I remember thinking, at first sight of her, only how old she was to be a wetnurse: stooped and withered, hands dry and rough as she reached to take the baby from my arms. I might have seen better if she hadn't been so muffled up, her breasts and shoulders and even her hair invisible under the coarse wrappings she wore, like all the Hebrew women. But the girl had recommended her, and I supposed the slave women might give milk well into their old age, after all, like cows or sheep; so long as she could feed the little one, that was all that mattered.
Of course, she wasn’t anything like as old as she looked. I ought to have realized that; I wasn’t accounting for how harsh living might age a woman. And I was barely of an age to wed and bear an infant myself, and at that age grown women can all seem terribly old. It seems so strange to think of it now, but that year I was only a few years from playing with dolls in the nursery, pretending to feed them; only a few years older than the little Hebrew girl who brought the wetnurse to me.
I knew the truth, I think, before she gave him up to me the second time, after he was weaned. Oh, long before. I was not quite that much still a child. I could see what color the baby’s skin was, what shape his nose would be when he lost his puppy roundness, what kind of curl his hair would grow into if I did not keep it shaved smooth. And I knew of my father’s edict about the sons of the slaves, that spring: flung into the river at birth, he said. And had I not drawn this one out of the river?
I named him for that, so he would remember. For of course I was no soothsayer, and could not have known that he would grow to draw me forth from the shallows where I had drifted, even as I once drew him.
His sister, now, the little girl who brought his true mother to nurse him for me ... I could not have known her for a soothsayer, either. For a long time I wondered what she saw in me, all those years ago. Or what she thought of me later, when I came to her people on what any fool could see was the eve of their departure.
No, I've never asked. We’re both old women now, and it doesn't seem important anymore.