A journal of narrative writing.
Bartimaeus the Blind

The evening meal set, I turned and got the broom from its resting place in the corner of our small house. With a practiced hand, I carefully swept the dirt floor from the table to the doorway, looking, as always, for any stray bits of detritus that might trip up my brother as he walked into the house. It was my nightly ritual, performed every evening for so many years I did it unthinkingly, as I did so many things for my brother.

The floor was swept, the table set, the chairs and bowls in exactly the same places as they were last night, the night before, the night before that, every night. Not far from the table my brother's pallet was made up, neatly, by my hands; the same fold in the top cover, the same angle of the smaller cover across the foot. My own pallet, smaller and shabbier, I never made up neatly. What was the use? The only one who ever saw it was me - for I, unlike my brother, could see. As I'd recently passed the age when girls would marry, I was starting to acclimate to the fact that I would indeed spend the rest of my life caring for my younger brother. Thankless tasks like making up my pallet were quickly falling to the wayside.

With my evening chores finished, I pulled out my usual chair to wait for my brother. He was seldom late; a life of endless repetition caused him, if nothing else, to be punctual. I listened for his halting steps on the road outside our door, the scrape of the walking stick he carried in front of him to ward off unseen dangers. I looked around our small house as I waited. Everything was in order.

"Achot!" I heard my brother calling to me, loudly, followed by the sound of pounding feet. I rose from the table and hurried outside. To my astonishment, Bartimaeus was flying up the road, his robe streaming out behind him, his walking stick gone.

"Bartimaeus!" I screamed. "What are you doing? Stop running at once! Be careful! You'll fall!"

But my brother didn't stop running until he reached the doorway, colliding with me, almost knocking me over with his weight.

"Achot," he panted, grabbing me by the shoulders. "Achot, I can see."

His breathless words meant nothing to me; they were completely incomprehensible.

"Bartimaeus, what are you talking about? Why are you late? And what on earth were you running for?"

To my astonishment, he let go of my shoulders and ignored me, raising his arms to the heavens and twirling around in front of the house.

"Bartimaeus!" I hissed. "What are you doing?"

"Achot!" he repeated as he stopped his spinning. "I told you. I can see. I've been healed, I can see."

I shook my head at him, bemused.

"Come inside and eat your dinner."

I didn't know what he was playing at, but I for one was not going to have our neighbors start thinking him crazy, spinning around in front of our house and proclaiming for all the world to hear that he was healed. I was going to get him inside and feed him his dinner. I reached for his hand to guide him into the house; without the aid of his walking stick I knew he would need me. But he flung my hand aside, walking across the threshold without tripping or stumbling, and strode inside to the table and his waiting, customary chair.

He then turned to me, still radiant.

"I never knew how nice our home was." He turned his head as if he could actually see the small, cramped quarters where we lived. I suppressed a snort. We were lucky to have this house, yes, especially when so many blind beggars lived in tents. But it was far from nice, and I was getting annoyed with him.

"Sit down," I said. "Eat your dinner. Quit talking foolishly."

He pulled out his chair and sat, and I took my place opposite him. I waited for him to extend his hand along the surface of the table, reaching for his food, but he was still lolling his head around like a crazy person.

"I never knew my pallet was green," he said, looking over at the corner where he slept. "I think I always supposed it was brown."

I stared at him. What was going on?

He continued to turn his head, sweeping across the room, down and around and over and back, and then suddenly he turned his face toward me.

"But why," he asked, "have you made up my pallet so neatly, when you haven't touched your own?"

I dropped the lentil loaf I was holding, and it rolled, unnoticed, to the floor.

* * *

Later that evening, I plied Bartimaeus with questions as he recounted his story once again.

"So you were calling to him," I repeated, still staring at my brother as if I, too, was seeing for the first time. "Why?"

Bartimaeus shrugged. "He's a healer," he replied, unconcerned. "What could be the harm?"

