Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Valley (08/10/06)
TITLE: The Dirt-Dweller's Story
By Jan Ackerson
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Each morning, together with my tattered companions, I scrabbled up the sloping walls of our valley. We approached the village, darting into the refuge of a tree or a rock if a traveler should appear. No one shares the road with lepers.
Once near the village, we took our places as close as we dared to the other beggars—the blessed blind, the lucky lame—and began to call out for alms.
There is a hierarchy among beggars, and lepers occupy the lowest spot. Like scorpions, we are dirt-dwellers. Even Avram, that lame old man, did not hesitate to throw rocks at me. He would spit on me if he dared, but he was afraid of becoming unclean as well as lame. We glowered at each other from opposite sides of the gate.
At sundown, we lepers returned to the valley to partake of our daily meal. Emptying our clothing of the scraps tossed at us by reluctant alms-givers, we created a watery stew. A wilted leek, a fish head, a crust of bread—oh, there was a veritable feast in the Valley of Lepers each night. How I cursed the God of my ancestors with each miserable morsel!
One morning we emerged as usual from the rocky archway that formed the entrance to our valley. There were ten of us that day; Reuben and Elam had remained curled on the ground, twitching in uneasy sleep. I was hoping to benefit from their sloth by claiming Reuben’s spot under a shady sycamore.
We had almost reached the village when a small company of men emerged from a copse ahead of us. Their voices carried in the morning air; one of the men was called master. I had not much use for holy men—their aim with rocks was better than Avram’s—but the rumbling in my stomach compelled me to call out in my most pitiable voice. “Master! Have mercy on us!”
I was expecting nothing but scorn and disgust.
I was hoping for a coin or a morsel of food.
I was given my life.
The master turned to look at me, though a few of his companions urged him toward the village. He spoke. His words were for us all, but they penetrated the scabbed and thickened layers of my skin, into my very soul.
“Go. Show yourselves to the priests.”
We stumbled to the temple, ignoring the angry shouts of “Unclean!” that filled the air. I felt as if I walked in a column of light. When the stunned priests pronounced me clean, I had no thought but to get to the valley as quickly as possible, collect my meager belongings, and return to my parents’ home. How I longed for clean clothing and a tender touch!
As I gathered my tiny parcel and prepared to leave the valley, I noticed that Hiram the Samaritan had not returned with us. This did not surprise me; we dirt-dwellers had shown him no compassion, forcing him to sleep closest to the waste pit each night. Nevertheless, I was curious, and I interrupted Isaac, who was scurrying up the slope. “Where is Hiram?”
Isaac snorted. “That dog? He went to wag his tail at the master.”
Isaac’s words haunted me, even as I found comfort with my family. I could not stop thinking of that enveloping light, and the look in the master’s eyes. I decided to find him, to feel again the power that had revived my dead flesh. A few inquiries in the village, and I learned that the master’s name was Jesus. He had moved on, headed toward Jerusalem.
I have pursued him for days now, following the rumors of healings that linger in every village. I get closer every day, and by walking steadily tomorrow, I believe I will finally reach Jerusalem. He is there—I feel it.
But tonight, I will camp some distance from the city. There is great commotion on the road; apparently there is to be an execution of some petty criminals. I have seen enough cruelty in my lifetime—I have no desire to join the crowds who will witness this spectacle.
Just one more day—then I will find Jesus, and thank him for my life.
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