She peeked her head out of the window and looked up to the sky. The sun shone high, right in the center of the blue firmament to be exact.
“It must be noon.” Photini’s chest filled up with air and collapsed rapidly at the thought of walking under that kind that heat.
What else could I do?
She needed water to cook dinner. But if she waited until the heat of the day dissipated, she’d have to walk alongside the other women of Sychar. How many times would she be forced to hear Anatola brag about her lamb stew? Clearly, that was the only dish the woman knew how to cook. That kind of nonsense drove Photini crazy.
“Please the man,” she mumbled. “Fools, sooner or later, they’ll find out how stupid they are.”
She had had her fair share in pleasing men. After her fifth husband divorced her, she was done with marriage or love. The whimsical desire to find someone who valued her vanished like vapor blending to the atmosphere. She wanted stability and there was nothing stable about giving her heart away. Photini should have learned her lesson after the fourth husband left, but her heart had not grown completely cold after that divorce. She allowed husband number five to stealthily crawl under her skin and reach her heart. Bad move. He divorced her not long after the wedding because he had found another woman who suit him better.
“Deceitful snake. Scumbag man.”
Just another day in the life of Photini. Men did whatever they wanted. Whenever they were done, they disposed themselves of any inconvenience—even if the inconvenience was her. A true picture of rejection carnage.
“Poor Photini, she can’t keep a man.” She heard around town.
“Poor Photini, she is getting old,” the elders said.
“Poor Photini, she’ll die all alone,” the women said.
Depression haunted her for days after man number five left her. Why couldn’t anybody love her? Was she that abominable? No, she knew she wasn’t.
“Nasty thoughts.” She shook her head.
Photini touched her face and brushed her long black hair with her fingers. She still had some youth in her. Yet, her inside felt old and dry like the jug in front of her.
“The water.” She clenched her jaw, annoyed with herself for her useless reminiscing. She had wasted a long time lingering in the past.
Just move on, dumb woman.
“If I don’t go now, I’ll end up seeing Anatola. I’m not in the mood for the lamb stew conversation.”
No, she wasn’t. In fact, Photini knew that she’d actually tell the young girl to learn a new recipe or her husband would divorce her. The awareness of her cold nature buried all warm feelings inside an iceberg of disappointment. She shook her head and resented that there wasn’t one single corner of compassion in her soul. If she didn’t leave now, she’d be crying.
Better get going to avoid drama. I don’t need any more of that right now.
The arid landscape that covered the way to the well always exhausted Photini. Dust covered her sandals, and she thirsted for that delicious cool water. Jacob’s well not only meant hydration for her body but the nourishing of the one ritual she kept for herself as well.
She’d arrive at the well, draw water with her leather bucket and fill the jar. The leftover water was meant to wash her feet and her face—her holy moment. That cistern was her place of worship and connection to a god or a higher power—whatever was out there and ruled the universe.
When the water touched her face, she felt wanted; when the water touched her feet, she felt taken care of. For a few minutes, she’d see the sadness of her life washed away with that water. Her tears blended in swiftly as if she witnessed the ground absorbing her pain.
If only it could stay there.
She looked forward to that time of the day. Her only escape. The only oxygen to her soul.
From a distance, she saw a man sitting at the edge of the well. Her muscles twitched as anger burned inside.
“Great, how can I shoo him away? I was able to avoid Anatola, but a man? If he asks me for lamb stew, I’ll kick him.”
Every step closer to her precious well felt like the agony of a dagger piercing her organs. She was just a woman. Darn. She’d have to get the water and leave. No moment of reflection and cleansing because that man was there.
“Stupid man, go away.” Madness took over her mind and images of her breaking the jar on his head flashed through her brain. She’d lashed all her anger towards that fool who decided to sit at her well at that particular moment.
Just stop it, Photini. You’d be stoned. Men are not worth your death. Let the annoying man sit there. Fill your jar and come back tomorrow.
Just another day in Photini’s life. She always lost. Today was no different.
She reached the well and started her process. She mumbled low, so the stranger couldn’t hear her cussing. Her narrow eyes focused on the leather bucket, and she used extra strength to pull up the water. If anger caught fire, that rope would be burning right now.
“Will you give me water to drink?” The man asked.
How dare he?
She carefully looked towards him and her lips pressed into a white slash. Speechless. A Jew. Not only did had he impertinently messed up her ritual but he mocked her as well. Everyone knew Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans—especially a Samaritan woman. What kind of freak was he?
