The Well
By Dick Duerksen

Today was not special. The sun came up orange and smoky just like every other day. The air was brittle, as always. And the wind’s gift of yellow desert dust was slipping through every possible opening to fill the hut I call home, just like every other day.

I began the chores without thinking - sweeping the dirt into piles, joining the piles, and then sending it all back to the wind that had brought it. Re-arranging the sleeping mat and stirring the smoldering fire to life once more. No need for thought. Every movement was a habit, arms and legs moving to a tune composed through years of caring for myself, and the drunken men who slept here.

Hard to believe I had allowed five of them to marry me. I must have been drunk too.

Now I was almost alone, except for the black goat who demands little and still gives me a day’s ration of warm milk.

I wish the well were not so far away, and sorry that the path runs through a corner of the village, but the cracked water jar is almost empty again. The man drinks too much in the mornings.

No. Today was not special. Just the day after yesterday and the hours I must live before tonight would finally arrive.

I must go for water. But, not now. The village women would still be there, chirping about nothing as if it were all important, and laughing, making me their joke.

Finally, after all the “good women” had gossiped away the morning at the well of our ancestor, Jacob, I collected the jug, slipped under the shabby cloth that flapped as my door, and began my shadow-to-shadow journey to the well. The path was well worn in my mind, so familiar that I walked much of it with my eyes closed behind the yellow dust encrusting my veil. Angry all the way. Angry. Lonely. Thirsty. Desperate for something better.

The benches around the well were empty, except for a Jewish traveler who was asleep in the shade of the palm thatch that the apple-seller had built to protect his fruit. He, too, was gone. Leaving his thatch barren because there were no buyers in the scorching sun.

The Jewish traveler ignored me as I tiptoed down the familiar steps to the water.

These few moments were always the best of my day. The stones led me down into the earth, away from the haughty eyes of those who knew my story. Down to where the cool water flowed into my jug as freely as into the jug of the Rabbi’s woman. Down to where I could pretend to be one of Jacob’s fine wives, a woman of honor, preparing a drink for the great wanderer.

I lingered there, thinking of Leah and Rachel, Joseph, and others who had drunk from this well. Wishing my life were simpler, cleaner, like theirs.

Turning toward the light, I lifted the heavy clay jug to my shoulders. A splash of water spilled from it, cooling my neck and washing down my back. Back in the sunlight, I glanced toward the sleeping Jew and began the tedious journey home.

“Pardon me, Mother,” the Jew’s voice pulled at me so strongly that I stopped, and dared a brief glance his direction.

“Pardon me, Mother,” he said again. “Would you be so kind as to draw a cup of water for me to drink?”

Certain that I looked to be exactly who I was, I pulled the cloth more tightly over my face and kept walking. I did not want to share words with this man. I certainly would not draw water for him!

Something deep inside drew me to look again. Furtively. He was standing now, obviously in need of a cool drink.

“You are a man, a Jew, and I am a woman. A Samaritan woman! How is it that you are asking me for a drink?

I spoke sarcastically from within the cloth of my robe, still stepping toward home.

His reply stopped my walk.

“If you knew the generosity of God, and if you knew who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked me to give you a drink. And, I would have provided you with life-giving water!”

I laughed aloud and continued my journey. Then, unable to walk further without understanding, I turned and looked this impertinent Jewish stranger in his sweaty face. As only a sinner like me can do.

“Sir, you have no jug, and the well is deep. Where will you get this “Living Water of yours? Are you a greater man than our Father Jacob who gave us this well, and whose family and cattle drank here freely?”

I tried hard to make my voice sound challenging and firm, a voice that would put him off and quiet his foolish prattle.

He looked at me. Not as the women of the town look at me. Not even as men look at me. He looked straight into the deep places where I hide my most personal pain.

“Everyone who comes to this well and drinks its water, will get thirsty again, and need to come back for more. However, if you drink of the water that I have for you, you will never be thirsty again. My watery gift will be like an eternal spring, welling up inside you, and granting you the gift of eternal life.”

He spoke as one who believed his words were true.

I set my jar down on a low stone wall, took two steps toward him, and threw back the veil that had covered my face.

“Sir, please give me this water now, so that I will never have to come here to this well again!”

“Woman,” he walked toward me as he spoke, not threateningly, but like a magi, offering me an expensive gift. “Go, get your husband, and bring him here.”

His word, “husband” flashed faces through my mind. None of them pleasant.

Humiliated, I whipped the cloth back over my face and collected my jar.

“I have no husband.”

“That is true,” He spoke softly. “You have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not one of them.”

I stood terrified. The wretchedness of my failed life laid bare. My heart broken.

Who is this man? What else does he know about me? Why hadn’t I just given him a drink and run for home?

I tried to argue then, talking religion and politics and the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Anything I could think of to shift the subject away from my sins. When I spoke of The Messiah, he smiled and reached out his hands, stopping my flow of words.

“I am the Messiah,” he said clearly. Not a boast, just a statement. As if telling me his name and inviting friendship.

The old clay jar slipped from my hands, breaking into pieces and splashing today’s cool water on the stones of Jacob’s well.