Leave This Place
A now-twenty-two-year-old Hadassah stood at the small front window of the house that she still dwelt in with her mother and adoptive father. Outside, rain had started to fall. The overhang jutting out from the house covered the area immediately in front of the window and front door, providing a refuge for anyone who might happen to come by and need a respite from the weather.
Hadassah twirled her dark brown and auburn curls in her fingers – a habit she had picked up years ago, the day she had seen her brother. The simple gesture reminded her that she would one day see her brother again. The certainty rose in her heart more and more often as of late, which she found peculiar in light of the passage of so much time since Ibrahim’s wedding day.
Hadassah continued to stand at the window, watching the rain pool into messy puddles in the dirt street, muddying the hems of garments, the hooves of horses, mules and other pack animals, and the paws of the strays scampering through the wet road in search of a hiding place. She would have turned away from the ordinary sight, but something in her wouldn’t let her release the scene. A sense of urgency fell upon her and she stayed at the window, waiting for something –she did not know what.
Minutes passed with no earth-shattering events. Everything was quiet in the street and the house. Her parents had retired a little while ago in preparation for the family’s journey in the morning. Word had come to them that there was a group about whose sole purpose was to sweep through the surrounding towns and wipe out every Christian they could find.
This group no doubt thought that hunting down Christians would be an easy task. They had been sorely wrong. A piece of Isaiah’s writings swept through her mind, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness is of me, saith Jehovah.”
This small remembrance brought a smile to Hadassah’s face. Thus far the group of murderers had utterly failed in their attempts to take lives. They had left waves of destruction behind them, but not one life had been lost. God’s people had always received the warnings– or in some cases, the protection – they needed.
The prospect of being chased by murderers was still disturbing, but it was not as terrifying as it might have otherwise been. Her heart was assured that her Lord would protect her and her parents – and her brother and sister, wherever they might be and in whatever state they found themselves. The gentle knowing that she had been gifted with by the Spirit of God had brought her great comfort and assurance through the years.
A sudden movement flashed into Hadassah’s peripheral vision. Two darkly clothed figures – one tall, the other short – ran full-tilt down the street towards the house.
Hadassah felt her heart jump. Were theses two of the group that they had heard about? Had they come early to scout out the town?
Wait. The smaller figure was clinging to the taller one’s hand. The hood slipped off of the short one’s head revealing the fearful face of a young teenage girl with tightly curled blonde hair.
These were no blood-hunters.
Almost instantly, the taller figure jerked the hood back over the girl’s face. Hadassah could not figure out whether it was to keep the rain off of her or to hide her face, the motion was so panicked.
Booted – not sandaled – feet splashed through the water-filled streets, sprinting ever-closer to the overhang. Within a handful of seconds the two strangers were ducking beneath the canopy.
The taller figure turned around to face the house as he walked in front of the window and let out a startled exclamation.
“I’m – I’m so sorry!” he – the voice was a man’s – apologized profusely for shouting in her face. Hadassah could not fully see the man’s face due to the gathering darkness outside and the lack of light underneath the overhang. In fact, she was wondering how he saw her so well in the low light. “Will you help us?”
An apology and a plea for help in the same breath.
“And what do you want my help with, sir?” Hadassah asked still looking at him through the window.
“We’re being pursued by those who would seek our lives, good woman.”
“And what makes you think that I will help you?” she countered.
“I –” he stared at her, his muddy brown eyes becoming more visible to her as her eyes adjusted to the added darkness contributed by his hood. “I don’t know…” he said with an air of defeat in his voice.
Hadassah stood staring down at him and the girl. His sister? In her heart she prayed for wisdom. There was no time to fetch Iskender if the insistence in this man’s voice was anything to go by.
“Come, Atara.” The stranger turned to go.
“Wait.” Hadassah disappeared from the window and reappeared at the now-open doorway. “Come in.”
He tiled his head in a show of skepticism.
“Please.” She gestured for the two to come through the door.
The man nodded and tugged on the girl’s hand, urging her to follow quickly.
The moment the door was shut behind them the man’s stance became less defensive and more desperate. He turned to Hadassah, “Is your husband here?”
The young woman looked at him strangely until she realized that he had mistaken her for the lady of the house. “Oh, no, I am not married. I live here with my parents. Please, take off your cloaks. I will hang them by the fire to dry.”
The man made no move to obey her. “I need to speak to the man whose house this is.”
“He has retired for the evening. Do you wish for me to wake him?”
