Fiction

The Prophet, the Priest and the Prostitute (Chapter 3)

By Daniel Adams

(Note: The final chapter in a story written by Daniel Adams. Go back and catch the other two chapters here and here.)

The baby squirmed discontented even as it suckled her nipple.  It grunted, it stretched, and it writhed.

Sharo shifted her weight and crossed her legs under her as she sat in the dust on the dirt floor.

“Shh, shh, shh.  It’s okay.  Shh, shh.” She soothed her baby.

Barely six weeks old, he was very aware of his surroundings and typically smiled at his mother.  A quiet child, normally he slept much of the night.  

Not this night.  His face puckered and turned red.

She wondered if he was sleeping too much.  

That’s not normal, she thought.  It can’t be healthy, can it? 

There was no one for her to ask, about anything.  Every day she spent anxious moments wondering if she took good care of her child.  She wept all day when his umbilical cord fell off, wondering what to do.  

Giliana was fine, but Sharo remained terrified.  

What if I do something wrong?

Currently, he grunted and made knots out of his tiny hands.  

He rarely fusses, she thought.

But, he did now.

He spit the nipple out of his mouth and cried, milk spilling out and dribbling into the wrinkles of his neck. 

“Oh, it’s okay.  What’s the matter, Giliana”

He latched onto the nipple again and suckled vigorously this time.

“There, there you go,” said Sharo, soothingly.  “There.”

She wiped his cheek lovingly with a clean cotton cloth.  Not much was clean in her room.  Dust from the busy road outside the city wall covered everything.  She had learned to deal with it prior to the birth of her child; but, he changed everything.  

She swept daily now, dusted twice as often.   What had once been a simple shelter from the rain had become home.  A curtain spanned the room, dividing it in half.  On one side, she kept a basin of water with a towel, a wooden box she used as a table and a clay lamp, which she burned as little as possible.  On the other side lay her bedding, neatly arranged, a basket which also served as a cradle, and a small stack of swaddling clothes, which she laundered daily.  It didn't feel much like home; but, it was all she had. 

Four months prior she had slept in the same room in the corner, with nothing more than a blanket.  Without hope she had been abandoned, shooed away in shame to this hole in the city wall, twenty-five weeks along in her pregnancy.  

“It is time for you to know the truth,” said the priest while she sat on the floor in his quarters crying. 

She would never forget that day.  She dreamed of it in terrible fitful dreams, and heard the voice, that awful voice.

That she had survived childbirth in such unsanitary conditions, malnourished, without proper care and alone, was a miracle unto itself.  She saw the birth that way.  She had cleaned him the best she could with her blanket as her heart welled with love.  Though she had no food or drink she found herself suddenly full of hope as she began to nurse him.  Crying with joy and thanking her gods into the night, she fell asleep with her new boy.  

When she awoke to his whimpers early in the morning she found a basin and pitcher, both full of clean water, and a small loaf of bread next to her doorway.  She cried again and called him Giliana saying, “He has saved me.”

 

Now, he lurched in her arms, breaking himself free from the nipple and suddenly started crying.

“Shh, shh.”  Sharon tried to comfort him as she placed him on her shoulder to burp him.  She patted him on the butt and rocked back and forth.  

He calmed.

He struggled to raise his head and then vomited profusely.  Curdled breast milk splashed against her shoulder and ran between her engorged breasts, onto her lap.  A trickle flowed down the center of her back.  A second, smaller wave spewed from his mouth covering the front of his swaddle, coating his chin and curling around the bottom of his earlobe.

“Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!” she exclaimed holding Giliana out at arms length.  “Oh, my God!  I don’t even know what to do.”  She laid the baby on her bed mat and wiped his face.  “Oh God, it’s everywhere!”  

It was.  She was covered front and back.  Her robe clung to her breasts, back and thighs.  Her hair was matted to her shoulder.  The baby was soaked through from his chin to his knees; swaddle blanket, cotton diaper and all. Atop the clinging fabric on both of them were randomly placed chunks of curdled milk.

 “Are you okay?”

He stretched out and kicked, flailing one arm feverishly in the air.

“Are you okay, Baby?” she asked as she untied her robe.  “Well, I guess I know what I’m doing this morning.”  

