She Wouldn't Leave.

Hannah stomped her feet, moving from one pillar to another, swinging her head back and forth like a pendulum bulb. She stood by a pillar, held it with both hands, and shook it as though she could pull down the temple with her strength. Letting go of the pillar, she spun about a spot, eyes open, and reached for the pillar again. If the pillar was God, she was bent on shaking Him and pulling Him into her situation.

      Hannah had heard about how God gave her ancestors—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, children. She knew He could the same for her. Only she wanted no other time but now! She was tired of the wait, tired of coming to Shiloh with no more than her bag by her side. She wanted children tugging at her gown, bubbling with the excitement of the great gathering. She wanted a girl whose hair she’d mat, and a boy she’d dress like the priests. Oh, how she longed to hear the sonorous cry of her own son as his foreskin was removed—an act of his dedication to God. All her soul yearned for was just one thing.  A child. A male child.

     Lord, give me a boy, and I will give him back to You. I will write Your law in his heart, I will make sure he walks in Your statutes.

     Crouched on the floor, her hands encircling another pillar in the temple, eyes overflowing with tears, her lips trembled but no word emerged. Her body shook like in no time it would disintegrate all together—her head taking the lead.

      The celebration of Shiloh could end today, but Hannah wouldn’t leave. Like Papa Jacob did, she was ready to wrestle with God till she got what she desired.

     A son, Lord, a son…

     Feet approached her, but she didn’t notice till a hand slapped her shoulder. “Woman, throw away your wine. Must you come here drunk?”

     Shocked at the rude awakening, Hannah turned to see who it was. It was the priest, Eli. She bowed in reverence. “No sir. I have not been drinking!” Her desperation morphed into anger. She tried to restrain the way she felt, but couldn’t help it. “I am dejected, sir. I was telling God just how I feel.”

     Raising his brows slightly, the priest gave a look of disbelief and walked towards the younger priests carrying sacks of flour and gallons of oil into the inner court. The slap of their sandals against the marbled floor echoed in the empty temple.

     “Don’t think I’m a worthless woman, sir!” Hannah called out without thinking. When Eli waved a dismissing hand to the priests who had paused to see if he had orders for them, and turned to her, she continued. “I have been praying with great anguish” Tears ran off her eyes like an avalanche in a storm; nobody seemed to know how pained she was—even her husband. Even this priest wouldn’t to. If only she could see God face-to-face, then maybe she would be able to express herself correctly and He would understand her plight.

     The priest studied her and heaved a sigh. He placed a compassionate hand on her shoulder. “Go in peace. The God of Israel grant you the petition you’ve asked of Him.”

     That was it? She thought he would ask what she was praying about at least. She had been waiting for a child for years, did this priest know that? “Err… sir.”

     “Go in peace, daughter.”

     When the priest turned around, a joy from nowhere filled her heart. It felt as though she had just had a real conversation with God.

     You are still barren, something said to her, but she remembered the story of Papa Abraham. He refused to doubt God although he was about a hundred years old, and no longer had the strength to lay with his wife. Now she would have to act in faith like he did. She would have to determine her most fertile day, and hope it was her turn to stay with her husband. And even if it wasn’t, she would pray that Peninnah would be busy with her children, and would allow her.

     Smoothening the creases on her dress, she left the temple and searched through the tents for Elkanah. Seeing her first, he left the company of his friends where he was seated, and beckoned to her. “Where have you been? You missed the roasted lamb!” He planted a kiss on her forehead, and gestured to her to sit on a bamboo bench.

     “There will be roasted lambs at other celebrations.” She laughed, kicking a bottle playfully.

     “You look bright—more like the girl I fell in love with.” Elkanah noted, crossing his legs at his ankles.

     “What are you trying to say? ” Hannah folded her arms, smiling.

     “I’m trying to say I like the change.” The smile in his eyes mesmerised her a little, and she remembered how she had fallen in love with those eyes, and how she had dreamt of having his children. It hadn’t been five years of waiting before Elkanah’s family pressured him into taking another wife. She had been mad, but had forgiven him as she had seen his brokenness, his incapacity, and her inability. Where she had been an arid land, the new wife, in no time, was a fruitful field. “What are you thinking?” Elkanah asked, jerking Hannah into the moment.

      “Nothing.” Children, she actually wanted to say, but didn’t want her husband’s hopes raised as hers were. She frowned a little, unaware.

     “Am not I better to you than ten sons, my love?” Elkanah took her hand in his and held it.

