512 Words

The River Crossing

Alex Keegan

We had walked now for many days, my young appellate and I, under a white sun across the great plain. Our sandalled feet were grey with dust, our robes grey, our skin dry. My heart felt colourless too, but of course, of this I could not speak.

We approached a river at the only crossing place. As we came nearer, we saw that someone was there; a woman and of course untouchable.

"Master," the appellate whispered.

"Yes," I replied quietly. "I see her. My eyes are still strong."

"Master - a woman we cannot - "

"No," I said. "We go not west or east. We must cross exactly there."

"But Master, the woman."

"We must cross here," I told him, "and here stands the woman."

The appellate spoke no more but I knew his step was heavier.

The white sun burned.

When we reached the river and the woman, she knelt and lowered her face to the earth. Her distress was much. I bade her rise.

"You have not crossed the river?" I said.

"I cannot, Master. I am feared of water and cannot swim. The water is deep."

"But here, " I said, "Here you must surely die."

"Yes, Master, but in the water I know I will die and here, someone might come who in all charity would carry me across the river."

"You know of us. You know that neither I nor this appellate can touch you?"

"Of course, Master."

"And do you expect others to pass today?"

"No, Master."

"The sun is hot and killing. Why wait?"

"Because the river is too deep. I wait for someone to carry me over."

"And you know we cannot."

"I know this."

My appellate prayed, still. He kissed the earth, scooping from the river to wet his pate. He was still simple and his thoughts were clear to me.

"Rise up," I told him.

"Rise up," I told the woman.

"Appellate," I said. "Will you save this woman?"

"I have prayed, Master," he answered. "Perhaps a man will come today."

"The sun is white."

"I know, Master."

"And the woman will die."

"I expect this, Master."

"Then I must pick up the woman and carry her across the river."

That the woman feared my touch was honourable. The river was cold and strong but we carried each other and were safely set down the other side. I spoke not again to the woman, lest I be shamed and she went West a little while my appellate and I turned East towards the hills. My appellate was half a step behind me.

Eventually he spoke. "Master, the woman was untouchable."

"I have left her," I said. We walked.

"But, Master..." he said.

Beyond us now, the town was in sight, thin and blue in the foothills.

I stopped and turned towards the appellate who lowered his eyes but took a moment to do so.

"Appellate," I said. "I put the woman down on the river-bank. Why do you still carry her?"

I turned and continued to walk. My load lightened further.

Copyright ©1998 Alex Keegan. All Rights Reserved.

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November, 1998
Issue #31

512 Words