The Words of the Moffitt Family
A short story about preparing for the messiah's arrival. Reprinted from The News World
The rising sun seemed an enormous oval as the bottom rim cleared the distant peaks. A minute later it was one diameter's length from the horizon and already hot.
Andrew sat up in the spot where he had spent the night. It was a wide stone step at the base of a low rock wall surrounding a well, the only one within a day's walk, and the source of that community.
In the beginning there had been a desert spring. Soon the paths leading to it formed a crossroads, and finally, on all sides and along each road, houses were built. Dependent in every way on this gift of water, the town was known by travelers, herdsmen and its residents as The Well.
Andrew had spent most of his life at the center of the universe on this stone step. Every day he sang little songs of greeting that he made up, keeping rhythm with the rattle of the coins in his cup. And though he couldn't see them, he knew every villager by his walk and recognized every stranger's pace by the time of his second visit.
To the sounds of the different steps he had matched a hundred names, and it paid off tangibly when he could look through sightless eyes at the face of each one who approached and hail him humbly by his surname. Only a few of the sighted visitors to the well could understand how he knew who they were before they even spoke.
Fortunately for Andrew, a coin in his palm was considered by the giver to bring good luck. It was likewise fortunate for the other beggars that Andrew possessed a generous nature himself, as he was able to survive on half of what he made, and having no direct kin, distributed the rest to Hyfa, to Lame John and his twins, and to Mary, who was as crippled by her complaining ways as she was by flaws at birth.
On this day, Andrew's spot at the well was different. Usually, to avoid getting stepped on, he sat to one side, away from where the rope and pulley were tied off at the rim. The small group usually kept to the shady side too, moving around the wall like the shadow on a dial as the sun went across the sky.
But today Andrew was underfoot. He sat so close to the pulley rope, in full heat of the day, that users of the well had to reach over him to lower the bucket. Three travelers had already kicked him off the step, but as soon as they watered and left, he went back to the spot under the rope.
Road talk that day and the day before had been of a stranger on foot who would be coming through on his way to the south, and Andrew couldn't rid himself of the feeling that it was important for him to meet the man. And since one could not pass from the north to the south without putting his hand on the rope above his head, Andrew knew he would see the man today.
"I'm going to see someone I know," he told Hyfa when she asked why he preferred the company of the sun to theirs.
"Who is going to give their coins to a stricken dog lying about in the sun?" Mary interjected. "Even the buzzards are beginning to take notice. I hope this friend of yours is a rich one." He felt no need to answer or be irritated at these expressions of her unchanging nature.
Hyfa slid over next to him to ask what he saw. She knew that to him, sight was holy, and that he never used the word "see" in an unthinking manner, as a conversational habit. Why did he say he was waiting to see a friend, and who was the friend? Did she not know everyone he knew? Was he ill? What was he feeling today that was unlike other days?
"The world is a little different each day than the day before," he told her. "But lately, the differences from one day to the next are becoming greater. There may come a time when a child will grow up in a completely different world than the one his grandfather knew.
"And there are differences in the travelers. They still speak of robbers, shortages of trade and women, but the traders themselves arrive from longer distances and speak increasingly in terms of the future: wars to come in peaceful countries and fires to rage where they have always been contained. This summer is hotter than any I can remember, and the hornets are building their nests near the ground in fear of the coming winter.
"People say they have dreamed these things and I have dreamed them too. Harsh change is coming, but so is hope. I have dreamed this as well.
"Last night I understood inside myself the meaning of color. I saw and felt `green' and 'brown' and 'blue' and `white' in my sleep. I have never had such a dream."
Hyfa pleaded with him to come to the shade. Rest your head in my lap and I will fan the flies away while you sleep, she said.
"I will wait here. You go to the softly, to himself his songs of greeting. He rattled a coin in his cup to attract other coins.
A townsman asked him to move, but he said nothing and stayed where he was. By the sun it was noon. Hyfa sat beside him.
"Has the mad dog found a mate?" came Mary's voice from the other side.
Andrew grew more attentive as groups of strangers began to gather. Some were beggars, beggars who traveled by themselves, and some were dragged there on mats by relatives. Soon every space by the wall was taken and people began to quarrel among themselves.
Andrew was careful not to attract attention and risk being shoved away from his place. His sweat was cold from fear of being pulled even an arm's length from his spot on the step.
From this spot he could touch the foot of anyone who stopped for water. If only I can be here, he thought. If only I can touch his robe or his sandal, I will see true color awake. His face will be brown, the same brown of my dreams. If only I can be right here when he passes. I already know the sound of his walk.
The crowd pressed from all sides, stepping on his hands, cursing at Hyfa, cursing at themselves. He told her to put her arm on him, and that if she kept it there, she would walk before the day was over.
There was nothing to say. She wrapped both arms around his, hugged it close and laid her head on his shoulder.