“If you were 2000 years old, you’d have broken bits too. Hell, you’re only fifty years old, and you have broken bits.”
The man leaned back in his chair, crossed his hands, and looked at her sideways, somewhere between a questioning look and an I don’t give a shit look.
“Well? Do you want it?”
“Well yeah, but..”
“But nothing—take it or leave it.”
“Alright, how much did you say it was again?”
“Ten thousand dollars, cash upfront.”
Claire Thomas stared at him for a second then began rummaging through her pocketbook.
“ I could take it out in trade…”
She ignored his lewd stare and attempt at humor. “No…no, I have it, but it’s an awful lot for a broken vase.”
“An ancient broken vase, which has a secret to tell.”
“Secrets?” Claire looked up from her counting a wad of bills several inches thick.
“Yeah, at least that’s what they told me when I got it.”
“Secrets make it worth ten thousand bucks?”
“Hell no. It’s worth ten grand because of where it came from.”
“You’re supposed to know your ancient vases, pottery, and stuff, you tell me.” He sat up and picked the vase from the small shelf it sat on, rather careless tossing it in his hands.
“Don’t!” She stopped counting abruptly at his handling of the precious artifact.
“Oh, sorry, I’m so used to handing this stuff I get careless.” He sat it on the desk in front of her.
She stuffed her bills back in her pocketbook and picked up the vase, carefully turning and looking inside and at the bottom. She half expected to see Made in China on a small sticker, but there were none, only marks the pottery wheel made eons ago.
He held his hand out. “Money?”
“Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot.” Claire sat the base down and fished a smaller wad of bills from her pocketbook.
As she handed him several crisp, new bills, she raised an eyebrow. “You never said what the secret this jar holds.”
“Oh yeah, sorry, it’s supposed to have a power of some kind. The old man said it held the secret of youth or healing or something like that.”
“You don’t seem very impressed.”
“Yeah. Well, I get these stories all the time. I write them down to go with the item, but other than that, I don’t pay no attention.”
“I see, and how is this supposed to make me youthful again?” She picked up the jug and examined it more carefully as he folded the cash and stuck it in a shirt pocket.
“Hell, I don’t know. He was mumbling something about putting something in it or rubbing it or something.”
“And how old was he?” She peeked down the throat of the vase again.
“Older than dirt.”
“That young?” She raised her eyebrows at him and smiled at her joke.
“Yeah.” He replaced the vase in a large box and handed it to her.
The story he’d told her kept rattling around in her mind as she looked into the history of the jug. It had indeed come from the location he claimed, and the value was constant with similar artifacts of that period and condition. If the handle hadn’t been broken, it would have been worth twice as much.
As she moved it around her apartment, looking for just the right place to display it, a thought occurred to her. “What if the old man was really as old as dirt?
“Nah,” she answered herself. “No one is that old.”
But another thought flitted through her mind. “What if the jug did have healing powers?” She needed to know.
Twenty-four hours later, Claire had packed the jug in a padded case well wrapped and secured shut to protect it and checked it through customs along with her baggage and boarded a plane to Egypt.
Once there, the Land Rover ride to the dig site where the jug had been discovered was long and hot. Five minutes into the desert, she had sand and dust in places she didn’t know she had.
All the seller had given her was a general description of the old man. He hadn’t owned the jug but had horned into the discussion spouting all kinds of nonsense. Now, as she rode in the front seat of a Land Rover halfway around the world from her home, Claire began to have second thoughts about the whole venture, but it was too late to back out now. She’d spent money, made connections all in the hope of finding a crazy old man no one remembered seeing.
Every jounce, bump, and jolt of the vehicle reminded Claire of what the shady dealer said about her being broken. All the money her parents spent and the fancy doctors and treatments had done nothing to ease her pain. She had filled her New York City apartment with objects from around the world. All the places she had wanted to travel but couldn’t because of the pain she lived with every day.
The pain had been constant since she was born. Her bones hadn’t developed right, her joints stiff, causing her constant pain. No amount of pain medications gave her total relief. As a youngster, she’d fought through the pain and played sports, hoping she could push through it, but it only worsened as she got older.
So now she was on one last-ditch mission to save her body and thus her life.
A five-hour ride in a Land Rover had reawakened every joint that ever pained her in the past. When they pulled into the small settlement that passed as a village in the middle of nowhere, Claire downed a handful of pills, knowing full well they wouldn’t help much. At least they might take the edge of the back and leg pain so she could walk. Her arms and hands hurt even holding the water bottle in her lap. Her hope lay her feet—the case containing the jug.
The Land Rover parked next to a large tent. Claire leaned back, closed her eyes to block the sun glaring through the windshield and the pain that was shooting through her legs. Sighing heavily, she opened the door. A young man dressed in an old shirt and shorts appeared from nowhere and took the padded case from her, and then he helped her exit the car. Standing on the packed sand, she wobbled but managed to stay upright between holding the open door and the man’s hand.
“Mam, we are honored to have you here. He said in broken English. His accent punctuated his words with a flair she hadn’t heard in years.
She looked around the compound she followed him into the tent. Except for a couple of dilapidated small adobe buildings, she noted the encampment consisted of several large tents. As she stepped into the relative shade of a tent, Claire wondered what she had gotten herself into by coming here.
