Ness pulled out of the blazing sun into the narrow alleyway. He scuffed at the dust with the toe of his sandal for several minutes before finally looking at the house across the road.
Tegu stood guard at the gate. Even after an absence of five years Ness could still feel the thump of Tegu’s meaty fists against his flesh. Hear cruel words hissed into his ears. ‘Useless boy. Master’s gonna send you back to the slave market. It’ll be the galleys. Dead in a week you’ll be.’ Ness had run away. A twelve year old boy would be lucky to last a day on one of those ships.
The shadows were long before, head down, Ness finally approached Tegu. Ness licked his lips I don’t deserve to be treated well, Lord. He felt for the leather pouch that hung from his belt. But please let this letter soften my old master’s heart.
‘I’ve, I’ve got a message for the master.’
With a painful tug, Tegu pulled Ness’s head up. ‘Well, well, who have we here? Messy Nessy, come crawling back.’
Ness turned away from his hate-filled stare.
‘Who’d trust a runaway slave with anything valuable?’
Ness squared his shoulders. ‘It was….’
‘Enough of your lies.’ Tegu dragged Ness through the gate. ‘Guard! Throw this lying thief into the cells!’
Ness hunkered down in the damp dirty straw and sighed. That went well. He leant against the moist wall. He was used to prison cells. He’d met the man who now called him ‘son’ in one. He had been shown the Way and entrusted with a letter. Five days walk and I’m back in a cell. Ness slipped off a sandal and massaged his toes.
Ness was awake immediately. Moonlight filled the cell.
He slipped his sandal back on and walked quietly over to the door.
‘Nessy, my friend. A little bird told me you’d returned.’
Ness peered through the bars. ‘Abe? Is that you?’
Seconds later Abe had unlocked the door and was thumping Ness on the back. ‘It’s good to see you, but what an idiot you are to come here.’ He tugged at Ness’s tunic. ‘Follow me and I’ll get you out.’
Ness held back. ‘I can’t. I have a message for your master.’
‘He may have gone religious but I don’t see him forgiving a thieving slave.’ He grinned and ran a finger across his throat. ‘Now, I have in my possession a few interesting things that have been, shall we say, forgotten about.’ He passed Ness a heavy, roughly woven bag. ‘I’ll help you escape and you can get a good price for that stuff. Come on.’ Abe led him out of the cells and into a narrow passageway.
‘Shh, you idiot. Do you want to alert the guards?’
From behind them a guard called, ‘Halt! Who goes there?’
‘Too late. Sorry, my friend.’ Abe whispered as he spun Ness around to face the guard. ‘Well met. I just found him trying to escape. He has a bag of the master’s treasures in his hand.’
Strong arms grasped Ness. Before he could contradict Abe he was being dragged along passage after passage. His yelped as his shins banged into stone steps. Finally his captor stopped before a great, brass studded, wooden door. The guard knocked and they were admitted.
Ness was thrown to his knees before a vast candle-lit table. All things work together for good for those who follow Jesus. Please work this for good Master of the Universe.
The guard emptied the bag on the floor in front of Ness. ‘Abe caught this thief, master.’
‘Clever, Abe.’ The master looked up from a parchment. ‘Come stand in front of me, both of you.’ When Abe and Ness had obeyed him he surveyed them gravely. ‘Onesimus.’
‘Onesimus! Is it really you?’
‘Yes, Master Philemon, it is I, Onesimus, your slave. I was wrong to run away. I’m sorry for what I stole and will repay you if it takes all my life.’
Ness placed it on the table. ‘It contains a letter from the Apostle Paul. I met him in Ephesus. We were in prison together.’
After what seemed like an age Philemon laid the letter aside. ‘Paul said you are no longer useless, but useful?’
‘Then please return those items to my treasury.’
‘Thank you, master.’
Abe’s attempt at a swift exit was halted by Philemon’s quite voice. ‘Abe, please explain.’
(Very loosely based on the book of Philemon.)
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