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id I always hate my sister Rachel? Looking back, I don’t think I did. But I hate her now, God forgive me. I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone as much as I hate her. Not even my father.

My name is Leah, and I’m the first-born daughter of Laban, the Syrian. I suppose you’ve heard of him? He owned a few acres, kept a few sheep and thought he was God Almighty. I was just a possession as far as he was concerned, and so was Rachel. He never loved us. The only thing that brought a smile to his thin-lipped, rather cruel-looking mouth was the sight of gold pieces. He wasn’t a nice man, as I expect you’ve gathered.

I don’t intend to write a lot, so I’ll tell you at once that the trouble between Rachel and I really began when our cousin Jacob, whom we had never clapped eyes on before, turned up at our house in Haran and asked my father for work. He had been involved in some scrape or other back home, which was more than four hundred miles away, and had been sent to his uncle for a while to get him out of the way until it hopefully blew over. He was so handsome, his face clean shaven and not too tanned, his hair black and his eyes dark, and I wanted him immediately. As for Rachel herself, well, I saw her push her breasts forward in the way she always does in the presence of a handsome man. She liked him, yes, but I don’t believe she set her heart upon him until she perceived that I was taken with him. That’s always been the way of it, now I recall, whether it be a man, a robe or a bracelet at stake.

Jacob desired Rachel before you could snap your fingers, and could think of nought else but lying with her, may the plague disfigure the woman. My father promised Jacob faithfully that he could have Rachel as his wife. When the wedding day came the old devil hustled my sister out of sight and told me that it was I who was to marry Jacob. Was he, Laban, going to incur censure by flouting the tradition that an older daughter should be married first? No!

Was I worried about this switch from one bride to another? Well, what do you think? I donned Rachel’s bridal clothes with alacrity, thankful for the heavy veil that concealed my face very effectively.

A bride’s complete silence on her wedding night is a tradition, of course, and this too assisted me in concealing my identity. As I lay in the shadows awaiting Jacob, I caught one glimpse of his beautiful, totally naked body in the poor light from the oil lamp. His member was sticking out stiffly and proudly from plentiful black hair and I was suddenly as wet as a drab who couples with her man behind a hedge. He extinguished the light and I heard him approaching the bed. As he took me and I found myself meeting each lingering thrust he made, I was tortured in the midst of my pleasure by the thought that this might be the only time he entered me willingly, for what would be his reaction the next day?

Now, I’m pleased to say, I know better than to give way to such a disgusting display of carnal lust. These days, I concentrate upon baking a good loaf, keeping a clean back yard and attending prayer meetings regularly. In fact, having produced my six boys, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, and my daughter Dinah, I made it clear to Jacob that I was no longer interested in the sordid side of married life. It is, after all, a sin, and excusable only because children result from it. Jacob told me - can you believe it? - that I had betrayed our relationship and tossed it aside without a second thought! Surely our marriage is the purer for the absence of such indulgence? No, I feel in my bones that I’m not at fault. If the gulf between us has widened, the blame belongs at the door of that sister of mine. Damn her whore’s tricks! Yes, I know you want to know about the day after my wedding. I’m coming to that. I was only making my position clear!

Well, when the morning light came Jacob looked at me as if I were a piece of mule dung. He cursed me, cursed my father, and stormed off in search of the latter. I lay there, crushed and quite unable to stir myself, my exhilaration of the night before utterly dissipated. Would Jacob abandon me and disappear into the sunset before we had been married for a full day? If he did, I thought, it would be worse than if I had never wed him at all.

But Jacob stayed, and at the end of my bridal week I found out why. My father, may Satan pick his bones, had offered his permission for Jacob to take Rachel to wife as well. In exchange, Jacob was to work like a donkey on the land, and tend those wretched sheep, for no payment. Jacob, blinded by the prospect of conjugal delights with Rachel to all else, had foolishly accepted the proposition.

This second marriage was, I discovered, imminent, and in fact took place exactly two weeks after mine. I was compelled to attend. My false smile, which I’m sure looked ghastly, was nailed firmly to the mast. I had lost my husband to my sister, who was now my successful rival as a wife, for I knew very well that it was she whom Jacob would love and cherish. To make it even worse, she looked so beautiful on her wedding day, her black hair glossy and shining, her expressive eyes so appealing. God rot her.

As it turned out, I did have one important advantage over that sly-eyed strumpet, where the bearing of children was concerned, for Rachel was seemingly barren, which made her deeply jealous of my fertility.

‘You begin to look old, sister, and your body is thickening,’ she said to me once.

I looked at her, my face full of concern. ‘I mind not your words, Rachel,’ I told her gently, resisting a wild urge to lay my hands on her. ‘Rather, you have my pity, and my prayers that your barren womb may yet bear fruit.’

She stalked away, and later I heard her lashing Jacob with that vicious tongue of hers, telling him that I had insulted her and urging him to take me to task. But he said nothing to me, then or ever. I was the mother of his four sons, after all, and was carrying again. Yet I know I meant nothing to him, not in the way she did.

At one time, perhaps because he had no real desire for me and because Rachel was berating him more than usual in her frustration over not bearing a child, Jacob lay with first one whore, and then another, who both bore him sons. I didn’t mind (well, yes, all right, I did really), especially when I saw Rachel’s reaction. Jacob introduced the whores into our household, calling them maids, but their real role was obvious. They were sluts through and through, anyone could see that. I certainly knew their sort well enough. They would have opened their bedcovers to a monkey if the creature had had a coin or two about it.

Rachel and I both dutifully agreed, eventually, to care for the whores’ offspring. Jacob now had ten sons by three women, but still none by Rachel.

Yet she remained the only one he truly loved.

Rachel. Always Rachel.

My eyes are getting tired. They are rather weak and tend to do so easily. But perhaps you already know that? Is it one of the things about me that are recorded in this Bible the Doctor spoke of? Oh, I’m forgetting that I haven’t mentioned the Doctor yet. Never mind. Soon he will make his appearance in my story. But I must persevere with the writing. The Doctor assured me that certain events I shall cover here will not appear in the official version, and I want to get them down, and unburden myself. Will my manuscript survive, though? That’s a question I shall never know the answer to.

The years have gone by, and my father has long since gone to his reward, whatever that may be. We are now making our way to Bethel, covering a few miles a day, in the company of a large group, including a guide who knows the best directions, and of course where water is to be found. In order to avoid the debilitating heat as much as possible, the greater part of our travelling is done at night, with the guide navigating with the aid of the stars.

It was during this journey, just a few days ago, that I made first a discovery, and then, following a certain event that occurred which sent my fury almost out of control, a bold plan to resolve the exasperating situation with my infuriating sister once and for all.

Rachel still hoped for children, and I had continued to pray that she should be denied them. She had begun, I discovered by way of maids’ gossip, to take a concoction prepared from the roots of mandrake plants as a fertility draught. I laughed scornfully at this news and thought no more of it. Not then.


artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
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