“How can you ask me that? You’re a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.” Her sharp tone and rigid thoughts came out unexpectedly. She knew she shouldn’t have spoken to him that way. Doomed. Always doomed one way or the other.
His eyes lit up and a wide grin appeared on his face. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Freak and insane simultaneously. And the Jews thought that the Samaritans were weird? She was witnessing insanity at its finest.
Her wide brown eyes glared at him with an intensity that could have thrown a donkey across the desert. Maybe it would hit Jerusalem as a warning to the Jews.
Don’t mess with the Samaritans. Don’t mess with this woman here.
“Sir, you don’t have a bucket to draw water and the well is deep. What kind of ‘living water’ is this and where can I find it?” She let out a high-pitch laughter. “Do you really think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob? He dug this well and drank from it himself.”
Her body tensed and she inched closer. Photini knew she had overstepped a boundary, but she wasn’t going to let a freaky Jew minimize her or her people. At least, not this time.
“Sir, this well was life for Jacob, his family, and his livestock. How can you say such thing?”
The man didn’t budge nor seemed intimidated with her tactics. People generally withdrew with her sarcasm. Photini could read people well, so she used that weapon to her advantage successfully—she was a glorified bully. It remained an answerable question the reason for her to get away with her bullying schemes as a woman. Even men fell prey to her psychological strategies.
The man’s gentle reply threw her off. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become a gushing fountain of the Holy Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life.”
What? That just takes the cake and the sweets altogether. Madness erupted inside of her like an active volcano. He definitely needed some sarcastic lava now.
She put her hands on her hips with a large dose of attitude. “Well, give me some of this water, so I’ll never thirst again and don’t have to come back here.”
She waited for him to slap her on the face. Yet, he didn’t show an ounce of irritability. Instead, he got up and walked towards her.
He locked eyes with her. “Photini, go get your husband and bring him here.”
Her eyes widened with amazement and she covered her mouth with her fingers. “H-How did you know my name. I-I’m not married, Sir.”
“I know more than you can handle,” he said.
She dared to look up and met his gaze. Puzzling. No harshness or judgment.
“You tell the truth. You have been married five times, but the man you’re living with is not your husband.”
She took a step back as if she had to hold herself together.
What’s going on here?
Her mind tried to make any sense of this stranger who knew everything about her. Why would he be wasting his time with a woman like her? She had been rejected five times. Men have thrown her away like a banana peel. They couldn’t handle her strong spirit and tenacity. They despised her ideas and often beat her up because she was too interested in the politics of her town.
Generally, her suggestions improved the overall life of Sychar’s inhabitants. She so longed to become a council member, but the only barrier against her accomplishing that was her gender.
“Are you a prophet, Sir?” Words barely squeezed out of her throat.
“Dear Photini, not even your parents were able to understand you. You were a leader ever since the Father and I created you. If all your husbands could have seen the gift you carry, they would have fought to remain with you.”
She leaned against the small wall around the well. She needed something to lean on or she’d faint.
“You are a true seeker of worship. You come to this well for your own private tabernacle. I tell you the truth, my Father has seen everything that the others haven’t.”
“What do you mean, Sir?” She asked.
“My Father has seen the crevices of your soul. You long to know love, but you’ve sought it in the wrong places. Even the man you’re with can’t give you the love you desire.”
Confusion crept in like a critter—a poisonous one. She needed some clarification; otherwise, she’d go crazy.
“I see you’re puzzled,” the man said.
“I don’t understand your words. Nobody has spoken to me this way.”
“Nobody has valued you this way.”
Her eyes widened.
“Do you remember the ordeal you went through with your first husband?”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“You had an idea to organize the food ratio for Sychar because of the drought.”
“Husband number one’s jealousy led him to beat you up. You curled up on the floor, weak and hurt. He then kicked you continuously and left you to never come back home anymore.”
Photini clutched her chest. She couldn’t hold the tears anymore as she thought of the months it took for her to recover from that beating. She miscarried her first baby during that time. She laid on a pool of blood for days unable to move. Her body felt frail as if life had slipped through her body. It actually did. A tiny and dearly loved fetus was somewhere under her.
More tears flooded her face. “There wasn’t anybody to help me.”
“I was there, dear Photini. I whispered to you what to do, and I carried your baby home to heaven with me.”
