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The Scarf from Abigailís Head
I Samuel: 25
By Joy Swartley Sawatzky
This story was developed as an exercise during the session of the School of Sacred Storytelling on Hebrew scripture. The task was to develop a story through the perspective of an inanimate object.
First, a bit about the story of Abigail from 1 Samuel 25. Abigailís husband, Nabal, angers David when he refuses to offer a hand of hospitality even after Davidís men have treated Nabalís shepherds with respect. In order to avert the annihilation of her people, Abigail quietly gathers provisions enough for David and his six hundred men and delivers them to David on his way to slaughter everyone in Nabalís camp. Disaster is averted and Nabal is struck ill by recognition of his own error, and Nabal dies. David then invites Abigail to become another one of his many wives and she accepts.
This is a story of a strong woman acting on behalf of her people. As told below, the inanimate object of the scarf is transformed into a living character with its own voice and senses and understanding of the unfolding drama.
I know one thing, and that is this - I am very special. I know that to be true because of the way Abigail treats me. Abigail often absentmindedly caresses me with her fingers or rubs me lovingly against her cheek, always taking care that I do not fall into the dust. I truly believe that I remind her she is a woman. I remind also her that life in this barren, dry, rough place needs to be softened, and as a woman she deserves to be surrounded by softness - not the rough things most women of this time must wear. I can do this for her, show her softness.
I remember the day she chose me from among the others in the stall at the marketplace. The moment her fingers touched my fibers I knew she was different. Her touch was strong and sure, yet gentle and almost tender. I sensed that she had been looking for me for a long time and knew just what she wanted. I felt immediate recognition--awe and respect. I was cherished from the moment she gave the coins to the market lady. Her touch reminded me of a dream I had held for myself so long I had almost given it up, the dream to be more than just an ornament, more than just useful. I was sure my time had come.
The price she paid for me wasnít important--but what mattered was that I belonged. She immediately covered her hair with me, though that is not where I spent most of my time. More often, she wore me perched on her shoulders, her head held high--doing the business of the day. The only time she used me to cover her hair was when male visitors entered the camp. She did not even use me to cover her head for her husband--a strange man, a mean man. She would often bristle in his presence--her shoulders drawing back in a stiff and tight position, not easy and loose like when she was conducting the business of that day.
One day seemed to pass as the next. My favorite times were when she would bathe with the assistance of her attendants and they would rub her in oils and scents. With her hair freshly scented, some of the smells would cling to me for days.
One time sticks out in my mind more clearly than the others, as things seemed quite normal until one of her servants approached her in a way that seemed quite urgent and she threw back her shouldersóthe tension and sense of purpose grabbed her shoulders and drew them back like she was snapped into a wooden yoke - so strong was the pull, so long before any relief. She hurried around; bending, lifting, I thought I would slide to the ground and be trampled in the dust. Spare me, I cried to myself.
Just as suddenly as it all began--it stopped and before I knew it she was mounting a donkey and she drew me up over her head as we headed down the pass of the mountain. She was followed by her servants. The incline was so steep I had to hold on for dear life. As we reached the bottom, another approached from the other direction. Before they had completely approached each other, my mistress threw herself from her donkey onto the ground--her head bowed low. I was thrown from her shoulders into the dust. What was happening? She had never done this before, never treated me like before. She stayed that way for some time--her voice low and gentle, humble and almost pleading. There I was--covered in dust. I felt as if I were about to choke on it.
Slowly she raised her head--her voice continued soft, almost as if she was trying to convince the other of something. Only when they were almost finished did she shake off my ends and replace me on her shoulders. She climbed back on her donkey and she made her way up the mountain, leaving much behind. But her shoulders seemed rounded, not straight and sure. She left me on her head, not returning me to her shoulders like she normally did as she approached camp. As she peered in on her husband and saw him drunk she lay down on her mat--all her clothes, even me, still in place.
When she rose up in the morning, she washed her face, took me and shook still more dust from me and went to talk with her husband. Whatever she said--his face turned like stone and ten days later she was using me to wipe a tear or two from her cheek. I could not tell whether they were tears of sadness or tears of relief. At any rate they were soon gone.
A messenger approached her and she covered her head with me. She bowed down, but not low to the ground this time. When she raised her head her shoulders were set back with pride and satisfaction. She ordered me washed--she bathed and had her attendants put on her most expensive fragrance to her hair. She place me back on her shoulders and then up over her hair, and she got back on the donkey and went back down the mountain pass.
Copyright June 28, 2005 by Joy Swartley Sawatzky. All Rights Reserved.
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