Hannah - Wife of Elkanah

Our feature last week was on Hannah, an ordinary woman whose simple prayer changed her life and gave birth to an extraordinary destiny. Please enjoy the continuation of her story, re-imagined by the gifted Ms. Malomo.

Hannah's Story: Re-Imagined written by Toyin Malomo

Source: Microsoft Images

Source: Microsoft Images

Early the next morning, before the sun started to heat the skies she sent a message to her husband through Lepa.

“My mistress says that she is unavailable this evening. She said you would understand.”

Getting ready to start the work of the day, Elkanah nodded carefully trying not to show his disappointment as he bent his head to slip on his leather sandals.  The only time when Hannah was unavailable was that season of every month when she would be unclean.  Now it seemed he wouldn’t be able to be with her until after they returned from Shiloh.  He himself couldn't afford to be unclean for the next seven days which would be the consequence if he attempted to lie with her during this period, no matter his desire for her company. Trying to count her number of unclean days and when they would end, Elkanah wondered if she would still be to travel.  

“Will your mistress also be unable to go to Shiloh with us?”

Lepa nodded her head, a blush spreading up her pale cheeks.  She still found it embarrassing that she was very much aware of when it was that her mistress lay with her master as  she took care of organizing the baths that they both had to wash in whilst they remained unclean for a short period.  And now to be indirectly discussing her mistress' monthly impurity with her master, was also causing this shy servant girl even further discomfort. 

She followed Elkanah in quick short footsteps, hurrying to keep up with his steady stride through the boundaries of the compound. She stopped short and cleared her throat gently when she saw the male household workers and those employed from the village waiting for their master.  She didn’t miss the nudge given by one of the outsiders to another one of the employed hands whose tiredness dissipated at the sight of a pretty girl at the crack of dawn.  She felt like her ears were on fire and she cleared her throat louder this time to her master who was more than a few paces in front of her.

Having forgotten her, he turned back at the noise and beckoned her to him.  She kept her head low as she approached him. He bent down towards her diminutive figure.

"Master, she also told me to tell you, that she knows my other mistress will be available should you wish."  Elkanah straightened to his full height, feeling his back creaking as he did so.  He wasn’t getting any younger and his body kept reminding him of this fact.  He replied firmly but discreetly so the workers wouldn’t hear him.

"Your mistress is very kind, but if I am not expected with Peninah, then it is better for the sanity of this household not to pay her a visit unannounced." 

Lepa didn't dare respond as he promptly waved her away, but she understood his meaning.  Lepa's counterpart Sherah, Peninah's personal maid often complained about how unreasonable and demanding her mistress was.  There was little chance that she would welcome her husband's impromptu visit unless he was bearing a sizeable financial or unusual gift.

The family's visit to Shiloh was not different to any other, except that Hannah stayed at home as required, with Lepa waiting on her.  It was therefore in her absence that Elkanah, Peninah and their 3 sons and 2 daughters with the other serving members of the household made one of their thrice annual trips to the main temple. 

"Look at how feebly you are kneading the dough! No wonder you cannot produce children!"  

It was just a few days after the family had returned from their travels and Peninah was back to her favorite pastime of insulting Hannah.  The fierce afternoon sun made Hannah’s forehead gleam with beads of perspiration and she paused to mop her brow with the back of her hand.  Tendrils of hair floated loose from the tight bun she had tied it in and she could feel the lines of sweat dripping down her back. If it hadn’t required more effort she would have shrugged her shoulders at Peninah. The servants were well used to hearing her being abused by this woman so it was pointless getting upset by such a comment.

"Sister Peninah"- she always addressed her by this title in deference to her as the older wife.

"You know that I am happy to learn.  With your experience, if you would just help the girls and I to do this, I am sure this would be a much easier task." Instead of washing your mouth out on me, she thought, but didn't say.

Hannah glanced up at the woman who was only 7 years her senior and yet looked like there was a greater age gap between them because of the constant scowl she wore on her sharp features.  Hannah wasn’t surprised to see that Peninah was looking at her with disdain as if she were a bad smell.  It seemed that Peninah would never forgive her husband for the day that he announced that he wished to expand his household by taking on another wife “And look what good  that  brought him!"  Peninah often trumpeted. She didn’t hide the fact that she was glad that this younger woman, another Ephraimite from their own tribe had been as barren as a second wife deserved to be.   And of course, because of her own brood of children, it was obvious that the fault lay with his quiet, cowering bride as opposed to Elkanah himself.

"Experience?" she snapped haughtily. Her pale skin preserved by meticulously shielding herself from the sun, blanched ever so slightly.   "Yes I have experience beyond your simple years.  However you fail to implore me for the right kind of experience you need."

Hannah sighed and wished she could just retire to the shade to wet her burning forehead with some water.  But if she employed Peninah's approach, their household chores would never be done and the servants would be in turmoil under Peninah's instruction.  This was why she found it necessary to have a more involved role in overseeing the household business.  "I am listening."  She really was although she could already tell that it wouldn’t be something she would want to hear. 

