The bougainvillea is blooming in the courtyard. I see it there, vibrant magenta framing our view outdoors. The leaves lift and settle on the evening breeze as it swirls through the room. It glides on the halil's breathy tones, sweeping the sorrowful notes among us and drying our brows where we yet recline in the warm glow of lamplight. I am glad the Master accepted my invitation, he and his disciples, glad for this modest opportunity to see to their needs. It is the least I could do.
I glance around the room, checking the lamps perched atop their stands. The servants have refilled the oil and trimmed the wicks once. The flames flicker with the breeze, but my eyes are drawn again by the last rays of sun setting fire to the courtyard walls. I try to picture my home before the Master healed me, its spaciousness a prison, its beauty a mockery, but the memory seems as cleansed as my skin. I cannot recall it, not with his dark crown nodding on my right. He is commenting in a low tone to John and I cannot make out his words. His voice is richer than the dishes my servants labored hard to prepare.
The platters of fruit and pastries are half plundered. The supply is not exhausted and I know my servant waits in the lintel's shadows, alert for my signal, but my guests are content. They pop figs into their mouths and lick the honey from their fingers while they savor the entertainment.
Muriel dances at the table's far end, her eyes lowered, her hair becomingly draped, and my worry over permitting her presence seems unjustified. She moves with the same haunting grace as the music. Of all people, I understand her desire to express her gratitude to the Master. She owes her freedom to him as much as I. The flute's last note fades into silence, Muriel bows her head and my guests voice their appreciation. My heart swells with pride.
But Muriel does not slip into the darkened hall. My eyebrows climb as she draws closer to my seat at the head table. Perhaps she will request some boon for her performance, though I would not have thought it of her. I sense the Master shift his attention to her and I glance at him in concern. The brown depths of his eyes are aglow and it seems less the reflected light and more from within. He smiles at her and I try to swallow my anxiety.
She kneels before him and I see now the tears flowing down her cheeks. She says nothing, only removes a small vial from her tunic. She clutches it for a moment before she opens her extended hands. It gleams smooth and white against the dark, rough lines of her palms. I can hardly believe she offers such extravagance. I hear gasps from those who can see and their whispered words as they explain the scene to those further down the table.
The Master smiles into her face, her tears are coming faster now, but he does not accept her gift. He bows his head, his hair falling toward the cushions, and every eye is trained on him. I hear the lamp gutter and then the quiet crack as the alabaster fractures and the perfume spills onto the Master's head. There is only silence as the fragrance curls among us, cloying and costly, and I smell nothing else. Gone is the aroma of roast meat, the pungent mix of spiced oils on sweat-stained bodies.
Murmuring grows from the table's far end. Muriel rises to withdraw, all eyes following her. I see shock, judgment, admiration when I search their faces. Their voices erupt in a chorus.
"What a waste!"
"How could you do this?"
"We might have sold that perfume."
"We could have fed the poor for a year."
"What were you thinking?"
"What else should be expected of such a woman?"
My pulse gallops. I want to go to Muriel, to shield her from their censure, but my courage buckles. She is nearly to the door and the shadows will shelter her.
"Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her?" The Master's voice rings with an authority that quells talk. Muriel stops and turns. He looks at her and says, "She has done a beautiful thing to me."
She dips her chin. It is almost imperceptible, but I witness the acknowledgement that passes between them. Love, given and received.
The Master rotates on his elbow that he might fix his gaze on each person at table. The Twelve are quiet. Several will not meet his eye. "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want," he says. "But you will not always have me."
A voice begins to protest, but the Master halts him with an upraised hand. "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial."
My head snaps to Muriel in alarm, but she is gone and only my servant's silhouette waits in the gloom. The flesh on my forearms prickles and I shudder though the air is warm.
"I tell you the truth," the Master continues, "wherever the gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Judas rises and exits in Muriel's wake. Perhaps he is burdened by the Master's rebuke and goes to seek her forgiveness, to offer her comfort. As I should. I track his progress across the courtyard. The sun is vanquished and night reigns, the vivid colors damped. This meal must end, though I do not wish it. It seems the end to more than a feast.
I repeat the Master's words, committing them to memory that I might encourage Muriel later. He said she did what she could, but I know she did all she could. I am cut to the heart. Did not I, whose gratitude rivals hers, survey my hospitality with pride and think it is the least I could do? I bow my head, hide my face behind the Master's strong back. Nard's musk clings heavy in his hair. I owe him everything. I will withhold nothing. I vow it.
The Master shifts onto his far elbow and peers around his shoulder. As if he could read my thoughts. Love rises in me and all at once I know he knows. He says nothing for nothing need be said.
The moment passes and I signal my servant to refill the cups.
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