As she started to jog toward the village, the scorching noonday sun created a haphazard ring of perspiration under the arms of her tattered wool tunic. Cursing the heat, she attempted to fan herself but the beads of sweat, like fresh morning dew, dotted her temple and forehead insistently. She felt naked, even foolish, without her water pot at her hip; often in her insecurity she would grasp the cracked clay jar in front of her like a shield, as if it guarded her from the vicious gossip circulating throughout her snickering compound. As she picked up a steady pace the crimson dirt started to create a dust cloud around her that caused her to cough as she ran, but today she didn’t care. She couldn’t shake the gaze of the man with the tender eyes at the water well from her memory. How had he known? She had never seen him before. Ever. And yet he knew. And yet, surprisingly, with all he knew, it was not bad he knew. She hadn’t run like this since she was a little girl, chasing her naughty brother Thomas through the barley fields during spring harvest. She whizzed past Mother Zivah, viciously grinding grain for evening lehem and darted past the Karem family children, dirtying their tunics as they tousled in the high grass on the outskirts of town.
Even her village, a disorganized collection of mud houses amidst the sweltering desert, seemed to welcome her as she raced through its familiar dirt pathways. She knew the collection of village elders were meeting today in the center of the community as they always did midday midweek as they had since she was a child. She needed no introduction; they all knew who she was. They had known her father, before he couldn’t pay back any more of his debts and died trying. They had known her mother before she’d gotten sick with fever …and no doubt they couldn’t entirely erase her previous image as a wide-eyed, innocent youngster trailing her mother to the water well and replace it with the woman she’d become. Although she maintained haughty defiant eyes around town, when old women whispered and mothers grabbed their children when she passed them in the center square, inside she cried. At night, without the menacing eye of her latest husband to be, she cried too. Warm silent tears often gushed down her cheeks in the middle of the night where they glistened under the comforting moonlight. How had life gotten so suffocating?
Due to the unrelenting midday sun, by the time she reached the semi-circle of fourteen elders she had been running so hard she was gasping for breath. Father Itzkah and Father Namir continued to pass their kikkar amongst themselves and ignored her desperate panting as she broke into their circle. Father Manachem, Father Hillel and several others raised their eyebrows in shock, but it was Father Oren who stood and handed her a ladle of water. She concluded it was evident he still remembered her father; who could really ever forget the poor unfortunate story of Ibrahim Shachar and his beautiful, always sick wife?
She greedily devoured the water and let the rest of it trickle down her chin she was silently thankful for the wooden handle that covered her face. She was flushed pink, an equal mix of embarrassment at her frenzied state in front of the village elders and the intolerable heat. As she handled the ladle back to Father Oren she regained her composure. Father Oren met her hesitant brown eyes and put one of his hands on her trembling shoulders.
“Speak woman,” he beckoned, with a steady gaze.
“I-I-I-met a man,” she started, looking at the circle of elders. The poignant memory of the man with the tender eyesamidst this circle of men, their skin blistered by the desert sun, and their eyes tainted with cynicism and disgust, activated her midnight moonlight tears.
“Go on child,” Father Oren said.
“Somebody call one of her husbands,” Father Yael snarled.
“Go on,” Father Oren repeated himself.
“I-I-He’s over there!” she sputtered, throwing up her right arm and beckoning toward the dusty path leading out of the village.
“Daughter of Ibrahim, calm yourself and speak” Father Oren encouraged. Something about Father Oren confirming he did in fact remember her father triggered a surge of confidence that freed her from the fear of the circle of skeptical eyes staring back at her.
“I went to draw water today and I met a man who knew everything about me!” she blurted out. “I told him nothing but he told me everything. And he was so kind! So kind! And he told me that the true worshippers of Yahweh would meet with Yahweh if they sought him with sincerity. And he was so smart…so smart…and I don’t know how he knew the things he did but he knows everything!”
“Maybe he was a prophet,” Father Hadar suggested.
“No! No no no no no!” she retorted angrily shaking her head. She was surprised with the volume and unparalleled certainty in her voice.
“Child? What are you saying?” Father Oren asked.
“Father Oren, He-this man I met- is the messiah! Come right now and see for yourself!”