Heavy, oppressive; any promise of breeze paralyzed and defeated in the heat, she walked. No scarf or covering could have shielded her from it; the sun intent, unrelenting; burning itself deep into her skin and beneath, as though it could see inside of her, judging her; knowing. Like the rest of them. It is good, she tells herself; this sun that beckons her; assuring her, having long ago taken the cool morning air and the others with it, baking the earth into crusted and curled scales like the skin of snakes.
Fill the jars, hot and dry; empty now, they are no burden as they are. And then… did she speak out loud? Emptiness itself is heavy; unbearable…she hears herself; what is left of her heart. Jerking her scarf over all but her eyes, she quickens her pace. The intrusion is unwelcome and angers her. There isn’t any point in such riddles.
Head down now and determined, this day like hundreds before it; she can almost find her way in the shape of the stones as they pass beneath her feet; bread crumbs lining her path; familiar. Her eyes raise only as she nears the well; ears intent on any sounds or shadows; relieved each time at the silence; only the occasional warnings of a bird circling watch over the cold and gray oasis. She considers the well, imagining herself inside it; falling, falling,, breathing stilled, quiet, quenched. Pure. Clean.
He smiles at her. Startled, she steadies herself and the jug; refusing to meet his eyes, confused, embarrassed. Caught. The noise of the rocks under her feet, she longs to turn and run, sending them flying behind her; into the air between herself and the stranger, farther and farther between them as she runs. He carries no jug or vessel. Surely he is here to make sport of her; jeer, speak to her as they all do, except in the dark, alone, secret.
Her back to Him, facing the well; she draws the water even as something draws her to stay, and desperate to go; shaking it off again, another riddle. She studies him; his face visible in the mirrored water. Hurry, she tells herself, wondering if she’ll get away in time; and frozen, immobile, unable to move; wondering at the depth of this well; this heart of hers, colder now it seems, the deeper she draws from it.
Lowered, it is filled; water rushing; turning the earthenware brown and smooth, overflowing; running over. Empty no more, for now.
Behind her, His reflection still evident in the rippled well. She doesn’t see the love in His eyes.
Heavy under the weight of her jug, she readies herself for the journey home.
And then she turns at the sound of His voice…