I have just been sold to a new mistress. I already don’t like her. She reeks of perfume and does nothing but stand in front of the mirror, piling up her hair and adorning herself with jewels. My first task today has been to pluck out the hair from her armpits with a tweezers. That was rather interesting – to put it mildly.
Her husband is an old man. Well, she is old too, but she tries to hide it. She must be at least sixty or seventy, although she says she is twenty-one. Anyway, her husband is always wandering around in the desert and then coming back and saying that God told them to do something or other. Today he came back and said that God had commanded for Sarai to make him roasted lamb with fresh honey. My mistress threw a fit over that. She said that God had never commanded such a thing and that her husband had just made it up. Abram declared that it was not so and said something about handing her over to the Egyptian men again if she didn’t do it. Sarai glared at him something awful when he said that. He didn’t pay attention and left. She began preparing the meal, while throwing things around and muttering, “Oh, yes, yes, dear. I am just your sister, not your wife. I will let the Egyptian men take me so that you can save your miserable hide. Damn you!” Then she turned around and saw me. “Well, what are you standing here for?” she demanded. “Get your ass over here and help me make his damned meal!” I obeyed and said nothing, but couldn’t help thinking of how bad her perfume mixed with body-odor smelled.
Abram and Sarai got into another fight today. I am not sure how it started, but I think it had something to do with them not having any children. Abram blamed Sarai. He said that she had some sort of sickness and that it was all her fault. Sarai said, “Well, how do you know it’s my fault? You’re awfully old yourself, darling.” Abram said, “Well, you were with those Egyptian men for quite a while and nothing happened then, either.”
Sarai boiled over at that. Apparently, this business of the Egyptians is a sore spot for the two of them.
Well, Sarai has got quite a vocabulary of indecent words and she began putting all of them to use. Finally, her screaming got so loud that Abram put his hands over his ears and ran out of the tent into the desert. I wish I could, too.
She is not screaming anymore now, but that does not make her presence any more pleasant – only quieter. I have dressed her hair several times over. None of the styles were good enough to please her, though. The last time I tried, she turned around like a sand viper and smacked me across the face. I feel the inside of my mouth bleeding and my cheek feels swollen. Then she had me pluck out the leftover armpit hairs from the other day. I hope it hurts horribly when I do that.
The last few weeks have been about the same. Abram and Sarai get into fights, Abram runs off into the desert and Sarai takes everything out on me. It would be awfully nice if she died soon.
She and Abram are always angry that she can’t bear children, but I can’t help being glad. I can only imagine what the offspring of two such horrible people would be. They would probably destroy the whole world.
Lately, they have been talking – or rather, screaming – about finding some woman to bear Abram a son. I hope they don’t decide to do it, but they seem rather positive about the idea. The poor woman they will choose. My heart already bleeds for her.
I can’t believe what has happened. I can’t think. I can’t control myself. I can’t do anything.
Abram and Sarai did go through with the plan and they chose ME. They didn’t ask whether I wanted to be the mother of that man’s child. They didn’t think of anybody but themselves. They think that the whole world revolves around them and what they want. I hate them! I hate them! I hate them so much! So they couldn’t have children of their own. Who cares? Couldn’t they just learn to accept it? Of course not – they had to drag me into their problems!
I don’t want to bear his child! I feel so dirty now. I hate them. I can’t think of what to do. I can’t stop crying, although I have stopped feeling the tears run down my face. I wish I could die.
It has been a month. I am with child. Sarai is more unbearable than ever. I heard her complaining to Abram about me last week. She was saying, “That little bitch Hagar isn’t being very respectful to me lately. She thinks that she is better than I because she is with child and I am barren.”
That is the way her mind works. She is completely insane. She tells her husband to rape me, treats me like trash every day, and then when she finally notices (with astonishment) that I despise her, it never occurs to her that perhaps she is at fault. No, no, no, not Sarai the Blameless. It is all because I have suddenly had an increase of ego.
After she finished her long list of complaints, (such as, I never smile at her, never tell her she is beautiful, and so forth,) Abram told her to shut her big mouth and said, “If you are angry at her, then do what you want. She is your slave, use her as it pleases you.”
I think this is one of the only times she has ever obeyed her husband. I cannot take it any longer. I am going to run away, and if I die in the desert, at least it will be a peaceful death, because I will be away from Sarai.
I ran away but I have come back. Something strange happened in the wilderness.
I was by a well, when a bright, blinding light came, and I heard a voice. I could not hear the voice with my ears. It spoke only into my mind. There were no words, but I understood what it meant.
“Hagar, handmaid of Sarai, why are you here?”
I answered without moving my lips, or thinking in words, “I am fleeing from my mistress, Sarai.”
