I stand in the doorway and watch her glide into the night, her veiled figure lithe and graceful. When my age-dimmed eyes no longer trace her outline, I go into the house and latch the door. I fill the lamps with oil and lay more wood on the fire. Tonight I will keep vigil, and not sleep until she returns.
The night will be cold in this time of harvest. No matter, though. I draw a rough wool cloth around my shoulders and place a stool by the window to wait.
* * *
We left our home in summer—a dry, hot, brittle summer—under a merciless sky. The oxen panted as we loaded the carts, and one fainted before we passed the borders of our own lands. We left him beside the road with half our goods, and my sons wailed for food, and water, and all the things we left behind.
“Is this of the Lord?” I dared to ask my husband, whose face was grim and set. “What if we bring a curse upon our house? To leave His Providence, take our sons to a heathen land...”
But he turned on me in rage, his face damp and ruddy.
“Silence, woman! Would you stay and watch your sons’ parched lips beg for bread you cannot give them? This land is cursed! Perhaps we will find mercy at the Lord’s hand, perhaps not. Better to live in Moab than die in Israel.”
We prospered in that foreign land for a time, until my husband died, and I was left alone. Perhaps we should have returned then—but my sons had become children of Moab, enamored of its land, its cities, its daughters. They married, established their homes, and I was content.
And when I lost them, both of them, in the span of a year? Then I cursed the contentment that had kept me there. What else could I do but carry my grief home to the land of my fathers and die there, a parable for all who would seek solace in the bosom of false gods? I meant to go alone, for I had nothing to offer the damsels who had married my sons.
But one planted herself in the middle of the road after the other had turned and gone. She grasped my hands in both of hers and spoke, placid, immovable:
“Entreat me not to leave thee...”
And I knew that God had wedded our destinies. If I returned home only to die, at least I would not die alone.
My heart was winter, dead and barren. I called myself “Mara,” a bitter name for a bitter spirit. But she would not let me be.
“Our home!” she said, when she saw the old house with its sagging thatch and breached walls. “Ours, to repair and rebuild.”
She swept away dirt and cobwebs, mended the broken furniture, bartered with neighbors for flour and corn. She sang while she worked, a strange-sounding song with harmonies unlike any I had heard. Yet she sang of God—our God—and never doubted His Providence.
“We have no food, and nothing to exchange for it,” I complained, all too often.
“Then we will work.”
“But what can we do?”
“The barley harvest has come, Mother, and the poor may glean among the reapers. My hands are ready for work; my back is strong.”
She never spoke of her own grief. Yet once I saw her standing by the cot that her husband had occupied as a boy. Her outstretched palm held a miniature cart, and I remembered that Mahlon had fashioned playthings out of bits of wood. Had he tucked that away, perhaps thinking of a son that might one day treasure it?
I watched her head as it bowed over the carving; and from that day on, I chose to live again—not for myself, but for her.
* * *
All night I have watched, whispering the half-forgotten prayers I prayed as a mother. The night deepens and wanes; a faint gold stains the sky. Then I hear the approaching voice, humming its strangely beautiful song of praise to the God of Abraham.
I throw open the door to welcome her. Her head is bare, and she carries a wealth of barley corn—an easy burden, surely, for her step is light and quick.
And though the early-morning chill hints of winter, in her eyes I see the hope of spring.
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