In the Realms of Light and Darkness: eight letters from war: 4. Habibah

4. HABIBAH

My dear daughter,

I must write this sad news, though I cannot see the paper through my tears. They have knocked at our door today and told me. Ayyub is dead. Of fever, not a sword.

It was only three months ago he was here, a proud groom, standing beneath the canopy with Esther, both of them filled with laughter. What a lovely day. It seemed there could be nothing but joy, for everywhere in the world, for all life to come. The song, the hope, the laughter. There was no war, then. Only happiness. How beautiful she looked, how beautiful they both were. Children of gold, gleaming. Only the old women cried, through their smiles. And the old men held their hands and smiled as well, just as Ayyub held Esther’s and smiled at her.

Today her tears flow, as mine. There is no comfort to give or to take. We hold each other. We try to speak, but words have no power to heal. I look in the mirror and see I am not whole any more. A part of me has vanished.

He was kind, the man who came. I saw him from the window, on his horse, riding slowly up the street. It was a clear day, the sun was bright behind him and his face was lost in the light, but I knew who he was. He has come often in these times. Yesterday he stopped at Sarah and Daniel’s door. I watched him dismount, straighten his trousers and coat, remove his hat. I watched him step, silently as possible, to their door, knock, wait. When the door opened I looked away, with sorrow and relief. Today, I watched him, with fear. There are so many in our little street, so many who have sons who fight. I prayed: Adonai: Let him go past my door. Let him stop at Noam’s or Anya’s, any door that is not my door. I am ashamed to say that, but it is true. My son, my only son, Esther’s husband. I would trade his life for another’s. That is wrong, but I am a mother. I can be wrong, but love cannot be wrong.

When he knocked, I knew. Esther was in the barn, I was alone. I stood. I could not go to the door. He knocked again, a third time. Then he called, in a quiet voice: Habibah. He opened the door and stood there, looking at me. I did not look at him. Habibah, he said again, gently, and he came to me and took my hands. I am sorry, he said, but Ayyub…

I did not weep, then, nor cry out. A fever, he explained. He was brave.

Brave or a coward, sword or a fever: He is just as dead. He is just as dead. If he had not gone to fight he would not be dead.

Many soldiers have died from it, this fever, the kind man said. We have buried him, as we did the others, quickly. He asked that you have his mezuzah. And he gave it to me, put it in my hand. And he left.

I am an old woman now. I was young, this morning, now I am old.

I am sorry, my daughter. I am sorry I must tell you these things, I am sorry I must know

them. I am sorry I am old. And I am sorry for my tears. They do not help me, they cannot help

you. They are just stains on this paper. And on my heart.

I hope you will come, if you are able. Esther will need us both.

Sadly, Your mother Habibah

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2 Responses to “In the Realms of Light and Darkness: eight letters from war: 4. Habibah”

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