That morning started really badly. A cockroach crawled over my son’s bread roll. A cockroach. Dirty dirty cockroach. He screamed, and shook the bread, and the filthy thing scuttled and hopped back into the dark, but it was too late. It had touched the bread, and now my son felt sick, and could not eat it. And I had nothing else to give him. Nothing.
I went to the well in the middle of the day, with the sun beating down and the sweat falling from my forehead like hot tears. I went to avoid the other women who had gone in the sweet, scented morning, who would go in the cool peaceful evening, who would meet eyes, touch hands. Because of the cockroach. Because they would pull back their skirts and look at me – the cockroach.
The first marriage had started in such hope. But I couldn’t take the beatings – I just couldn’t. I left, and the second man valued me as second hand goods. The sixth man was not my husband, and I went for water in the heat of the day, alone, sick and sticky – grubby hands and closed throat. I went thirsty, thirsty, swelling throat and peeling lips, to do a job I dreaded. And I saw a man and my heart sank further. Because no woman is really a person, not to a man –
And I was angry. Very angry, because I was a cockroach. Angrier when I heard his voice because I heard in his accent that he was a Jew, a proper Jew, and all of Them think all the Samaritans, even the respectable ones, make everything they touch dirty.
And I taunted him. I flung it in his face, oh so nicely, as insults are nice by a well, that we, too, were the sons and daughters of Jacob; of Jacob who changed his name to Israel, and was the father of us all – not just the utterly superior Jews. Taunted him that I had no husband. Brazen, hard – metal heated by fire. Hot and hard and uncomfortable.
And then it came to me. He did not look so kind because he thought me a man, or a Jew or married to my first husband. He knew everything – everything – that made me a cockroach. He didn’t look at me and feel ill. He took the water from me, and our hands touched, and he smiled right into my eyes. What cockroaches touch becomes sick. I had got to thinking that I made others bad. But I didn’t make him bad. He filled me up with clean coolness. I was metal quenched in water. I was smooth; cool clay, wet leather. The water filled me.
I went back to the village and I called to the neighbours. I stopped everybody. I looked into their eyes. I touched their hands. I told them about him, the Holy Anointed One. I passed on everything I could that had come from him, like pouring water over them. It had stopped being me that mattered. My past, my mistakes, my suffering. What I wanted was for them to know about him. I was drenched in the desire that they should know about him.
I don’t even know if it was what he said to Jim which changed things, or how I was after that. After that. After that clean certainty filled me.