The sound of voices surrounded her as she walked, noise upon noise, donkeys braying, haggling, shouts, laughter. She could smell the scents of the busy market place, olive oil, baking bread, freshly cut wood, pungent ointments. She walked up to a man, exchanged a few words, handed over a large bag of coins, picked up her purchase and left.
As she walked home, she carried the jar carefully in her arms. It was made of perfect alabaster, smooth and faultless. The touch of it soothed her.
She had seen the troubled look in his eyes as he spoke outside the temple.
She had been part of the crowd, cheering as he rode into Jerusalem. And she had sought him out after that, intrigued by his words and by his presence.
He had been telling a story that day, she remembered it perfectly. The vineyard owner who had leased his land to farmers, how they had killed his servants one by one, until finally he had only his son left to send. But the farmers had killed even him.
She had watched him as he spoke, had watched the subtle changes in his expression. She had seen the faces of the Jewish leaders as they looked at him, heard their harsh voices as they questioned him. He seemed like a man who carried much.
When she got home, she placed the jar carefully by the door, took off her headscarf and went to rest.
Later, as the sky faded and dusk began to fall, she wrapped herself in her cloak and scarf, picked up the jar and left the house. She walked through the darkening streets until she reached the place she sought. Pushing the door open, she entered the house.
She could hear the murmur of voices in one of the rooms. Carrying the jar, she opened the door and walked inside. He was there.
Poised, she moved across to where he sat, opened the jar and poured its contents over him. A sweet scent filled the air. She bowed her head.
She could hear voices, hard, questioning, in the background, but she heard not what they said. She did not raise her head until the voice she heard was his.
“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a wonderful, generous thing for me. You will always have the poor with you and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
She looked at him and again she saw the unease in his eyes. But as he looked at her, she saw too that he understood her actions.
“This woman has done the only thing she could do for me. She poured perfume on my body to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever people hear about me in the world, her story will also be told. People will hear of what she did for me – and they will remember her.”
As she left, she felt lifted by his words but also apprehensive. He spoke with kindness yet so many questions remained unanswered.
As she walked, the expression in her eyes mirrored the one that had called to her as he spoke outside the temple.