Run Outside. Take a picture of the first thing you see. Run Inside. Take a picture of the second thing you see. Write about the connection between these two random objects, people or scenes.
Inside… Mama in the kitchen… crying.
The hills are not such a pleasant place to write. But I have to. I no longer veil my face or wear a scarf around my hair to protect me from the harsh weather because I realise that it does not matter anymore. My friends who have come up the hills with me would soon call me for the afternoon session of mourning. I love my friends because we don’t actually cry to mourn – we only sit and think of the things that would never be… at least for me.
Ever since I remember, my family has always been close-knit. I grew up knowing that my father was a greater man than the people of Tob thought him to be. He would always tell me to sit on his laps and would tell me stories about how his father, my grandfather, was a great man of valour. He said he was born in Gilead and that his mother (he would avert his eyes) was ‘not very much around’. Whenever I asked him to tell me more of his mother, he would smile sadly and say, ‘Your grandmother was a thousand women in one’ and he would keep quiet.
It was not until I turned 16, 9 months ago, that mama told me about grandma. She said grandma was a renowned harlot of Gilead. She said papa had lived with grandpa until grandpa died and his legitimate children kicked papa out of their home. Mama said that when she met papa in Tob hanging out with the rascals, she knew that he was not of them. ‘Now your father is a strong man of Tob, like his father was a strong man of Gilead. But you know, he still does not belong here. And he carries that around.’ She said she was telling me these family secrets because I would soon get married to a handsome man of Tob, and she wanted me to know that I have strong blood running through my veins so no man must treat me like I’m trash.
The day after we had that conversation, some men came looking for papa. They looked so dark-skinned, mama told me to come into the house. She whispered to me that they looked like soldiers from Gilead and she began to say her prayers. Mama and I love the psalmist a lot. Mama always says that the Psalmist is our perfect example of how a worshipper of Yahweh should be. She says that King David is the one we should look to as an example of emotional fortitude.
The men took papa away with them. He left without saying as little as a ‘See you soon’. Everyday, I would stand by the window and wait for him to return. Mama said he was at war with the people of Ammon on behalf of the people at Gilead and that the men promised that if they won the war, they would crown him the leader of the force at Gilead. Mama said she had prayed to God and God had told her that papa would be victorious. She was getting more and more excited every day – her skin looked more radiant and she always wore a smile. She only recited the happy psalms and she had begun to give away some of our belongings. ‘What is in front is better’ she would say.
One day, while I looked out of the window, I saw a crowd of people walk towards our little house- they were raising dust- dancing and hailing someone who looked like papa. I squinted (my eyes are bad), and bent my neck forward. Behold! It was papa! I ran like a wild cat. I pushed aside our maid, our dog, our cat, and mama. I had missed papa more than I even thought I had.
I ran outside screaming so loud and running so wild that I barely heard papa shout on top of his voice, ‘Yahweh!! Why have you done this to me???” I collapsed into his arms as we both collapsed onto the ground in the dust. His body was shaking vigorously. Papa was crying.
He held my face in his hands and I stared at him in fear – he looked so scared and so scarred from the war. Then I heard him speak softly, ‘My precious one, why did you let your youthful legs seal your fate? I swore an oath to Yahweh to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of my house to welcome me. And now I cannot break the vow.’
I went deaf and mute for a long time. I stood up and just stood still. I was am 16 years old. I thought about Father Abraham and his son Isaac – about the sacrifice. Maybe Yahweh would spare me at the point when I am about to be burnt. Maybe not. I looked at the faces of everyone. I could see their lips moving but I couldn’t hear a word. I looked back just in time to see mama run into the house. Then suddenly, I found solace… in the words of The Psalmist I remembered reading in the temple.
‘Who may live on the Holy Mountain of Yahweh? One who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind’ (The 15th chapter of the Psalms.)
I found my voice, my bearing and my hearing and said to papa, ‘Yes papa. I would offer myself to be sacrificed, for you must fulfill your vow to Yahweh. But please give me 2 months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I would never marry’
I ran back into the house… and saw mama crying in the kitchen.
Inside… Mama… Crying on the kitchen floor.
*For more on this story, you may check out Judges 11 in the Holy Bible.*