|Jul/Aug 2008 Fiction|
Last summer I was struck down by a terrible sickness and died. It was just a few days before my thirteenth birthday. I knew I was dead because I no longer felt any pain in my head and spine. Also, the darkness had cleared from the corners of my eyes and the thickness from my ears. I was once again able to see and hear clearly. I heard my mother screaming and the servants weeping outside the house. A maidservant came in and poured water into a basin--I watched her quiet face, and the drops of water, bright as jewels, tumbling from the pitcher's mouth.
I wasn't afraid anymore. Everything around me was beautiful, everything was right, everything at peace. My mother's screams did not disturb me. They sounded far away and unreal, like the cries of the birds out over the river at dawn. I felt very light, like a sunbeam dancing on the whitewashed ceiling. I peered down at my body where it lay on the bed, and it looked to me a frail, sad little thing. I thought of the hollow bodies of grasshoppers, frozen to death in the wheatfields in winter.
The maid dipped a cloth into the basin and washed my face very gently, pushing back the strands of hair where they had stuck with the fever's sweat. She straightened my disordered dress, then went to the window and drew the curtain, shutting out the daylight. A fly clung to the edge of the curtain, and another was crawling ever so slowly over me, glittering in the darkness as it moved from nose to eyelid to upper lip. Now the light in the room was a shadowy blue, underwater color. Outside, someone began the song of lamentation. Several voices took it up. The sound drifted in through the window, penetrated the walls. I remained on the darkened ceiling, uncertain what to do next.
Suddenly the song was broken off. The door opened, and a man came into the room. He sat down beside the bed and looked for a while at my body. My mother and father came in after him, and with them three men I'd never seen before. They stood huddled together in the doorway, watching the man. The man sat very still beside my body, smiling gently all the while, as if he alone knew something was funny about the whole business. Then he looked up at the whole lot of them in the doorway and said, "The girl's not dead. She's only sleeping." Then he put them all out of the room and shut the door.
Why did he say that, I wondered. I'm certainly dead. He can see that for himself. Just look at those flies crawling all over my face.
Now that he was alone in the room with me, he no longer looked at the body on the bed, but turned his gaze up to where I waited on the ceiling. I could still hear my mother sobbing quietly just outside the door.
The man bent over the bed and took my hand, and as he did so, I slid back into my body, just like that.
"Get up, little girl," he said, and just then my eyes opened and I was looking into his eyes, which were laughing at me, but gently--we were sharing a joke.
So I got up, just as if it were morning. I wasn't sick anymore, but clear and strong, as if I'd just had a long sleep. So he was right, I thought, I was only sleeping after all...
The man opened the door, and my mother rushed in and took me in her arms. She kept on stroking me all over, calling my name again and again, and all the time she was crying as if she'd never stop.
"Here I am, Mother," I said, patting her hair, patting her wet cheeks.
"Give her something to eat now," said the man.
People came crowding into the room. Someone opened the curtain, and the sunlight flooded in. They brought me bread, a piece of fish, a dish of figs and cream. My mother fed me as if I were a baby, and all the time the tears never stopped streaming down her face. I was very hungry and ate everything she offered me. My father stood at the foot of the bed, his eyes clenched shut, and recited the prayer of thanksgiving, swaying back and forth, his face shining. I looked around for the man, but he was gone.
Later they told me he was a Rabbi called Jesus from Nazareth, who had worked many miracles among the people. I still think of him sometimes, of the way he looked at me when I was up there on the ceiling. His eyes knew exactly where to find me. I have the curious feeling that he's looking at me still, even though I know he has long since left this place. They say he's gone up to Jerusalem. Sometimes I forget all about him for a while, but he doesn't seem to mind. I'll be lying in bed at night, that same bed where I lay when he told me to get up, and I'll see his face again rising before me in the dark.
"Hello, little girl," he says, smiling at me again, sharing that joke of ours, that I'm not really dead at all. That I'm going to live forever.