Saturday, October 24, 2015

From darkness into light - a story, part two

(for part one click here)

But he wasn't. Just as the crutch had begun to come down he had rolled to the side, grabbing his cloak and stick as he went. He heard the big man gasp and stagger as the blow landed on the ground, about two feet lower than he had expected; and then bump into the smaller man and grab him for support. Bartimaeus was on his feet in an instant and running down the nearby alley. The other two wasted long moments in surprise before starting after him. He wasn't too worried they'd catch him before he got where he wanted to go. The big one was slow, and the little one would make sure that he didn't catch up with him alone. It was already clear that he left the rough stuff to his bigger companion.
He knew there was an abandoned store room half-way down the alley. Reaching it, he ducked inside. It was dark inside, very dark. He knew, because when he had been choosing his spot for his begging, he had first checked out the area with one of his little brothers to guide him. The only light came through the open doorway; and the high walls of the narrow alley meant there wasn't much light available, even less at that hour of the morning when the sun was still low on the horizon. Bartimaeus moved himself into what he knew were deep shadows to the side of the door and waited. He heard the two other beggars come huffing and puffing up the alley and then pause outside the door.
'Are you sure he's blind?' said a deep voice. He guessed that must be the big one.
'Of course he's blind. Everyone said he's blind. What makes you ask such a thing?'
'He ducked right out of the way when I tried to hit him. And he ran down this alley awfully fast.'
'He got lucky. He was already planning to make a run for it and he just happened to make his move when you swung. As for running, he's blind, not a cripple. And he didn't run far did he? He hid himself in a dark hole just as fast as he could.' He stepped closer to the doorway. 'Come on out, blind boy. Maybe we won't beat so bad if you don't make us come in and get you!'
Bartimaeus remained silent.
'Maybe he's not there,' said the big one doubtfully. 'Maybe he ran out the back, or something.'
'Naw, he's there,' said his friend, stepping even closer. It sounded like he was in the doorway now. 'No other doors or windows. This is the only way in or out.' He spoke louder. 'All right. You asked for it. We're coming in. Come on,' he said to his friend. 'What are you waiting for?'
'It's dark in there.' He sounded nervous. The small one laughed.
'There's a nice pile of coins to be had for the taking. Not to mention the fun of giving that Greek a good kicking. We're not going to let a little dark stop us.'
Bartimaeus heard the big one make a stumbling entrance. His friend must have pushed him. He heard them both make their way into the room and stop.
'Where are you, you blind Greek?' called out the smaller one.
'Here,' said Bartimaeus. He sprang out of the shadows and slammed the door shut. Darkness was his friend. The big one shrieked.
'Afraid of the dark, are we?' said Bartimaeus. The man swung out wildly with his crutch. Bartimaeus ducked under it and then stepped in and gave him a push. Already teetering on one leg, he fell to the ground with a crash, dropping his crutch as he did. Bartimaeus kicked it away.
'What's happening?' shouted the small one. 'Stay away from me?' He swung his good arm back and forwards in front of him. Bartimaeus listened to the sound of his laboured breathing and the frantic rustling of his sleeve as the man swiped blindly here and there and smiled. He crept forward and then sideways so he was standing beside the man. He placed his lips close to his ear.
'Boo!' he shouted. The man screamed, turned, and ran blindly away from him. He crashed into a wall and bounced off it onto the ground where he lay groaning. Without a sound, Bartimaeus walked to the door, opened it, went out, and shut it after him. No point in leaving it open so they could crawl out and come after him even more quickly. Let them lie there in the dark for a while before having to crawl around and find their way out by touch. Let them live in his world a little longer, he thought.

He made his way back to the city gate. He knew it wouldn't be safe in the city for a while. The thugs who had tried to rob him weren't local; he guessed they were troublemakers who had been moved on from where they came from. And given the way they were behaving in Jericho, it wouldn't be long before they were sent packing from there as well. Bartimaeus figured maybe a week before enough complaints came in that the city authorities booted them out of Jericho as well. But until then he'd have to stay clear himself. They'd be a lot more careful if they caught up with him again and he'd be sure to take a beating.

He mentioned what had happened to the guard on the gate and headed off down the road. Begging on the road wouldn't bring as much money as in the city – too many people on donkeys or in carriages or just in a hurry who wouldn't stop to fiddle with their money pouch and drop him a coin. But maybe if he started early and stayed later than usual he could make enough to keep them going until the troublemakers were gone.

He made his way along the road outside the city wall to the Jerusalem gate. That was the road with the most traffic on it and so the best one for him to settle himself. Plus, he was guessing it was a place the two who had attacked him were unlikely to come. They'd stay in the city, where the begging was best, and where there were plenty of other beggars to try and rob; and if they had been kicked out of Jerusalem, then they wouldn't be heading down that road any time soon.

There weren't too many other beggars on the road, but he still had to go almost half a mile before he found a place far from anyone else. With a sigh he sat down under the shade of a tree and put out his bowl. It was cool in the shadows, so he kept his cloak around his shoulders. He heard a donkey coming. He waited until he could hear the sound of the person leading its footsteps before he spoke.
'Help a poor blind man,' he called out. 'Please, help me! I can't work and I have a widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters to feed. Please help me.'
But the man gave him nothing. Without a word, he walked on. Bartimaeus sighed, but did not blame the man. Times were hard. He had caught a strong odour of fresh leather as the man passed; probably his donkey was laden with newly tanned skins. If he was transporting his load by donkey rather than by cart, he was probably a very small dealer, barely eking out a living. If he gave even a small copper coin to every beggar he met he'd starve himself.

For a while, nobody came. In the distance he could hear the sounds of a large group of people. He thought they must be gathering outside the city gate. He wondered why – a funeral perhaps? No one could be buried within the city walls. The sounds of the crowd drew closer. There were no cries of mourning or weeping; not a funeral then. What could be going on? As the first person drew near, instead of asking for money he called out a question instead.
'My friend – what is happening? What are you all doing?' A man's cheerful voice replied.
'It is Jesus of Nazareth, my blind friend. He spent the night in Jericho – you would not believe the wonders he performed. And now he journeys with his followers to Jerusalem.'

Jesus of Nazareth! Bartimaeus' heart began to pound within him. The man who worked miracles was here, right before him. The man he believed was the Messiah sent by God. Had his mother's prayers been answered? Would the man who had made so many others see give him back his sight also?

For the third and final part, click here

(c) Rev Patrick G Burke 2015

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