“Is there anything I can do for you while you’re here? Anything at all?” I asked desperately. I knew stillroom simples. Yet I had no training in the field of medicine as Tzor practiced it, bolstered over the centuries by the advances in Eskanderejai, Athenai, Nippur and other great centers of learning. What Yahya had done to himself sounded serious. It seemed as though suppuration would be expected, and the likely end of the matter his death. Would that I had my Aunt Mimi by me, or Mariamne-- whose contacts were endless.
“Why do the people do as they did, Yahya? You say it’s a long tradition there.” Maybe there would be an answer to his problem in the answers to other questions.
“Little Oreget, for long and long many people have served the Shekinah as I have said, with wrong rituals and idols where haShem alone should be. Many of these places belong to priestesses. They represent the forms of their various goddesses in the flesh.
“The only men who may serve must become, as it were, like the women born. Made in her image, they become avatars and active celebrants. These men are required to part with their manly parts in order to become close to that which they perceive as holy.
“Some do so in solemn ceremonies. Some do so in wilder liturgies, like the one in which I took part. In the end, they are fitted to serve in the likeness of the one they have chosen to follow,” Yahya tip-toed through the delicacy of his explanation with exquisite care and faultless consideration for my tender years. His fierce gaze barely concealed a honey-soaked liver, as Marmar would say.
“So other people do this, this thing you did to yourself. And sometimes, other people do it for them. Did anyone in Thraki tell you how to care for yourself while you healed?” I asked, naive yet determined.
“No, no one I could understand. They gave me a jar of salve. I used that on the ship which brought me here from there. That was more than fourteen days ago. And still my wound isn’t healing,” Yahya said gloomily.
“You didn’t know what to do? And you haven’t taken steps to find out since returning to Yerushalayim while you languish in the Court of the Metzoraim?” Now I sounded more like Mariamne than Mimi.
“Doctors of the Tribes do not deal in matters like mine. They deem it an uncleanness, not a disease of the body. And they are suspicious of any man who would unman himself, as it both implies devotion to some false idol, and also prevents that man from following haShem’s injunction to go forth and multiply,” he replied.
“This is Yerushalayim. There are doctors who are ‘Elines, doctors of Roma Imperia, and doctors from ash-Sham and Nippur. There are Hayastanis and Madai who practice their regional variants of the healing arts. The Queen of Cities, as I have heard it lately called, is crawling with healer priests from Misr like ants on pressed figs. Are you foolish, Yahya? Are you simple? I had heard Yeshua held that title in our family. But now I wonder.” My tirade wound down as I ran out of breath.
“All that is true, little cousin, but what else is true is that I came home without a shekel to my name. My mother holds the pursestrings in our household for another year, and she is away visiting Bet Maryam.
“I came here because I knew they would feed me and house me. More, I knew I would be able to rest quietly which might aid in my healing. If Mother comes soon, I will send for the lotions and potions of the most immanent doctors in our fair city. If not, I may be cast out to wander the allies of the Tyropoeon Valley with the other Metzoraim, ringing our bells to warn the faithful to keep their distance,” he stated flatly.
“Rabban Shammai said that Abigal and Oreget Orpah will pay for the sacrifices. So I have all that thank-money at the workshop.. It might not be enough for the doctor herself, but it could buy the salve prepared for the kind of injury you have now.
“I could get it for you today, if Sarah will help. She can send a guard going off duty to the doctor, and you may choose whomever seems good to you. If we give the man running our errand enough extra, he will bring it back today.
“But name your doctor quickly. They change the shift at noon. If we have to wait for the evening shift change, we won’t get that salve until tomorrow for certain.” I could see the plan as the pieces fit together.
“I would want to write a note, so that the chalalah and the guards involved don’t have to know any more than that they’re running an errand,” Yahya stipulated.
“Fine, I will write the note, Sarah will see it safely away. Do you have a doctor you prefer? Or one that doesn’t gossip with the doctors of the Tribes here?” I inquired.
“There is a man here. We sailed together some years ago. He would remember me. Even if he doesn’t, he hails from a place where this sort of injury isn’t too uncommon. Hekat of Memphis is his name. He is certainly a charlatan, but this should be within his scope of practice,” Yahya offered.
“Well, he hasn’t had scope for practice while he’s lived in Yerushalayim much. I hope he has a good memory,” I cautioned.
“We shall soon see what old Hekat can do for me,” my cousin said with a little liveliness free of irony, for once.
