(Novel 2) Demimonde, The Other Story by Marla J. Selvidge

Part 2

DemimondeIt began in Capernaum.  I had been staying with a Jewish woman while visiting the baths, the healing centers in Galilee.  Everyone I visited for help told me the same thing: I was dying.  I had contracted a fatal fever and there was no cure.  Then I met Lysander.

“Please don’t go near this wonder-worker, Lysander, you don’t know what might happen to you, ” cried Alda, the old woman who had been taking care of me.

She had chosen the life of a widow and made her living by housing people who came to the baths.  Alda had spent the past forty years living alone and taking very sick people to the baths.  Alda cried again, “Magdala, you know the ancient laws.  If you have a fever and are in your monthly courses, you must hide yourself.  You should not be out in the streets by yourself.  You might touch someone. You are disobeying the Divine.”

“Leave me alone, Alda.  I have tried everything.  I have been sick for so long.  The bleeding has gone on for years and no one will talk with me any longer.  They say I am in Niddah all of the time.  They say that my disease is dangerous to everyone and it is fatal.  The physicians cannot help me.  They won’t even touch me, but they take my money all the same.  This, Lysander is my last chance.  Besides, I am not a Hebrew, I don’t believe in all of your laws.  I am going to ask him for help.”

Alda retorted, “So what if you do ask him?  Do you think he is going to talk, let alone, help a woman with Fularia?  They say he has Jewish blood.  Why would he risk his life for you?   I wouldn’t even discuss your woman problem in public, let alone let the whole world know about it.  If those people out there knew that you had that dreaded disease, they would probably tear you to pieces.  You are out of your mind, I would not risk it.”

“Alda, I have spent so much money on physicians and no one has been able to cure me. What do I have to lose,” pleaded Magdala.

“You could lose your life,” stared Alda.

“Alda, I am so weak, the fevers have taken all of my strength.  I know that I only have a little time left.”

Alda tried to reason with Magdala.

“Those novices of his will stop you.  Why they would not even let Lysander hold some of the babies the other day.  I heard that they told all of the children to go home.  The novices want all of his attention.”

“Alda, I have to try it.  I have heard so many stories about him.  I know that if I could only talk with him that he would do something for me.  Oh, look, there is a crowd gathering over there by the lake.  Let’s go and see if they are surrounding Lysander.”

Lysander was attempting to walk up the hill from the Sea of Galilee.  People from the town had rushed out to see him, and they were pushing up against him.  Some were shoving others out of the way.  Many had camped along the southeast side of the lake for days waiting for Lysander.  There were rumors that he had the power to heal and that he would give you food.

On the way into town, people lined the streets with their arms outstretched.  Some were barely clothed, while others were clean and dressed in expensive cloth with jewels.  There were a few Roman soldiers.  Some of the diseased, crippled, and grotesque thrust their bodies and mouths at Lysander.  They wanted him.  Not everyone could get to him so they kept pushing and pushing.  To be near him might make their dreams come true.

Many believed that their suffering, pain, or illness would retract if they touched him.  These people had no income and survived on the garbage and throwaways of others.  The streets were the only home they had ever known.  They stayed for only a few days in a town and then would walk to another one.  Like a chorus they chanted, “Have mercy on me.”  Please look this way and help out this woman who has no children.”  “If you would only touch me, I know my dried up leg or arm would work.”  “Help us.  Heal us.  Care for us.  We are so alone in this life.  We need you.  You have the magic.  You care for people.  We have heard of you. You have the touch of the Almighty.  You can change our lives.  You can bring life to dead eyes, we have heard.  Make us alive again.  Make us happy.  Make us rich.”

The commotion was so thick with dust that you could scarcely see that the cloud coming toward Lysander, toward Capernaum, was human.  Lysander was somewhere ahead of the cloud.  People were trampled within the frantic mob. Their crushed bodies were ignored by the seekers.  People in search of hope have no time or care for others.  They want only something for themselves.  This was a chance of a lifetime.  Women screeched and babies screamed under the pressure of surging bodies scrambling toward Lysander.

“There he is Magdala, I see him,” shouted Alda.

Stories about Lysander were wrong.  People had said that he was a tall, dark-skinned man with long curly hair.  Contrarily, Lysander was not any taller than the smallest person in the crowd.  His long golden blonde hair fell over slightly rounded shoulders.  One of his eyes was black and the other was blue. On his left arm he bore a huge black scar.  He had no facial hair and wore a long-green garment.