      Eyes stung with tears, Hannah smiled and looked away. If only she had conceived the first year of their marriage, she would have had this man—her man all to herself. Now she had to share him with Peninnah who claimed to have more rights to him because she bore him children.

     “I love you whether you bear children or not, Hannah.”

      “It doesn’t matter; your family doesn’t see me as your wife. Peninnah is the rightful wife. You know that, Elkanah.”

     “Hannah.” Elkanah didn’t say anything more; instead he fiddled with the tuft of hair hanging out of Hannah’s scarf, and pulled her towards himself.

     “Speak of the devil.” Hannah muttered, seeing Peninnah stroll towards them, a child lodged at her hip, another holding her hand.

     “Papa!” Mizraim screamed and ran ahead of his mother to Elkanah. “I saw a bull slaughtered for the first time!”

     “Oh well, why not tell Papa about it?” Elkanah stretched out his hand and placed the child on his lap. He placed a hand across Hannah’s shoulder which still leaned on him, and listened to the child talk.

     Reaching where Elkanah and Hannah were seated, Peninnah cleared her throat, shooting an irritated look at Hannah. “My lord, you know, I was thinking you should start to rear bulls too. I asked for the price one is sold here. It’s really cheap. You could make over forty percent gain selling them at Ramah.”

     “Sounds like a good idea.”

     Hannah didn’t contribute to the discussion. Closing her eyes, she pretended to not notice Peninnah’s presence, and settled even more comfortably on Elkanah’s chest. She listened to the steady beat of his heart and melody of harps and tambourines coming from the celebration.

     “Why not find out more, Peninniah? So we can start as soon as we return home?”

     Shaking her head, Peninnah gave Elkanah the baby she carried. “I am exhausted from moving around with her. If she will not allow anybody else carry her, she will surely, her father.” She adjusted her dress, showing Elkanah a little excess. “Keturah is drinking me dry. She is gaining more pounds than Ham did at seven months.” The baby’s lower lip turned, noticing her mother was about to abandon her.

     Elkanah cuddled the child, cooing at her. She smiled, but then turned to her mother and cried. “Go with her, dear. She wants to be with you.”

    “She will never know her father that way!” Peninnah hurried off, ignoring the crying child.

     The following morning, every family glorified God and returned home. As they trekked back, Hannah thanked God for her desire, which yet not manifest, felt answered.

     Arranging her room, she knelt by her bed and prayed. “Lord of Host, I believe You spoke to me through Your priest. I thank You because You have given me a son.”

     Hannah’s prayer about Peninnah’s been busy was answered.

     Like a bride about to meet her groom for the first time, Hannah shook nervously, yet was excited. She spattered her robe with the perfume she reserved for her and Elkanah’s special time together. “Thank You Lord, because You have opened up womb.” She weaved her hair into three cornrows the way Elkanah liked it. She applied some scented oil to her hair, and with kohl, lined her eyes dark. Liking the fierce look she got in the mirror, she applied some pomegranate juice on her lips, making them bright red against her caramel fair skin. Done, she left her room for her husband’s. Fear battled with the anxiety of an expected end. She walked faster, maybe by that she would quench the doubts in her heart, the one that cried out: Hannah, it’s just another night!

Weeks passed with no signs of pregnancy, making Hannah wonder if there was really anything growing inside of her. Her face still looked normal—slim and oval—the way it had always been. She wasn’t vomiting or sleeping excessively like she heard and had seen most women do. Worse still, she hadn’t yet missed her period. For the fear of being mocked, she couldn’t tell anybody about her worries.

 “Lord, I believe you have given me a man-child—whether I feel like it or not.” Hannah would say, working in her vineyard. Sometimes she wondered if she wasn’t working too hard, and putting the baby—Samuel, as she touched her tummy and called it, at risk. But she continued to till her vineyard until it became too exhausting and the weather, unbearably hot. During those times, she would drink water in litres and eat more regularly. Her friends soon teased her about getting fatter, but she had laughed them off. She was eating a lot more, but in the mirror she looked the same—at least to herself. Once, she considered the possibility of pregnancy but had debunked it as it was well over three months already.

      Struggling to fit into a dress, Hannah turned by the mirror and dragged it through her torso. Reaching her chest, she stopped and relaxed. She pulled in her tummy, and moved the dress down to her waist, and the flare freely flowed to her ankles from there. Happy she had finally worn the gown, Hannah pursed her mouth, exhausted.

     Zraaa. The gown tore open at the side.

