Levite’s fingers tapped impatiently on the steering wheel as he threw an occasional look at his houseboy who sat stiffly in the seat beside him. He could understand the boy’s discomfort. She always sat there. She – his wife.
He grimaced, his displeasure etching itself on his face. His wife, was she even worthy enough to be called that? Concubine was more like it. They were married but without the official vows. His union with her was nothing short of an anomaly. He, from an elite tribe in the country of Israel and her, one nobody from Bethlehem, Judah. They had their rough patches like couples before them but this fight had taken the cake. She had been unfaithful to him, or had he accused her of being unfaithful? He remembered the yelling and her calm disposition, the tick in her jaw the only outward sign that she had been angry with him and then the next day, she was gone. Gone, for four months and had refused to come back.
The car ran over a snag in the road and it quavered, causing Levite to flinch, his anger leaving him as he tried to get the car back into gear. Maybe he had been a little too harsh, a little too uncaring. It was one of the reasons he was making this trip. He would go to her and persuade her to come back. He’d make her see how lucky she was to be married to him and perhaps, they would try to do things a little differently.
Levite rounded the car along a bend, past a few thickets and slowly, just beside the dirt road, a little brown house came into view.
She sat at the foot of the door, a tray in her lap, blowing softly at its contents. When she heard his car coming; she looked up, her face unreadable. She waited until he parked and then alight before rising up to meet him.
“Welcome,” she said. There was no pleasure in her voice, just a certain lull, the words sounding as if she had reluctantly pulled them out of her vocal chords.
He studied her, taking in her fair skin, baggy jeans and washed out blouse before giving a small snort in reply. Her father burst out from a door in the living room almost as soon as she led him into the house. His eyes alight with joy, looking happier to see him than the person he had come to see. He offered him a chair and they exchanged pleasantries, discussing the affairs of the state, the lawlessness of Israel and how it lacked a king. They talked and drank until night fell and the father succeeded in convincing him to stay the night.
This continued on the second, third and fourth day and when the fifth day lazily arrived, Levite decided he had had enough, getting up as early as he could with his luggage, servant and wife, ever ready to leave. However, he underestimated the persuasive prowess of the old man, who once again succeeded in persuading him to stay till noon, and then evening came, a looming presence reminding him that he had wasted enough time already.
When Levite got up to leave, the father-in-law got up along with him, trying to make another attempt at cajoling him into staying, but Levite was unwilling to stay another night. He lived somewhere far, in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim. He was done wasting time.
They had travelled a considerable distance and were in Jebus, near Jerusalem when his houseboy spoke up, looking relieved to be back to his unofficial position of the back seat.
“Why don’t we stop and spend the night here in this Jebusite city?” he said.
Levite shook his head, disagreeing with the boy. He would not stop in a city where its people were not Israelites. So, they drove past Jebus. His wife hadn’t said a word to him since they began their journey, the view in the window presenting an interesting alternative than he did. He ignored her and concentrated on driving.
The sun had set, signs that it ever rose, muted by the dark sky, when they arrived at Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. He turned off the road and they decided to spend a night there.
The town was small, however, they went into the city and sat in its square but no one paid them a second glance. His wife was furiously tapping away at her phone, adept at ignoring him and the boy looked ready to fall asleep. Levite looked at the people passing by and wondered if stopping in this town had been a bad idea. Although travelling in the night was risky, what was even more risky, was staying out here, in the open.
An hour had probably passed, Levite wasn’t sure, when an old man finally walked up to him. He had noticed them in the city square he said. He was originally from the hill country of Ephraim, but was now living in Gibeah. The other people around were from the tribe of Benjamin.
“Where do you come from? Where are you going to?” he asked.
His irritation quickly replaced by relief, Levite explained where they’d been and where they were going to. “No one will put us up for the night. Even though we have everything we need right here.”
The old man smiled before replying. “You don’t have to worry then, you are welcome in my home, no need to spend the night in the square.”
Levite returned the smile, accepting the old man’s hospitality as he allowed him lead them away from the city square to his house.
The old man offered Levite oil for his car and food for his household. They were talking and laughing when a loud bang from the door interrupted the tranquility of the table. The bang came again and again, urgent and unfriendly, its source refusing to let up.
“Bring that man, that came home with you, let us have sex with him,” a voice shouted from behind the door and a chorus of other voices agreed.
Levite and the old man exchanged glances and as the man walked up to the door to placate the crowd, a cold dread climbed up his spin and gripped him by the throat.
“No, no, my friends,” the old man was saying. “Do not do such a vile and evil thing. This man is my guest!” his voice broke, desperation and fear filing the cracks. “Look, here is his concubine and my own daughter, who is a virgin. I’ll bring them out now and you can have them. Do with them whatever you wish but do not do such an awful thing to this man!”
The crowd sounded incensed and Levite wondered just how many horny men were behind that door. Fear was clouding his judgment and all he could think about was saving his own skin. Without a second’s thought, he grabbed his rebel of a wife and pushed her out the door, closing it as quickly as he had opened it.
The three of them huddled in the house till morning, unable to block out his wife’s screams or the grunts of the unruly men. Clogging his ears with pieces of tissue, Levite finally fell into an uneasy sleep but when the day broke and he opened the door, he found the woman sprawled at the foot of the door, unmoving.
“Get up,” he said, shaking her. “Let’s go.”
He didn’t want to think of last night’s incident. He had vowed to erase it from his memory. He sighed and looked at the woman on the floor, still not moving. Leaning down, he gathered her in his arms and carried her to the car, starting on his way home.
The servant boy was the first to alight when they arrived, throwing him worried looks as he carried his still wife out the car and into the house. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair, disheveled. His appearance looked like it had received a makeover in the time it took him to drive from Gibeah to Ephraim.
Where does she keep the knives? He wondered, his eyes roving round the house, fleetingly landing on things.
There was one particular one she uses – a butcher knife. It took him a while to find it and when he did, he ambled over to dining table where he had placed his wife, stripping her of all clothing.
They will pay, he thought, grabbing her calf.
Twelve pieces for the twelve tribes of Israel, he muttered as he brought the knife down.