The slave girl given a future
Our reporter, Aemilia Metella, interviews the slave girl rescued by the business woman, Lydia.
For the second time in a month, I arrived at the smart townhouse in Philippi. My last interview with the homeowner and businesswoman, Lydia, was successful after a shaky start. Intrigued by the mention of the fortune-telling slave girl, I had returned to interview her. Arranging the purple scarf, given me by Lydia, over my shoulders, I pulled the bell-rope to summon the door slave.
“Good morning,” he greeted me with a smile of recognition.
Without another word, he turned, and I followed him into the atrium, where drinks and food lay on a table. As silent as the door slave, another appeared to pour and hand me a drink of wine. She bowed and left me to admire the atrium. A gardener pruned a tree as another swept the cuttings away before they could cause offence. Lydia walked into the atrium, holding the hand of a young girl dressed in a clean cream tunic. I guessed she was thirteen or fourteen years old. She steered her to a seat opposite mine.
“Sit down, Abigail,” she said.
Without looking up, the girl obeyed and sat down. Lydia stood behind her and with her hands on the girl’s shoulders said. “Don’t be shy. Answer all of Aemilia Metella questions truthfully.”
Abigail watched Lydia leave, then looked down at her hands clasped together on her lap. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and obscured her features. Not sure what I should do, I handed her a plate, and she took a snippet of food and nibbled it like a bird.
“It’s Abigail, isn’t it?” I asked. She nodded and muttered something.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.”
“Abigail is my name now.”
“What was your name before?”
She shook her head, “They just shouted, girl, when they wanted something.”
“Who called you Abigail?”
“The new mistress.”
Interviewing this young girl would be difficult. I would have to prise the answers out of her.
“Do you like your new name?”
“It’s very nice.” She raised her head, and I saw her face for the first time. Frightened eyes scanned mine as if determining whether I was a threat. She then looked toward where Lydia left. “My mistress said I was to have a nice name, because of all the bad things that had happened to me. Abigail means joy.”
Worried that asking her about the bad things would make her shut uptight, I thought I would return to that later. “Can you tell me about your life here?”
“It’s nice here because no one beats me.” Those few words were chilling. “The mistress bought me from the bad men, and now I’m her slave.”
“What are your duties?”
“I do anything, but my main job is to keep the house clean. I dust and sweep the corridors and tidy up the mistress’s room. The mistress is very nice and kind to me.” She looked up and smiled. The light shone in her green eyes, and she leaned forward to whisper to me.
“The mistress is teaching me to read and write.” This was interesting because few house slaves were given this privilege. “She says that I’m a clever girl and if I become good, I might one day be able to help her. Is that a wax tablet in your bag?”
I handed her the tablet and stylus. She bit her lip and with a look of concentration, wrote her name and her mistress’s name. Then handed it back to me.
“That is very good, Abigail.” She beamed with pride at my praise of her efforts. “This might be difficult for you, but can you tell me of your life before coming here?”
The light left her eyes, and her chin dropped to her chest once more. “I was a slave to two very bad men.”
I poured her a drink and offered it to her. She took a sip and put it on the table, and I waited for her to speak.
“They kept me hungry, and I never had enough food. Every night I slept on the floor, without a blanket, even in the winter. If I didn’t do as I was told, they would beat me with a stick.”
“How long had you been with them?”
“They bought me years ago and took me from my mother. I can’t remember her face, but I remember feeling held and loved.”
“That is a wonderful memory. Don’t forget that one.”
She looked back up at me. “Do you want me to tell you what I did? For as long as I can think, I have been able to tell the future. I don’t know how I did it. But when people gave the bad men money, I would tell them their fortune. I once told an old lady that something terrible would happen, and they beat me after she refused to pay. After that, I sometimes lied and made up good things. People like to see a fortune teller who is scruffy and odd. So they kept me dirty and gave me a ragged tunic.
“Has the mistress told you about the good men, who came to tell us about Jesus? As soon as I saw them, I knew they were important people and had come from God. The bad men liked me to walk around and shout people’s fortune. So, every day, we followed the crowds so I could work. One day, one of the men, I think his name was Paul, got annoyed that I kept disturbing them. He shouted that the demon who made me tell the future should leave me alone.”
Once Abigail began to talk, it was like a river in flood which cannot be stopped.
“I don’t know what happened, but I woke up on the ground. There were lots of shouting and screaming, and the only thing I could see was people’s legs and feet stamping on me. A hand reached down and pulled me up. A lady took me to the side and waited until soldiers came to take the good men away.
“My bad masters grabbed my hand and took me back to their home. Then they locked me in a room with no food or water because I could no longer tell the future. I kept trying because that was the only way I could eat. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t come. I cannot tell the future now.
“I don’t know how many days later it was, that the lady came for me. There were shouts outside my locked room, then the door opened, and she took my hand and brought me here.”
I smiled at her; she had told me much more than I had feared at the start of the interview. “Is there anything else you would like to say to me?”
She looked up at the sky, then said. “If you are writing about me, can you say that I am happy and now have a future? I practice my writing every day. I am learning numbers and can count and add numbers together. It will be nice to help the mistress with everything she has done for me. And I don’t want to sweep and dust rooms forever.”
She thanked me for listening, then bowed before leaving the atrium. The door slave showed me out, and I left impressed at the generosity of Lydia. Who would take a slave nobody cared about and give her not only a name but a hope for a better future.
“It’s nice here because no one beats me.” Those few words were chilling.
They kept me hungry, and I never had enough food. Every night I slept on the floor, without a blanket, even in the winter. If I didn’t do as I was told, they would beat me with a stick.
He shouted that the demon who made me tell the future should leave me alone.
If you are writing about me, can you say that I am happy and now have a future?
Aemilia Metella is my fictional Roman journalist whose mission is to bring to light those first women disciples, and the contribution they made to the growth of the early church.
This is her article for the Philippi Post, and follows on from last month’s post about Lydia. The incident it is based upon is from The New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16.
Is there someone you would like Aemilia Metella to interview? I’m thinking of women in the New Testament who usually don’t get much attention. Let me know in the comments and I will see if they are available!
Naples National Archaeological Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Susan Sutherland is the author of Leaving Bethany which was published in November 2020. She is currently working on a sequel.