Onesimus returns, carrying the letter from Paul. Philemon sees him, and orders his men to watch him. Philemon unfurls the scroll, written in large letters and begins to read. Onesimus, trembling, sees his wife and children behind his master. Philemon chuckles a bit, getting through v4-7. Onesimus has spoken highly of him to Paul? Doubtful, but he enjoys the kind words. Then he gets to v8. Paul’s boldness strikes him between the eyes and his brow furrows. Nostrils flare. Hands grip the papyrus tightly. Onesimus stares at his wife, wishing to hold her once before his master gives an order.
When Philemon reads v12, he pauses. Paul, as a token of good will, has sent Onesimus back with the letter, with Onesimus like Paul’s own heart. Philemon takes a few steps to the left, sandals resting on cobbled stone. The guards shift, watching as intently as Onesimus, who doesn’t bother wiping the cold sweat forming on his neck. He shivers when he hears Philemon chuckle, almost lightly. Philemon looks up at Onesimus, meeting him eye to eye. “My voluntary consent…” Philemon murmurs, turning to a slave boy who offers him a goblet of wine. He takes a sip and nods at the boy, who leaves quickly. Turning back, Philemon stares at Onesimus, his jaw loosening.
“No longer as a slave…”
Onesimus avoids eye contact with his master, staring at the tops of his bare feet. The torn toe nails, the scabs, the pain that is rushing back as his body wishes to collapse. A guard steps up, eyes going cold, grabbing Onesimus by the collar. Philemon holds up a hand, and the guard steps back. Slowly, deliberately, Philemon approaches his trembling slave, swishing the wine around in his goblet. Takes a second sip, running his tongue over his teeth.
“Are you thirsty?”--Nick