He was soaked to the bone. The rain had been pelting him for the past twenty-four hours, as he’d pushed his way through the underbrush. He’d been following this runaway wife of his for three years now. Guarding. Hoping. Waiting.
She’d left in tears, accusing him of lording it over her, of expecting too much, of denying her space.
“Tyrant!” she’d shouted, punctuating her fury with the slamming door.
He’d kept himself out of sight as he followed her, so as not to disturb her “space.” All the while, he ached to hear her call his name. Season followed season and year followed year. He heard her call out many names, but none of them were his.
In the city, a man of charisma and charm had beguiled her. Captivated by his twinkling eyes and engaging smile, she called his name. He drew an assortment of dazzling jewelry out of his pocket for her, among them a ring, heavily encrusted with rubies and diamonds. She gasped and clapped in delight—until she caught sight of the unadorned band on her ring finger.
Her brows pinched together. She’d always complained this one was too tight. Clearly, the new ring wouldn’t fit with the old. She began to twist it and her husband, looking on from an alley nearby, felt himself go limp.
With a tremendous breath, he collected himself. Drawing up to full height, he pressed his fingers against his temples. “Remember me,” he thought, willing his mind to connect with hers. “Remember you have a husband.”
On cue, it seemed, with lips pressed together, she gave a final tug and the old ring slipped off. She slid the new one on, turning her hand this way and that so it sparkled in the sun. The old band fell to the pavement, rolled along the curb and dropped through the grating below, her husband’s heart plunging with it.
She called this stranger’s name all that year and hung like a bracelet on his arm while they paraded through the bright lights of the city. All the pageantry, all that was new and daring, dazzled her. She woke late one morning and went looking for the one who’d promised so much. Her knees locked when she spotted him—over there, wearing a new woman on his arm.
Her husband stepped out from hiding and let the wind carry his scent her way. As his particular tang of wood and oil drifted under her nose, her eyebrows lifted. She bent in his direction, but only for an instant. Waving the smell away, she fled the city for the desert.
In the desert she sought no man, nor did she call out any name but her own. The terrain was difficult and rocky and she walked it alone. She grew lean, tough and independent that year. Once, as she slept under a shady overhang, a company of snakes had slithered around her. Her husband stepped around a mesquite bush and scattered them without disturbing her sleep. She woke unaware there’d been trouble.
A water bottle hung over her shoulder (a gift from their wedding day), but she chafed under its strap. Her husband had always insisted she carry it and keep it full. “So you won’t be thirsty as we work together.” She’d made no secret of her annoyance with its constant banging against her hips.
Now she took a sip and contemplated the canteen. “This thing is too heavy,” she complained to the desert. “I’ve read that roots of desert plants are full of water. I’ll suck on those as I go along and let the earth quench my thirst.”
Standing behind a great rock, her husband cupped his hands to his mouth. A song in the language of birds spilled from his lips and skipped across the sand. “Remember me,” he sang, “Remember I care.”
She hooked her wrist through the bottle’s strap, gave it a spin and abandoned it to the desert.
Sunburned, thirsty and hungry, she had reached the edge of the desert the third year and had wandered into the wood. She cried out to the sun, but it couldn’t penetrate the underbrush. The rains kept her damp and chilled. The mud pulled at her feet. The vegetation slashed her, shredding the beautiful garments that had once formed her trousseau.
She cried out for water, but only found drink in muddy pools formed by animal footprints. Worn out, she fell headlong into a clearing barely large enough for her to lie down.
Scarcely three paces away, her husband whispered. “Remember me.”
She closed her eyes and gathered her legs to her chest, as if to warm herself a bit before she died. The glade went silent.
Then a sound—so small it could hardly be called a breath, so faint it could hardly be heard—crept from her lips on tiptoes. “Help me.” And after that, her husband’s name rose from her like a vapor and rode the breeze to his ear.
It was enough. He was in the clearing, stooping next to her in the mud. From a carefully wrapped parcel tucked beneath his cloak, he drew an oilcloth and tied it to the tree branches above her. Spreading out a mat, he lifted her gently from the mud and laid her on it. He gathered some wood that was not yet completely soaked and built a fire near her lean-to.
Her mud-drenched clothes he exchanged for new ones and poured fresh water out of his own bottle to cleanse her cuts and wash the mud from her eyes. Taking the flask off his shoulder, he hung it on hers. “So you can soothe your throat whenever you need it.” Then he pulled out a loaf of bread—fresh, somehow, as though it had just come from the oven. “Take. Eat.”
Then this wife of his began to cry, apologizing for her foolishness and hardness. She needed him, she said. She wanted him. “Oh, please. Can I just go home?”
Without a word, he drew out his ax. Slashing left and right, he felled trees with a single stroke. From the very brambles that had so torn and cut her, he created a cart. Lifting her into it and sheltering her under the oilcloth, her husband put his shoulder into the loop of heavy rope at the front of the cart as into a yoke and began to draw her home.
It seemed like only a few turns of the wagon’s wheels and they’d cleared the woods. As they crossed the hard-packed sands of the desert, he found her discarded water jug and laid it in her lap.
On their way through the city, he pulled the cart over to a sewer grate and made one more stop. Laying on his stomach, he stretched his arm into the drain’s dark hole and drew out her wedding band. He wiped it clean, picked up her left hand and poised the ring near her finger, his eyes asking a question. She turned a liquid gaze his way and let herself sink into his longing eyes. Breathless, she nodded.
Her husband threw his head back, trumpeting his delight and doves exploded from the plaza in a thundering cloud. Eyes streaming, he turned back to her. With a joy that melted mountains, he slid the ring home.
* * *
Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 NIV).