I must have been about sixteen. That’s what I guessed, anyway. Being a foundling made it difficult to be certain but that was the best guess from my parents. So, I was about sixteen and Rebekah came back to the village for the birth of her second child. A woman returning to her original home for her confinement was not unusual, and I had remembered her previous time as a happy one. Her first child, a chubby, sturdy chap had stayed with his father and paternal grandparents in the main town of Pez. The town was a long drive away from us, a journey not made frequently enough as far as our parents were concerned as they wanted to see their favourite grandson as often as possible.
Though I was genuinely pleased to see Rebekah again I was uncertain what to think about the inevitable arrival of her husband as her time came closer. Boaz had been a frequent visitor to the house in his courting of my sister. Always proper and polite with our family he had taken something of a shine to me and I had often been an innocent chaperone on their walks together. My sister was more than happy with his gentlemanly attentions and rushed at the chance to accept his proposal when it came. The arrival of Adam, my nephew, less than a year later was just as expected and had been happily celebrated by both families.
As I’d got to know more about myself I’d started to have doubts about Boaz, the loving young husband proud to add his first child ring to the wife braid in his hair and now ready to add a second. No one else seemed to notice. Maybe it was just me, just an effect of my peculiar isolation but had I seen him starting to look at me in that forbidden way, had there been an undercurrent in his voice recently? Awash with hormones and urges I simultaneously yearned for and dreaded his arrival.
The time came. In a gesture guaranteed to find favour with my parents Boaz brought Adam with him. The little boy added his high laughter to the din of the busy house awash with children and women on hand for the birth. Uncertain how to react to the object of my burgeoning desires I retreated into a quiet no-man’s land of polite attentiveness and manners, scared to be too close and desperate not to leave his side. I remember days of unrelieved anxiety, an emotional ache that was almost physical.
As my sister started her labour there was nothing for him to do, nothing they would let him do. Men were certainly not allowed into a birthing room. Wanting some distraction from the waiting Boaz suggested a trip down to the pond for a swim – some physical activity to pass the time and release nervous tension. My father said he would keep Adam entertained, why not go for a swim, it had been too long since I’d just had fun.
You know where this is going.
I did my best. Honestly. Tried so hard not to let my eyes wander as he undressed, tried not to appreciate the play of light and shade on his back as he stretched in the tree dappled sunlight by the water’s edge. In the years since I had first met him he looked like a youth growing into his prime. He must have been in his early twenties. At the time he seemed so much older than me. I know I’m romanticising. It was so long ago I can’t really remember what he looked like, but that feeling of watching him, of the way my breath caught in my throat, that has stayed with me. There I stood, trying desperately to keep my breathing even, hoping he would dive in and be across the pond before I needed to step out of the shadows and could let the cold water shock away my reaction.
I don’t really remember what he said; something about letting myself relax once in a while. He didn’t get into the water but came back to me and dragged the tunic over my head, making some concerned whisper when he saw the scars I’d been hiding. My trousers were too big. All my clothes were too big then. He looked me in the eye as his hands struggled briefly with the belt cinched tight around my waist. I could do nothing, just stood and let him do it. Scared to move, terrified of his derision at what I knew he would find. That didn’t happen. Instead, I lost what little self control I had remaining as eager fingers explored what I had wanted to conceal and then showed me what I had been denying myself. It didn’t take long. Boaz held me close, let me lean against him as my trembling passed, muttering gentle reassurances in my ear even as his hands encouraged me to perform the same service for him.
When Hannah came down to the pond later we had been in the water long enough for gooseflesh to be the only evidence of our activities. Boaz let out a whoop of joy at hearing the child had arrived and rushed to the bank, dressing in a flurry of water and enthusiasm without a second thought for my sister’s stares before rushing back up to the house. Given the set of her face asking her to leave me was clearly not an option, she had been told to bring both of us back. I only came out of the water after she had, begrudgingly, turned her back to me. The walk back seemed a long one and I used my customary silence to hide my confusion.
Boaz had made me an offer. I could join him and Rebekah in Pez. He said he knew a girl in a similar situation, a girl who would be willing say yes to a marriage of convenience for both of us, and then he could help us in doing what was needed to bear a child. It would be a practical answer. It would mean we could be together without fearing discovery. But it would have been a lie. Despite his assurances that this was an answer for sophisticated couples there were many aspects to the pretence that worried me, not least the potential for hurting my sister and my family.
What would be worse – going into the Kirk to escape responsibilities or pretending that I was fulfilling them?
We arrived in time to find an ecstatic father holding his new baby girl as his exhausted wife slept after her efforts. Father was so pleased with the new addition that he gave little Adam the honour of placing a girl ring in the braid offered to him by Boaz, curling his time-worn hands around chubby fingers to fix the ring in place. It was a perfect image of the cycle of life in the villages.
It was not long before Boaz had to take his wife and family home. He had a life to return to. In our last stolen moments he had repeated his proposal in panting whispers as he came against me. It wouldn’t have been seemly to follow them to Pez immediately. He said he would leave things a few weeks for his home life to settle down and then he would send a formal message to father offering me a position in his business. Odd, I can’t even remember what he did, some kind of merchant, something respectable with his brother Jachin that his family had done for generations. Leather, my father was an artisan, he worked leather … that was how they met.
I missed Boaz as soon as the motor left the village. No, scratch that. I was missing him as soon as his lips left mine. How ridiculous, the foolish, self-centred, torture of teenage passion. Though I’d asked for time to think, after he left the days seemed to stretch forever and I withdrew to the safe isolation of the hills as I waited for his message and worried about what to do.