The Centurion's Man by Ken Proctor

The Cenurion's Man

By Ken Proctor  

“Fallah, please.” She is still anchored to the doorframe, but without taking her eyes of me, she fumbles about at her feet for the lost basin and towel. “Yes, wipe that water up. Quickly. And then fetch more to clean this floor.” She looks relieved to have an excuse to flee.

I realize that while scrabbling around trying to clear the bedding, my feet are still leaving a trail of feces, old blood and indescribable goo. Tossing the unsalvagable loincloth in with the bundled bedding, I sit naked on the floor and wipe my feet with a clean corner of linen, only to realize that my sitting has left a filthy print, too.

Leaving the bundle behind, I dash through to the small back courtyard, where the laundry is hung to dry, and grabbing the leather bucket, I draw water to wash myself, scrubbing and scraping as best I can with my hands. I draw a second bucket of water for my hair and face, and then a third to wash my stinking body again. It is only after pulling a fresh tunic over my head that I realize I am being watched. Fallah, joined by Nehum and Loma, the gardener, is watching me from the kitchen doorway. They are staring... and immobile at a time demanding action. “Don’t just stand there like lumps! Help me clean the master’s chamber. Loma, prepare a hot fire... no, there is no time for a fire... just take the bedding to the ravine where the trash is dumped. Nehum, take the mattress to the dump, too. And Fallah, clean the floor. I will bring this water.” But no one was moving. “What is the matter with you three? Will you not help me? It is getting late and the master could arrive at any time.” Nehum’s mouth was hanging open but no sounds came out. At last, Fallah spoke, but little above a whisper.

“You should be dead by now,” she said. Then, just a bit more bravely, “We thought you would be dead by now.” Loma was nodding but added no clarity to the comment.

“If I do not get this house in order quickly, then surely the master will kill me, and your speculations will come true.” I moved to press past them, but they scattered out of my way lest I touch them. “Do as I say. I will prepare the master’s dinner, then Fallah and Nehum can distract him in the dining area while I finish cleaning his bed chamber.”

Taking a large stoneware basin from its place, I prepare to make fresh bread, but a nagging doubt halts me. Turning to the pantry, I gather the ingredients one by one, and place them on the kitchen table: flour, oil, salt, water, dried herbs. Then I look to the shelf where sits the jar with the loose fitting lid... where I store the leaven. Slowly, I reach for the jar and with both hands lift it down and set it with the other ingredients. Taking a small step back, I look at the jar, and after a moment, shake my head. “Nonsense,” I tell myself. “It’s just a jar.”

Again, I get that creeping feeling of being watched. Fallah has returned. “The bedding is out of the house. Nehum will also go to the market for new bedding and have a fresh mattress delivered,” she reports. “But it is unlikely that the master will return tonight” she adds. “He went to seek help in Capernaum.”

At once I am both relieved and puzzled. “I do not understand,” I say, turning away from dinner preparations. Surely the master would have discussed with me, the keeper of his household, if he thought we needed more helpers. Further, there was no need to go clear to Capernaum for help when bond servants and slaves were readily available right here. And thirdly, “Why did the master not tell me rather than you?”

Fallah’s answer left me speechless and I gripped the table’s edge for support.

The master tarried a day in Capernaum, and, escorted by the customary cohort, returned on the third day. With the help of the others, I used that precious time to restore order to the household, thoroughly cleanse and air out the master’s chamber and, after applying a fresh coat of white lime wash to the walls and ceiling of that room, remade the master’s bed. And, by the light of a bright lamp, I personally inspected the floor on my hands and knees.Next Chapter

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