She is caught up and tossed down into dusty streets. Her vision flares in the sun and there are throaty shouts on every side, garbled and vicious. She clutches a thin sheet up and over her shoulders, hiding her body from eyes. She is not very old yet and she is confused and she does not want to cry and she is so very scared.
They had snatched her, minutes ago, from a man whose name she did not know – she had learned early on to not ask her men for their names or ask them any questions at all if it could be helped. So she had not asked any questions and had simply done whatever he told her to do. In the middle of the whole business, the door had been forced, suddenly and split inwards and before she could collect her thoughts to lie or fight, she had been yanked out of bed by hot, hairy arms, slicked with sweat. Hauled out into the silent and impassive sun.
“Adultery!” Some are Pharisees, she thinks, and some have been customers, but most are just men. There is a lusty fever in their shouts, an eagerness to prove their indignation with blood. “Adultery! Stone the adulteress!” She is in a heap, with dry dirt swirling up around her, and she’s staring at the ground. Doors flap open and heads poke out for this most irresistible of religious ceremonies: the public execution. Mob behind. Crowds flanking. All that remains, she knows, is someone to judge.
“Rabbi!” calls one, from behind her, above the fervent din. “This woman was taken in adultery. The very act!” In punctuation, a throaty chorus of agreement.
She looks up – unaware that a rabbi was present at all – and is surprised at him. First by his closeness and then by his manner. He is sitting in the middle of the street, cross-legged, not five feet from her. He looks at home in the street as he would anywhere. It occurs to her that this is the new rabbi. The one who’s been causing such a fuss.
He’s the only one not looking at her; indeed, he doesn’t seem to be looking at much anything. If he’s heard the mob’s accusations or noticed her nearly-naked self then he’s showing no signs. He seems to be investigating something fascinating in the dirt, like any child.
The mob persists. “Moses’ law says she must be stoned,” some gravel-voiced ringleader shouts, “but what do you say?”
So, she thinks, her fate is now hinged on some half-brained trap for a feisty young rabbi who has been caught up in a grudge match with the establishment. Whore that she is, she has never felt used until this moment, and it is this realization that stings her eyes and makes them wet. The streets are lined with crowds now. Women clucking, children gaping and men gathering stones in the folds on their cloaks. She wipes her eyes with one fist and wishes to God if God still gives a wit about Israel that all the people in the world would leave her be and let her live and, in the name of every patriarch she can think of, please, God, make them just stop looking at her.
And the rabbi, she sees him from the tops her eyes, as it were, puts his finger in the dirt and scribbles something. She can’t tell what, but he seems to be putting a great effort into it – his eyes are screwed up in concentration. In spite of herself, she puzzles over whatever it is and she is not alone. Necks everywhere are craning. And she does not know what he is writing, but she knows this: nobody is looking at her anymore.
The crowd stutters – his antics seem to have derailed affair a bit. “Uhm,” stumbles one of the mob, “Rabbi? Did you hear? Should we…” he trails off.
“Should we kill her or not?” Shouts a younger voice, trying to get this thing going again.
He stands up, and she realizes that he is not tall but there is something to him. He looks at the crowd and everyone stares at him and she cannot imagine what he will say.
“Whichever one of you is without sin,” he says, “cast the first stone.” And, like boy who has finished reciting some lesson for the whole class, he sits back down in the dust with a little hop and goes back to scribbling in the dirt.
All around her is embarrassed silence, precariously-balanced silence, the sort that demands and refuses to be broken. They should apologize for the rabbi, dismiss his idealism, or maybe just stone him instead. But there is no noise at all and the sun looks down on them all.
Finally, life grinds back into motion again with the sounds of some hefty sighs and the thud of stones falling from fists to dust. Whatever energy had been present has been soiled and in its place settles a sullen dullness. The old ones leave first, back to their homes or off to jobs or to market places to grumble. Younger men, sensing the party to be over, follow suit. Conversation perks up; a donkey brays somewhere. Jerusalem continues with its loving, its selling, its praying and dying. And the girl stares at the rabbi and he looks back at her, his face lined with sadness.
“Now then,” he says. “Who is condemning you?” He looks around. “Anybody?”
She does not look around but looks at him.
“Nobody,” she answers him, and then checks herself. “Nobody, Lord.”
He smiles, but still he looks sad enough to break her heart.
“Then I don’t condemn you either.”
He stands, signaling that they’re done here. She stands as well, remembering her current state.
“Go,” he says. “Sin no more.”
She turns and runs down the dusty streets spotted with dropped rocks, her sheet flaps behind her in the wind, she doesn’t care, and she catches herself, even as her feet flit like kingfisher wings away from that young rabbi, that her tongue is battering against her mouth, yammering words of thanks and praise.