“I remember I had a dream that I was going to be fine.”
“Father and I wanted you to be fine.”
“Then, Anatola came to fetch me. She found me and ran for help.”
“I whispered to the young girl’s ears. Do you remember how the town took care of you?”
“They respect and love you. You just need to learn to love yourself.”
“How can I do that if I am only a woman?”
“I tell you the truth, a time is coming when men and women will worship with equality.”
She blurted out her high pitch and sarcastic laugh. “How come, Sir? If being a woman is as bad as having leprosy?”
“Mankind has distorted Father’s plan, but I came to bring everything back to their original design.”
Her eyebrows rose. The man was talking about gender equality and her value as a person. Disturbing and delicious at the same time.
“I’m so confused, Sir.” She touched her temples. “You talk about men and women worshiping together. Not only that is unheard of but you, Jews, have a different idea as well. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but the Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Can I have a drink now?” He asked once again.
She submerged the cup into the water and handed it to the man. He better have some good explanation about her question.
“Photini, a time is also coming when worship will happen neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You, Samaritans don’t know what you worship. Is it true you come here but don’t know what to worship?”
“Yet, the Father saw your heart. Soon, the location for worship won’t matter. True worshipers will worship in the Spirit and in truth. These are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Photini’s heart leaped as the man spoke those words. She has never met a man that spoke to her as an equal. They always showed an air of superiority that made her feel as small as lice.
In her mind, she saw herself as this little annoying bug. It multiplied itself and disturbed people—a magnified plague.
But this man never made her feel that way. Could that be the Messiah?
“Sir, I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
He took another sip from his water. The side of his eyes wrinkled with his smile. “I -the one who speak to you—am He.”
She fell to her knees. How could she stand when the Almighty himself stood before her? All her anger melted like honey on warm bread. The frequency of his words resonated within her soul and mind as if the agitation of the sound caused erosion on the layers of lies and bad experiences she had had.
Photini lost her breath with the intensity of the pain she felt.
“Let go, Photini. Release it all.”
He knelt down by her and touched her arm. His touch felt like a warm blanket around her on a cold day.
“You were not a mistake. It doesn’t matter how many husbands you’ve had or the mistakes you’ve made. Father doesn’t care if you’re a woman or a Samaritan. He cares about your heart. You belong, child.”
She remained on the ground with him paralyzed by the love that emanated from that man, the Messiah—her Messiah. Her mind took her back to her mother’s womb. She saw a smile as she was being put together. Blissful joy. Delicate hands knit her together as if she were a priceless silk.
A sudden movement broke the spell she was in. She looked up and saw a few men standing near them. They raised their brows and rubbed their beards.
They must be confused. No wonder. A Jew talking to a Samaritan woman?
Amusement bubbled up inside in addtition to all the emotions.
She lifted herself up. Her eyes toggled between the Messiah and the other men.
No time for explanations. She needed to go back to town and tell people what had happened.
Photini didn’t know how fast she could run, but she felt as if she was able to beat a gazelle.
Peter elbowed John and gesticulated towards Jesus.
“What? Me? No way. You ask Him what that was about,” John said.
He looked at Andrew, but his brother turned around and started whistling.
Chicken. Maybe Nathaniel?
Nope. He was doing the same thing.
Jesus rose up from the dusty ground. He noticed Photini had forgotten her jug.
He smiled. She knew her priorities, unlike His disciples.
Peter glared at the other disciples. “R-Rabbi, aren’t you hungry?”
Jesus gently pulled a date from Peter’s sack and pointed towards Sychar. “My food is to do the will of my Father. Look at the fields. They are ready for harvest.”
Jesus noticed the eye exchange between the disciples. Clueless and blinded by prejudice. If only they knew the heart of His Father towards the Samaritans—especially the women.
“My Father searches the hearts of true worshipers. Don’t be deceived by nationality, gender, and color. I came to all who are willing to receive me.”
“The Messiah is here.” Photini almost lost her breath as she mumbled those words.
No more talking, focus.
She needed to run as fast as possible. The whole town had the right to know the Messiah, the one, whom her friends hoped to meet was in Sychar.
Lovely and gentle. He was so much more than she expected. Actually, he was nothing she had expected.
Warmth swelled up inside as wholeness sank in. Every single part of her soul felt alive and ready for a fresh start. Her heart beat fast with the thought of having the permission of being herself. Photini craved for that experience.