The voice spoke again. “Return to your mistress and humble yourself under her hand. I will multiply your seed exceedingly, so that it will not be numbered for its multitude. Behold, you are with child and you shall bring forth a son and you shall call him Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction.”
So I obeyed and have come back. Sarai screamed at me immediately upon seeing me and called me an ungrateful little bitch, but I don’t care anymore.
Knowing the name of the child within me has made me feel a mother’s love for him for the first time ever.
Whatever happens, I now have faith that everything will be all right.
I have now given birth to my son. He is so beautiful. I cannot help but feel joy in that he does not resemble his father in the least. Sarai is doing her usual bit of complaining, but I hardly even notice it.
I never knew before that it was possible to have love this great. I see that good can come of great sorrow. I would never have chosen this if it had been only offered, but I would not change now what has happened.
I thank the Lord for what has come upon me.
It has been six months and Ishmael is growing strong and healthy. His voice is strong when he cries. Sarai whines about it, there is nothing she can do about it.
He reminds me of my brother in his face. He makes me laugh all the time and forget when I am sad at something.
Sarai always tries to act as if he is her son and tells me how to take care of him as though I were only a nurse-maid to him. I want to strangle her when she does that, but I am vindicated when she tries to touch him and he cries and reaches out for me. He knows who his mother is.
Sarai is my mistress and I am her slave, but I am a much richer woman than she is. I pity her sometimes, even though she is horrible to me, because even if she did have children, she would always be a bitter, unhappy woman. She does not know how to be anything else, because she does not know how to love anybody but herself.
Ishmael is thirteen years old now. He is strong and handsome. He still does not like Sarai, and he does not know his father very well at all. Abram never pays attention to him.
Abram has taken a very strange idea into his head and has put it into practice. It is something he calls circumcision. He says that the Lord commanded him to do this. I find it very disturbing, especially since he has forced all the men of the household, including Ishmael, to do it as well. He also says that he and Sarai are henceforth to be called Abraham and Sarah. Well, it’s all the same to me.
Still, I don’t like this circumcision business. What will they do next ? Skin their noses?
Something interesting happened today.
At midday, three men came to the tent. Abraham made a big show of bowing down and pretending to humble himself to them. After he was finished with that, he came into the tent and told Sarah to hurry and make some bread. Then he ran away before she could start yelling at him. Needless to say, I ended up making the bread.
A few hours later, as the men were eating, they asked where Sarah was. Abraham answered that she was in the tent. As soon as Sarah heard these words spoken, she scrambled up, began rearranging her hair and jewels and dumped a whole pot of perfume on herself. She kept very close by the door of the tent so that she could hear what was being said about her.
One of the men then said that Sarah would have a son. My heart jumped to my throat in horror of the thought. Sarah let out a loud guffaw which ended in a snort. “Oy, sure, sure, I will have a son!” She cackled loudly, but stopped with a start when she heard the man say to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying that she shall not bear a son? Is there anything difficult for God? According to the appointment, I will return to you at this same time and Sarah shall have a son.”
Sarah yanked open the door of the tent and yelled, “I never laughed! What the hell are you talking about, you little bastard?”
The man said very simply and calmly, “No, you did laugh,” Then he rose and walked away with Abraham.
Sarah has been a beast ever since that episode. I am terrified that the man was right and she will have a son. The one thing that has always given me some comfort during these years was that Sarah could not have children to carry her genes along. If she has a son, Lord spare us all.
It has been a few months now and Sarah still is not with child. That does not make me worry less, though.
Abraham keeps telling a story about two cities named Sodom and Gomorrah, and how he bargained with God to get his way about something. He tells the story at every chance he gets. It is the most boring experience in the world to listen to this story every day, despite the fact that it is never the same twice.
We are getting ready to travel to the southern country. Abraham gives orders and Sarah complains. There have been more arguments than usual lately.
We are now in the land of Genera, and I now understand what the problem about Sarah and the Egyptian men was.
As soon as we got into Genera, Abraham told everyone he met that Sarah was only his sister; not his wife. He was afraid that if the king of the country discovered that Sarah was his wife, he would kill Abraham so that he could take Sarah for himself. Maybe if Abraham hadn’t been so public with the story that Sarah was unmarried, the king would not have become so interested in her at all. But Abraham likes to play it safe.
So the king sent for Sarah. Abraham watched disinterestedly as she got herself decked out in jewels and skimpy clothes. As she left, he said, “Have a good time,” and she said, “Oh, don’t worry, I will.”
Those two people are insane. At least it has been somewhat peaceful with her gone.
She’s back and very disappointed that the king didn’t go through with the deal after all. In the short time that she was there, she gave all the women her sickness and they could not bear children. Naturally, the king got rid of her as soon as he discovered what was going on.