She would be washing her robe, and the baby’s clothes.  It would not take all morning as she had only two garments of her own, her robe, which now lay on the floor covered in curdled milk, and a light sarong which she had purchased only days ago, and a half dozen large cotton diapers, as well.  She tucked in the sarong and stripped her baby bare.

“Oh, Giliana.  You are soaked!”  She dipped a cloth into the basin of water and cleaned his neck and torso.  “We’re going to make you clean.”

He smiled in response. 

“You’re so beautiful,” she said as she fastened a diaper around his waist.  “You have such a pretty smile.”

He cooed then sucked his bottom lip into his mouth.

“Oh yes, you do.  Yes, you do.  Oh.  Where’d your bottom lip go?  Don’t worry.  I’ll help you find it,” she said as she touched his chin with her finger.  “I’ll help you find it.”

He grunted, squirmed, and shat.

“Oh, Giliana.  Did you do a poop?  Yes, you did.  

"And I just changed you.  Yes, I did,” she said, smiling at him.  

She could deal with soiled diapers; but, Giliana had never vomited like that before.  As she changed his second diaper she wondered if he was sick, or was there something wrong with his stomach.  

Or, was it her milk?  Was something wrong with it? 

Her biggest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to take care of him.  She had discovered that she could deal with almost any humiliation as long as she knew her child would be okay.

“There.  All clean,” she declared as the finished swaddling him and picked him up, allowing his legs to bunch up under her breasts.

 “All clean,” she said.  

That's when she felt a warming sensation against her belly.  Giliana was smiling, and peeing.

She wanted to cry.

She had never dreamed nursing a baby could be this difficult; and, she never dreamed she would be alone through it.  Sharo wanted a nap.  

Though she was thankful Giliana was such a happy baby, rarely fussing, sleeping from the tenth to the fourth hour, but, there was so much to do.  She was exhausted. 

"It's just one thing after another," she said as she began changing him again.

Last night, for instance, Giliana had gone to sleep during his afternoon feeding.  She swept, ate some fruit and bread, cleaned her few meager dishes and tucked Gil snuggly into the bed.  Then she held her breath and hurried the couple hundred cubits to the local well to retrieve some fresh water.  She wished she could bring him but had no other way to carry the basin.  

Every moment dragged on it seemed for eternity, while she waited at the well for the tender.  

He apparently had no rush in him.  Casually he drew his bucket, making light conversation, related of course to her profession.

“Hot enough today to make a man want to tear off his robe, wouldn’t you say, Mum?”

“I was content to keep mine on,” said Sharo, nervously keeping an eye on the open door of her room.

“A perfect maiden by day, eh Mum.  But what happens when the sun goes down?” he asked, pausing in his labor.  “I suppose you been busy tonight already.  Needing a fresh drink and a breath of air?”

“I have been busy."   She took the rope from him and continued, "Caring for my child.  And if you must know, I stay just busy enough to get by."  

She finished pulling the bucket to the surface.

"And I wouldn’t get by if I couldn’t finish a task.”  

With a humph she poured the water into the basin, placed a coin on the side of the well and stomped off toward her home.

“I’ve got another task you could finish, Luv,” yelled the old man. She turned to retort only to find he had raised his robe above his waist and had exposed his flaccid manhood toward her.  She turned back toward her house and hurried, her heart pounding.  

She had no recourse.  Anyone could say anything at all to her without a worry.   She taught herself to carry the basin on her hip that evening; but, it didn't change much.  In her society she was the lowest of the low.  

The law would not allow physical harm to anyone, and prohibited thieves from raiding her, but that was all.  And, with no family, she realized if she were killed, there would be none to care for her baby, or pursue her killer.  Her life was tenuous, at best.

The bell sounded the fifth hour.    

She wanted to sleep.  Instead, she lay next to her baby crying.  She could not express the horror of it all. She had such high hopes only weeks before; now she had to leave her child alone while she sold what she thought would be sacred, what was still sacred to her.

She tried so hard, doing all she could to keep her baby safe and fed.  She fielded insults from fellow prostitutes for not being perfumed and polished, and worse from her clients.   None offered help.

She had bourn her child without aid, pushed out the placenta, tied off the cord, nursed her newborn, and cleaned him from head to toe.  

For her trouble, she was treated with contempt, as though she had committed some crime against humanity.  Because she had been conned and cast out, dirtied in the eyes of “upstanding citizens.”  She was ignored, mocked, and used.  

