The weight of my bucket always slows my walking on these trips; I’ve learned to rest it against my hip once I’ve filled it to ease the strain on my arms. Many of the other women do this as well. I think of the small, frail women who struggle as they walk back from the well in the evenings, their feet dragging across the ground and the short rests they take when the weight of their bucket has grown unbearable. I often watch them as they walk in groups of twos or threes and speak quietly amongst each other; I time my washing so that I can catch glimpses of them through my doorway. The heat of the sun has reached its peak in the day and I long for a drink to ease my discomfort. The time of rain has passed us now and the heat will only grow more severe as the days go on. I pass a group of men as they head towards the marketplace, I watch their shadows as our paths cross. They speak excitedly to each other and walk with quick strides. As I approach Jacob’s well, I notice a man sitting alone with his back against the well’s low walls. He sits with his legs outstretched and his head tilted back. Upon closer inspection I realize he is a Jew; I hesitate a moment before continuing forward. The Jews typically avoid Jacob’s well. Our women and families constantly draw from its waters. Was he ill? Fighting the urge to stare, I move on to the well’s opening and place my bucket on its ledge. “Please, give me a drink.” His voice startles me, and I nearly knock my bucket into the well. I keep my eyes fixated on my bucket and grip it more tightly. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Now I look at him fully, I can see his bearded face and kind eyes. He stares at me intently. Does he not worry others will see him? Perhaps he has been in the sun too long. He stands up before he speaks. “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” I can tell by his foolish speech that his mind is ill. He reminds me of the poor, deranged man who roams our village, speaking nonsense and kicking dirt as he stumbles around aimlessly, riddled with demons. Fear crawls into the pit of my stomach. Do his kind eyes hide malicious intent? I decide to indulge his pitiful, strange statements. It is better to play along than to insult him. “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket, and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water?” Pausing briefly, I decide to prod further, seeking to determine the state of his illness. Had his mind completely rotted? Or was he capable of logic? “And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?” I ask him. He considers my questions for a moment. “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water.” He speaks with an air of confidence I had not expected of him, motioning towards the well. “But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.” Taken aback by the level of authority his voice commands, I study his face for any sign of illness. He looks at me expectantly and seems to grow impatient when I do not offer a response. “Go and get your husband” he says sternly. “I don’t have a husband.” “You’re right! You don’t have a husband- for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.” My face flushes red with astoundment, then shame. Only a true prophet could speak so plainly of my marriages. Never before had I heard such words spoken so overtly. Panicking, my thoughts quicken. Would a prophet think lowly of me? A Jewish prophet, nonetheless. I’m overwhelmed with questions. “Sir, you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans insist it is here at Mount Gerizim,” I point to our mountain in the distance “where our ancestors worshipped?” He gazes at Mount Gerizim and shakes his head. “Believe me, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know so little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming and is already here when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. For God is spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Without fully reflecting on the prophet’s words, I catch a glimpse of a group of men walking towards us. Nervously, my gaze shifts between the prophet and then back to the men. There is so much I need to ask him, but these men are undoubtedly aware of the prophet’s knowledge. They want him for themselves. Frantically, I say: “I know the Messiah will come. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Eyes piercing, voice low, he replies “I am the Messiah.” I allow myself one last look at him before I turn towards the village and run. The men have approached the Messiah, I can feel their eyes on me. None of that matters, though. The people from my village must be made aware that the Messiah has come, at last.
