And now… the rest of the story.
Wow, the sun is barely up and already it’s in my eyes. My walk to the city is due east, and the glare is impossible to avoid. I look away periodically to recover, but the light plays tricks with my vision. See, there’s a blur of movement over there. Is anything there, or am I seeing spots?
No, somebody’s coming. Who would be out here at this hour? It’s uncommon for travelers to be leaving the city in the middle of the week. I wonder who it could be.
Yes, that’s definitely a man. No, a group of men. What could they be up to? Strange.
“Unclean!” My voice is rusty and thin from disuse. When was the last time I actually said something? I’ll have to add ‘speaking practice’ to my daily regimen. “Unclean!”
I’m lawfully required to warn them, even though it’s pretty obvious what I am. Soon they should switch tracks to avoid me. How interesting that they continue this way. They’re not stopping. I guess they didn’t hear.
I try yelling again, but I can see the man’s face now. His eyes are looking right at me, and here he comes. I’m more curious than anything – this is a highly unusual turn of events in my consistently predictable existence.
He persists in coming near to me. It’s not often that I run out of things to say, but as the stranger looks into my eyes – eye to eye, man to man – all I can do is wait for him to make the first move.
“Simon,” is what he says.
“How do you know me, my lord?” Racking my brain to remember this man. An old business associate? Some relative from my wife’s side of the family? I’m terrible with names.
He simply smiles in reply. A smile. What a surprise. “Do you want to be clean?”
What a question. Do I want to be clean? Not really. I’ve spent the past nine years industriously forgetting cleanness. I’ve reinvented my purpose, goals, definition of success. I’ve settled for manageability, staying power, the will to survive, man against nature. Without quite knowing it, I’ve somehow allowed a different category of life for myself, different from anything I’ve ever experienced but still worthwhile. I’ve created new wishes and new ideals, full of small and easy-to-reach plans. Nothing so wildly unattainable as cleanness.
As he reaches for my shoulders – and now I realize this man is actually going to touch me – it’s apparent that he thinks he really can make me clean. And what if he’s right? If I can actually be cleansed of my leprosy, then what am I standing here for, like a stupid stick? He’s waiting patiently for my answer.
It shocks me how the cumulative emotion of every day of those nine years can be present in the one word. Of course this is what I want. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted, I just never knew what it was called. Yes, sir. I want to be clean, if cleanness can be had for the asking.
A sudden breeze tickles my nose, caresses my face, ruffles my hair… What is this? I tug my bandages away and find whole hands – brown and unblemished, with fingers extending all the way down to the nail. My hands. My old hands, the ones that could work the land and hold my children. Hands that can easily manipulate the dirty cotton strips wrapped around them. Hands that catch hot tears beginning to fall from my face.
A strange joy surges up from my belly, pulling my mouth open wide and flooding the air with incredulous laughter.
“I’m clean!” Compelled as I am to say it, the word is still so odd in my mouth. I had better say it again and again, just to help me get used to it.
I’m clean! I’m clean. I’m clean. Clean.
© Cortney Matz, 2008