Every day Zeek came to the hole and looked into the city. He couldn’t go in. Not any more. But he could look. And, if she came, he could talk to her.
She usually came.
“She’s usually here by now,” Zeek shouted over his shoulder as he turned away from the wall to address his three friends.
Zeek’s friends were like him. They were “outsiders” too. They could come to the wall, but they couldn’t go in the gate. They could call out to people as they passed but they couldn’t embrace them. They could look, but they couldn’t touch.
Zeek turned and looked furtively into the city of Samaria through his tiny peephole.
“Doesn’t look like she’s coming,” one friend said.
“Do you think she’ll bring food today?” another asked.
“I hope so,” Zeek said, studying the people passing inside the city.
“I’m hungry enough to eat a horse,” the third friend said.
Zeek and his friends lived outside the city. They were outcasts. Cursed by God. Rejected by their people. They were lepers. They lived in a grove of trees not far from the city. Far enough to appease the law but close enough to reach the city each day. To look. To hope. To eat, if someone brought them food.
Zeek and his three friends had lived outside the city for years now. While they couldn’t go in, the people could come out to them. But that had all changed when the army of Aram had arrived. The army didn’t attack the city. They just blocked the roads. They didn’t allow caravans to enter and they killed any person who tried to leave with a volley of arrows. Nobody came in. Nobody went out.
Day after day. Week after week. Months passed. Slowly the people in the city ate their food and drank their drink. Soon there was just water and whatever food the people could scrounge up or grow on their city terraces.
It has been too long and things were not getting any better. The lepers were accustomed to getting left overs – day old food – but now… now they were lucky to get anything at all.
An eye appeared at the other side of the hole. It was her eye.
Zeek shrieked for joy, “She’s here!” Then putting his mouth to the hole he said, as clearly as he could, “Hello, my love! How is my Zara?”
Yes, Zeek and Zara. It had been a laughing point for years. It’s like you two were meant for each other! Your names are a perfect match! And, like their names, Zeek and Zara had known love and life like few others. They were a perfect pair, a matchmakers dream. Until the curse. Until the wall. The wall that had once protected them inside the city now separated them from each other.
Zeek pressed his ear against the hole and listened.
Zara spoke. “Hello, my Zeek.” There were tears in her voice. “Not good. Things are worse than ever in here.”
Zeek returned his mouth to the hole. “Step away from the wall so I can see you.”
Zara obeyed and Zeek peered at his wife through the peephole.
He returned his mouth to the wall, “Where is Izreal?” He asked.
They had thought long and hard, trying to find a “Z” name for the boy when he was born. They had tried so hard to have a child. It had taken years. Then, finally, Zara was pregnant. When they came upon “Izreal” it wasn’t their idea. It didn’t start with a Z. As the prophet passed by their home one day, they told him of their years of longing for a child and difficulty finding a name. Old Elisha said, “Yours is a story of struggle. If there was ever a name for struggle it was God’s chosen name for his leader, Israel. God wrestled with that man all night! Jacob was such a good fighter that when the sun rose, God laughed and renamed him ‘God struggles here!’ – Israel – that’s what it means, you know.”
Of course they knew. Every Hebrew child was told the story of Jacob as often as they were told the story of Moses. It was who they were. The name stuck in their minds. And when it was a boy, they stuck a ‘Z’ in the middle and said, “We were part of God’s struggle for this one to be born.”
Zara said, “He’s not with me today, Zeek.”
“Where is he?” Zeek was anxious. “I miss him so much!”
Tears were running down Zara’s cheeks. “Things are bad in here, Zeek. People are starving.”
“I know that,” Zeek said. “We’re starving out here, too.”
One of his friends grabbed his shoulder, “Did she bring any food? Ask her! Did she?”
“Did you bring us any food?” Zeek repeated into the hole.
Zara stepped away from the hole, shaking her head. She mouthed the word “no” as she held out her hands, showing they were empty. Usually their conversation would end with Zara climbing the wall, lowering food with a rope, tied in a bag. But, not today.
Zeek didn’t tell his friends the answer. “Can you go get Izzy? I want to see Izzy. Please!”
Zeek’s friend tugged his shoulder. “What did she say? She didn’t bring us any food, did she?”
Zara put her lips close to the hole. “There’s no food left, Zeek. There is no meat. There’s no bread. There’s nothing. Yesterday, the last donkey’s head was sold at auction for 80 shekels!”
“80 shekels?!” Zeek exclaimed, “That’s enough to buy an entire horse!”
“Not anymore,” Zara said, shaking her head, “The only horses we haven’t eaten are the five that belong to the King’s guard.”