I called at the grille and explained to Sarah that we needed to send a message to someone who had been expecting Yohanan bar Zechariah to visit, which might have been true for all I knew of this Hekat of Memphis. And that the someone had something Yohanan had been waiting for, and wanted while he waited in the Court-- even if he would have to destroy it or leave it behind when he finished his time of observation. Sarah named a price for the task without a blink. Others must need things from beyond the confines of the Leper’s Court from time to time.
“Could the guard use the thank-money I have waiting at the workshop for this?” I asked Sarah.
“Of course. I can send the word along with no trouble. My guards are known to the Oregot and chosen for their trustworthiness,” she stated with confidence.
“Thank you. You are even more helpful than Ruth said you would be. If there’s any leftover from the thank-money, may I share some of it with you?” She was doing so much to make my plan possible.
“Better share it with Ruth, instead. She’s the one who helped you clean all and make it pure again. But I thank you for the offer. The guards will leave part of their pay for the task with me, or they won’t be asked and trusted with errands in the future. They already know that,” Sarah added practically.
“This is for Hekat of Memphis, behind the Antonia Fortress along the Struthion Pool. There aren’t many folk from Misr living down there, so he won’t be hard to find,” she remarked. “Most of them settle where they can make the big shekels on Har Zion. Those snobs from Roma like to have a doctor from Misr. If you ask me, their medicine smells so bad that the disease is preferable to the cure. I don’t care which disease it may be either,” Sarah sniffed. Then she turned and made for her office. Shortly, she would receive a guard looking to make a little extra cash running errands for the Metzoraim.
“You’re as managing as your Haha, little Oreget. No wonder they chose Hanna for you and let the Maryam lay fallow. It suits you. Don’t ever go back to your first name,” Yahya advised.
“I never used my first name, so I can’t go back to it. But I will remember your opinion on the matter, should the day ever come,” I responded pertly. I felt relieved to have the plotting and scheming sorted out.
“Maryam Hanna bat Zebadyah of Bet Maryam, you are a miracle in miniature. You may have saved my life today. And you have certainly given me hope. If the day ever comes when I am able to do as much for you, I will return the favor. This I vow, but I would do so without the vow. We are family, and we look out for one another. This is what families do. Or so our Yeshua tells me.
“But I think he secretly believes the whole world is his family. I have never seen him fail to look out for anyone, known to him or a complete stranger. What a trial his life will be to him,” Yahya concluded.
Was it a prophecy? I never met anyone more likely to have that gift than our Yahya. And of course, he wasn’t wrong. Maybe it was only how well he knew Yeshua. He seemed to see things in our mutual cousin no else noticed, or not for years to come.
“I hope, dear cousin, that I won’t ever need you to fulfill your vow. I have no desire to lead a life so dire. And anyone would have done as much for you. It wasn’t much effort to send a note,” I added honestly.
“You sent the only sum of money you have owned in your life to a doctor you don’t know for a relative you just met. No, little Oreget, ‘anyone’ wouldn’t have done as much for me. You are a particular bright star in the firmament, shining more brightly and more steadily than the myriad, uncountable others.”
“All that for ointment? It’s probably going to be bag balm with some extra herbs thrown in. Unless he’s one of those ‘fat of the crucified’ types.
“Aunt Miimi says they go in for that sort of thing in a lot of their stillroom work at Misr. She thinks it’s a waste of effort. She thinks for topical purposes there are more useful fats,” I added, not wishing to set myself up as an expert.
“She has the virtue of not often being wrong, our Aunt Mimi. Is Lilit still meaner than a basket full of hungry asps?” Yahya asked with interest.
“Oh yes. That monkey is ugly of temper and nasty of habit. That’s what Cousin Sobe says,” I replied.
“My grandmother is just as preternaturally accurate in her judgments as the rest of the biddies of Bet Maryam. Though one day, I feel our Mimi will surpass them all. She is so much her own person,” he mused.
“Really? Is that what all that is, with the rules and distances and that rotten monkey?” I asked in clear disbelief.
“Mimi perceives things differently than other people do. She puts the rules around her to help hold her steady, as she is very much alone in whatever world it is where she spends her time,” Yahya spoke factually.
He didn’t see her as incapable, or mystically charged. Our Mimi, Maryam bat Oachim bar Yuda, acted in accordance with the world as she knew it. No more, no less. Only, she lived in a world apart from the one where the rest of us passed our lives.
Aunt Mimi had never, solitary as she was, appeared lonely to me. She bore a sort of completeness in her doing and her resting. She often sat alone amongst the gathered members of Bet Maryam. She said nothing to anyone, and might not have been hearing what was spoken around her.
Yet she would sit ensconced in her preferred corner every time the House gathered. There she worked a drop spindle ceaselessly. All the while, she held herself remote from Lilit’s depredations on the feast table. But not alone in the sense of loneliness.