Magdala ran ahead to the synagogue.  Could this be the man whom everyone is talking about?  He looked so ordinary, maybe even a little rough.  Was this the man that stood up in a public meeting and challenged the people to take care of others, who claimed that the ancient words had been fulfilled in him, that he had been sent by the Divine?  Some said that he was going to be a liberator, a freedom fighter for all of the people.  More than once, as they say, he tamed an angry crowd with just a word or a cold stare.

From the top of the steps Magdala could see that Lysander looked like a Macedonian not a Hebrew.  Some said that his mother was from Asia Minor, a Jewess who had been born a Gentile and converted to Judaism.  She claimed royal blood and that her child came from the Divine.  Others said that he was a bastard who had no father and that his mother was a woman who sold her body at the local well.

Lysander slowly made his way up the hill towards the temple.  He stopped and helped all that he could along the way.  His healing touch did not work for everyone.  Some regained their strength, but others died in their attempt to touch him.  Some walked away with nothing and more desperate than they had ever been.  They had lost their last hope.

Magdala stared at Lysander’s simply clad body.  The anguish of so many helpless and needy people was etched into deep lines under his eyes and beside his mouth.  There was only one of him, but so many of them.  His power could not reach them all.  With small and tender hands he touched a pock-marked and bleeding leper and a hopelessly dying child, too limp to walk.  Magdala had heard that he was a laborer, yet his body was slight and he seemed weak, not strong from working in the fields.  Flanking Lysander were several young men who tried to protect him.  The tallest had dark flowing curls with a very long-well-kept beard.  He looked like a sorcerer.  Compared to Lysander he was calloused.  He commanded the rest of the men.

Climbing down from the steps of the synagogue Magdala made her way toward Lysander.  Every step as she pushed her way through the crowd seemed to take her breath away.  Her pounding heart felt as if it was going to explode.  Finally within a few feet of Lysander, she thrust herself toward him.  She was suffocating. “If only I could touch him, I know I would feel better.  His touch will help me.”

With arms high as she pushed, she suddenly fell to the ground, but it was an open space.   She had even crashed through the men surrounding Lysander, his novices.  Lunging toward him, she grabbed at him and caught the edge of an old coat.  Without being provoked, Lysander turned around and searched the mass of human flesh.  Magdala lay beneath the crowd who were trampling her Magdala lay beneath the crowd who was trampling her.

Lysander exclaimed. “Who touched me?  Who touched me?  Where is she?”

The crowd stopped, silently waiting for an answer.  No one understood his outburst.  Again he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Who touched me?”

Magdala knew that his screams were her death notice.  Fingers around her began to point toward her.  She was lying face down in the mud.  Lysander’s novices did not understand.  Everyone on the street wanted to touch him.  They were mystified at his reaction because they had watched many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people touch him.

Magdala was caught.   At the exact instant that she touched the edge of the coat of Lysander, she felt a surge of energy that she had never experienced.  It was like a blast of lightning that hit her from her feet and came right through the top of her head. Was this the disease of the Gods?  She felt stronger; was she really going to live?  She thought, “If I tell him, he might take away this feeling.  He might kill me?”  So, she got up and dusted off her clothing and walked straight towards this mysterious man.

“I did it! I touched you.  I think I am cured after all these years.  You did it, Lysander, you brought me back.”

Lysander was puzzled.  “Woman, what is your name?

“Magdala, Sir,” she sighed.

He looked straight at her and said, “This has never happened.  I am not sure what you have done.  I felt a loss of energy.  I did not will it.  I did not want to let it go.  You took it from me.  You brought the energy to you; I did not.”

Thunderous roars broke out in the crowd.  They began to chant.  “Great is Lysander!  Great is Lysander!  Great is Lysander!”

Lysander offered his hand and walked with Magdala.  It did not matter that the Jews had laws against such touching in public.  He had already broken the rule to never speak with a woman in public.  Almost instantaneously, the young men around Lysander rushed toward him.  Like dogs on a fox hunt they surrounded her and hurled angry insults, spat upon, and pushed Magdala.  Her presence was an insult.  She was a woman, only a woman, and a woman who had a fatal womanly disease that everyone feared.

