It had been 3 days since her last visit to Janus. It was no longer news that this Yeshua, the Nazarene was in the region of Decapolis. If reports were to be believed, he had fed over four thousand men just a few days earlier.
Shemsi felt the need to be fed, not with rich food, but with something that would give her rest. Earlier that morning, Ba’asma had danced. She had picked up a tambourine and begun to dance, in swaying rhythm and stamping her feet, singing a bawdy local tune, tossing her head in abandon. The maids had retreated as soon as Shemsi came in, looking at her daughter in utter hopelessness.
Ba’asma had looked at her and reached out with her hand. “Come mother…dance with me.”
Shemsi sighed. “I cannot dance, Ba’asma.”
“Well then if you cannot dance with me, then you are of no use to me,” Ba’asma said.
Shemsi heard footsteps and turned to see Frida standing by the door, looking at Ba’asma with pity.
“I wonder…if a girl can be raised from the dead, then maybe another can be relieved of…of…influences,” Shemsi said, thinking aloud. Ba’asma stopped her dancing, pinning her mother down with a cold stare. Shemsi kept talking. “If this Yeshua could…”
A scream tore out of Ba’asma’s throat and she flung herself down on the floor. Her eyes were wide open, her mouth a cavernous space of multilayered macabre sounds. “No…! Not Him! No, no, no, no, noooooooo…!”
Shemsi stood still as servants rushed in and Frida appeared with the jar. The same process was repeated as had been done countless times before. Ba’asma was held down, head tipped back and white drops forced into her mouth. Only this time, the drops halted.
Frida looked up, fear on her face. “This is that last of it, my lady. You have no more of the potion.”
And Shemsi had a feeling, after their last parting, that Janus would not be eager to give her any more. She was tired. Tired of selling herself so her business and household could survive. Tired of fighting, staying strong and trying to survive while her heart was rent in two. She wanted answers. She wanted wholeness in her life and in her daughter’s life. She wanted to be able to look into her daughter’s eyes without feeling the shame of her failure.
Shemsi made up her mind there and then.
“Frida, get me Tannel and Eustus. Then go and prepare some food and watered wine and pack a few of my travelling tunics. We are going on a short trip.”
The heat was oppressive, the air cloying and yet Shemsi was resolute. She would brave the elements and discomfort to see Yeshua. She had discovered, as she left the city that she was not the only one with that idea. There were others. People carrying their sick, lame and otherwise burdened loved ones with the hope that they may find their healing. One of such was an old woman named Tabitha – a blind Jewess whose grandson, Ehud, insisted on taking to see Yeshua. She sat astride a donkey as he led on, his face grim and stubborn. Shemsi had met them on a narrow pass between the hills and insisted they join her for refreshments as they stopped to rest under a large olive tree. Ehud had been hesitant, murmuring in Yiddish to his grandmother, mixing in a few Greek words. Shemsi could make out the terms ‘unclean’ and ‘gentile’. Strangely, she took no offense.
Tabitha had responded to her grandson in tender reproach, speaking Greek. “Grandson, would we turn away the kindness of this woman? Surely Yahweh would not object to a meal shared in from the heart?”
Then she reached out in the air and Shemsi caught her hand and helped her down. Ehud did not look pleased but he seemed to acquiesce, stepping back and allowing his grandmother to be led by Shemsi.
Tannel and Eustus stood a ways off, looking around to spot any would-be raiders, their arms ever ready to draw daggers to protect their mistress. Frida laid out a woven mat, and proceeded to bring out goat’s cheese, bread, raisins and watered wine.
Shemsi smiled at Frida, an unusual occurrence. “Be sure that Tannel, Eustus and Ehud are fed. Then come and join me and Mother Tabitha.”
Frida looked taken aback by her mistress’ generosity but nodded as she gathered food and walked to where the men stood. Shemsi watched her go and sighed. It seemed that the farther away they got from Sidon, the more her heart opened. She felt the change. Perhaps it was the fresh air, and the absence of the sense of urgency brought on by her responsibilities. Her gut twisted in anticipation at the thought of meeting Yeshua.
“So what do you know of this Yeshua?” she asked, chewing on raisins.
Tabitha was silent, as though in contemplation, before speaking. “I do not know much…but from what I have heard, He shows great compassion. He never seems to turn people away and has great affection for the downtrodden, people on the outskirts, people in pain and of no use to society. People like me.”
And me, Shemsi thought.
“But why would he be in…gentile territory? I know how Jews feel about us. So why come here?”
“I do not know. But if the reports are anything to go by, then I think His mind must be wider than what we are accustomed to. He touched gentiles, from what I hear. And he has a way of drawing people to Himself, almost like a King. Yes, like a true Son of David.”
“Son of David? Did the Jews not once have a king called David?”
“Indeed, we did. And there are still those who descend from his line. It is from his line that we expect the Messiah, the Promised One. If only…” Tabitha’s opaque, sightless eyes seemed to glow with wistfulness.
“Ah well…I doubt any such promise applies to us, especially to a woman from Sidon.” Shemsi felt herself deflate at the thought that there was nothing on the horizon for her, even if her daughter were to be healed. She then asked a question.
“This man…is He rich? Anyone who performs such miracles must surely demand payment.” Shei thought about the pouch tied securely around her middle, filled with the best of her jewelry that she was willing to give up for Ba’asma.
“I have heard He travels with a band of men and does not have much, but I don’t know.”
They were silent for a moment and Shemsi spoke again. “I envy you, you Jews. You have a God you claim and worship, even when under the yoke of the Romans. And you hope.”
“Do you not have your own gods?” Tabitha asked.
Shemsi gave a short laugh. “No…not anymore, for me.”
“Well then, you lose nothing in seeing Yeshua. He cannot be worse than what you know.”
Shemsi inhaled deeply, the crisp odor of ripening olives filling her nostrils. “No indeed, He cannot.”
Written by Sifa Asani Gowon