They are seated in the shadow on the cool side of the room, these elders, entrusted men. Today, they are seated to hear a woman give account. They know her, outcast that she is. They are disgusted that they will be confined in the room to hear her speak of the commotion from midday yesterday. Their rabbi has asked them to gather and hear, so what can be done. It falls to them to discern the right and the wrong.
Yesterday, that traveling sectarian has walked through the village. So many lies spread before him where he goes. He speaks of heaven as if he has been there and seen with his eyes. You cannot trust a man like that. The elders know he is a trickster, a magician, and maybe worse. The woman somehow has knowledge of him. The men suspect, and will find out, how he paid her to play a part in this act of healing. So, they wait in the shade of the room. But they do not wait long.
They expect the woman to come hunched and gazing at the floor. That is how she walked when she walked through the village. No one approaches her in the village. She is perpetually unclean. Her gown stained in rusty streaks behind her. The day before yesterday, that is how she would have come. But today she walks fully erect, like a young and guileless maid who knows no better than to look at men. She looks at each of them individually. The youngest of the men, sitting in the darker corner, squirms when her gaze hits him.
‘I was told you will hear what happened yesterday, but I cannot tell yesterday without first telling of thirteen harvests ago, when I was a young maid, betrothed. Will you hear my account from that time? For you cannot know what was done yesterday without first knowing more.’ She speaks first. She speaks out of order. She speaks as though she has power.
The chief elder stands to address her. He steps toward her. ‘Speak, woman, but be careful of the time. We have no time for wild tales. Speak truth.’
The woman meets his eyes and does not quaver. ‘I must speak truth. Rabbi Yeshua would have me to. I know. But I cannot be like the serpent and tell only part. I must speak the truth in whole, as I know it. Do you see? The whole begins thirteen harvests ago. Will you hear it?’
The elder broke gaze and sat, saying disdainfully, ‘Speak, woman. Tell your tale.’
‘Thirteen harvests ago, I was a maid in my father’s house. I am fourteen and am promised to Isaac, the son of the metal worker. Isaac, who is learning his father’s trade. He has muscles that bulge in his arms and chest. When I can, I find reason to walk near the shop and listen to the ringing as he raises his hammer and beats out a pothook or plow. Sometimes, I will sneak up and see him in front of the fire, stripped to the waist in the heat. And inside me will tingle. He is strong and safe and from what is said about him, kind. My life will be a good life. The family we can make together will be good, do you see?
I help my mother and learn all that a girl may learn; to cook, to mend, to kill the chicken, to grow the herbs, to hold the babies, to sweep the crumbs from the corners before Passover. I study at synagogue what is allowed a girl to learn and would learn more, if I could.
That evening, thirteen harvests ago, changed me. I carry the water jars to the well outside the wall. The other girls from nearby have already returned and so, I am alone. I should be alert. I should be scared. But I am not. I am thinking of my pretty life in Isaac’s house. I am thinking of the life I will not have. In quickness, a sack is pulled over my head. I hear the jars break on the ground, but strong arms have wrapped around me. I struggle and I kick. One of the men swears an oath and strikes me.
It may have been hours that passed. I do not know. I awake. My father calling in the dark. Calling from the path to the well. My head hurts, it is true, but my legs, that place, burn with violation and fire. Although I am crying, I raise my voice enough. My father is beside me quickly. He thinks I have willingly given myself. But, with his lamp, my father sees the sack, the swelling of my eye, the way my gown is torn. My father cries. He helps me back to his home.
With the next moon, when it is my time, there is no flow. After two weeks more, still there is no flow. In mornings, when I wake, I cannot eat. My mother knows it is not normal sickness. She tells me that she thinks I am with child. It is so.
My father and my mother tell me that I am to go to Auntie’s with the next caravan. It has now been two moons, but still no flow. I am sure my mother is right. I carry life in me. It is both horrible and full of wonder. Do you see? Horrible, because I cannot have my beautiful life with Isaac. Two or three rough men, rough boys, take my beautiful life away from me. But they have put something in me as well. Their evil has put life inside me. How? How is that possible? How?’
No man in the room speaks. For some things, there are no answers.
‘The caravan arrives in auntie’s village three days later. Mother has sent word about me. Aunty already knows. The sun came and went, and I grow large.
After seven moons, aunty takes me to a midwife. There, I think I am to be looked at in the normal way. But of a sudden, I am held down. I see the midwife with a metal hook, the ones the fishermen use to mend their nets. I think then of Isaac and how, if he were my husband now, he would take his hammer and bash the midwife’s head. She takes the hook and inserted it and twisted. I do not know what she did inside me. Did she think to take out the life in me? She did do that, I say. For I screamed. I felt a searing rip and I scream. The midwife drops the hook on the floor and runs out. The discharge that has stained me thirteen harvests begins that day.
Aunty finds another midwife, not the one with the hook. Aunty would not let that one come back. On the next moon, my baby is born. Aunty cares for me like my mother. And I care for my tiny baby girl as a mother. She is born. They place her tiny body on my breast. I cup her little head and count the fingers and the toes. She came to me by violence, yet she is beautiful life. I stay at auntie’s, with my baby to the next moon. I place my nipple in her mouth. I hold her tiny body warm to my chest. I thrill each time her eyes open. She is nearly perfect. There is a deep mark on her back which worries the midwife, when she comes to look. This midwife says there is nothing to do with her now but wait and see.