With terror in her eyes, Magdala stepped back towards Lysander.  A tall dark-skinned man reached out for her and pulled her away from the young men. Within seconds they were out of sight of the moving throng headed up the hill together.  That dark-skinned man was called, John, son of Zebedee who had lately moved east from Ephesus to Galilee.  She was safe.  Never did she dream that someday she would find love within and for him.

Magdala’s thoughts drifted back to Hygeia who was staring into the fire.  So much had happened to both of them since those days so long ago. Magdala stretched out on the floor and curled up into a blanket.  Hygeia stared up into the altar of the temple.  She could not believe that Magdala also had known Lysander.  Without another word, they drifted off into a troubled sleep.

Morning broke and with it the travelers headed for the city.  City life was exhilarating after months of quiet in the mountains.   As they approached Ephesus on top of the great pavement they could see the ocean. Walking toward the water the old rutted pavement narrowed, people were setting up their food carts on the street.  A heavy haze hung over the mud brick shanties lining each side of the pavement like listless children with no place to go.

Ephesus had been the best city in the world.  Now, its marbled buildings were tarnished with forgotten care.  Everyone who was anyone in the Empire had visited Ephesus.  Its marvelous beaches and interesting shops attracted visitors from all over the world.  Now, the faces of the people seemed drab and lifeless.  Where were the Senators, the soldiers, and the foreign dignitaries that made Ephesus their second home?  As they walked closer to the shore, hawkers would not leave them alone.  They even came up and put their hands on their  arms and tried to open their bags to find money or food.  Merchants were now beggars, too!

They turned around and walked back toward the city.  A thick, dark haze surrounded the buildings.  The closer they got, the more difficult it was to breathe.  Fires were smoldering here and there as they searched for the street that led to the temple.  After about three hours of following streets that went nowhere, they found the Asclepioi residence.  Standing before its huge ornately carved doors they were horrified to see blood dripping down the cracks.  Deeply imbedded in the door was a gold-handled knife.  Magdala pulled on it, but it would not budge.  They beat on the doors so long that a crowd was forming outside the gate.  Someone wanted to keep the world outside the gates.

Suddenly there was a scuffle toward the back of the wall around the house.  Magdala and Hygeia followed the crowd to a small opening.  They crawled through the opening to the garden.

Hygeia screamed.

“What is it?  What is the matter?” quipped Magdala.

Magdala turned around and looked toward the top of the house.  There was something hanging in the tree near the cold spring.  The object was swinging.  It was a man.  “Oh, my God, Hygeia, it is John,” cried Magdala hysterically.  John’s clothing was in shreds.  He had scrapes and dirt all over him.  He had been dragged through the muddy streets.

The onlookers began to shout and push each other.  Within seconds the street was jammed with screaming bodies thrusting rocks at each other, a daily occurrence.  Magdala’s head began to swoon.

“We must find a place to hide,” whispered Hygeia as she grabbed Magdala’s arm.

She took Magdala by the hand and headed for a shop owned by a friend of Hygeia’s, Lydia of Philippi.  Suddenly, out of the mob a cloaked shadow surged toward Hygeia and violently threw her to the ground. Magdala tried to help her up to her feet, but her leg was broken.

“Don’t move me.  Find an Asclepioi Priest,” beckoned Hygeia.

Magdala had no idea of where to find to find an Asclepioi.  Angry faces were not about to help her with anything.  She did not understand what was going on in the city.  The military guard began moving in to squelch the disturbance, and there was no mercy for the people in the streets.  They were whipped and kicked brutally when the guards moved down the pavement with their carts.  Magdala ran down an alley off the main pavement and found herself, luckily, standing in front of the Asclepioi temple.  Not far behind, the shadowy figure was dogging her every step.

Up the steps, Magdala banged on the door. “I need help.  Please help me.  Help me!”

Running around the back of the temple, she found a servant working in the priest’s cottage.  “Help me, can you help me?  Where is the priest?  I need help.  My healer has been hurt.  She is lying in the street.  Please help me”

“Madame,” explained the servant, “I am the only one here.  But, come, I will try to help you.”

Magdala led the servant back to the street where Hygeia had fallen.  She was gone.  A crowd of motionless people stood on the spot where she had been.  Magdala looked into the empty faces and screamed, “Where is she?  I have to help her.  What have you done with her?  Where is she?”

Out of nowhere, a huge figure wearing the golden image of fire broke into the crowd and headed toward Magdala, once again.

Read Part 1.