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The Peasant Mary

She is thirteen.  Short and wiry with dark olive skin.  The trace of a mustache on her upper lip, soft black down on her arms and legs.  The muscles are hard knots in her arms, solid lines in her calves.  Her hair is almost black and has been folded into a single braid down her back for as long as she can remember.  The weight of it raises her chin and makes her walk tall, as she has learned to do when carrying jars of water or bundles of kindling on her head. You don’t bend into the burden.  You root into the ground and grow out of it, reaching up and becoming taller.  The greater the weight, the taller you become: the peasant woman’s secret of making the burden light.

Her thin linen shift is torn from snagging on rocks and stones.  Even the patches are torn, and the original black has long since faded into gray....

The shift hides the gentle bulge in her belly.  She is unmarried and pregnant.  Sometimes, when she’s sure nobody else is around, she’ll fold her hands just below the curve, feeling how much it has grown.  Her grandmother once told her you could know a child’s sex before it is born by where you put your hands: above the belly means a girl, below the belly, a boy.  Or is it the other way around?  She can’t remember, but it doesn’t really matter.  Like every pregnant woman, she hopes for ten fingers, ten toes, a hungry mouth, and a lusty yell – a healthy baby, despite the odds.

- Lesley Hazleton, Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of The Virgin Mother (Bloomsbury, 2005), pp. 1-2.