Old, old stories – Jacob’s cousins

The Bible reimagined


Jacob’s cousins

There was always some sort of intrigue going on in Jacob’s family. He had had trouble with his older brother, Esau, which was part of the reason he had left the family home and gone looking for his uncle, Laban, Jacob’s mother Rebecca’s brother.

All he knew was that Laban lived in a small farming town, so he had gone there with no particular plan but to get way while his brother cooled down about the event that had caused them trouble.

Jacob sat in the town’s only bar and had drunk a few beers and moved on to whisky when the man on the next stool started to engage him in conversation.

“Not from around these parts?”

“Nope,” said Jacob, not really wanting company.

“You’re far away in your thoughts,” the man said.

“Yep.” The man just kept looking at him, waiting for a continuation, so Jacob reluctantly obliged. “Just thinking about home,” he said. “Long story.”

“Want to tell me about it?” the man pursued. “Nothing much ever happens in this place and I’d be glad of a fresh story to listen to. Heard just about everything everyone around here has to tell a hundred times.”

Jacob’s city-boy suspicious nature had been checking the man out since he opened his mouth, and he had concluded this wasn’t the local gay man trying his luck.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been considering my future lately and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to get a good deal at home in the family business. My Dad set up a haulage firm and now he’s getting on a bit and his body’s failing him he’s decided to retire. And he was going to leave it to my older brother, because he’s always favoured him. They’re similar people: big strong working men, and I’m the arty one, the one with an enquiring mind. They both think I’m kind of a lesser breed from my mother’s side. To cut a long story short, there was a bit of smoke and mirrors went on and I nearly managed to get the old man  to sign it over to me, but Esau found out at the last minute and it all got pretty unpleasant.

“So I decided to come out here till it blew over and maybe work for my uncle Laban.”

“Laban Crossley?” the man said with a surprised smile.

“You know him,” Jacob mumbled, determined to play down his excitement.

“Laban’s a big noise around here,” the man said. “Biggest producer of potatoes in the county. Big house, big cars, beautiful daughters. Here comes one now.”

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The door opened and in walked a cross between Cameron Diaz and a young Sophia Loren.

“Hey, Rachel,” the man said loudly, waving her over to where he and Jacob sat. She seemed pleased, on entering the bar alone, to find herself in safe company.

“I guess you don’t know who this is,” the man said, enjoying himself hugely and gesturing towards Jacob.

“Looks kind of familiar,” Rachel said.

“Only your goddam cousin,” the man said triumphantly.

Rachel looked at Jacob and said hesitantly, “Esau?”

“The other one,” said Jacob, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“Jake… ah, Jacob?” Rachel fumbled. They beamed at each other and allowed themselves a daring little hug. The man made his excuses and left discreetly.

It turned out that Rachel had been due to meet her boyfriend that night, but he hadn’t shown up, so she had gone into town, maybe to look for him and maybe to find some other way to spend the evening. She and Jacob hit it off straightaway and she had been sorely tempted to stay the night in his hotel room, but the reaction of her father would have been nuclear even without the family complication, so she had gone home late, smiling dreamily. That was Saturday night.

“I invited somebody for dinner,” she announced the following day.

“Not that bum again,” Laban said. With his wife long dead, he was extra protective with his daughters, Rachel and her sister Leah.

Rachel decided the best course of action was to tell her father about Bobby not showing up and use it to contrast him with Jacob. But she didn’t tell Laban who this knight in shining armour was.

“We’ll let him get to know you,” she told Jacob. “Then we’ll tell him.”

Sunday dinner, a cherished tradition in the household, was prepared these days by Leah, a tall, slim girl two years older than Rachel, and attractive in her way but with a lazy eye, and without the younger one’s charm.

The wine flowed and the four of them made merry, and eventually Rachel deemed it safe to spring the surprise. Laban was stunned. He poured a whole glass of red down his throat as the realization sank in. He could see how well-suited Jacob and Rachel seemed to be, and cousins getting together was no longer illegal in those parts.

Later on, while the girls were in the kitchen washing up, which Jacob thought old fashioned and wrong, he and Laban sat and drank brandy and discussed the potato farming business. Jacob obviously knew nothing about it, but he knew he could streamline it and bring it up to date. Laban was a good farmer, a hard worker, but there was something naïve about him in a business sense. Jacob could greatly increase the profits.

“I couldn’t pay you very much,” Laban said. “Not until you proved your worth to the company. The figures will decide your salary. And you’ll live here in this house, rent free. Damn, I always wanted to put & Son on the letterhead. Maybe & Nephew’s a bit of a mouthful, but… damn!”

“I’ll do it for not very much money,” Jacob said in a conspiratorial tone. “As long as you don’t object to me and your daughter.”

“Object?’ said Laban. “You shall have a girl in your bed tonight.”

Tired from his travels, Jacob turned in soon after 10pm. Laban showed him to a guest room that was warm and dusty and must have been furnished by Laban’s late wife. The soft furnishings were feminine, but not in a modern way. It was a conservative older woman’s style. The curtains were thick and blacked the room out completely. Jacob was grateful for that as he turned off the light and his weary body and brain headed immediately for shutdown.

He wasn’t fully awake even when the door opened and the figure of a woman entered and slid into bed beside him. Jacob was cocooned in warmth and femininity and when a gentle flurry of activity had subsided, he slept soundly.

When he awoke in the morning it was to see the same woman enter with a breakfast tray.

She pulled back the curtains and light flooded in from a glorious day. It was Leah.

Leah was happy as could be as the girls went off to do their jobs in the company office. Laban stayed at home, where he had a study in which he could work. He invited Jacob in and the young man was appalled at the old, boxy computer, huge photocopier and primitive fax machine. His uncle certainly needed his help, but first he needed to get personal matters sorted out.

“Have a good time last night?” Laban asked with a surprising little leer. It seemed like a different world out there in the sticks and that was another thing Jacob intended to change if everything went the way he hoped.

“Yeah,” Jacob said. “But that was the wrong one. It’s Rachel I like.”

“Can’t be done,” Laban said, shaking his head. “There’s a certain order to things around here that you don’t understand. I can’t have little Rachel having a good adult time while her big sister’s still waiting. Just how it is.”

The two men discussed it for a few minutes, but neither was for changing his mind.

“Tell you what I’ll do,” Laban said eventually. “I didn’t hear no complaints from Leah about you, and Rachel’s just plain jealous, which is not a good quality. I don’t see why you can’t have both of them. It’s going to extend your period of poor financial reward, mind.”

“How would that work, legally?” Jacob asked.

“Don’t got to be nothing legal about it,” Laban explained. “As long as you only marry one of them, what you do with the other is nobody’s business. Happens all the time, don’t it? It’s only bigamy if you marry both of them.”

“You think they’ll go for that?” Jacob asked, incredulous.

“Both crazy about you,” Laban said. “Ain’t too many eligible bachelors in this corner of the planet. You’re a lucky man, Jacob.”

The original version of this story can be found in The Old Testament, Genesis 29.