“The Main Course”
Part II. A Certain Man
As he fled, the young bandit wondered if mercy was a mistake.
They had taken in their victim with the usual ruse. Fellow pilgrims should travel together, friend. Bandits menace the roads. Join us.
At a lonely spot they had stopped and revealed themselves to him. Four shadows had stretched across the road under the late-afternoon sun. The man surrendered his food, money, cloak and robe. As was their way, they beat their victim before killing him. They took turns hitting him, and he staggered back and forth between them. After he fell, they struck him with their walking sticks, hitting his arms, legs and back. If asked to explain their cruelty, their answer would have been brief. It was what they had always done.
The distant sound of approaching hoofs ended the assault. The others fled into the waste, while the young bandit remained. He stooped and lifted a rock to crush the man’s skull. He hesitated, stayed by the thought that, despite all his knowledge, he did not know murder yet. Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. The words came to him, among the few he remembered from that which is read. The young bandit pitied the man, and the man’s mother. He had visited the temple to make an offering for the dead, and was now about to join them.
He dropped the stone and ran.
The hoof beats took shape as they crested the rise in the road. The beaten man saw a mantle, a well-dressed man, and lastly a white horse emerge from the ground. The rider slowed his mount when he saw the body. The rider recognized him, and guided his mount to the far side of the road as he passed. The rider contorted his mouth into a grim smile as he thought upon their recent meeting, and a verse came to mind.
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little one
Against the rock
As the rider passed, the man dropped his head to the dust, and closed his eyes.
Perhaps an hour later, a grey horse carrying a harpist trotted down the red road. The harpist’s inner eye contemplated a wedding, and his heart his bride to be. In his dream, his instrument spoke, and his voice replied: You are all fair my love, there is no spot in you …
He woke when he saw the body in the road. After a moment, the harpist walked his horse towards the man. The man stirred in response to the sound of the hoofs. Their eyes met, and they knew each other. The harpist’s gaze rose to the horizon as he remembered the last song he had played that day.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
The harpist rode his horse wide about the man, and saw him no more. He let his eyes focus on the road again, and fixed his thoughts once more on his wedding feast.
The last traveler came by at dusk. A big man on a black horse. His eyes were lost in thought, and almost veiled by his shaggy red hair. He saw the man on the road, and continued to ride on. He was almost out of sight when he stopped, and rode back to the beaten man. He looked about, and loosened his sword in its scabbard.
He dismounted and approached the victim without looking at him, his eyes scanning the brush and rocks about the road, now streaked red and black by the sunset.
The big man stood up, fetched items from his horse, and returned. He drew the iron sword, knelt, and laid it on the ground in easy reach. He cleaned and bandaged the wounds, and dressed the man in his spare robe. With gentleness, he lifted him onto his horse and mounted too. Holding him as he once held another on a different ride, he guided his horse forward.
The beaten man said little, and the big man did not question him. The ride was slow, and darkness covered the town before they arrived. He went to the Greek place that accepted his people, and knocked on the door. Despite the hour, they were granted entry by the owner.
The beaten man was taken up to a room and put to bed. The Greek man’s wife watched over him during the night while the big man slept.
At dawn the big man and the Greek broke bread and renewed their acquaintance. The Greek asked, after a long pause in their conversation: “So, why did you stop and help him? It might have been a trick.” He was quiet, and swallowed his last bite of food. The Greek pressed further, “It is not what your peoples do for each other.” He drank his last drop of wine and placed a few coins on the table. “For his care. I will return in three days, and pay whatever else is owed.”
As he stood and went to leave he said “I do not know what our peoples should do. But as surely as the Lord lives, it is what I choose to do.”
When he returned, the beaten man was awake. A message was sent to a relative in a nearby village. They spoke for a time and parted.
The big man left and began the long trip back to Ar-garízim. His face turned to the sky as he rode away from the town. Oh Lord, watch over this man on his return to Nazareth.
The loud man continued: “Of course I did not learn the whole story for some years. I was on the road, but only played one part in the drama. I will not say which was mine.” There was a moment of silence.
The small man looked across the table to the green eyed woman, who nodded to him. “I will speak now”, he said.