It was dry and dusty and quiet on the streets of the town the day he came. Listless children, thin and pale, squatted in the doorways of their houses, and bony dogs sniffed and scratched, looking for anything edible. I trudged slowly through the streets, eyes on the ground, searching for firewood to add to the precious few sticks I had gathered up in my cloak, hoping I might also find a few kernels of grain spilled by a careless merchant. But only barren earth greeted my tired eyes. Years of drought had taken their toll on the inhabitants of the town as crops failed, and now, most were starving. Anything that could be bartered for food was quickly snatched up and this made my search for firewood all the more difficult.
A cold wind tugged suddenly at my cloak, gusting a cloud of dust into my face. I stopped and rubbed my eyes, turning my face away to escape the swirling sand, then felt a hand on my shoulder and swung round to find a man standing in front of me. He looked wild and unkempt with long hair swirling around his head. His unshaven and deeply lined face, burnt mahogany, told of many hours spent in the sun. As I took in his ragged homespun clothes I stepped back, wary of this stranger. What did he want with me?
Silently he proffered a weathered hand holding three sizable pieces of firewood. His offering would provide me with enough for my needs, but I hesitated. What did he want in return?
I peered more closely at him and was startled to see that his eyes belied his wild appearance. They were gentle and seemed filled with unspoken words, trust, love, faith. As I gazed into them I suddenly felt very safe. Somehow I knew this man wished me no harm.
“ Can you offer me a meal? I’m very hungry?”
My heart sank. I thought of the jars at home, one for oil, one for flour, their contents almost totally depleted. I thought of my son aching with hunger, his bones jutting jaggedly under his thin, pale skin. I thought of my own emaciated form and my plans for a last meal with my only surviving child. But as I gazed into his eyes, I nodded, and turned, beckoning the stranger to follow me to my humble dwelling.
Inside I carefully placed the wood on the firestone in the hearth, added some dry grass as kindling, and using two small stones, managed to create a spark. Bright flames danced yellow, then orange, and soon I had a fire. I hurried to the jars and took out some oil and flour. There was not much left, certainly not enough to make bread for me or my son, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter anymore.
The stranger watched in silence as I mixed and kneaded the oil and flour, flattening the dough with my hands into a small cake which I speared onto a stick and held over the flames. The smell of the roasting bread made my stomach growl, but I said nothing. When the bread was cooked, I tipped the remaining drops of oil into a small pottery bowl and offered it to the stranger. Gratefully he accepted the meager meal, closed his eyes and offered a prayer of thanks. Then dipping the bread into the oil, he ate.
When he had finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then smiled at me.
“Woman, what about your son. Aren’t you going to prepare a meal for him. Aren’t you also hungry?”
“Sir there is not enough flour and oil left. That was all I had.”
Again he smiled.
“Dear woman. Do you not trust in the God who created you and who loves you? Go and check the jars again and see if he has not poured out the storerooms of heaven and blessed you.”
Surprised, I hesitated, then rushed over to the jars, lifted the lids with trembling hands and peered in. Miraculously, each jar held sufficient oil and flour to feed three people. From that day on and as long as the stranger remained in my house, each time I emptied the jars to bake bread God would replace what I had used.
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