I’m gasping for air by the time I’ve reached the village. It strikes me that I haven’t run until my limbs were sore and my lungs were on the brink of collapsing since childhood. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I grin through my laboured breathing as I approach our doorway. Having only just returned from the market, Hasseb inspects a newly acquired slab of lamb. He turns to look at me as I walk inside, and his eyes grow wide as he watches me attempt to collect myself before speaking. “Are you alright?” he asks. “Come with me! Come with me, Hasseb. The Messiah is here! He has come, at last, he has come! A Jew! You must tell our village. Leave now and tell them before he has left. You must speak to him yourself before he leaves.” I’m still gasping for breath as I watch his face shift from confusion to anger. Taking a step away from me, he says: “Have you become ill?” I cringe at the sound of his harsh tone. “Out fetching water, and you believe you have met the Messiah? Why were you speaking to a Jewish man? Did anyone see you? Do you want to disgrace me more than you already have?” Sobering up, I lower my gaze and choose my words carefully before speaking again. “Hasseb, I believe this man is like Moses. He told me about my entire life. Would I lie to you, dear Hasseb? I want you to meet him too. But first, you must tell the others. The others must know he is here.” Still skeptical, he stares at me for a few moments before his expression softens. “What did he say to you?” He asks finally. I recount my entire experience at Jacob’s well, speaking quickly and reiterating the affair’s urgency. The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. How could this be true? For much of our history we have worshipped and sacrificed on our holy mountain. Hasseb is clearly overwhelmed, nodding quietly in a state of bewilderment. “I’ll have to meet this man for myself” he asserts when I’m done. I desperately want him to take my word for it. We’re running out of time. I clasp his hand between both of my own. “You can. But please, the others must know. Think of the women and children. The families! The Messiah is here, and they do not know!” “Alright, alright” he replies, motioning with his hand towards the doorway. “If you’re wrong and you make me look like a fool, after everything I’ve given you…” he mutters under his breath as he steps outside. Hasseb sets out towards the marketplace. A feeling of dread washes over me; it has been months since he has allowed me to join him in a place so public. I stumble behind him, struggling to match the pace of his long strides. The path to the market is busy during this time of day, and it is not long until a group of men call Hasseb’s name. I follow him as he approaches them, standing behind him as he greets his acquaintances. Some of the men look at me apprehensively, others look only at Hasseb. I lock eyes momentarily with an older man as he stares at me rather rudely, and I immediately lower my face towards the ground. Hasseb interrupts the men’s pleasantries abruptly, raising his hand to command their attention. “I’ve received news that a prophet has journeyed into Sychar. I urge you to follow me into the market; we must first spread the news before we meet him” He announces. Pausing only a moment, he adds: “Imagine what he could do for our people!” The men erupt into commotion almost instantly. “A Samaritan?” “Where did you find him?” “Bring him to the top of Mount Gerizim!” One man asserts that he refuses to approach anyone who claims to be a prophet. Others agree with him; demons often disguise themselves as prophets, they say. The men speak over each other, their voices grow louder and louder before Hasseb interrupts them once again. “He- a stranger to Samaria- holds knowledge of our pasts and our futures. He travels with a group of men, and he says our God need not be worshipped solely at our holy mountain.” Again, an eruption of questions and accusations from Hasseb’s audience. “He told you this and you believed him?” the older man hisses. “No- he told me” I say. “And he is a great deal more than a prophet; he is the Messiah!” I wince at the sound of my own voice. It reveals my nervousness. There is momentary silence among the crowd. Anxious, I look around and realize the excitement of our group has attracted the attention of onlookers. A young girl with a mess of dark, curly hair stares at me in astoundment. The men begin yelling at Hasseb again, but the commotion is too loud for me to single out what they are saying. Inching forward, the curly-haired girl approaches me timidly and murmurs: “Tell me, does God work through this man? My husband is dying. Could he help him?” Her eyes reveal despair. Delighted at her faith in my words, I smile warmly at her. “Yes! Yes, I believe he could!” I declare. Searching for confidence, I remind myself once more of the Messiah’s words. Tears brimming in her eyes, the girl’s gaze flickers to the group of men before asking: “Where is this man?” Suddenly, a hand aggressively grips my arm and pulls me into the centre of the group. Spinning around, I see it is Hasseb who’s dragged me. “Speak! Tell them exactly what you told me!” He yells at me, clearly fed up with tending to the men’s questions. Gripping both of my shoulders, Hasseb holds me in front of him as though he could shield himself from their accusations. All eyes immediately fall onto me. One man begins shaking his head before turning around and walking away. Another crosses his arms over his chest and looks at me expectantly. For the second time today, I recount my entire interaction with the Messiah at Jacob’s well. Another outburst rises from the group as soon as I utter the word “Jew”. Hasseb, with his loud, booming voice, quiets them once more by demanding: “Silence! Let her finish!” The onlookers gather around us and listen. As I finish describing the Messiah’s denunciation of our mountain, Hasseb begins yelling once more: “Save your questions for the man once we’ve met him! Those of you with pure hearts will join us as we spread the news.” And just like that, we are on our way to the market once again; this time with a rambunctious crowd. The sun beats down on us as we make our way to the teeming hub of vendors and folk from our village. I am relieved to see that the curly-haired girl has joined us. She maintains her distance from the group several paces behind. A long time has passed since I last set foot in the marketplace. The crowded space overwhelms me as I follow Hasseb. I avoid the stares of the people we pass, and our group disperses among the bodies and vendors’ stands. I anxiously wonder where the Messiah may be. He could not have already left Sychar, could he? I am relieved to no longer be doing the talking. Hasseb yells “There is a prophet in Sychar!” over the chatter of the crowd. People stop and stare. It seems as though Hasseb has fully embraced his role as messenger, although he still refuses to call him by his true status. Soon we have garnered yet another circle of questioners. From behind me, a voice says: “Miss, you forgot your bucket.” I spin around and lock eyes with him. The people around us have withdrawn slightly, surprised and offended at the sight of a Jew in our market. He hands me my bucket; it is heavy with water. “The Messiah! It is him!” I declare to the people of Sychar.