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June 14th, 2020
The air seemed suffused with the light of the sun. It was hot, and even in the shade it felt as though it pushed into the skin. Lucilius put forearm to forehead to wipe the sweat away from his stinging eyes. He tilted his head toward each shoulder, stretching against the strain of backpack straps that had burrowed into his skin beneath the thin shirt he wore. The next town couldn’t be much farther, he knew, remembering again the short distance he’d seen on the map some miles back. He pushed on, trying to keep in the shade of trees on the shoulder of the path. He watched the way unbend to the slow loping rhythm of his pace, until it finally pierced with more light and came to an end opening up upon a meticulous grassy lawn.
He barely noticed the ornate stone building buffeted by the lawn as he looked out from the high ground upon the beautiful town below. And there, in the middle of the lawn was a fountain, a small pool in stone, adorned in the center with an island from which arose a statue of a symbol Lucilius had often seen. He was still new to the country and had yet to really learn the ways of it’s people. But in that moment, he was simply hot, and thirsty.
He tramped over to the fountain and painfully eased the heavy backpack from his shoulders and set it down. Then he knelt and cupped water from the fountain and brought it to his face and drank deeply. He brought water to his lips again and again, and when he finally breathed a sigh of relief, he bent down and splashed water on his face, bringing the water up to his sore neck, and letting it run through his hair until he had cooled.
He sat back, feeling like himself again, and looked out over the beautiful town. He slipped his feet from their flip-flops and swung them out, realizing it was a perfect reach across the little bit of water to the stone sculpture in the center. He crossed his feet and rested a heel in a nook of the symbol and laid back on the grass, and within moments he was asleep.
He awoke with a start to the sound of yelling. He blinked the bleary view from his eyes and looked to find a man in long dark robes bustling towards him, an angry man shouting in a language Lucilius could not understand. The man’s eyes were wide with fury as he descended upon Lucilius.
“What?” Lucilius tried to ask. But the man only shouted more. “What?” Lucilius asked again, flustered with the man’s alarm.
The robed man paused a moment, struck with the word Lucilius had said, hearing the language Lucilius spoke.
“How dare you,” the man said.
“What? what’s wrong?” Lucilius said.
The man gestured at Lucilius’ feet still hitched up on the statue. Lucilius followed his gesture, but slowly shook his head, confused.
“What’s the matter?” Lucilius asked again.
“This statue is holy! And you, you have your filthy feet all over it. Move them at once.”
Lucilius looked at his feet, and the statue where they rested. Then he looked around at the surrounding grass, the wide lawn, bordered by forest and on the other side where it ran to the temple. He looked back at the disturbed man.
“Where is a place that I might put them that isn’t holy?” Lucilius asked.
The holy man’s eye’s widened, mistaking Lucilius’ question for insolence.
“How dare you!” the holy man said, and with the words he leaned over the water, grabbed Lucilius’ dirty feet and yanked them away from the statue. But as he crouched to place them in the grass, the holy man suddenly noticed a small beetle crawling up a blade of grass. It’s shell radiated a brilliant blue like polished metal, and the holy man stood up again, not wanting to crush the beetle with Lucilius’ feet since the creature was deemed holy in his tradition. He moved them further on, but now the holy man could see the individual blades of grass, the clear blood beaded at the clipped tips, freshly trimmed, their rich color soaking in the sun and the deadened pieces mingling down into the soil, to dry and rot and again through that sacred process of death transforming life, become again dirt and holy ground.
Finally the holy man looked at the feet that he held in his own hands. The holy man could see how sore the feet he held were, how far they must have come, in sacred duty to this young man, honoring his travel, and now how dirty they were.
Slowly, the holy man knelt down on both knees, placing Lucilius’ feet just upon the stone edge of the fountain. And then the holy man cupped some water and brought it up and poured it over Lucilius’ feet. He brought more water from the fountain, and rinsed the dirt away, and then he took a cloth folded in his rope belt, a cloth that was retained for holy service, and with it he wiped Lucilius’ feet dry.
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