“Do you want to hear the lineage of Adam?”
I’m standing in an unfinished room of Samuel Halevi’s new house. I have been told to guard it. His newfound wealth and rising status means he needs a dwelling in town. Muladi builders have taken a burned-down Visigoth remnant and created something more befitting the Calle de la Judería.
Alfonso’s conquest of Toledo is still fresh. No one knows what to expect from Christians. Samuel has brought his son back from Tudela and the tongue-cluckers are wary. The word moshiach has been whispered. Nothing ill must befall this special boy.
I am five years old. I stand a full seven feet. My skin is smooth and my flesh is entirely Castilian. The child with ice-blue eyes is six. He and his family have not moved in properly; Samuel is inspecting some boxes being unloaded.
After my second day on guard, a little white face appears, looking very pleased with itself.
“Well? Do you?”
Nobody has ever asked me a question. Do I want? I? Want?
He begins anyway. “Adam’s days numbered 930 years, and he begat Seth, whose days numbered 912 years, and he begat Enos, whose days numbered…” And so on, past Noah and Shem all the way to Abraham, leaping through the tribal tangle to Saul and David with no hint of a pause, even where the ages aren’t readily apparent, until his father interrupts him.
Samuel is tense and gloomy. He has yet to meet my gaze for long. I have yet to be told how intense and unsettling my gaze is. Glad to be free of my presence for two days, now he must reconcile me to his son.
“Will he really do anything I say?” The boy strokes his chin comically. “Can he climb trees?”
I will see this child, pampered like few others, awe and infuriate his teachers, then surpass them; develop an obsessive love of flesh and, subsequently, the workings of the body; marry an unhappy woman; compose hundreds of poems; lose faith in medicine and worldly affairs; become a pilgrim. He will treat me as a friend. I will not see him die.
He grabs my hand and pulls. My arm flops forward, but I don’t budge, and the boy is yanked off his feet. Samuel breathes in sharply, thinking about trees and falling. The boy laughs and runs behind me. He starts pushing, grunting. Finally I take a step. Slowly, now quicker, tiny Judah Halevi pushes me out the door.
The boat has left the water. The boat is airborne. My entire body is thrumming. I see one of my fingers falling through the water. I am being pulled up by my hands, which are inside a hole in the boat, which has traveled a few feet upwards.
The boat needs to sink fast. I don’t want to capsize it. Don’t know what the girl will do in water, don’t know what the man will do.
Figures emerge. I push towards the girl and take her by the head. The man is clearly not used to water. But he’s panicked over losing the girl, not drowning. He’s expending all his energy paddling where he thinks she is. His shirt is a ghost. I’m still underwater. Before the bubbles can subside and reveal my face, I grab him with one arm and squeeze him around the chest. I’m barely keeping my hand over the girl’s mouth, water is seeping in and she’s starting to thrash. The man expels all his air.
We have a head start, but we’re drenched, dripping, easy to follow. Before we reach the first streetlight, I stop behind some trees. I push him down where it’s a few feet deeper, buying some time. I lift the girl out of the water and let her take a few gasps. Then down, more gently, and I look her in the eye while I cover her face again. We lurch away from the boat, into the blackness. The man is forced to come up for air. I reach the bank and hope it’s as dark as the water.
The girl is struggling again. We both come up, clawing at the weeds and rocks and plastic waste. The man has seen movement, but is forced to swim with his face below the water so he can get his awkward front crawl to work. I scoop the girl and lumber through the weeds back to the road.
We have a head start, but we’re drenched, dripping, easy to follow. Before we reach the first streetlight, I stop behind some trees. I push the girl down and more or less lie on top of her. I hear the man huffing pathetically, but his steps are quick. I wait.
Arm thrusts out, face-level, and he’s down. Later, I will find some blood on my wrist. Now, the damage seems to be to his neck, which snapped backwards. In too much pain to move, he’s grunting and crying. We’re off, the girl in my arms again, weaving in and out of dark spaces until I’m sure we’re safe.
We walked back through the city, taking as many side streets as possible. When she couldn’t walk, I carried her. (I didn’t leave any messianic footprints in the sand.) It was a humid night, but she was shivering.
Ruth shuffled into the washroom as I was towelling the girl dry. I hadn’t prepared a story to cushion her with. Hopefully, I wouldn’t need one. She was wincing at the light, shoulders hunched. We stood silently, Ruth staring at the girl and me staring at Ruth. The apartment smelled of lake.
“I think her name is Damla,” I said.
Ruth rubbed her eyes and slapped her sides. “Jesus,” she said. It was hard to read her groggy face. Everyone looks dejected when they wake up. Finally she said, “You didn’t think to get those wet clothes off her?”
I stepped out of our tiny bathroom and let Ruth take over. I heard her murmuring to the girl and the wet plops of clothing in the tub.
Over the next few days, Ruth offered food, moisturizer, outfits, and a constant stream of chatter. Better than standing dumb for days on end. Their relationship reached a point where the girl could look her in the eye when she spoke.
Ruth found a place to take her. She has connections to various shelters and caseworkers. I don’t know what she told them—you can guess how much I had told her. Ruth has been distant since returning.
My heightened senses have certainly calmed since that night. Not completely, but I’m no longer poised to explode into action all the time. There’s still a buzz from knowing that the girl is out there. None of us are free and clear yet. And now Ruth has a hand in things, delivering the cargo someplace safe.
I thought it might be Covenant House. I was going to ask, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I thought Ruth might just tell me. Instead, she told me about the longest traffic light countdown she’d ever seen while I rubbed her shoulders.