     “Oh no! I don’t have another dress to wear.” Relinquishing, Hannah stood before the mirror and just idly stared. She acknowledged she was actually getting fatter—she had added much more flesh downwards. She studied her tummy, and noticed it bulged a little. Before now, her tummy had not been flat, but it hadn’t been big either. She looked again, excitement creeping into her. Could it really be happening? Could a child really be growing in her? Covering her mouth for fear she would scream, she willed herself to be calm. Only time would tell.

     More weeks passed and Hannah continued to increase in size such that her sandals no longer contained her feet. And her tummy bulged more apparently!

      Peninnah mocked, telling her friends that Hannah sure had a malady, therefore wasn’t pregnant. Hannah heard, but acted like she didn’t; she knew God would put her enemy to shame. When Hannah craved only bread dipped in wine, Elkanah fed her with some. He also made sure Hannah had enough of dates and almonds as they were her best fruits.

      “You are neglecting your children, Elkanah” Peninnah once revolted. “They don’t know you anymore” She had faked a calm voice to win Elkanah’s trust, but had failed as Elkanah retorted, stating that they still lived under the same roof.

     “Stop pouring your attention on her like she is the first to take in! ” Peninnah lashed one other time as Elkanah massaged Hannah’s swollen feet. When she saw anger on Elkanah’s face, she quickly added. “Am I not your wife too? You have never me shown such acts of kindness.” She had begun to sob, but stopped when Elkanah rebuked her.

       “Stop that Peninnah! You will not play on my intelligence”

     A smug had nearly played on Hannah’s face, but she thought it better to act oblivious to the situation.

     Baby Samuel seemed very eager to be born as he always kicked within Hannah. Sometime she would see brief impressions against her tummy, and she’d place her palm over it, relishing the moment.

     In no time, Hannah was due for delivery. Gathering twines, a small sack of salt, new knives and pots of hot water, her friends helped the midwife with the delivery process. Elkanah, antsy since Hannah’s water broke, was advised by the midwife to take a stroll and only return when he got word about Hannah’s delivery.

     “Your husband acts like this is his first child.” The midwife dug two fingers into Hannah’s cervix, ascertaining how well it dilated. “You are progressing steadily. If your husband were still here, I can guess he’d be crying worse than you are doing now.” She washed her hand in a bowl of hot water mixed with salt. “See Hannah, don’t take me as nosy for what I am about to say—”

     Hannah shrugged; what mattered to her now was getting out of this state she was in.

     “No matter how many children the other woman has for your husband, yours will be really special to him. I saw it in his face.”

     Hannah nodded. A sharp wave of contraction hit her. She groaned.

     Muttering words of consolement, a friend held Hannah’s hand. “Easy, dear, your baby is almost here.”

     Another contraction, a push from Hannah, and the baby slipped out. A friend took the child and cleaned him, while the midwife took care of Hannah.

     Filled with joy as Samuel was placed in her arms, Hannah kissed his cheek and gave him suck. Samuel ate gently, his hand stroking his mother’s. Elkanah returned, face ashen, close to tears as he watched Hannah and their son. “My God.” was all he could say when he sat by Hannah’s side and took his child. “He has my eyes and my blonde hair.”

     Watching Elkanah take in of their son, Hannah smiled.

    “I can’t wait to teach him husbandry.”

    “No, not this one. He belongs to the Lord.”

    “I don’t understand what you mean, Hannah”

    “I vowed to never cut his hair and return him to the Lord who gave him to me”

     “Return him?” Elkanah’s brows furrowed into a frown. “You didn’t think to consult me, Hannah, before making such grave decision.”

     “I didn’t decide to do that. It was vow, Elkanah.” Elkanah couldn’t have understood why she did what she did; he already had children. “Besides, Peninnah has given you more than enough children already. Please let me return this to God.”

     Hannah hadn’t intended what she said as a low bow, but when Elkanah looked away, she realized he had perceived it as one. Reaching for his elbow, she called his name, pleading that he looked her way. She would never bruise her husband’s ego—not even when at times like this, he felt obvious shame. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Hannah’s friends and the midwife excused Hannah and Elkanah, seeing that they needed time alone.

      “I should be the one apologizing, my love. I should have stood as a man. I shouldn’t have allowed my family influence our union…I should have waited.”

      Elkanah was beating himself, making Hannah feel bad. Today was for celebration, not regrets. “It’s okay. I understand. I hold no offence against you.” She hugged him, and told him how privileged she felt to be called by his name.

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