Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: India( 02/12/09)
| TITLE: And the Gentiles Shall Come to Thy Light |
By Carol Slider
| ~ 1st Place |
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I have waited half a lifetime in this city by the sea. Often, in the cool of the morning, I recline on the upper terrace and watch the ships go out, carrying their cargoes of pearls and silks, perfumes and spices, apes and peacocks. I watch, too, the returning ships, weighted with Roman gold—a worthy exchange for our black pepper.
At night, I watch the stars through eyes veiled with age. If another wonder appeared, would I see it now as clearly as I did on that other night? Perhaps, after all, I would.
But he will come today.
Cranganore is the great seaport city of Kerala. Its magnificent white houses rise in tiers above the waterfront, and its broad, tree-lined avenues have been likened to Paradise. Yet it was not for these splendors that I chose to dwell here. Here, in ancient times, came the first ambassadors of the one they called Solomon the Great; here, too, dwell scattered remnants of Solomon’s children.
Once, when my beard was but tinged with grey, I read portents in the sky—a conjunction of heavenly bodies that heralded the birth of one as great as Solomon. And I was not the only one who understood the language of the stars. So we followed, and sought, and found.
And he will come today.
During the heat of the day, I sit in my garden courtyard, sheltered from the noise of commerce by white-washed walls and leafy hedges. The air is perfumed with hibiscus and jasmine, and lotus blossoms drift upon the surface of the ornamental pools. The bright-plumed parrots chatter softly in their gilded cages; the servants bring cardamon-scented rice pudding, a balm for aging teeth. But when I drowse in the late afternoon, I dream of a peasant’s hovel and a child’s face.
Yes, he will come today.
When I returned from my long journey, I knew that I must wait. So I settled by the sea, certain that the trade vessels would bring the first news. I sent my servants to go among the exiled Jews and listen for word of the King. But the word never came. Traders spoke of a man who wrought miracles in Galilee and Judea, and I hoped. But then came news of his death at the hands of Roman soldiers. They said he had been rejected and sold by his own countrymen, and I knew he was not the King for whom I waited.
Yet he will come today.
Long years passed, and my beard grew white. I followed the ancient rites of my people, and marked the seasons with the festivals honoring the old gods. But my heart worshiped another deity. And last evening as the sun set, a servant came, bowed low, and told me that my heart’s desire had come. Yes—he had arrived on a ship, with many followers; and he brought news of the Savior of the Jews. And so I sent for him to come to me with haste.
And he will come today.
All is ready for him. The garlands have been hung in the chief reception chamber, the sticks of incense lit, the mosaic floor thrice polished, the soft carpet brushed and laid. The rattan guest chair with its soft cushions has been placed, and the madhuparka of honey, herbs and curds is prepared.
For he will come today.
And now they tell me that he comes, and I meet him at the threshold. After the ritual greeting, I escort him to the prepared chamber. The servants bring water for his feet and his lips, and offer him the sacred beverage. They do not betray their surprise that such a one should be treated as a brahman. For his clothes are homespun wool, his skin rough and sun-bronzed, his hair and beard as white as mine.
“Tell me news of the King,” I say, when the rituals are concluded. “Does he live?”
“He died, yet he lives,” says the other. “Perhaps you will doubt what I tell you. I also doubted, until I saw his death wounds with my own eyes.”
But I do not doubt—for my ancient eyes can trace upon his countenance the mark of one who has seen the face of God.
NOTE: This story is based upon the old tradition that Thomas, the Disciple of Christ, journeyed to India and founded the first Christian church there. There is also a legend that during this journey, Thomas met and baptized the Three Wise Men. Though these stories are apocryphal, and many variations exist, it is interesting to speculate about the lives of the Magi after they visited the infant Jesus Christ.
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