|Lorena PinUp, a photo by Wiros on Flickr.|
I examined my face in what was left of the water. The skin around my eye was turning dark purplish blue, and it was throbbing so hard I thought for sure that I would see the reflection pulse to the painful rhythm. Eli had hit me again, but what of it? There were worse things in the world than getting smashed in the face one more time. Like feeling you were worthless. Like waiting for the day when your neighbors would finally throw you out on the trashheap where you belonged.
The chores wouldn't wait. I did all the usual things, filling that big empty hole inside by planning what I would cook for him tonight. I had all kinds of ideas, new experiments that he would certainly enjoy. He liked it when I cooked new things for him. He liked it when I paid attention to him.
Noonday came—as it usually did—and the water wouldn't fetch itself. I wished it would. But at least I wouldn't have to go out with all the others, feeling their eyes on me, seeing them talking to one another, saying things behind their hands that they would never say straight to my face. At least if I went out at noon they would all be in their little houses where it was safe and cool and clean. I would go out to Jacob’s well alone.
My village of Sychar sat on the southeastern slope of Mount Ebal, not far from the gloomy ruins of old Shechem. Below, shimmering in the noonday sun, lay a crossroads, a little plain, and Jacob's well. Mount Gerizim, the holy mountain, frowned at me from across the valley. It was only a fifteen minute walk from my house to the well, not unpleasant in the cool of late autumn.
It was usually a lonely walk, but of course I didn't mind. On that day though, I met a group of men coming from the south. Jews. You could tell it by their clothes, their mannerisms, and the way they wrinkled their noses as if smelling something nasty. What they smelled was Samaritan flesh and Samaritan homes and Samaritan mountains. They looked like butterflies forced to feed on dung. They were taking the shortcut through Samaria, no doubt, the "unsavory" way to get from Judea to Galilee.
I kept my head down, sticking to the opposite side of the road, ignoring them as best I could. I felt their stares, but shrugged them off. When I got to the well, though, there was another one there. A Jew like the rest, he had apparently lingered by the well to rest himself while the others went into the village to conduct their business. He was staring into the well as I approached, then he looked up at me and I put my head down.
Jewish men don't talk to women out of doors. Much, much, much less a Samaritan woman. I prepared to lower my waterpot into the well, but almost dropped it when I heard a low voice say, "Give me a drink." I looked around, as if there were someone else—a Pharisee or something—standing nearby whom this man might have been talking to. No such thing. I noticed his soft brown eyes following me as I drew the water.
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for drink, since I'm a Samaritan woman?"
"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. I looked at him. Hard. Should I be skeptical? Should I be amused? I decided on somewhat sarcastic. "Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep (about 100 feet deep). Where do you intend to get that living water?" He didn't respond, Just sat there, placid. I wanted to needle this man, this Jew who was sitting on our well as if he owned it. "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?"
"Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never thirst. The water that I will give him will become a well of water in him, springing up to eternal life."
I barely stopped myself from snorting in his face. He sounded like a madman. We had some of those living on the outskirts of town, maybe the Jews did too. Perhaps the group I'd just met on the road had left this one here for his own safety while they did the work. I drew up my jug and set it on the ground. "Sir, give me this 'living water,' so I will not be thirsty or have to come all the way here to draw!"
He looked at his hands--dark and calloused--and said without glancing up, "Go, call your husband and come here."
I flinched. What right did he have to say that? He assumed things like everyone else did. He assumed that my life was just perfect, that I’d had all the chances that he’d ever had, that I should be just like him. He deserved at least an answer, though. "I have no husband."
Then he stared straight at me with eyes that seemed to plumb the depths of my soul, seeing everything, knowing more. "You're correct when you say, 'I have no husband.' You've had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband. You've told the truth." I could only stare, then drop softly to my knees. Was my entire life branded on my forehead? How did he know? How could he see all that? Did he know someone in Sychar? Had they told him about the 'immoral woman?'
No, he was a stranger. And he was no madman. His words seemed—inexplicably— kind. "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet." He didn't move. Those eyes were watching me, delving deeper. I could read so much in his own eyes. It was as if he were drawing my past out of me, every word I'd ever said, every deed I'd ever done, and pulling them into himself.... "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain," I motioned in the direction of Mount Gerizim, "and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." I bit my lip and wondered if he would understand.
"Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
This was remarkable, world-shattering; you must believe me when I say that no one had ever talked to me like that in my entire life! He seemed to believe that I was something that could understand his words—high as they were—and not only was capable of understanding, but worthy of being told. How many questions had I kept bottled in my own heart with no one to spill them out to? How many times had I wanted, longed, sweat blood for someone who could tell me all the things I needed to know? "I know that Taheb is coming; when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."
I hardly believed I’d said that, but it was out now. A slow, sweet smile spread across his face and he leaned in toward me. In the softest but strongest of whispers he said, "I who speak to you am He."
I heard laughing and chattering in the distance. Whipping around, I saw the crowd of Jews coming back to the well. No! No! No! Why did they have to come back now? I turned back to the man (I hadn't even learned his name), and he continued to look at me kindly. His friends were coming closer and closer, and he didn't shove me away, didn't pretend that he hadn't been talking to me. Any other man....