Most of all, she was unloved.  Sharo had nothing.  

Any other girl her age with child would have had a mother at her side, or a midwife, not to mention, a husband.  

Like it or not, in the eyes of the whole city of Nineveh, she was its cheapest whore.   In a few hours, another day of gut-wrenching sacrifice would begin.  For Gil, it was worth enduring.

As she lay there crying, the bell rang the fifth hour, Giliana wiggled himself awake; and, she knew she had a reason to press on.  And though hers may have been the most degrading, lowly, despicable position, she knew in the eyes of Giliana she was mother.  And he loved her, unquestionably.

She comforted herself with the thought of being a good mother, and daydreamed about what that might mean.  With those thoughts she fell back asleep.

  She awoke only a few minutes later with her hungry baby.  She spent half of that hour feeding him before falling back to sleep.  At the sixth hour she woke again to his fussing.  By the time he finished nursing, the noise of the city gate had escalated to its normal din.  There would be no more sleep this morning.

 

The Prophet, the Priest and the Prostitute (Chapter 2)

By Daniel Adams

(Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be serializing a story written by Daniel Adams, posting one chapter each Saturday. Don't miss a week!)

 

We stood at the crest of the Mount Gerizim on the road to the Valley of the Craftsman, the Mediterranean in front of us in the distance, and the lush valley below.  Two days we had journeyed from my home; my old bones push to the limit, I thought.  One more day of trudging along and I would be resting easy on a ship bound for Tarshish.  Let the young men walk.  I wanted to rest.  Finally, things would go my way.

 In the distance the port city of Joppa looked like a pearl on a water lily.  The port had long outgrown the town thanks to Solomon’s trade routes.  The resulting growth made the town a busy little hive near the water swarmed on all sides by tents and flocks, cargo trains coming and going into and out of the rolling foothills.  

It was a fine day, blue sky, slight morning breeze rising off the water carrying the fresh smell of high tide all the way into the hills.  I took the fair weather and refreshing wind as a sign of providence.  

I deserved it, after all.  At last, the acrid stench of Beth-Haran seemed a distant memory.  The scent of the breeze quickened my pace. 

My donkey stiffened its legs and stopped.

"Common, boy," I said as I gently urged him to follow.

"Cummon."  

Nothing.  

He didn't budge.

“Cummon, Jabez.  Why do you always do this?” I complained as I heaved on his reins.  “First thing in the morning....”  

Trusty old Jabez never failed to couple a serene moment with obstinacy.

“I’m sick of it,” I said, jolting the reigns again.  “Two days of plodding through the dust with you, the end almost in sight, and you want to stop now?!”

Jabez bellowed and did not budge.

“No!  You’re not going to stop now.”  I flanked the old ass and slapped him with the reign.  "I've come too far and been through too much.  We're going to Joppa, now."

He bolted, of course, yanking the reigns from my hand before trotting down the road in front of me.

“Figures,” I muttered.  “With you it's either feast or famine.  One minute you won't budge, then the next, off you go, without me!”

I shuffled half-heartedly behind him.  It had been a long couple of days on the dusty road from Beth-Haran.  With the port city still a long day’s drudge away, I was in no mood to chase an ornery old ass.  

“Jabez!  Jabez!” I called; but did he listen to me?  

No.  Of course not.  

I had taken him from a trader seven years ago, who practically begged me to take his reigns.  I had assumed that the trader had recognized me and was making some sort of bargain for mercy.  I do not bargain, I do not believe in mercy; but, I needed a pack animal.  I gladly took him.  That might be my last fond memory of him.  

Despite my history with him, however, it still surprised me when he did this sort of thing, bolting ahead, refusing to budge, wandering off….  Once he pulled out his tether and wandered into a vineyard owned by a particularly hostile Philistine.  I offered to kill Jabez over it, but to no avail.

I sighed and followed him.  

I should not have been surprised; and, I found it difficult to stay aggravated with all that was going well, the weather, the improved path and the fact that Jabez was heading in the right direction.  As I followed him down the trail the fresh, sweet breeze and warm sun calmed my nerves.  I even found myself thankful to have an animal such as Jabez, who bore the burden of my journey.  I had, after all, been in far worse situations.