She’s in a bad mood now. Who knows how long it will last?
Lord have mercy on us. She is with child after all.
It has been a month now. Sarah has been morning sick and letting us all know about it. Now she lies on her bed all day long, moaning as loudly as she can so that everyone will hear her and feel sorry for her. I doubt if she remembers with any regret all those times that I was morning sick and she made me massage her sweaty feet.
I worry about Ishmael now that Sarah will have a son. Ishmael is her husband’s son, but I cannot trust what she will do. The only thing that you can accurately predict about her is that no matter what the circumstances are, she will be sure to make them ten times worse.
The time is nearing for Sarah to give birth. I will not bother to mention all of her complaints.
Ishmael knows that Sarah’s son is his brother, but he told me today that he feels sorry for his little brother because it will have Sarah – and not me – as its mother. He has good reason to dislike Sarah, especially of late. In the past years, she was always careful in her treatment towards him because she knew that Abraham would never let her get away with any abusive behavior to his only son. Now that another is coming – and that it is hers, she is beginning to treat Ishmael badly. I worry so much about what will happen.
She has finally given birth. The child’s name is Isaac. Maybe it is only my bias, but whenever he cries, I always hear a distinct resemblance to Sarah’s whine in his voice. It is really not fair to think bitter thoughts of him, since he is only an infant right now, but his parents are Abraham and Sarah and the apple never falls very far from the tree.
That poor child is only eight days old, and Abraham has already performed that strange practice, (circumcision) on him. It broke my heart to hear Isaac cry in pain while it was happening, even though I still can’t help thinking that he sounds like his mother.
Isaac is nearly two years old and Sarah thinks it is time to wean him. Ishmael is always playing with him and trying to teach him words. I don’t like the way Sarah looks at Ishmael. She looks like a snake watching its prey and getting ready to strike.
O, Lord, help us. I knew she would do something like this.
Early this morning, Abraham came to me and said that Sarah had ordered that Ishmael and I should be cast out into the desert. I felt a cry strangle in my throat and even though it is not surprising of her, I couldn’t believe it.
Abraham was at least good enough to give us some bread and water as we left, but he was so self-righteous as he did it. He kept talking all the while of how he had conferred with God, and God told him that it was all right to do this to us. The whole time he was speaking, Sarah was sitting in the distance with Isaac, watching and smirking.
All the anger that has been held inside me for all these years finally came out and I could not control it.
“God told you?” I spat at him. “How can you bear living with yourselves? Do you even understand how people are? You never think of anybody but yourselves! First, you forced me to give you a son, allowed your wife to treat me horribly, and now that you have another son from her, you throw me and your own son – your first son – out into the desert to die! How can you do this? Where is your mind?”
I do not remember what else I said. I was sobbing so hard. All I could do was press Ishmael to myself and hold him tightly.
We are far away now and it is growing dark. Ishmael did not look back as we left, and has not shed one tear. He sits now, staring ahead at nothing. His hands are clasped together, and I have seen them tremble more than once, although his face betrays nothing.
We have been traveling for three days. The sun is so hot. We try to save the water, but we cannot help drinking more than we should. There is only a little less than half left. We must find a well soon or we will die.
Two more days. There are only a few drops of water left. There is no refuge in sight. I have no more hope. We will die.
Is there indeed anything difficult for God? I praise God over and over for his mercy and goodness. I should have had more faith.
We will not die. God has shown compassion and taken care of us.
We had run completely out of water yesterday morning. At the end of this day, Ishmael, strong as he is, had become too weak to stand anymore. I looked into his eyes and saw death.
It was cowardly of me, and I know that Ishmael himself never would have acted as I did. I laid him under a tree and then ran as far as I could from him, turning my back so that I would not see when death took him. I wept loudly and despaired, cursing Abraham and Sarah in my heart.
Then I heard a voice, and I remembered it as the same that I heard when I ran away from Sarah. The voice spoke into my mind again and said,
“What are you doing, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of your boy from the place where he is. Arise, take up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I shall make him a great nation.”
Then it stopped speaking, but I could still feel it present inside me. Without meaning to, I turned my head and saw a well. It had not been there before. Immediately, I ran to it and filled the water jar. Then I went to Ishmael, lifted his head and poured water into his mouth. I sobbed from joy, relief and shame. I kept telling him that I was sorry for leaving him alone.
He sleeps now, and I am watching him, still giving him water.
Tomorrow, if he is well enough, we will begin traveling again. I am not afraid anymore. We will find shelter soon.
There must be a reason why all this has happened. I do not know what it is, but maybe someday, many years from now, people will hear the story of Hagar and Ishmael and understand some of God’s pattern.
(c) 2009 Stefania Glenn