Running faster and faster, kicking up sprays of dirt and tasting the grit in my teeth, I pelted into Sychar. At this time of day there was always a group of men clustered together in the shade, debating everything from unclean food to purification to warts. I don't know what they were shouting at each other about on that day, because I flew into their midst, panting and gasping, demanding that they follow me to the well. "Come! See a man who told me all the things that I have done. This isn't the Taheb, is it?" For two seconds they all looked skeptical, and I cursed them under my breath. My Eli was there with them and he looked unimpressed, disdainful (I could tell what he was thinking, “You? You find the Taheb?”). After those two seconds, though, they must have realized that I wasn't just being stupid or playing a trick. One by one they hoisted themselves onto their fat feet, shook the dust off their sleeves, and plodded behind me as I led the way.
With every step I tried to beat back the crushing idea that he had left—that his friends had taken him away, that they had gone already to get to Galilee as soon as possible. Eli tried to talk to me and I pushed him away. No. He had to know that I was coming back. He had to answer my questions. I had to know!
He was still there. Laughing, shaking, leaving the rest behind, I rushed up to Him and fell at His feet. The other Jews were looking disgusted and uncomfortable, but He was smiling the same smile. I hadn't thought of it at all on first meeting Him, but this man was actually quite good looking. In a rough way, of course, but you could almost see His soul shining through His face. And that soul spoke to my soul.
I soon found out that the man's name was Jesus. He was a teacher and the other Jews were His disciples. Perhaps the thing that amazed all of us the most was that He stayed in Sychar for two days. He was the only Jew I've ever met who didn't make me feel I was just a locust who was useful for only a moment, to be discarded as soon as possible. Many of my neighbors believed that Jesus was the Taheb, some because of what I told them, but most because of what they heard from Him in the days after. He healed sick children and a crazy old woman, and told us things that no one had ever cared to mention before: about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the poor and hated being blessed of the Father. It was like being let out of a cage full of rotting meat, out into the sunshine where fresh breezes drove away the stench that clung to us.
I examined my face in the speckled mirror. The skin around my eye was turning dark purplish blue, and it was throbbing so hard I thought for sure that I would see the reflection pulse to the painful rhythm. John had hit me again, but what of it? There were worse things in the world than getting smashed in the face one more time. Like feeling you were worthless. Like waiting for the day when the world would finally throw you into a dumpster where you belonged.
I had to get to work. My job wasn’t the kind with benefits, sick days, I-hate-my-life days or anything like that. It was a seedy diner not far from the airport, and the only patrons were people with nowhere else to go. I grabbed my car keys and headed out the apartment door, stumbling down steps and praying that the pain would go away.
That was a pretty typical workday. I got in at an unearthly hour, shouted at my coworkers, fired up the vats of grease, and set to work. It was a job, it paid the bills. More than could be said for John’s “job”: holding a storewide closing sale sign at the corner of 5th and Weston streets.
When the place finally opened I was forced out of the warm, smelly kitchen and into the dining room where I was supposed to be polite and earn my tips. Writing down order after order on a dirty pad of paper, I felt numbed by countless pairs of hopeless eyes staring up at me. Drug-dealers, hookers, filthy teens, transvestites, drunks—my friends and family. We were all in this sinking boat together.
At about noon a couple walked through the door, bringing an entirely different atmosphere. It was a man and a woman: married, middle-aged, and rolling in the dough by the looks of them. They were nervous, fidgety, looking around like they’d rather be anywhere in the world but here. They’d missed their flight or something; they sure weren’t locals.
My usual tack with customers was the half-brutally-honest-friend-half-sexy-showgirl persona, but that didn’t seem quite right for these folks. I bit my lip—still trying to get used to the feel of a piercing there—and tried to squeeze myself into the hello-I’m Suzy-Q-perfect-waitress gig that would get their tip. I grabbed up a couple menus and walked over to where they’d seated themselves in the darkest, farthest removed booth. They cowered there as if they expected to be mugged any minute. Their eyes widened as I walked toward them, and I saw them give each other the look.
They stared at their menus for five minutes before ordering coffee and two burgers with fries. When I came with their tray I noticed the woman staring shamelessly at my tattoos. It’s a good thing the diner didn’t have to-go boxes or I probably would have shoved them in their fat, arrogant faces and told ‘em to take a hike. They assumed things like everyone else did. They assumed that my life was just perfect, that I’d had all the chances that they’d ever had, that I should be just like them.
Cursing under my breath, I filled up my friend Randy’s coffee, pinched Petra and gave her a smile, then went to the sink to scrub the greasy crust off of pots and pans. A few minutes later I headed back out to the dining room and saw that the rich couple had gone; I grabbed my dishpan and went to clean up their table. I immediately saw that they had cleared off the center of their table, and right in the middle where I couldn’t possibly miss it was a piece of paper printed with the words “Heaven Or Hell!” and the image of a hand reaching out of leaping red flames. I lifted it up by my fingernails and checked underneath. No tip. Nice.