It was this attitude of his, this brazenly cheerful, impudent demeanor that netted him so much money begging. While others beggars sat despondently, some not even raising their voices to cry out, Bartimaeus treated begging like his own personal one-man show. He claimed he could tell women from men by their scent, and once he determined the gender, he was off. He'd call to the women, extolling their beauty with fulsome praise for their hair, their faces, their clothing. He'd tell them they were the prettiest sight his blind eyes had ever seen. He lauded the men for their cleverness and skill, lavishing them with praise for the great deeds he falsely attributed to them. He was really quite funny, and when his descriptions were even close to accurate, the people laughed and threw him coins. When he admired a short, stocky man for his tall, feminine grace, the laughter and the coins flew even faster.

I guess I shouldn't have been suprised to hear that my brother had been sitting by the side of the road, calling out to healers, telling them he wanted to see. I could picture it as easily as if I'd been there. What happened next, though, was strange beyond words.

"And then he called to you," I prompted, hoping to hear more. But Bartimaeus, obviously preoccupied, pulled out the smooth pebbles he always carried in a pouch around his waist and held them up to the light streaming through our one window. He looked at them, then closed his eyes and ran them through his fingers as he used to do. When he opened his eyes, he looked at them again, as if trying to reconcile what he knew with his fingers to what he now saw with his eyes.

"Bartimaeus?" I interrupted his reverie.

"Yes," he said, dropping the stones back into his lap. "He called for me, and I went to him, and he asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to see."

"And then what happened?"

"And then he said, ‘Go, your faith has healed you.' I didn't even know I had faith!" He laughed.

Typical. I shook my head at him, and he stopped laughing and looked at me in amazement.

"What?" I asked.

"It's just - I know that sound, the sound your covering makes against your hair. And now I see you moving." He laughed again with delight. I shook my head.

"And then what happened?" I wanted to hear the details of the story over and over, as if impressing them repeatedly on my ears would make them somehow more believable.

"And then it was like all this light, and all these colors - except I didn't know they were colors - came rushing at me, and it was so painful I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, I could see. And then," he said, getting even more excited, warming to his favorite part of the tale, "as I looked, I suddenly knew what things were. Yeshua was standing over me, looking at me, and I knew he was a man, and the hair on his face was a beard. And as I looked at the dirt I knew it had a color, and I knew it was called brown, and when I looked at the sky I knew it was blue."


"I don't know. I just knew. And then Yeshua started walking away from me, and I got up, and left my stick, and followed him."

The litany was interrupted by a small knock at the door.

"That'll be Kitra," I said, getting up and moving toward the door. "She's bringing over some sewing." To supplement the money Bartimaeus made begging, I took in sewing projects for families who lived nearby and had too many children to keep up themselves. I didn't earn much money, but every now and then I would be asked to help sew for something important, new clothes for a feast, perhaps, or in this case, a wedding. Sewing for a special event yielded more pay, and between the little monies Bartimaeus and I made and the home our parents had left us, we managed to get by. And for that I was grateful. So many others in our situation simply lived on the corners of the street where they begged.

I undid the latch and swung open the door, and Kitra stepped inside. We sat down at the table, going over the details of the work, mending a tear in the veil her mother had worn on her wedding day. Kitra's head was bent low over the fabric as the light began to fade, and she didn't hear Bartimaeus walking up behind her.

"Kitra," he breathed, and she startled. I looked up at him. He was standing there, transfixed, an expression on his face I'd never seen.

"You are the most beautiful woman in the world," he exhaled all in a rush, then grabbed her hands and held them to his chest. "Will you be my isha? Now?"

The look in his eyes was like an animal.

Kitra stifled a scream as she stood up and pushed him back, all but running toward the door and out of the house. I hurried after her and caught up with her on the street.

"I'm so sorry," I panted. "Forgive Bartimaeus. He's had a difficult day."

"What was he talking about?" Kitra asked, her voice shaking. "I'm airusin to Tzviel. Everyone knows that!"

"I know, I know," I said, speaking soothingly as if to a frightened gazelle. "Bartimaeus doesn't know what he is saying. I think he might have a fever."