One encounter with the Messiah and vulnerability seemed so natural. Worth a shot, for sure.
She’d marry the man she was living with. There was no reason to keep her heart from being hurt again. If the Messiah changed her, He’d change him as well. Her partner had hoped to tie the knot anyway. It was time.
Her subconscious led her to Anatola’s house. Interesting, but necessary.
“Anatola,” she yelled.
She banged on the door.
Anatola came out frazzled. “What is this all about, Photini? I have my lamb stew cooking.”
“You need to find another recipe.”
“Whatever.” Anatola crossed her arms against her chest.
“No time for this. Come with me.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Your lamb stew will not run away.”
Anatola rolled her hazel eyes.
“This is legit. Come meet a man who told me everything about me!”
Anatola’s eyes grew wide.
“I promise. It’s the truth. He said everything!”
“Did he have a long scroll and read it? Was he Greek? They would have loved your life’s drama.”
“Don’t be a smart-aleck and come.”
“The lamb stew.”
“Can you let your date size brain expand a little and do something out of the ordinary?”
She grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her out the door.
“Okay, okay, crazy woman. Let me first take the pot off the stove.”
On the way to the market, Photini noticed Anatola’s beautiful features for the first time. Her friend’s silk cashew color hair made her eyes even more vibrant. Anatola’s delicate facial features made her a desire for so many men. Her lucky husband better treat her right. The girl surely would have been in the king’s court if the Assyrians still ruled the land.
She told Anatola in detail all it had taken place. Her friend’s facial expression gave away the wonder in her mind. Yes. Wonder and awe were right words to describe her crazy experience.
“Go tell your family about the Messiah. I’ll stand here in the center and stalk anybody who comes by.”
Photini didn’t waste time. Her first victim was the butcher. “Come and meet the man who said everything about my life.”
“Photini, are you nuts? That is not the effect of one of those herbs you take for relaxation, right?
“No, sir. It’s all legit.”
He leaned his head. “Everything?”
“Yes, and bring your family.”
The councilman showed up and Photini threw herself in front of him.
“I hope this is not another one of your great ideas,” he mumbled.
“No, sir. You need to come and meet a man who said everything about me.”
“Are you out of your mind?” He shook his head. “What kind of man is that?”
“The Messiah,” she answered. “Go fetch your family.”
The farmer walked by and Photini grabbed his wrist. “Come and meet a man who told me everything about me.”
“Photini, that would have taken days.” He raised his brow.
“I’m serious. He even knew about the first husband’s abuse. Get your family and follow me.”
She spotted the leader of the elders and tried to hold on to his shawl. Her foot gave away after she stumbled across a rock and Photini grabbed the men’s beard instead.
“Photini, what’s is this?”
“Sorry. I was trying to get your attention.” She tried to straighten up the man’s beard with her fingers.
“Next time, use your words. I have a name.”
“Yes, sir. You need to come and meet the man who said everything about me.”
“Are you mentally ill?”
“No. I’m perfect. The best I’ve ever been.” Her eyes glittered.
The man scratched his temples. “That’s a lot. Your whole life?”
“Yes. It was beautiful. Come with us.”
After that, word was out. Photini and Anatola had a little army comprised of people hungry to know about this man. Whoever knew about Photini’s life deserved to be crowned king, prophet, or saint.
While Jesus was still teaching his disciples, a throng of people made their way to Jacob’s well.
Photini came in front of them.
She smiled and placed herself on Jesus’s feet. “The Messiah. The one who said everything about me is this one.”
Jesus turned to his disciples and pointed to the crowd waiting for him to speak. “See, the fields are ripe for eternal life harvest. ”
Photini knew that her life had changed that day. As she looked up and gazed into Jesus’s eyes, she saw the most exhilarating image—herself. The vibrant, fiery and full of life Photini.
This time, she’d make sure she’d never lose her again.
Her heart melted as she leaned closer to Jesus. The more she leaned on him, the more she found herself.
She’d never forget the day when a walking living well came crashing against her sorrows and quenched her thirst for real love. It was something supernatural—similar to being born again.
Photini glanced at Jacob’s well. She went there every day looking for something more in life. That more wasn’t an it but a him. Tears rolled down her cheeks as thankfulness swelled up inside.
It was a good day. In fact, the best day of Photini’s life.