 

*****

 

My situation had deteriorated severely by noon of the same day.

“Jabez… Jabez!” I cried.  My knees were sore, I hadn’t caught up with Jabez, and, above all, I desperately needed a drink of water, which he carried.  “Jabez, stop.  I need my water.”  I hated that donkey.  “Jabez!”  He’d been off the trail, and then on it again, pinned to an alder, and hemmed in to a field of brambles.  After I had crawled on my hands and knees through the thorns and carefully picked my way into the tangle, with no small effort, I might add, he bucked and jumped and left me stranded in the middle of the bramble.  I hadn’t been able to lay a finger on him.  

Presently he tramped down the middle of the road, maintaining his distance of ten or fifteen paces.  When I began to close the gap, he galloped ahead, when I stopped, so did he.  “Jabez,” I bellowed.

We were very close to the port city of Joppa, passing between the tents of merchants and shepherds and drawing looks from everyone we passed.  We were a spectacle.  Jabez led me in meandering paths through scattering flocks and in circles around tents, refusing all the while to allow me near him.  

Shepherds watched in amusement.  None offered a hand, or a drink.  Philistines generally are not big on helping Israelite prophets.  

“If I ever catch you I’ll beat you so hard….  No.  No.  I’ll sell you.  I’m going to sell you to the meanest, ugliest, stinking leper I can find.  I’ll give you away.  I’ll get my water first; but, then I’m going to give you away!  That way I can beat you as much as I want!”

An imposing figure stood beside the path clutching his shepherd's staff with both hands and grinning widely.  He apparently had heard my tirade and had stood aside to watch as we approached.

I no longer cared.  I had passed too many amused shepherds, endured much mocking and tolerated even more stares.  “Jabez,” I growled.  “I’ll kill you!”

“A shame,” said the Philistine as he stopped my ass with his staff.  “He's a little old, but would still fetch a decent price.”

“Not nearly enough,” I huffed, resting my hands on my knees.  “He owes me far more than he’s worth.”

“In my experience, it takes an old friend to stir that much anger,” said the man.

“What friend would deny a man a drink of water?  Not my friend.  A wise man chooses better friends than that.  He’s no friend; he’s the bane of my existence.”

“Even a wise man looks foolish chasing an ass.”

“Oh yea.  Sure.  Now you’re going to tell me about the ass leading the man.  

"No.  I’ve heard that story before and let me tell you about that story:  That story sucks!” I said, hunching over, hands on my knees as I tried to catch my breath.  

“No.  Let’s talk about the story where the donkey gets eaten by lions, or starves to death after falling into a well, or better yet, dies of dehydration after getting snared into a field of thorns, cause that’s what he is, a thorn in my side.  I’ve been chasing this ass since dawn with no water.  My lips are cracked, my throat is raw, and my feet are bleeding.  I want him dead!”

“Then I must let him go,” said the behemoth even as I rose and stepped forward to fetch Jabez from him.

“No!” I exclaimed and halted in my tracks.  “No.  Don’t do that.  You're right.  I just had to get that out of my system.  Don’t let him go,” I plead as I now sized up the herdsman.  

Like a son of Gath, he stood head and shoulders above me so that I looked up toward him even from several cubits away.  His heavy arm stretched to his side easily holding a staff the size of a tent pole in front of Jabez, preventing his escape.  And you could have made a tent out his robe.  

“I am Jonah, of Gath Hepher.”

“I will buy him from you,” he said, ignoring me.

“Wherever you’re going, I promise, he will be a nuisance.  He is of little help and will, I assure you, add days to your journey.  I’d only give gold for this donkey if I were heading for my execution and wished to delay the journey.”

I grabbed my flask from the back of the donkey and swilled water until it was nearly empty.  

“I’ll tell you what,” he said.  “I’ll throw my blanket on him and walk with you into town.  If you still do not want to sell him, I’ll be on my way.”

I poured the rest of the water on my head and rubbed some of the dust off my face as I considered the proposal.  Convenient, I thought, having a seven-foot native escorting me into town.  

My popularity throughout the land had fallen since I had prophesied against Ashurdan III.  I probably would have been killed already except that the Assyrians feared God more than the Israelites did.  

