The village was almost in total darkness. Only in Hannah’s home did a lantern burn. The middle-aged woman sat in her chair, shoulders hunched over the cloth, carefully pulling the needle and thread in and out, in and out. On her lap lay pieces of sturdy linen, now almost entirely transformed into an outfit for her son. Time was running out.
Hannah snipped the thread, put down the cloth and stretched. The dark bags under her eyes attested to the need for sleep. But she couldn’t afford to sleep yet. She had to get this outfit finished and with five small children underfoot, it was impossible to get anything done during the day. Anyhow, it was only once a year she burned the midnight oil working on a new outfit for her eldest.
The other children rarely received new clothing made by their mother. Their Aunt Penny was generous with the hand-me-downs, and Hannah accepted them graciously. Once, the offer of used children’s clothing would have been perceived as a vicious poisoned barb, but not anymore.
Penny’s youngest, Mark, was just a few months older than Hannah’s eldest. Hannah laid Mark’s outfit flat on the table. In the lamplight, Hannah held the garment she’d been stitching for her son against young Mark’s clothing. Gauging where the hem should be, she then folded the fabric on her project and pinned it into place. Hannah rubbed her forehead and eyes, deeply breathed in the cool, fresh, midnight air mingled with the smoke of the lantern, then picked up the needle again.
Hannah’s head dropped lower and lower as she stitched. She wriggled in her chair, and took a sip of water. It was silent save for the occasional swish of leaves from the trees outside. Stitching rhythmically again, her head dropped but suddenly jerked up as an unexpected noise alerted her to the presence of somebody in the room.
“Jonathon, sweetie, what are you doing awake? Are you okay?”
“What do you want, Mother?”
“Want? I want you to have a good rest. We’ve a long journey tomorrow. What do you want, precious child? Some water?”
“Nothing, Mother. I thought you called me.”
“You were dreaming, dear boy. Now come and kiss your old mother, then back to bed with you.”
The boy shuffled back into the room he shared with his brothers. All was silent.
Hannah pondered the lot of her eldest son as she continued her sewing. Did he ever wake in the night, convinced somebody had called him? She knew he didn’t have a bed as such. He slept in the Temple near the Ark of God. He was ‘on call’ all day every day and all night every night. The old man, Eli, would be tucked into his bed not too far away. Those good-for-nothing sons of Eli’s would be around too …perhaps … or maybe they’d be out on the town still … or they’d possibly bring back the harlots with painted lips and eyelids, stinky perfumes and silky voices. Such wickedness in the same building as her precious son. Those rotters of Eli’s sons might even be carrying on with their so-called pleasures in the presence of her boy? Surely that was impossible?
Was she right to have condemned her first-born to a life of servitude in the Temple?
Hannah clipped off the thread and held up the finished product. This year’s priestly robe appeared huge compared to the size of the wide-eyed dark-haired little boy she had left at the Temple ten years ago. Still, it would fit Penny’s fourteen year old son, so it should fit hers. Both boys strongly resembled their father, so she imagined Samuel would have had a growth spurt this past year, just like Penny’s boy.
Hannah stood up, folded the linen robe, and added it to the bag, packed and ready by the door. She stretched, considered briefly the possibility of shuffling to the outhouse, but decided against it. Her craving for sleep was too great, and it could only be three or four hours until her husband came knocking at the door to call this part of his family to join the group going to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem. Home of her son. The son of God’s kindness.
Samuel. He would have a new linen robe soon. A robe that had been lovingly stitched by the woman who loved her God even more than her son.
Hannah extinguished the lantern.
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