The Harlot

I remember happier days. Days in which I looked to others for my food and protection. Days where I followed my Mother around the house, watching her prepare the food for supper while Father was tending the sheep. Days where Father would come home and I'd crawl into his lap and pick the wool from off his clothes and breathe in the smell of the desert sand.

My Father raised sheep and watched over his flocks as lovingly as he watched over his family. My brothers would go out with him and they would spend days away during the summer, searching for good grazing land. Mother would teach me how to keep a household, how to make cheese from goats milk, how to bake the bread and how to correctly prepare the food for eating.

"You will one day be a wife and mother to your own family." She would often say to me. "And what a pretty bride you'll be."

I'd smile up at her and she'd pat my nose with her forefinger.

It wasn't until I began to menstruate when my Father and Mother began accepting prospective proposals. It had scared me, at first, to see so much blood come out of me.

"It is God's way of preparing you to have babies." That was the only explanation my Mother gave me and we never spoke of it again.

There was a well on the other side of the hill where we collected water. I would go there often to fill up the jars and walk back ever so carefully so that not a drop of the precious stuff would fall and dry up. I'd pour some of the water into the trough where our goat and donkey would drink. I'd take the remaining jar of water into the house for my Mother.

Whenever I had a moments time to myself I would go back behind the house where there was an old shade tree and I'd take some bread with me and sit with my back against the trunk of the tree and slowly nibble on the bread and dream of my future. I would fantasize about my future husband, who he would be, where we would live, how many children we would have. When I was finished with my bread I'd pick up a stick and draw in the sand a herd of sheep and pretend that they were all mine.

"Raisa!" My Father called to me one evening. I had fallen asleep beneath the tree and my Father had spotted me as he came home. "Come here to me."

I arose and wondered if I was in trouble. Had Mother been looking for me? I slowly walked to my Father and could tell at once that everything was fine because he had a large smile on his face.

"You are a lucky girl, indeed, for we have found you a wonderful man to marry."

My eyes lit up and a million questions were ready to pour forth from my mouth but before I could speak my Father stopped me.

"What is that?" He asked, looking past me at the drawing in the dirt.

"Oh, nothing, I was just drawing some sheep."

Father smiled. "As a gift to you I will let you pick out one of the lambs from the flock to take to your new home."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

I often wondered how my life would have ended if the groom had taken me away from home before the soldier came. We had heard of the Roman soldiers and their tyranny, but never experienced it until one hot summer afternoon. Mother was hanging the wash up to dry and I was sweeping the floor of the house. We didn't know when to expect the groom so we cleaned the house nearly every day in preparation. I heard footsteps behind and thought it was Mother until the hand touched my waist.

Instantly I turned and saw a tall, pale skinned man standing over me. I wanted to scream but there was a lump in my throat blocking any sound from escaping. I remember thinking "where is Mother, why isn't she here?" I cried hot tears that traced a path down my skin and onto the floor where they dried, leaving no trace of my sorrow. When the soldier was finished with me he stood and spoke words in a language I did not understand.

I remained on the floor, sobbing until the sun had nearly set. Once again I heard footsteps, quicker this time. I felt a hand on my shoulder and the screams that had laid dormant eschewed out of me in such anger and volume the hand was immediately removed.

"Raisa! Who did this? Who has done...this?"

I couldn't stop the screaming. Father grabbed me by the shoulders and began to shake me and yelled, "WHO HAS DONE THIS?"

I didn't know then that Mother was laying dead beneath the wash, her throat slit, the blood pooled around her head and dried in her hair. All I knew was that I had been violated. I had been raped.

Once I was calmed I explained to Father what had happened. I described the man to him. He asked if I was able to walk. Slowly we walked down the road to Yana's house where I was taken and cleaned up by his wife. In low whispers Father told Yana what had happened and that he'd go get his sons and hunt down the man that had done this.

My Father and brothers found a soldier on the road and thinking all the Romans were the same, killed him without thinking twice. In turn they were caught and killed as well. I was now an orphan, without family or future of one. Yana and his wife were old, their children grown and unable to take proper care of me. They knew who my groom was to be and asked his family if they would take me. They would not.

