I was condemned. Found and condemned with no chance to explain. No chance to explain that it wasn’t my fault. That I’d been forced into marrying an older man. A man who didn’t love me or want me for what I was. His only use for me was as a woman; I could have been any woman I meant so little to him. A trophy to be worn on his arm.
But that’s no excuse I know; excuses are meaningless.
I could say that I suspected he visited the local women of the night; that he rarely shared my bed; that he often came home smelling of sickly perfume, not the perfume I used; that other women looked down on me pityingly. I could say all of that.
But I said I wasn’t going to make excuses.
I was guilty. Guilty of the crime.
How could I not be when they found me in the committing of it? When the door of my bedroom was kicked open and they burst in as I lay with my lover. I was guilty.
I grabbed the sheet and pulled it up around me but they tore it away and dragged me, screaming from the bed.
I feel the heat in my face now as I remember how they pulled me from the bed out of the house and into the street as I was. And they would have taken me through the town like that had not my maidservant run after us crying, ‘Let her have her wrap at least, spare her that!’
Begrudgingly they let me draw it around me, but they didn’t stop. As I glanced back at my house, I saw my husband on the roof, looking down on me. I screamed, ‘Husband, help me! For they will surely kill me!’ He didn’t move. He was smiling.
I fought against my captors as we continued the relentless journey to the edge of the town. I knew what would happen there: I would be stoned. It was written in the law of Moses.
I wriggled and squirmed desperately, tried to drag my feet, anything to slow them down, anything that might give me a chance to get free of them. In their hurry, I stumbled and tripped but they didn’t slow down or release their grip on my arms. As we passed through the town, people came out of their houses to watch. I saw women I used to meet in the marketplace. I no longer cared about the humiliation or my pride; I just wanted to live. ‘Ruth, Sarah, help me please, Martha, don’t let them take me, help me.’ But they all looked away.
My shoulders sagged; I ceased to struggle; it was all over. We were approaching the temple now. Were there more of them being summoned to condemn me? What did it matter? I would be dead soon.
Ahead I could see a crowd of people; I thought they were waiting for me and I began to scream and fight again. One of the men dragging me slapped me hard. He spat into my face, ‘Keep your mouth shut, whore.’ As we passed through the crowd, all faces turned to stare at me. I felt the fight leave me again, and when they threw me down, I dropped easily, almost grateful for the end that was coming. I curled up as small as I could and put my hands over my head. And I waited for the first stone. I wondered how long it would take; how much I would have to bear before I could die.
But nothing came. And I realised the crowd had gone silent while the men who had brought me muttered to each other. ‘Why doesn’t he answer?’ ‘What is he writing? I can’t see.’ ‘Why doesn’t he condemn her as the law says?’
I was confused; I didn’t understand why they weren’t throwing their stones. I moved my arm from before my eyes and peered out. The man in front of me was bending down, writing in the sand. Everyone else was watching him; they seemed to be waiting for something. I sat up a little and looked around some more. My guards still muttered to themselves as they stared at this man writing on the ground. Then he straightened up and spoke. ‘If you are without sin, throw your stone.’ Then he bent down and began to write again.
I buried my head down on my chest and brought up my arms around me, waiting for the stones that were sure to come now. This man, with whatever authority he had, had told them to throw their stones. I tried to say my prayers but how could God hear a sinner such as me? I couldn’t even cry. My tears had been used up; I had already wept too much over my sin for any more to be shed. Now I just waited and wished for it to be over. I thought of my child who would grow up without her mother. Of what they would tell her; how she would grow pretending that her mother had died of sickness, how she would live a life of fear and shame, never being allowed to forget what her mother had done. I thought of her smile as she runs to me, her laugh as I spin her round, the soft touch of her skin against mine, the smell of her hair in the breeze and her breath on my face. And I am smiling as I lift myself up. I cannot die bent over, humiliated; for my child, my death at least must be honourable.
I opened my eyes and looked around; I wanted to beg someone to tell my child that I love her. But there was no-one there. There was just me and the man.
He stood and he too looked around, as if surprised. ‘Where has everyone gone?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t anyone condemn you? Throw a stone?’
I shook my head.
‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ he said. ‘Go now. But,’ he held out his hands and took mine as I started to fall to my knees at his feet in thankfulness, ‘don’t sin any more.’
My husband is divorcing me. I am glad though it means I will not be able to see my child. I am alive and I have another chance. I am going to follow this man Jesus. There are men and women who travel with him; they have said I can go with them and learn all I need to know. And one day I will see my child again and I will tell her how my life was changed and maybe one day she will understand and I can make her proud of me.