Lying still in a corner of the cave, I try my best not to rattle, not to betray my fear. I figure, as long as they think me unconscious, I am safe. I have jolted awake because of the voices, only to discover they are incoherent and muffled. In between the gusts of wind, I can hear them hissing. Each phrase plays out in some verbose foreign music, which I cannot decipher for the life of me. Sigh. This is not Aramaic for sure, or any of the other languages spoken by the locals in my village or by the merchants traveling through along the Jordan river.
At this moment I find myself overwhelmed, turned inside out by a sense of suspicion. Something has been taken away from me. My breath? My name? Identity? Who am I, then?
After an eternity, the confusion in my head starts clearing up. The air is steaming hot. It feels as if I have been dunked in some thick, dark soup. I stare at the blackness. I listen. I catch a word here and there, and somehow I get it. No longer is it Greek to me. Or perhaps it is.
“But why? What is she to you?” says a trembling, shrill voice. “Why even come here for her? Just a tramp, is what she is.”
And in grumble—louder than the whirlwind—another voice says, “Now, who are you to ask?”
“Forgive me... I am nothing, nothing before you. Crush me if you will. I am dust, dust under your feet... But you, you have more important things to do. Let her rot.”
“Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of this realm? Declare, if you have any understanding!”
“I am nothing... Nothing but dust—”
“Who has laid the measures thereof, if you know? Or who has stretched the line upon it?”
“I bow,” the thin voice trembles. “I bow before you. Oh please, forgive me.”
And splosh! I hear the poor devil plodding away, wading through some slush.
A minute later, the footfalls of the other march up the road in the other direction, until finally the ground under me stops rumbling.
So I turn on my belly and crawl, finding my way in the dark, till at last I peek out—if only by a nose—through the mouth of the cave. Which allows me, for the first time, to take in the view.
It is breathtaking—not only because of the deep ravines slashing back and forth across the landscape, or the thick trunks of trees twining their roots one over the other, clinging forcefully to the rocky ledges; not only because of the volcanoes towering over the horizon, or the fine lava streams marbling the flesh of the earth, or that landmark, that pillar of salt beckoning me from afar, or the little flame dancing over there, then here, licking my knees—ouch!—or the bubbling of swamps along the winding path. No, it is breathtaking because to my amazement, I recognize this place.
A crimson glow is coming from below, as if an enormous sun is buried here, deep under the coals upon which I am crouching. If not for the eerie glow, this is the valley cradling my village.
A perfect copy of the land of Uz.
If I squint hard, aiming my gaze faraway to the foot of that volcano, I think I can spot the familiar outlines of houses. They belong to the rich among us. Between them I look for an interval. There must lie the village square. And I know, without really seeing it, that falling to pieces on the other side—where the poor folk live—is our shack. The place where we lived, Job and I, in such misery during the last year.
Imagining it, even for a second, frays my nerves.
And now, now the vision comes back to me, as if seeping out of the holes in this landscape, in my past. Twisted. It is accompanied by the sound of wails, which curdles my blood. In my confusion I wonder, whose voice could it be?
At first I get it wrong: I figure, perhaps it was Leila, that barefooted beggar woman, who used to come knocking at our door. I mean, when the door still hung, somehow, on it crooked hinges, and when I could still afford to toss some coins at her. I admit, it used to give me a measure of satisfaction to see her bow down before me, all the way to the ground, to pick them up. At least, there was one creature in this village who had the misfortune of being poorer than me. But not anymore. Hitting rock bottom is no fun. I hate being found empty handed. I had nothing now, nothing I could give her.
No, this was not her voice, because now I could hear the shrill yowls, the howls of anguish, punctuated with a shriek here and there, first from one throat, then another. Yes, I recall what happened. I go back to that place, back to that moment in time, hearing the fading of the singsong wails, and the unexpected burst of laughter out there in the distance.
And so I knew the mourners had started to disperse by now, which was truly humbling. Alas, they had been at it for a shorter time than usual—but how could you blame them, really?
There was no money, and of the seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys we used to own, not a single one was left. Nothing you could offer them for payment; alas, nothing left to sustain the customary expression of grief. Sigh.
Job stayed with me awhile. Again and again he mumbled, in his inexplicable, pious manner, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart.” Men! Always thinking of themselves! All the while there I was, flat on my back, in need of some attention, and some clothes, too!
Finally he left the gravesite. I waited, waited until the sound of his footfalls had shuffled away—oh, how well I knew this tortured gait of his!—until it too was gone.
Job's wife in Twisted
So starts the story of a ghost of a woman, looking for her identity... It is eerily reflected in my oil painting, which itself has a story of transformation:
I am truly enamored with paper. I love folding it, rolling it, cutting it, spilling ink and paint on it, and studying the reflections it gives off. At times it stares back at me, especially when I can find no words to write on its pure, white surface. Here is my oil painting of a rolling paper band, set against a background of a cave with stalagmites. It was inspired by my quick charcoal sketch of a nude.
You will notice that this is no simple transformation, as the paper band goes deep into the internals of the body, which is no longer solid. Also, I staged the figure in an environment where light drizzles from above in glowing colors, and shadows of the paper band are cast all the way down, nearly reaching you.
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