"Yes my dear sister Hannah," she said mockingly and in a loud tone so that everyone around could hear.  "I can offer you experience as to which positions to try lovemaking with my husband.  That way maybe you will get your child- this gift that so unfortunately eludes you."  Her harsh laughter grew faint, signaling her departure.  With her ears burning with shame, Hannah kept her head bent and plied her frustration into the dough.  She knew that if she looked up, she would see the pitying, sympathetic looks of the servants who were within earshot of the encounter.

"Mistress, forgive me for saying this." It was Sherah  who touched Hannah's feet before she spoke.  There was a defiant look in her eye, but Hannah didn’t like to encourage insubordination no matter how much her ego would have welcomed it at that moment.  

"Sherah, please, if it is something against your mistress, then you know I cannot give you permission to speak" 

Sherah looked crestfallen for a moment, then looking around at the other 2 girls who were pretending to be working  their balls of flour with careful concentration.  She stepped in so that she could only be heard by Hannah.  

"Well I cannot get into trouble for telling you that while we lodged in Shiloh I overheard my mistress screaming at my master for insisting that she make intercession for you at the temple that you have a child of your own."  Hannah's eyes stung with grateful unshed tears. She didn’t trust her voice to express how happy she was to hear that, contrary to her beliefs, it seemed that her husband was still praying that she would conceive.  So instead she squeezed Sherah's arm in gratitude and found a tune to hum as she turned her mind as to what delicacy she could prepare for Elkanah's meal that evening.

That night was the beginning of the worst period that Hannah could remember in Elkanah's household. Unusually, just after sunset, Elkanah had come direct to her chambers instead of sending one of the servants to forewarn her of his return from the vineyard.  She had just finished bathing after her own hard day's work and was surprised when he informed her that he wanted them to take a walk. 

Having dressed with a shawl around her shoulders to steel against the cool breeze that rustled her hair, he led her by the hand in the direction of the luscious vineyards that had been tended by his forefathers.  The sweet pungent smell of grapes filled the air with intermittent wafts of the rapeseed which was planted on a smaller plot of land adjoining the vineyard.  The olives were not in season so she didn’t detect their potency in the breeze. She believed that the winding path of the vineyard was a nice place where they wouldn’t be disturbed, and that perhaps he wanted a level of privacy that was difficult to find in their bustling home.

"Beloved, there is something I want to tell you." They had stopped at the boundary of his red and white vines. The rich smell of the fruit alone was intoxicating. As the light of the moon shone strongly onto his face, she could make out his strong aquiline nose, the shadow of hair across his jaw and even the laughter lines at the corner of his eyes.  So he wasn’t the most handsome man in the area, but her heart filled with giddy joy whenever he smiled at her and on the day she was introduced to him she knew that although he was 15 years her elder, he was a man she would grow to love and respect as was common in most arranged marriages of her time.  But what was this she saw in his eyes as he took her hand in his? Was it a look of sadness or was that disappointment?  She couldn’t remember hearing anything in the house about his vines failing this year nor any bad news amongst the locals that anybody had recently passed away.

"You are making me anxious while you keep me waiting?  What is it my husband?"  She focused concerned eyes on his face , as she lightly touched his ear with her free hand, indicating that she was ready to listen to him.

Elkanah sighed heavily at her innocent touch.  There was no easy way to break this news to her, but nor could he have her finding out any other way.  He had deliberately brought her away from the house as he couldn't be sure of her reaction or that the news wouldn't reach her before he had a chance to speak to her. 

"The physician came to the house this early evening while you were away fetching the cinnamon from the spice merchant." Hannah pretended to be annoyed and breaking his hold, planted her hands playfully on her hips.  "Nothing is a secret in this household!  My cinnamon and raisin biscuits were to be a treat for our dessert this evening, but now it won't be a surprise for you anymore."  

She was still smiling as she thought of the hard work and love that had gone into seasoning and shaping the little biscuits, but then an awful thought struck her.  

"The physician?” Her hands now cupped her mouth and her mood changed.  “He came to the house?  I didn't know you were back so early? Is there something wrong with you?"  An icy fear gripped her heart and she searched his eyes trying to anticipate his answer.

 "No, no.  Don't fear.  I am fine.  Very fine it appears.  No, the physician came to visit Peninah."

Despite her intense dislike of Peninah, she couldn’t bring herself to wish evil on the woman and so it was a very natural response when she asked in a concerned voice. "Peninah? Oh no.  Is she alright?"  Elkanah's heart contracted once again. His dear Hannah - always so kind and caring regardless of past wrongs.

"My dear... she is fine now.  She fainted and was hard to revive so Merab of Hegon was called and she recommended fetching Heman."  Hannah visibly relaxed and smiled at her husband's worried looking face.  Her upturned mouth would normally have caused his own to smile, but instead he held fast with his gloomy look. 

Hannah was puzzled. So it was something that Merab, their local medicine woman who had a herb for every ailment could not handle. "I sense there is more news” she said, her voice filling with dread for the second time.

"Yes.  I don't know how to say this so I will just tell you." He paused as if still debating with himself.  He took her hand again. "It's Peninah, she's - well, she's with child."  He didn’t add the word 'again'.  But it resounded clearly in that moment even in the absence of its use.  Hannah was still looking at him, her hand still in his, but he could feel it had gone cold and clammy.


{Click the 'Older Posts' button on the bottom right to read Part 1}

To be continued

Toyin Malomo

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