Her host, Saadah, introduced himself and the others and offered her refreshments from an old refrigerator powered by an equally old generator. As she sipped the surprisingly and welcomed cold tea, she decided to skip any pleasantries and show them the jug.
“The old man, the one with the story about this jug, please tell me about him.” She opened the case and pulled it from its foam and plastic wrapping.
“This came from here?” They nodded yes, and she continued, “I was told that there was an old man who said this vase was special.” She held it up for everyone to see clearly.
“Yes.. that’s what he said,” Saadah confirmed.
“Okay, I need to speak to him to find out why this object is special. Who is he, and where can I find him?”
Saadah shrugged. “He’s no longer with us.”
“No, he died not long after he gave up the jug.”
“Does anyone else know what this?” The heavy earthen jug was difficult for her to hold in her painful hands. She sat it on the ground in front of her waiting for an answer. Their only reply was to shake their heads.
“Please, I’ve come many miles across several countries to learn about this jar.”
A man standing in the back corner of the tent stepped forward. “There was an old woman, I think, who knew about the jar.”
He approached her and gestured towards the vase. She nodded, and he picked it up carefully, cradling it in his arms as he looked it over.
“Yes, I believe this is the vase. “The life Vase” it has been called.”
Another of the workers spoke. “Yes, I remember her. She and the old man swore it had healing powers, but no one believed them. It was just some old crockery they found buried in the sand.”
“Where can I find her?”
“You can’t. She must find you.”
“Find me? How? Where?”
“One does not ask such questions. If it is to be, she will find you. That is the way it’s always been.”
“But you know her? You can find her for me?” Claire pleaded with the man.
“No. You must have patience. If it is to be, she will find you.”
Claire made her mind up as long as she could stand the pain, heat, sand, and living conditions she was staying on the compound. She had paid dearly for this trip, both in money and in body. Although she knew the members of the dig barely tolerated her presence, she kept out of their way as they worked.
The following days developed into a routine of sorts. She woke early, attended to her daily routine before most of the crew woke up. As much as her legs would allow, she walked around the settlement and visited the dig. Soon, she was helping the support crew when she could. She cleaned and set up equipment and learned about the dig from the staff who would talk to her and observed as men and women hunched in the sand with small trowels, knives, and brushes worked to find anything that might be of value. At one point, one of the students let her try digging a little. She couldn’t kneel long before she was in pain. It had been fun until the supervisor saw her and ran her off, yelling at the young student who had allowed her to help. It never happened again. No one invited her to the dig again, and they ignored her when she came into the tent.
Weeks went by, then to her surprise, the head archaeologist, Payton Warner, who had been openly skeptical of Claire’s invasion into his world, softened as he learned from the students about her constant willingness to learn and help. He took her to the digs and taught her how to use the trowel and brush and the system they used to track what they found. To her surprise, she was a natural, and he seemed to think so as well. They grew closer as he continued to teach her. She had been a fast learner, and her knees and back were seeming stronger allowed her to stay in the field longer each day. Reference books appeared in her tent, and each night, she read by lantern light before going to sleep.
Every day Claire walked a little more, making trips to the nearby village to help get supplies. Slowly she realized her bones had stopped hurting. It dawned on her one morning. She hadn’t had any pain in her hands in a while. Holding them in front of her face, she worked all her fingers, and they moved freely, no shooting pain, no stiffness. She tried her legs—again, no pain. Her back was still bothering her, but she was indeed feeling better than she had in years. She felt alive again.
Then word came from the students. They told her there had been word of the old lady, and she was in the area. Claire was surprised that she had forgotten about her in all the excitement of learning about the dig.
She was working on a section of the dig when one of the students called to her. “She’s here!!!!”
The old lady was here.
Everyone stopped as the old lady came over the hill. She was small but stood straight and tall. Her silhouette against the sun cast a shadow to the west as she descended the hill to the dig site. The art dealer was right about the fact they were older than dirt.
She was tiny. What little hair she had left had long gone white and nearly hidden by the head coverings she wore. Her skin was leather-like, but her eyes glistened like shiny black stones on a leather canvas. She walked with the aid of a walking stick, but she appeared more vibrant than any of them.
The old woman stopped in front of her. “Claire?”
“Yes, mam.” Those words were all she could muster as dust caught in her mouth as she tried to speak.
“The jar of life? You have it?”
“It’s back in my tent. I can get…”
“No need. You are healed.”
“What?” Claire’s heart was racing.
The old woman smiled. “You believed, and you acted, and you persevered, and now. you are healed.”
The old lady turned around and headed up the hill.
Claire called out. “But the jug? What do I do with the jug?”
At the top of the hill, the old woman turned and faced the crowd. Her words echoed over the valley.
“The vase was the vessel to bring you to where you needed to be, to begin a new life. You will know when it is time to pass it to another needy soul.”
With those last words, the old woman vanished over the hill.
Claire couldn’t catch her breath. Healed? Was she healed? As that revelation sunk in, she sensed Payton was standing beside her. She turned to him.
“I am healed.”
He nodded. “Yes, you are.”
She gazed into his eyes which reflected the joy coursing through her.
Yes. She was healed both in her body and in her heart.