I calmed Kitra with soothing words until she quieted down and left for home. Then I turned around and stormed back in to Bartimaeus.

"What in the name of all that Yahweh has sanctified do you think you were doing?"

Bartimaeus stopped his examination of the texture of the mud that made up our walls, and turned toward me. His expression was still not quite like him.

"Achot, she's beautiful. I never knew!"

"Bartimaeus, you scared her out of her wits! Do you want me to lose this project? Everyone knows she's airusin to Tzviel; that's why I have the veil in the first place." I gestured toward the table. Bartimaeus walked over and picked up the fabric, running it through his fingers, now closing his eyes, now opening them.

"She'll look so beautiful in this," he said, turning it over and over. "She must wear it for me!" He looked at me again, now with an expression of frightening sincerity. "Did you see her hair peeking out under her covering? The way her hands turned when she spoke? The way she walked, and moved?"

"Bartimaeus, she's a woman," I snapped. "All women look like that. I look like that. Stop being so ridiculous."

I felt his eyes upon me, appraising me, and I turned away. At least I used to look like that, I thought, moving over to shake out the covering on my pallet. I used to look like that before I couldn't take a husband, before I wasted my entire life taking care of you. I had never resented my blind brother as much I did now.

* * *

Long after darkness had fallen and we'd lain down to sleep, Bartimaeus was still awake, talking on his pallet into the darkness. I was only half listening, waiting for him to finally be quiet so I could fall asleep. He was rhapsodizing about his new life, no longer as Bartimaeus the Blind, but just Bartimaeus.

"I can take a wife," I heard him saying as I tossed on my pallet. "I can marry, and have children and raise a family. I can do anything now!"

Good for you, I thought uncharitably as I rolled over. Can you possibly go to sleep?

"I can start a trade!" he continued to gush, happily. "I can be a carpenter or a fisherman or a merchant!"

"Bartimaeus," I finally said, wearily pushing myself up on my elbows, "How do you expect to start a trade when you have no training, no skills, and no apprenticeship?"

I felt, rather than saw, my brother deflate. "I hadn't thought of that," he said, his voice a little more subdued. "Someone will take me on, don't you think? I mean, I can see!"

"Everyone can see," I answered, lying back down on my pallet. "Everyone else could always see, and everyone else has been training to work since they were boys."

The moment of silence stretched so long, I began to wonder if Bartimaeus had finally fallen asleep. I readjusted myself on my mat and closed my eyes.

"But I can't go back to begging," a quiet voice said eventually. "I can't be a beggar now that I can see; I'm healthy and strong and whole." He paused for a moment, then his voice drifted out again over the darkness. "What am I going to do?"

I didn't admit this to him, but the thought suddenly scared me. Of course he wouldn't be able to continue begging; no one would give him a single coin now that he'd made his way home this evening proclaiming to all the world that he could see. Why hadn't I thought of that? He had no training or skills, and was far too old to begin looking for a trade. He was useless. In granting him sight, Yeshua had taken away the one and only skill he possessed.

And taken away our money, I thought, suddenly cold. What were we going to do? Bartimaeus lay breathing quietly on his pallet. Like me, he lay awake, and I wondered what he was thinking. What had Yeshua done? What kind of a miracle was it to grant a fully-grown man his sight, and rob him of the ability to feed and clothe himself?

Bartimaeus could now see, and yes, it had been a miracle. But at what cost? It wasn't as if he'd been born seeing and then had it taken away; he was blind from birth. He'd never known what he was missing as a blind man, but he would know what he was missing now that he was sighted. I shifted in the darkness, unable to find a comfortable position in which to curl my body. What would this mean for us? We couldn't live off of the tiny money I made taking in wedding veils and torn robes. And what was Bartimaeus the Sighted supposed to do? Mope around the house, forever useless, fawning desperately over any female who came his way?

I sighed again into the darkness, louder this time, and rubbed my knuckle against the space between my eyes. Perhaps our lives would have been better if Yeshua had simply left us alone.