Dad says lepers are like ghosts: not afraid of anything, but boy can they spook you. "Careful of their clutches," he warns. "Or you'll catch it!"
"Catch what?" I ask.
"You know - the ugly blotch known as the 'cursed snow' (alias Miriam's blight, aka Uzziah's bane). It's the scurrilous scourge that clings to your skin like maggots to raw meat, devouring your social status until there's nothing left. And the worst part about it is, THERE'S NO CURE."
His admonition sends two flocks of goose bumps scuttling down my anxious arms. I find myself panicking.
"What must I do to stay safe?"
"Avoid its carriers like the plague. That's what poor Mr. Rich does whenever pale Lazarus haunts his pristine gate. He stays as far away as possible, thus preventing exposure to countless malicious microbes. Now go and do thou likewise, or you'll catch it."
With great zeal he ties this advice to my neck.
Five years pass by and that noose is still gagging me, even as Hunger (the invisible pestilence) mocks me from inside an empty bowl.
"When will this famine end?" I wonder aloud, head reeling from dizziness as I stare at Dad from across a way too spotless table. "And where can we find food? I know you don't believe in handouts, but - "
The mere mention of the "H" word brings a sharp rebuke.
"Don't act like Gehazi now, who begged to wear Naaman's contagious castoffs, never bothering to consider whose epidermis might have touched them. I'm warning you, the moment you set foot near his sons' hovel you'll catch it - as in, total silent treatment, total shunning, total refusal by me to let your germy corpse anywhere near my door again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Sure, Dad," I reply shakily, torn between a fierce desire for alimentation and an equally strong desire for his acceptance.
"As for our current dearth," continues Dad, "you can blame that on the sick faith healer who invited those Syrian swine to pig out on our meager food supplies. We should have slaughtered them when we had the chance. But no, we had to release them to squeal the news to King Ben Hadad, who brought his entire army here to besiege us. Now we have nothing - nothing!"
"Bam!" Down goes his fist, followed by cries of, "Ow, not another splinter! Thanks a lot, Elisha! This is all your fault!"
Uh-oh. He's in one of those moods again, dead set on being right (he's never wrong), and from his steadfast stance he will not budge. No wonder King Joram leans so heavily on him for advice, as well as to guard the city gate whenever there's a need for crowd control. On such occasions Dad insists I join him there. He seems to need my support almost as much as I need his approval.
Choices, choices. Should I or shouldn't I?
I still don't know how I arrived at this forbidden hovel, two streets down from the aforementioned gate. If Dad saw me here, he'd disown me.
But I'm hungry. And as Dad says, lepers aren't afraid of anything.
"Come join us," they urge, inviting me to go with them outside the gate as they spy out the lay of the enemy's camp. "Who knows? They may just give us a bite to eat. Either that, or jab a spear through our bellies - the quick way to die (better than starving to death anyway). What do you think?"
I think there's no good Samaritans here in Samaria, but ironically outside the city I may end up actually meeting one - or not. In the meantime, I'll die if I don't get something to eat - and soon.
My aching stomach growls, "Just do it. Take the risk!"
At the same time the voice of Dad's prejudice shrieks, "Careful or you'll catch it!"
The ugly blotch. The cursed snow. Miriam's blight. Uzziah's bane. The scurrilous scourge. Life as an outcast, forever rejected from my father's house.
I'm hungry, and I don't know what to do.
Should I run with the lepers or stick with dad in a last ditch effort to gain from him a few crumbs of unconditional love?
I glance at the white patch that appeared on my wrist just this morning and realize that I may have already made my decision.
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