I had been very popular in Israel after the Lord’s victory.  So much so, that I left my home in Gath–Hepher for a rural plot in Bethlehem.  I knew how quickly public opinion could turn and had no desire to remain the in the spotlight.  It made me nervous, gave me a sense of impending doom.   I thought I could escape it in Bethlehem; but for the praise lauded upon me from the tribe of Zebulun, again I feared for my life.  When I explained my concerns in the temple I was called humble and given still more praise.  

From there I fled to Tanaach, in the land of the Philistines, and was quite content there.  The Philistines had no cause to praise me and feared to kill me, though they would not offer me help or haven under any circumstance.  That's why this seemed so strange to me.

Ordinarily a Son of Israel might think twice before accepting help from a Philistine.  

Did I think it odd that he was offering me a helping hand?  Yes.  

Maybe he was looking for a free mule; maybe he did not know who I was.  But, why should I question good fortune at a time like this?  

This might be the first thing to go my way since I left Gath Hepher.

“Sure,” I said.  “Why not?”

“Good,” he said.  “My name is Gerath.  Have some more water.”  He threw me his flask then took Jabez’ reigns.  “Will you ride?”

“I’ll walk if it means I don’t have to look at that old goat anymore.  How far are we from port?”

“A couple hours, at most.  Are you in a hurry?” he asked, as he secured Jabez to his camel.

“Not at all.  I’ve been chasing Jabez all day.  I’m a little disoriented, that’s all.  What are you doing in Joppa?”

“I’m meeting some merchants.”  Gerath set a brisk pace.  “We will be heading north by land in the morning.  And what is your business, Jonah?”

“I’m hoping to book passage to Tarshish,” I mumbled.

“Pardon?”

“Tarshish.  I need to get to Tarshish.”

“Tarshish,” he boomed, almost laughing.  “What’s in Tarshish?”

“I have somebody to meet.  Why?  Is that a problem?  Will I be able to get on a ship?”

“Ha, ha, ha.”

“What?  What’s wrong with Tarshish?”

“Nothing, my friend.  I know plenty of people in port.  If a ship is leaving for Tarshish, you’ll be on it.  Ha, ha.”

“What’s so funny?” I demanded.

He simply laughed again.  He was not, however, kidding.  In only a couple of hours I stood on the docks near to the Fair-weather, a sturdy looking ship on its way to Tarshish by way of Patmos.  Gerath had already arranged my fare and presently made me a generous offer on Jabez, who had been on his best behavior.

“Jabez, I wish I could say that I would miss you; but, I can’t,” I said.  “Goodbye, old friend.”

“Now,” said Gerath.  “Aren’t you happy you did not kill him?”

“I am, indeed,” I said.  “Give it a couple days and you might wish I had.  I am happy to have met you, Gerath.  The Lord directs my path wherever I go.”  Those last few words just sort of fell out of my mouth.  I had been careful on the road with Gerath not to speak of the Lord or of His directive to me.  I paused, wondering if I spoke those words to Gerath or myself.  

The Lord directs my path, I thought.  The words hung like a cloud in my mind as I finished my conversation with Gerath. 

 “You have been a great blessing, indeed.”

“Give it couple days,” he returned.  

I laughed.

“The God leads us all,” said the Philistine.  “May he guide your every mile,” he said with a sly grin.

“Yes, well….  You, too.  So long, Gerath.”

“So long, Jonah of Hepher.”

The Prophet, the Priest and the Prostitute (Chapter 1)

By Daniel Adams

(Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be serializing a story written by Daniel Adams, posting one chapter each Saturday. Don't miss a week!)

"You Deserve This."

That's what the hand printed scrap of parchment said, the one pinned above his drawing table.

His hands worked fervently over the parchment before him, his right hand clutching a rule, his left hand feverishly gliding to and fro, stained by charcoal, leaving dark smears in its wake.  

He hovered over the desk in the dim light, barely able to see what he was doing.  He carved out a corner, made a note, and decided he needed more light.  In spite of it he put down the rule and grasped for his compass.  Using it he etched a series of arcs onto the scroll, connecting the pillar-like lines he had so carefully placed in succession.  

A bead of sweat rolled from his forehead across the bridge of his nose and onto his chiseled cheek bone, where it threatened to fall onto his work.  It sat poised to drop while he stared it down with one eye.

