free of his captors. They pushed him to his knees.
“BILDAD—YOU HAVE SINNED!”
The man Bildad fell to his face cursing the loss of a lucky ring—his broad behind raised, his face pressed to the ground, and his hands extended pleadingly in front of him. “Wh-wh-who, m-m-me? How-how did I sin, sir?” he stuttered.
“BILDAD—YOU HAVE MADE SLAVES OF FREE PEOPLE. YOU HAVE PROFITTED FROM THEIR MISERY.” Paul was enjoying himself now.
“Y-Y-Y Yes, sir. Forgive me, sir, who are you, sir?”
“I’M PAULOS, WHOM YOU LEFT ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.”
“P-P-P-P-Paulos??? B-B-B-But you were given to me by—by a f-f-friend. Honestly,” Bildad squeaked.
“SILENCE, POND SCUM! YOU KNEW THIS GIFT WASN’T HONEST.”
“Well, he said he did, the miserable liar, but I’ve had my revenge on him,” Bildad appeared to be forgetting some of his fear and started to rise from his prostrate position. Paul signaled behind his back for Jonas to increase the volume of the drums. Bildad pressed his forehead again to the ground.
“YOU AVENGED YOURSELF ON HIM?” Paul bellowed. (Loud drumroll) “YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO REVENGE. THE GOD OF ISRAEL WILL WREAK REVENGE ON YOU FOR ALL THOSE WHOM YOU HAVE HARMED?”
“Ooooohhhh,” Bildad moaned, “Please, no!”
“THERE IS BUT ONE WAY YOU CAN ATONE FOR YOUR SINS, BILDAD. YOU MUST REVEAL ALL THE NAMES OF THOSE YOU HAVE PLACED IN SLAVERY WRONGLY, AND YOU MUST FREE THEM.”
“I can’t do that!” Bildad cried, raising his head a little. “Besides, who would I reveal these names to? Uh, Sir?”
This had better be over soon, Paul thought. His voice felt strained and could begin cracking at any moment. “SILENCE YOUR FOOLISH BABBLING! IF YOU DON’T DO FREE ALL YOUR SLAVES, TRAGEDIES WILL BEGIN TO HAPPEN TO YOU, ONE FOR EACH PERSON HARMED, INCREASING IN INTENSITY UNTIL YOU ARE LEFT TO DIE, FRIENDLESS AND FORGOTTEN, AS YOU DID TO ME.” At this point, some budding comedian behind Paul howled like a stricken banshee. Paul almost lost it but was able to catch himself. “TOMORROW, A RABBI WILL COME TO YOU FOR THE LIST. IF THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT FREED TO GO TO THEIR RIGHTFUL HOMES, THE FIRST OF YOUR CALAMITIES WILL BEGIN.”
“Oh, I promise, sir, I’ll obey, oh, please don’t bring my poor old head to Sheol.”
“HASTEN TO ATONE FOR YOUR SINS, BILDAD. YOUR LUCK HAS RUN OUT AND YOUR TIME GROWS SHORT!” Slowly and smoothly, Paul backed up with the help of one of the men who made sure he didn’t stumble. When he was no longer in the firelight, he swiftly discarded the robe and wiped his face with a towel. The drumroll stopped suddenly, and the trumpets sounded one last loud, long fading note. Silently, Paul and his company brushed branches across his trail. Ghosts shouldn’t leave tracks. They made their way back to the cave where they caught a little sleep, wrapped in their cloaks, leaving one to guard the entrance. Just before sunrise, they proceeded two or three at a time to enter the gate of the city.
Jubilant, Paul went home, woke up Sarah and whispered the good news to her. “Bildad swallowed the bait.” Sarah hugged him hard.
Meanwhile, Jonas returned to the slaver’s campsite with a story of being awakened in the night by a ghost who said he was to get a list from a man named Bildad camped by the city gate. With hands that shook, Bildad delivered a long list. Bildad babbled his thanks and his assurance that he would atone for all his sins.
They were breaking up camp as Jonas left with the list, not once glancing at the list nor looking back over his shoulder at the now repentant slaver.