"Barak will take her as a maid."

A maid. I had become a servant where once I was to become a mistress. My circumstances were made known to Barak and he pitied me. I worked in his household as a laundress, a job I had done many times for my family.

Barak had three sons, all still at home. I had never really known the meaning of the word pretty whenever my Mother or Father would call me that, but I soon discovered that such prettiness grew into beauty and men lusted after that beauty. I had caught the eye of the youngest son. He would come and talk to me as I'd hang the laundry and whenever we were alone he would try to compromise me.

"Give me a kiss, Raisa. Such lips were meant to be kissed." He would say.

I shied away from all men because of what had happened to me, but one does not simply push away the son of your master. I'd shrink away from him and do my best to never be caught alone with him again.

Eventually he caught me. Barak was at the temple that day and I was the only servant in the house. I was putting the clothes away in the masters room when Noam came into the room. At first he just stood there, staring at me as I folded the robes. Then I heard the footsteps. My heart began to pound, I could feel the sweat trickle down my neck and then his hand around my waist. Again I could not scream, but the tears were there, always there. When Noam was finished he stood over me and gave me a hard kick in the side.

"Do not tell anyone." And then he left.

I learned to cope, to survive. If I thought about it the tears would return and I'd want to scream so I pushed the thoughts as far away was possible. It didn't happen very often, usually when Barak was at the Temple and his other sons were away. I'd expect it. I began to wait for Noam to find me. He would always hurt me afterward and threaten more if I ever told. But I didn't have to to tell.

Barak came home early one day and found the two of us together. He understood at once what had happened. He beat his son for being such a fool, gave me a cold coin and told me to never show my face in his presence ever again.

I was alone, once again, wondering the streets, hoping a miracle would come from heaven, like manna. I wondered what I could get for a gold coin. Would it be enough to feed me until I found more money? It didn't do me much good for it was stolen before I had a chance to use it.

For the next few days I walked the streets, begged for food, stole when I wasn't given any, and one day met Zipporah. I only had to look in her eyes once before she understood where I had come from. She took me to her home, cleaned me up and fed me.

"You have one of two choices," She said as she sat across from me as I ate. "You can walk out this door tomorrow after a decent nights sleep and began where I left you," Here she paused. "Or you can work for me and have every comfort."

She explained her job, the job she expected me to pick up. She was a harlot, a woman of the night. Men would come to her for female companionship and pay her for it. I would have been shocked if I was still living with my Mother and Father, but I only wondered why it never occurred to me before that I could sell my body instead of have it taken from me.

I agreed and she introduced me to a few men to start me off with. It wasn't hard to become accustomed to, despite what many might think. Once I discovered that high ranking Jewish officials as well as the dregs of society came to Zipporah and I, it didn't seem so unnatural.

Now I was wearing fine clothing and expensive jewelry. I had plenty to eat and almost every night one man or other told me he loved me. I stayed with Zipporah and paid her for the room I stayed in. We never spoke much to each other. I soon realized that now that I was there she spent less and less time with other men, letting me do most of the work.

"I never told you my real name." She said one evening after I had come home very drunk from a sort of party one of my clients had held. Zipporah had to help me out of my clothing and into bed. I was looking up at her and for the first time saw the lines on her face and the gray in her hair. I wondered how old she was.

"What is your real name?" I asked.

She took a deep sigh. "My name is Adah. I chose Zipporah because when I was younger my Mother would tell me the story of Moses and how he saved Israel from the Egyptians and the many miracles he performed. 'One day God will send another man, much like Moses, the Messiah. He will save us from the Romans.'" Zipporah began to cry, the first time I ever saw tears in her eyes.

"I sometimes wonder if Messiah would ever want to save someone like me from the Romans." Now Zipporah's tears turned into sobs. "I always wanted to be like Zipporah, worthy enough to be the wife of a mighty Prophet."

Zipporah didn't need to continue. She wiped at her tears and walked out of the room. I wish I could say I was awake all that night thinking about what she had said but I didn't. I fell fast asleep and when I awoke in the morning Zipporah, and all her things, were gone.