As if saying his title was enough to summon him, the King of Isreal appeared, walking on the wall above Zeek and Zara. Someone shouted, “The King! I see the King on the wall!”
Zeek and Zara stepped back from the wall and stared up. Zeek noticed sackcloth under the kingly robes. “The King has given up,” Zeek whispered to his friends. “He wears the sackcloth of morning – the clothing of one who is defeated!”
Zeek heard Zara’s voice come over the wall, it was too faint to make out what she said, but it was undoubtedly hers. He pressed his ear to the hole.
“Oh, King!” Zara shouted as she threw her hands into the air, “Help me!”
“If the Lord doesn’t help you,” the king muttered from above, “where can I get help for you? There’s no flour to make bread. There’s no grapes to make drink. I have nothing for you!”
“Your word is law,” Zara cried. “Make a ruling in my favour!”
“What might I say,” the King laughed, “that would help? Can my words feed you?”
Zara continued, “Yesterday, my neighbour said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. Today I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she has hidden him! Help me!”
Zeek lost his strength and slid down the wall. His eyes bulged wide with rage and fear and insanity. He couldn’t blink. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Izzy. Izzy was gone. Zara had…
The King, between Zeek and Zara on the wall, tore his robes. Now everyone could see that he had given up. A king wearing sackcloth was devastating for his kingdom. A king who tore his clothes was no longer worthy of leadership.
“Bring me the prophet,” The King shouted with rage. “Today he dies! His God did this.”
A king who denies his God is no king at all.
Moments later Elisha stood below the King, who still raged on the wall. “This disaster is from the Lord,” The King spat each word as tears ran down his dusty cheeks. “Why should we not give up the city? Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” His strength was gone. The King leaned on the shoulder of his leading officer.
The prophet stared up, shading his eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun. “Hear the word of the Lord,” the prophet shouted with force beyond his years. He pointed at the gate in the wall, “See this gate? Be here tomorrow. Tomorrow, at this gate, when the sun is about as high as it is right now, a large bag of the finest flour will sell for one shekel and the biggest bag of barley you can imagine will also cost just one shekel!”
The officer supporting the King started to laugh. When he regained enough control to speak, he said, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of Heaven, what you say is impossible!”
Elisha glared at the soldier. In a stone cold voice, he said, “You will see it with your own eyes but you will eat none of it!” Then, spinning on his heals, Elisha hurried away.
Zeek lay against the wall, where he had fallen when his mind broke. His three friends stared at him, unsure of what to do or say. His eyes flicked from friend to friend. He searched for some word of kindness, some sensible explanation for the madness that had descended upon him.
Slowly a new truth settled on him. There was no sense left. There were no answers. There was only loss. The loss of the life he once had. There was only pain. The pain his body could no longer feel because of this dreaded disease but that his heart throbbed with. There was only death. The death of… The death of…
Zeek rose to his feet and dusted himself off. “I’m hungry,” he said. And he started walking.
His three friends were startled as he pushed through them and stumbled away from the city. Zeek didn’t head toward the grove of trees they called home. He didn’t head toward the well outside the city where they went to drink. He walked directly down the road toward the camp of the enemy army.
“Zeek!” One of his friends shouted, “Stop, you’re going the wrong way!”
“I am not,” Zeek said. “I am hungry.”
His friends had caught up with him now. He wasn’t that fast, but neither were they. Together, the four walked as fast as a group of lepers, missing bits and pieces, could manage.
“Zeek,” another friend said, struggling for breath, “slow down. You’re going to get killed!”
“Perhaps,” Zeek grunted. “Killed or fed.”
“What?” A leper asked, “Fed? You know where there’s food?”
“Yes,” Zeek said pointing at the smoke of distant cooking fires in front of them. “Fed by those men, cooking their meat, roasting their potatoes, toasting their bread!”
Struggling to keep up with their stumbling comrade, another leper said, “Zeek, they are not going to feed you. When you are close enough, they will shoot you.”
“They may not waste the arrows,” Zeek said. “They may wait for us to get close enough and chop us to pieces with their swords.”
“That’s reassuring,” one of the lepers said. “You’re not thinking clearly!”
“I’m hungry,” Zeek said again, as if they hadn’t heard.
“Yes,” a leper said, “we are all hungry.”
“Starving, actually,” Zeek said. “And we are all going to die. Just like Izzy.”
“You’re talking nonsense,” another leper said.
“I don’t care about sense,” Zeek said. “I am going to eat or I am going to die. They can decide. UNCLEAN!” He shouted as the smoke resolved into visible fires, surrounded by tents, benches and tables. “UNCLEAN! Lepers! Cursed! UNCLEAN! Feed us or kill us!”