He set down the stick of charcoal gently and slowly leaned back on his away from the table, still hunched over at the shoulders.  He wiped away the harmless bead of sweat, smearing the resin across his face, unaware.  He wiped his brow with his sleeve, and reached for the lamp.  

Captivated, he admires his own work before glancing up at the scrap of parchment attached to the wall.

"I do deserve this," he said.  

The note was meant to motivate him to continue to work long hours.  He had a firm belief that you get what you deserve in life, and that was bound to be the sum of your life's experiences and the effort you gave to your path.  Simply put, one gets exactly what they earn, nothing more, nothing less.

He pushed himself to the limit.  Sweat stung his tired eyes, his back ached from being bent over the table, and he could not remember his last full night of sleep.  And that was saying nothing of the incredible sacrifice he had made to gain the tenuous foothold he had on this opportunity.  

In a way, the sacrifice drove him to such drastic ends.  He wanted, if nothing else, to prove that he was right for making it.  To fail now would render the sacrifice worthless.  To come this far, to leave so much behind, success was the only balm for his great injuries, the justification he needed to move forward.

He reached for the charcoal again just as he noticed the sound of familiar measured footsteps in the hallway behind him.  He gave pause to listen as the sound of sand grinding under sandal came to a halt in the doorway.

"Now is no time to rest on your haunches.  Tallulah has already turned in his sketches; and, you're meeting with Warda in the morning.  Are you ready?"

The grizzly voice caused him to bristle.  The hair stood on the back of his neck and chased a chill down his spine.  It belonged to Bailram, his superior in the priesthood.

"It's a late hour to be away from your chambers, Bailram."

"I'm told some priests keep late watches," he drawled, "away from their chambers."  

Bailram's comment stung like the sweat in the priest's eyes.

"Would you like to see my work?" he asked without turning around.

He listened to the heavy grind of the sandals on the stone floor until they stopped directly behind him.  He felt the heavy breath on his shoulder and the unwelcome scent of salted fish in his nostrils.  

"What am I looking at, exactly?"

The young priest sighed.  "It's a series of archways leading into the center court yard."

"Arches?"

"They're self supporting, and stronger than square frames built with beams."

"Interesting.  It's an ambitious leap."

"But a worthy one."

"You would know better than I.  I leave all of this design work and planning to my brother."

"He does good work."

"He's a pretentious bore, with no imagination....  But he gets the job done."

"I hope to match his accomplishments, one day."

"You'll surpass them if you go anywhere at all," said Bailram as he peered over the shoulder of the priest.

"You're too kind," the priest mumbled, unaccustomed to compliments.

"Not at all.  You may never go anywhere," the superior spat.  "You're a creative genius; but, you are prone to procrastination, pensive depression and most of the time you focus on the trivial rather than, well....  You lack perspective.  You are short on purpose and spend too much time pawning over the past.

"If you're ever going to win this promotion, and the chance to design the new temple, you'll have to focus as never before.  You cannot afford anymore distractions.  Are we clear?"

He sat silently studying the architectural sketch.

"I would be a shame to have to take matters into my own hands, again."

The priest turned his head ever so slightly and allowed a glance full of distain to seep from the corner of his eye.

"Remember, it's not just your dreams at stake here.  If my stay here in the House of Ishtar is extended because you're not prepared, my appointment to Calneh could be in jeopardy.  It is a greater risk than I am willing to allow."

"I understand.  I will be prepared by first light."

"To be sure, I'll expect to see all of the sketches an hour before Warda's party arrives," he said as he took a step toward the door.  "And do look presentable.  He will be looking at more than your skills in architecture; and, you must not disappoint.  This eunuch has the title of a servant, but speaks for the King."

With that he paced slowly to the door.

"Young man, I believe you can.  But you must prove that you will."

The young priest turned just in time to see Bail's robe disappear into the darkness of the hallway.

"I will you pompous prick," he whispered.

He sat in silence pondering.  

I don't give a rat's ass about your promotion.  I deserve this.

Confident that Bailram was safely away he rose, gathered his cloak, and departed his chambers.  He paused at the edge of the shadow cloaked doorway to the courtyard, watching.  He waited and watched until the dark figure of his superior rounded the corner on the far side.  

After a moment he moved into the starlight and crossed the courtyard toward the outer wall as quietly as he could, unaware he was not alone.