Lepers

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They come with the food at dawn’s first breath, when the light is still weak and they don’t have to see our faces or the disease clinging to our hands, our throats. Their carts are full of food for us, vegetables and grain given by charitable men and rich women in the cities for the poor, stupid lepers. We’re dead already to them, corpses that walk and breathe, speak and listen. They don’t look us in the eyes, but I’m past caring. Maybe we are dead. It’s only a matter of time, anyway.

He’s with them when they come. Benjamin. He isn’t supposed to come. I’ve asked him not to, but he doesn’t listen. The men are unloading the carts, stacking the crates, heaving out bags of grain and meal. He slips away from them, and, although I know I shouldn’t, I go to join him.

He meets me behind the rocks, smiling, happy. He’s always cheerful. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry. Sad, only once. He pulls an apple out of his pocket and hands it to me. I take it with the tips of my fingers, careful not to touch him. I don’t want him to be here, certainly not permanently. I want him to live. To have a life.

“How’ve you been?” he asks. I lie and tell him I’m all right, tell him I’m happy. It’s what he wants to hear.

He tells me about his shop, about his sisters, about the life I left behind me when the leperosy touched my throat and hands, and I listen, eating the apple, dreaming of a place where I’m not welcome any longer.

The men call him. I look toward the carts, distracted, and he leans forward and steals a kiss before I can stop him. One kiss.

He’s so stupid, I can’t help but love him.

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