“Yes.” The emphatic answer came.
The girl carefully pulled her hood back to reveal her face. It was then that Hadassah noticed the telltale signs of fatigue etched in her face.
Hadassah nodded solemnly and quickly stole through the small house back to where her parents’ room was.
She rapped sharply on the closed door and called out, “Father?”
Almost instantly the sound of Iskender rising from sleep came to her ears. Within a couple of minutes he was at the door, fully clothed and wide-awake. Her mother was not far behind him.
“What is it, Hadassah?” he asked with concern.
“There is a man here who says that he must speak with you.” She looked at her father pointedly. “He did not say so, but I do not think that it can wait until the morning.”
Iskender nodded, making it a point to let both his wife and step-daughter see the knife he wore at his side, ready for whatever this stranger had brought with him if he intended trouble.
The big Ephesian strode back into the main room of the house, his senses all on edge.
When he reached the room, the stranger’s back was to him. The girl who accompanied him had removed her wet cloak and looked a bit lost in the new and strange surroundings.
The man’s dark curly hair was all the Iskender could see. It stood out in contrast to the girl’s striking blonde tresses.
“She is your sister?” Iskender ventured in a quiet voice.
“My daughter.” The man said without turning around.
There was silence between the two men for a moment as Iskender attempted to evaluate the strange pair.
“My daughter tells me you need to speak with me.” The Ephesian finally said.
The stranger nodded, his back still towards Iskender.
“I would be much happier if I could see the face of the man with whom I’m speaking.” Iskender said.
The stranger shifted, finally turning towards the Ephesian.
The look of urgency in the man’s face struck Iskender.
“You have the look of a man who has something on his mind.”
“The Spirit of God is here.”
The stranger’s sudden candor took Iskender off guard, but not enough to keep him from replying, “All in this house claim the name of Jehovah as God.”
“Then we have to leave the city.” The stranger said.
“Why? What makes it so urgent?” Iskender countered.
“They’re coming for you. My daughter and I have been running from them for four days. We live – or rather, used to live – in a prosperous Roman town west of here until that bunch came through. My wife and other three children would have given my daughter and I up but we found out in time and fled for our lives.”
“We knew about their coming, but they were not supposed to reach this town for two more days. We had planned to leave just before day-break –”
“You cannot wait that long.” The stranger interjected, “They will be here by then. You must all leave this place now!”
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” Iskender tested.
“You don’t.” he admitted. “The only token of good faith that I can give you is my name. I am – ”
“Ibrahim!” the excited whisper escaped Hadassah’s lips when she rounded the corner and saw the stranger’s face.
“Yes, but how did you kn -” the man stopped suddenly as Hadassah moved closer to the glowing fire. Just as it had those thirteen years ago, the light revealed the true coloring of the girl’s hair. “You! You were the one I saw that day!” he pointed animatedly at Hadassah. “How do you know who I am?”
“She’s your sister – my daughter. And you are my son.” Simay’s joyous voice suddenly reached Ibrahim as the woman came to stand beside Iskender. “After all these years of searching… God brought you right to our door.”
The look on Ibrahim’s face went from anxiety to disbelief. “But… My family is back in…” his sentence trailed off as he remembered how he had come to be a part of the family he had grown up in.
The look in this woman’s eyes told him that what she had said was the truth. How it could be so, he did not pretend to understand. So, swallowing his surprise for the time being, Ibrahim said, “I want to know everything, but we have to leave, and we have to do it now.”
“Let’s go then.” Iskender said, glancing around first at Simay, that at Hadassah before looking at both the blonde girl and Ibrahim in turn
The rain had eased off, making the dark path easier for them to navigate without having to worry about poorer visibility due to the downpour. The exodus began smoothly, but as the family and their two recent re-additions got to the foothills surrounding the town they looked back. They could see the oncoming hunters’ torches shining brightly through the light rain.
“We’ve lost enough time already.” Iskender said to his party. “We must get farther
away from the city.” He turned to Ibrahim. “I had thought we might be able to go back towards Jerusalem, but now I think we had better go somewhere else. Where would you advise?”
Ibrahim, surprised that his this man - who looked an awful lot like one he vaguely remembered calling “Sojourner” many years ago – would be asking his counsel at a time like this replied “Southeast. The Arabs don’t like Christians any more than the Romans do, but at least they won’t kill us on sight. For now.”
Iskender nodded. “A wise idea. Let us go south then – to the great desert of Arabia.”