The sun was hot and Zadkiel sheltered in a doorway. Inside he could hear women’s laughter and the clatter of pots. Outside, the the dust stirred, as the young boys ran to and from the well: the place of safety where they couldn’t be tagged out.
Jesus watched, and scratched the ears of the small dog who had been with him all morning.
Zadkiel was getting restless. He wasn’t sure what they were doing there –nor that Jesus knew either. But there they sat, at the height of the day.
The boys saw her first. The youngest froze, and broke the rhythm of the game.
The woman came out of the shadow and glared at the boys in defiance. The air around her shimmered, and Zadkiel suddenly knew why they were there.
Zadkiel stood and bowed to Michael, as the light settled around him. Michael nodded, but said nothing: he had work to do.
The woman walked through the midst of the boys, straight for the well. At first they made way for her, but then they began whispering. Their voices rose and laughter broke as they grew bolder. Then it began: the mocking, the pointing, the name calling that followed her every day of her life.
The youngest picked up a stone and hurled it at her.
Michael rose to her defence. He very nearly became visible, but decided not scare them. He breathed his wrath slowly, and the boys felt the wind shift. They sensed danger and fled.
The woman drew breath and her shoulders dropped. Michael let his wings drop too, and for a moment she was unguarded: nothing but pain and weariness on her face.
Just then, Jesus stepped forward. She startled, and recomposed her charms.
‘Woman, Give me a drink.’
She assessed him,then rose her chin.
‘How is it that you — a Jew –ask a drink of me?’ She waved her hand in practised gesture: commanding him too see every inch of her, and defying him to look her in the eye.
Zadkiel heard the unspoken words: ‘How do you — a man– ask of me: a woman?’ Zadkiel wondered the same thing.
Jesus was unphased. He laughed, and moved to stand beside her so that they both faced the well.
‘If you knew who asked you…’ Jesus said, still laughing too much to be clear.
Zadkiel listened to them. They spoke of God, and the gift of life. They spoke of endurance, and surviving thirst. Finally, they turned to face each other, and Zadkiel saw Jesus touch her face. He named the thing she was hiding, and her last defence broke. She told him of all the men — all the times she had sought safety, and found nothing but disgrace.
Suddenly, they heard men’s voices in the distance, and her terror rose. ‘Please: don’t let them see me.’
Jesus nodded, and went to deflect them.
The woman looked up, and saw the small dog. She went to him and knelt in the dust to scratch his ears. He jumped up and licked her face till her wild laugher turned to sobbing and the pain was eased away.
Michael stood beside Zadkiel. ‘Watch,’ he said, ‘I am going to lose her.’
And just then, Raphael appeared: wings soft with gold.
The dog tugged on the woman’s skirts, and then ran to his master. Raphael came, and helped the woman rise from the ground. The time for pretence was over. She looked into his eyes, and chose to trust.
‘He told me everything I ever did.’ She said, her eyes wide with wonder.
‘And what will you do now?’ Raphael asked– infinitely gentle.
‘I will tell the others. I will go home.’
They walked together from the clearing, with the dog running at their heels.