“I need someone to join me for guard duty,” he said. “Want to come?”
He held up a spare rifle. Bat Sheva’s hands trembled on the broom she was clutching. Her heart pounded like galloping horses.
“I have never held a rifle,” she said.
“I’ll teach you.”
“I’m not very good at riding a horse.”
“You can ride with me. Come on. We’ll be back in two hours before the workers finish in the fields.”
It was now or never, she thought. Going with him was madness, but she couldn’t say no. With a fluttering heart, she leaned her broom against a haystack and followed him out of the barn. The main thing, she thought, was to let him see she was brave. He swung himself onto his horse and held out a hand to lift her up behind him.
“Put your foot on my boot,” he said.
A whimper escaped her lips as he grabbed her hand and swung her up behind him onto the horse. She held tightly onto his waist, frightened by the dizzying height of the steed. With a commanding “Yalla!” he flicked at the reins, and they rode off in a gallop. Bat Sheva grasped at his clothing as she was bounced up and down on the hard, muscular back of the horse. The earth passed by beneath them at an incredible speed. Wind blew in her face. When she opened her eyes, they were racing over a hill, away from the kibbutz, into a valley she had never seen before. Her heart beat wildly, not as much from the ride as from the feeling that she was doing something terribly sinful. But another voice said, nonsense – what was sinful in riding a horse? The hooves of the animal pounded the earth beneath her. Her body trembled from the jolts of the ride, loosening all of her joints. The sense of freedom was dizzying. As they rode up a hillside, she clung to Ben Zion’s back, wondering if he were a man she could trust or a demon?
Finally he stopped by the well where Peter had been wounded. He slid down from the horse and reached up with both hands to help her. Suddenly, she was in his arms, her toes just touching the ground, captive in his embrace. He grinned with his handsomest smile and squeezed her tightly around her waist. When he released her, her legs didn’t stop trembling. Her heart kept pounding as if she were still on the horse.
“Have a cool drink,” he said.
He stepped over to the well and began pulling on the rope. Soon, a bucket appeared splashing with water.
“I found this spring with Peter,” he said. “A few times when we were out riding, we saw gazelles grazing around this oak tree. When we investigated, we found puddles of water and realized that there must be an underground stream here. We started digging and discovered this well.”
The water in the bucket was clouded with dirt, but after a few moments, the sediment sank to the bottom. The taste of the water was clean and refreshingly cool. Bat Sheva poured some into her hands and washed the dust of the ride off her face.
“I hope you are not still angry with me about our last meeting in Russia,” he said.
Bat Sheva blushed. “Why should I be angry.”
“Some women think a kiss is a proposal of marriage.”
Bat Sheva kept silent.
“It seems to me a man and woman can love each other like friends without rushing to get married.”
Bat Sheva still hadn’t stopped trembling. She blushed, imagining that she looked like a frightened little girl.
“Your father warned me not to talk to you, so I have been keeping my distance.”
“My father doesn’t own me,” she said. “I am old enough to live my own life. My sister, Tzeitl, got married to Motel when she was my age, and my mother was even younger when she married my father.”
“I don’t think that age is the problem. Your father dislikes me because I am not religious.”
“Everyone is religious in his own way,” she answered.
“That’s what I believe.”