A childless couple from the next village, a man named Jarius, like you, he is an elder in the next village. You surely know him. This man, Jarius and his wife come to Auntie’s by caravan. They come to her house and to me. The wife looks at my baby with greedy eyes, yet I am sure she is kind. In fact, I know it. I travel back to their village with them and remain in their house two weeks. By then, my baby girl is well. She is feeding strong. The wife of Jarius takes her from me.
I return to my father’s house. The unclean flow that began with the midwife’s hook never leaves me. Words are spoken around our village. Rumors of me rise up. I can no longer go to synagogue. I can no longer go among the people. The worst, I cannot marry. Isaac has determined that I am a whore and unfit.
I might have whored, but no man and few women will come near me. Only my mother will hold my hand. My father cannot or he, too, will be unclean. I become used to the smell of me, do you see? The smell is not a bother. But the shunning, the no talking with my girlfriends, the being barred from shops; I have to find a way to make this bloody mess end.
I go to Yehudi doctors in three villages. Each of them takes my money. Each of them handles me quickly, but do not give me peace. I go to a Greek physician. I remember him. He is called Luke. I would see him come from the court of the Gentiles on Sabbath. I would stand in the shade near synagogue to listen for the sound of the shofar on Passover; to hear the people call out. It is a comfort to know El Elyon is worshipped.’
The men sit against the wall. All but one of the five nod agreement.
‘I went to this man, Luke. He is not like Yehudi doctors. Before he will take money, he sits with me and talks. He does not fear uncleanness. Perhaps because he is unclean by birth, I do not know.
He puts his hands on my hands. He speaks to me in our own Aramaic. He tells me he will look in me first to see if he can mend what might be wrong. If he can, he will fix the issue. I will no longer bleed. If he cannot, he will charge me nothing. He says that to charge me for no cure will be a harm to me. He says that he cannot go against an oath he swore, though he does not say to whom he swore.
I can tell he is careful with his hands. He reaches in that place, but he does so in a way that made me feel a dignity. As he does his work, he speaks to me of what he does. I will not repeat this to you. He educates me about myself. But in the end, he washes my flow off his hands. He says he can do nothing.
He does not charge me for what he has given. He has given me peace of knowing what is wrong. And more. He has given me the key to it being wrong no longer.
It is Luke who tells me of Rabbi Yeshua approaching. Rabbi is on his way to see Jarius. Luke does not know that it is the same Jarius who raised my baby as his daughter. Luke says he heard this strange rabbi is rumored to have the power of the universe in his grasp. This teacher can heal.
I have tried everything. I have come to the end of myself. I ask Luke if he believes this himself. He says, “as yet, I have not examined one of these cured. What I have heard seems credible.” It is enough for me. I take hold of his words. It is my last hope. I have to believe.
I am also scared, do you see? I am scared because this Yeshua is a great teacher. Where he goes, crowds follow. And me, I am a bleeding. I am stinking. I am unclean woman. It seems to me a sin to approach Yeshua. Yet, I think, in the throng around him, if I may even touch his garment, it may be enough.
Yesterday, you see, I go within the crowd. We jostle, walking in the train behind Yeshua. Almost as many people swarm in front of him. Through this mass, I work my way toward him. Now, I am beside him and then behind him. I slip my hand forward. I lightly brush the hem of his robe.
For me, the sun stands still at high midday. I am stunned. Silver, wispy fingers circle around me. Warmth spreads down my spine. Love caresses me here and here. Inside me, I feel my flesh knit back together, all is as it had been. In my heart, hope swells.
All of this must take the flick of an eye. I cannot say how long. When I am again within myself, Yeshua looks right at me. He is five paces from me, but he looks right at me. He asks those around him, “who touched me?” I know it is to me he speaks. I tremble.
Those closest to him call him master. They say, “many are here, lord. How do you ask this in a crowd?”
My lord makes it clear. “Someone has touched me, for I felt the power go through me.” I cannot say why this gave me courage. I step forward. The crowd realizes who I am and part.
“I am the one who touched you, lord.” I am not afraid. I can do no other thing than worship him at his feet. My body still shakes from the power that has gone from him to me and now is back again.
Yeshua says to me, “daughter, go in peace. Your faith has made you whole.”
I feel he knows everything about me. I believe he knows the girl he travels to see is my daughter. I believe the god of the universe walks among us. Do you see?
Do you believe me? I am willing to be examined, if it please you. I am willing to suffer any indignity that you come to know. This Yeshua bar Joseph is Messiah.
Tomorrow. I will go to the Greek physician, Luke. I will tell him of Messiah. I will tell him of Jairus’s daughter, my child. I heard the report. She is dead, but now lives. Do you see?’
It is then the woman stops speaking. She stops and is silent. The men sit in stunned awe. She has spoken with power. She does not mince or scrape as a common woman ought to speak. She speaks as equal.
Four of these elders take no offense. They have asked her to give account. This she has done.
After a moment, the chief elder rises. He thanks her. He tells her she can leave. The men have much to talk about. The youngest elder, the elder who turned his eye, takes his leave as soon as time allows. He will get word to the office of the chief priest. This renegade, Yeshua, is dangerous.