I thought about her many times after that. Where she had gone, why she had left. I began to think about the words she had said. I remembered the stories of the Prophets and the coming of a Messiah who would save us. Would he indeed save people like Zipporah and I? What about Barak and his son, Noam? Were they to be saved? The groom I never knew, was he to be saved? Were any of us worthy to be saved?

I saw a little girl outside a doorway, drawing in the sand with a stick while two little boys played games beside her. It brought back the day my Father came to me and told me of the groom. Drawing lambs in the sand that would only be swept away by the wind.

The Temple was a fine place to meet new customers. I'd simply walk by a few men, keep mental track of those who watched me intently then find some way to be introduced. I rounded the corner where the Temple came into view and saw a group of men outside the gates, arguing. I was ready to walk by a few onlookers when I saw Noam standing alone. I was prepared to turn and walk away but he saw me and came up to me.

"If it isn't little Raisa, all grown up." Noam said as if we had been childhood friends meeting after a long parting.

I tried to smile. "I am sorry, but I have some place to be." I began to walk away but he grabbed my arm and pulled me to him.

"I know what it is you do." He whispered into my ear. "You are paid for lying with men. I hope they pay you well."

I could feel my cheeks begin to turn red as I tried to free myself from his grasp. "Let me go."

"I think not. I was just thinking about the times we would spend together. What do you say to a little reunion?"

I could feel the heat rise within me. The memories of my shame came flooding over me. What had I allowed myself to become? I was raped, my virtue stolen from me but it was I who allowed my integrity to go with it. I pulled away from Noam so hard that I broke his grasp on me.

"Never again shall you touch me."

A small smile appeared at his lips and the heat within me turned to ice.

"I have someone you should meet."

Before I had time to react Noam had grabbed me again and pulled me towards the arguing group of men. He made his way through the throng into the very center and there dropped me to the ground, at the feet of another man.

"Master." Noam said without the respect that usually accompanied that title. "I caught this woman in the very act of adultery. Moses gave the law that she should be stoned to death. What is your judgment?"

Afraid to look up I braced myself for the onslaught of stones that I knew would follow. Noam had brought me to face my judgment. I waited with bated breath but there were no words spoken. I slowly looked up and saw the man crouched besides me, drawing something in the dirt.

"A lamb." I whispered, looking at the perfect drawing of a lamb. I could see the man smile.

"Well," Another man from the group behind me spoke, "What is your judgment?"

The pleasant smile disappeared as he stood to face my accusers. I could not keep my eyes off the drawing. How strange that this man would know the only thing that reminded me of my past before the horrible things happened. I did not even follow the conversation the men were having.

Bending down, the man continued to draw in the dirt a tree with a person sitting underneath it. A tear came to my eye and I began to reach out towards that beautiful scene, but quickly withdrew my hand.

"Woman," The man said so lovingly as he helped me to stand. "Where are the men who accused you? Did no one condemn you?"

I looked and saw there was no on there but I and the man. Stunned, I said, "No man has."

"Neither have I." He smiled once more, but there was a look of knowledge in his eyes, as if he could see into my soul and knew my sins. "Go, and sin no more."

He walked away towards the men who would have stoned me and began speaking to them. A warm feeling entered my bosom and spread to my limbs. I looked down at the drawing then back at the man who had such love and wisdom.

Some people were walking towards the man, intent upon hearing his words. I stopped a woman and asked her who that man was.

"His name is Jesus." She said, hurriedly, loath to miss one word from his mouth. "He is the promised Messiah."

The woman left me but I remained rooted to the spot. The Messiah was to come to save us from the Romans, that is what I was taught. But there would always be people like the Romans and the Egyptians who would try to enslave us. It isn't from them we need saving from. It is from ourselves.

I followed Jesus after that encounter. I knew not wither I would find food or shelter, but wherever he went there seemed to be plenty. I never spoke to him on such a personal level again, but a few times our eyes came into contact and he would smile and I would know that he had come to save me.