“How did I get here?” (I’ve fallen so far)
“He never loved me anyway” (Was I just an act of obedience to his God?)
“I wish I could go home” (He’d never have me)
Thoughts beat in my mind as I look around me. The other women are so much younger, their bodies not changed by child-bearing. I used to be beautiful. When I walked through town, all the men noticed. I used to tighten my robes, allow my veil to slip down to show the curves of my body, the waves in my hair. I know that I shamed my parents, but I loved the attention, the way men looked at me. I spent more and more time in the company of men, craving their adoration. And then, the day came when my father, tight-lipped with anger announced that I would marry my husband. No agreement on my part, no chance to even meet him in the traditional way, just “We have found your husband. Considering your reputation, you are lucky to have one.”
So, I left to become a wife. Despite the way people talked about me, my husband was good to me. Women whispered behind my back but he told me to hold up my head and go on. Although I was not forgotten in my neighborhood, I was replaced by other pretty women whose morals were less than their mothers would have wished. Not long after my marriage, I began to awake in the morning, nauseous. My beautiful figure began to change, and my mother rejoiced that I would bear a child. I delivered a handsome son, and soon afterward again found myself with child, this time a daughter with my hair and eyes, her father’s mouth. My life began to center around my husband and little ones. Somehow the birth of my children bought me some redemption with the women at the well and they would talk to me about women things: nursing babies, the naughtiness of little boys. Too soon, however, I found myself expecting once again, another little boy. It seemed that the newness of being a mother and a trusted wife wore off, was no longer enough. I looked at myself in the water in the river, washing a thousand little garments, with a trace of my old beauty but tired by the tasks of being a wife and mother. Was it enough to be loved by just one man when once so many had wanted me?
One day, although I had not planned it, I found myself back in a less than upright section of the city. I was embarrassed at first to meet one of my old lovers, but I responded to his warmth, not seeing how superficial it was. My husband never seemed to talk to me the way this man once had, never praised my beauty. Soon, I began slipping out once or twice a week, leaving my children with my unsuspecting mother. When this man left, there were others. One day I didn’t go home. Tired of clutching little hands, and the clumsy embrace of my husband, I left. Sustained for awhile by the gifts of other men, I accepted the advances of many, until one day I couldn’t remember the honesty of calling one man friend, and the nursing of a crying baby. My suitors tired of me and moving on to fresher conquests, leaving me stranded, and now I’m here.
Standing on the steps of this building, I watch as women all around me are sold as servants. Some are happy to go, tired of starving, and tired of trying to exist without the protection of a man. My garments, gifts from my former lovers, are no longer beautiful. I try to arrange them around me in a way that will make me look younger, stronger. I sigh as yet another young girl is engaged by a family as a companion for their children. Will no one have me? As the other women are bought, one by one, fear creeps into my heart. What if I’m left? What if no one wants me? I’ve always been wanted. What if I’m sold to some cruel person? In the midst of my thoughts, I look up. Walking down the street is a familiar figure. My husband, his head bowed, clutches a money bag. Far behind him, I see my mother, beginning to be bent with age, with my children in tow. They’ve grown so much. Surely they won’t know me. As tears stream down my face, I look for a place of escape. How have I come to this? The seller of slaves turns to me with a look of derision. “How much for this lovely one?” he sneers. Before the bidding can begin, my husband slips forth, presses the money into his hand, and turns to me. His eyes , remarkably, are full of pity and a trace of his old love for me.
“Come home,” he says. “I have paid your price.”
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