The shame hung around her like the stench on a fisherman. He knew there was nothing more she dreaded than the trips to the market or the well. There all around her were women with their little children - small reminders. She would probably have preferred their open ridicule. Instead she was blanketed with the brutal pity of the happily self-satisfied. Everybody knew. After years of marriage and no child. Everybody knew. Nobody looked at him - she carried the shame alone. Barren. If ever a word arose that sounded its meaning, that was it. Barren.
Every year they would present themselves and their offerings to the priest - to God. And every year she would find some corner of the great sanctuary to pour out the stored up anguish that she had carried for the past year, silent to all but him. Each year the journey became more painful as the children of the other wife made their noisy way along. He knew the weight of her heart but could not help her carry it. He wanted so much for her to be happy with him alone. He joked with her, “Am I not worth at least ten sons to you?” But she had smiled that sad half-smile and turned away with tears in her eyes.
She had told him of her desperate promise on the way home. Should she be given a son, she would return him in thanksgiving to God. His anger was tempered by the shame of his thought. “If the past is any guide, I won’t be having to make that choice!” But seeing the shine on her face, he kept that thought to himself. It came back to haunt him a couple of months later when she told him with joy in her voice that she was pregnant. Pregnant! After all these years. Her joy was contagious. Even though he was the father of other children this child with her set a bounce in his step and a song in his heart. Her shame had been lifted, and he was glad.
Until the boy was born and the full weight of her promise crushed his heart. This boy was his son, too. He agreed quickly that she ought not take him up to the feast this year. And probably not next. But then . . .
Heavy hearted, he wondered if he was the kind of a father who could give up his son because of a promise. What father could ever do that?