I recognise remembered landmarks; a tree bowing low, pregnant with sun ripened fruit, its trunk grey and twisted; a rock, smooth, stained and rippled with layers of light and dark stone: a stream chattering and gossiping as it tumbles among the grasses and reeds at the bottom of the hill. At each place it seems that I leave a deposit of my courage there. I glance behind, longing for the sanctuary of my own home.
The sun has yet to rise, daubing the landscape with warm colours. Now all is grey and there is a chill in the air.
I have heard the stories and they whisper in my ear and tug at my heart. I fear to go on, but dread to return home. It is not curiosity that nudges me along the path, but desperation that drags me step by step. Hope like the waves of the sea ebb and flow in an uneasy rhythm.
My invisible tormentors heckle my spirit as I go.
"This journey is all for nothing. He won't see you."
"He's moved on to another village. You've missed your chance."
"Do you really think he won't turn away from you? He's just like everyone else. Even now he's picking up stones ready to throw if you get too close."
"Why should he help you? You're not worth saving."
I stop, reluctant to move another step forward. I turn and consider at the road home. My feet, swathed in torn scraps of fabric, refuse to move. I turn again, back towards the town as the sky begins to lighten. Am I willing to go on?
I remind myself of the details of the stories I have heard. I know that he heals sick people. I've heard about the crowds each night around his house. There are so many stories of demons that shriek as they are cast out, and people who were once lame dancing with joy. He just touches them.
I know that he can heal. I don't know where this faith comes from, but what was once a fragile shoot has grown into something sturdy and unbending. But is he willing to heal me? Will he touch me? The answers evade me. If he will not, then I have no hope.
A shadow moves across me. A man stands silhouetted against the sun. I cannot see his face. Too long I have stood here undecided. The sun has risen and people are on their way to the fields. I wanted to be long gone before this.
"I am unclean." I whisper the words, shame flooding my face as I shuffle to the side of the road. The words, like a noose around my neck, strangle life out of my being.
He moves around me and I brace myself to feel the sting of his stones. I fall to me knees, my palms lifting in a plea for mercy.
Unmoving, the man stands silently before me.
"I am unclean." I try to say it louder, thinking perhaps he has not heard, and clamber clumsily on my hands and knees closer towards to the edge of the path.
Just two words, spoken by this man, and I really believe that he does know. That I am unclean. That I am lonely. That my heart inside is bruised. That there are moments when I long for death to silence my days. This is the man the stories speak of.
"If you are willing…you can make me whole." The words slip out of my mouth as my heart overflows. My tongue forbids me to say more.
"I am willing," he replies.
There was nothing tentative or hesitant about his touch. He raises me to my feet and wraps me in his strong embrace. I inhale the clean smell of his robes and feel the roughness of the fabric against my cheek. The sun glistens off the pale hairs on his arms. I can feel his warmth seeping through his clothes and through my rags. Long forgotten sensations cascade over me as I stand enfolded. Just as the open sores of my leprosy break and bleed, my heart breaks and my hurts bleed out. He holds me close as I am drowned in a torrent of my pitiful and wretched tears. After a while I am still. I hear his heart beat in the peace after the storm. And we stand.
I am restored.
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