The motley crew of lepers lurched slowly into the enemy camp. They were not greeted with a volley of arrows. They were not chopped to bits by angry soldiers. The enemy camp was more camp and less enemy.
The fires were glowing embers with meat-laden spits hovering above them. Empty tents revealed beds, clothes and even treasures like gold, silver and weapons. Horses and donkeys were tethered to posts. When they reached the cooking tents, the four lepers discovered the jackpot. Tents filled with jugs of wine, waiting for thirsty soldiers. Tents filled with salted meat, waiting for meals. Flour. Barley. Bags and bags of it.
It was awhile before they discovered the treasures and food tents. First they ate. They ate the meat on the spits. They moved from fire to fire, amazed by their luck.
Then, when they couldn’t eat another bite, they started exploring. They loaded up their robes with as much food, treasure and clothing as they could manage and carried it back to their grove of trees where they buried it.
Then they returned to the enemy camp. Again they loaded their robes with everything they found and took it back to bury in their grove of trees.
As Zeek and his three friends rummaged through the enemy camp, loading up their robes for a third trip to the trees, Zeek’s voice stopped them.
“Come!” He shouted. “Friends! Come here, now!”
They joined him by a smoky pit that now held an empty spit. Night was approaching and the glowing embers radiated light and heat toward the four lepers, though they couldn’t feel it.
“We can’t do this,” Zeek said.
“Do what?” one of his friends asked.
“Keep this to ourselves,” Zeek replied. “And keep burying it!”
“What else are we going to do with it?” another leper asked out of the darkness.
“Our families are starving,” Zeek said, almost in a whisper. “We need to tell them. We can save our people. It’s our turn to feed them.” The lepers laughed at this thought.
“We can feed our families!” One of the lepers said, “What a beautiful night this is!” And they ran, through the darkness, leaping and jumping and praising God all the way back to the starving city.
When the group of lepers reached the city, the gatekeeper was waiting for them with his bow drawn.
Although they had thought they were moving quickly, they had taken some time to reach the gate. Lepers are not known for their speed. Their voices, however, carried far ahead of them. Their words were unclear, but their joy was a sound unheard for months. Their happiness had saved their lives. “You four are making a ridiculous amount of noise,” the gatekeeper said, “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you. What has you so filled with joy?”
The lepers gave their report. The gatekeeper sent a message straight to the King.
Soon, the King and his guard were at the gates.
“What is the meaning of this?” The King said as he reached the darkened gate.
Zeek approached as close as he dared, “UNCLEAN!” He shouted, “CURSED!”
“Yes, yes,” the king said, “We know all that. What else is wrong with you lot? You’re happy! What’s going on?”
Zeek said, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.”
“Nonsense,” the King said.
Zeek and his friends dumped the contents of their robes in a pile before the King. The torchlight revealed gold, silver and food.
“FOOD!” one of the soldiers said, unable to hold his composure.
The King shook his head with sorrow. He knew a trick when he saw one. “I will tell you what the Arameans are doing,” the King said. “They know we are starving. So they have left the camp to hide in the countryside. They think we will come out, and when we do, they will rush into the city.”
The soldier who had been excited a moment before said, “Have some men take the five horses and ride out to see if it’s true. If it’s a trick and they die, it’s no worse for them than us. We are all going to die. So let us send them to find out what happened.”
The King agreed. Two chariots each led by two horses followed a lead horse and rider. The King commanded them to explore the enemy camp and then follow the trail of the soldiers to find where they had gone.
As the people woke in the city, they gathered at the gate waiting for the chariots to return with their report. When they returned, they told of a trail of debris strewn between the enemy camp and the Jordan River.
The Arameans had run as if for their lives. Which, as the story would be told by Aramean bards in years to come, is exactly what had happened. The enemy had heard a massive army approaching at speed. Chariots. Warriors. Voices of thousands – all descending on their small besieging camp. And so they had run for their lives, leaving everything they couldn’t carry.
When the people heard the report and that the camp truly was empty of soldiers but filled with riches and food, they rushed toward the enemy camp. In the people’s haste to leave the city, one soldier – the king’s leading officer – was knocked over and trampled to death beneath the feet of the hungry hordes.
The following morning, as the sunrise lit the wall of the city for which God struggled, four lepers sitting in a grove of trees, passed around a jug of wine and gnawed on salted strips of meat as they played checkers with coins of purest gold and finest silver.
The historical details behind this fictional retelling can be found in the Bible in the book of 2 Kings chapters 6 & 7.