What I remember from that day is the sand. It was all over my feet as I slunk sideways through the door into his house, hoping the shadows would cover my entry. He was so eager, so hasty, and I so afraid of being caught, there was no time to wash it off from the soles of my feet and out from between my toes. But it distressed me, all that sand soiling the clean sheet, as if to remind us of what we were doing – sullying something that should have been left pristine. And then, when they flung open the door and caught us in the act, the thing I most remember is how the wind that was howling up the street whipped in at the open doorway and flayed my naked skin with the grains of sand it had whisked into the air.
I snatched at my tunic, but they thrust me out before I had a chance to put it on, so I wrapped it round me as best I could. My bare feet scudded over the sand as they dragged me down the street, the cruel wind buffeting with sand every bare patch of skin it could find, like a lacerating scourge, and filling my eyes with grit. Even the smell of baking bread as they hauled me past the neighbours’ houses was dulled by the sand that was filling my nostrils. By the time we reached the bottom of the street, my hair was matted with it, and I longed to rub my eyes but I dared not let go of the tunic I was clutching with both hands to try to preserve my last shred of decency. And then they stopped. Abruptly. I bent my head down to rub my eyes with a corner of my tunic, and then looked up again. They had come to a halt before a young Rabbi and were calling out, all at once, listing my sins and baying for my blood. I looked down at the sand which caked my feet and ankles, and as I looked I saw Him stoop down beside me and write in the sand. What was He writing? A list of my sins? The commands of the law concerning adultery? I had never learned to read, so I had no idea. But I fancied it was an account of my wrongs. They kept on at Him, urging Him to respond. So at length He stood up, looked round at them and said, “Let the one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Some of them had already picked up large rocks and when He said this they began to drop them, one by one. I heard the soft thuds, and saw the little flurry of sand fly upwards as each one hit the ground. And he took no notice, but simply squatted in the sand again, and with one sweep of His hand, erased what He had written and replaced it with one word. With, in fact, the only word I knew how to read; the one word I had painstakingly memorised to embroider on the cloths in which I had wrapped my firstborn; the word Beloved. He stood up, dusting the sand from His hands, and asked, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” I looked Him straight in the eye, this Rabbi who had written the word “Beloved” in the sand, and answered Him, “No one, Lord.” He smiled. “I do not condemn you either. Go. And from now on, sin no more.” I don’t really recall how I got home, except that the wind dropped so that the sand no longer rasped across my skin, and somehow the harsh grains that had pained my feet as they dragged me across the ground now felt soft and warm between my toes, as if the universe had been at odds with me, but was now at last my friend.