I was free!
I was rich!
The world lay at my feet!
I travelled far and wide. I saw places I never knew existed. I met exciting people, many of whom became good friends. I fell in and out of love with one beautiful girl after another. I bought gifts for people, won and lost wagers, partied hard and recovered. Every new experience was exhilarating. I never realised life could be such fun.
I was so busy enjoying myself with my friends that I never took account of the state of my funds. So it was with some surprise, a couple of years later when I awoke one morning to find that there were only a handful of coins left in the bag my father had given me.
I sat in my room, stunned. What had happened to all that wealth? How had I spent it so quickly? There had been an endless supply of coins in that bag. Hadn’t there?
That morning I realised, in a wave of shock, that the coins were not endless. The money I had left would scarcely cover my debts. Well, I was sure my friends would help, just as I’d helped them out of debt from time to time.
I visited them. One after the other, they turned their backs on me. By the time I’d seen five or six the word had spread, and I never saw many of the people I had called friends again.
I had also not been aware of the drought at that time. Crops had failed. Whilst there was money in my purse I was able to buy anything I needed no matter the cost. But now, I realised food was in short supply and expensive. I could not afford it.
I spoke to my creditors. I gave them what money I had and promised I would repay the rest as soon as I could. Few of them believed me, but I managed to juggle my funds and they agreed to wait for the balance.
I’d find work and earn enough to pay them. I’d set up a home of my own and live a more simple life. I was young and strong and I believed it would be easy to do.
But work was scarce. I soon realised I had no suitable experience. I had supervised the workers at home but had never had to do the work. My father had always done the books, so I had no idea how to run a business.
I was desperate – and hungry. I went from place to place seeking an honest way to earn a living. Some people wouldn’t even see me; others opened their doors to me but had no work for me. My fancy clothes, now showing signs of wear, were not a good indication of my ability to hold down a job.
One morning I hammered on a door which was opened by a man whom I recognised. He was the house-servant of one of my so-called friends. I was so desperate for help I hadn’t realised where I was in the city. He told me he’d tell his master I was there looking for work, and then closed the door in my face. I waited. At last, after what seemed an age, the door opened again and the servant invited me into the cool courtyard. He offered me a welcome cup of water and told me to wait again. I was grateful for the shade and the sound of running water from a fountain somewhere further inside the building.
I had expected to see my friend. Instead a stranger came into the courtyard.
“My master says he has work for you.” His voice was gruff and abrupt.
I sagged with relief.
“Silas will show you where to go.”
He turned and walked back into the house, before I even had time to thank him. Silas, a small, tough looking boy, arrived some time later and indicated that I should follow him.
I was surprised when we left the house. We walked a long way, through the teeming streets and out through the city gate. Silas was uncommunicative and just shrugged his shoulders when I asked where we were going.
The city was a long way behind us when he turned off the road and started to cross the fields. I shuddered as we approached a herd of pigs. My parents were devout Jews and I grew up knowing we were forbidden by the Lord God to have anything to do with the dirty, smelly animals. They squealed and scattered as we walked closer. To my horror, Silas stopped and pointed to them.
“You’re to watch the pigs,” he said, and turned away to walk back to the city.
“No, there must be some mistake,” I cried, so shocked my voice was as high-pitched as the pigs around us. “I can’t look after pigs. It’s forbidden! There must be another task for me to do!”
Silas shrugged again, shook his head, and walked away, calling over his shoulder, “If you don’t like it don’t do it, but its work, and you’ll be paid. Take it or leave it!”
Why the cheeky …
But I stopped in my tracks. It was not his fault I’d been given such work to do, and he was right. It was work – and I would at least be paid something. I had no choice. I had to stay, at least for a while – until I got back on my feet and could find other work.
I stayed with those pigs for several weeks. There was a deep well there which provided both the pigs and me sweet water to drink, in spite of the drought. I used an old pot I had found lying by the well as storage for my own water, rather than drinking from the same bucket as the animals.
Pigs are creatures that will eat anything, and I shuddered with disgust at the rubbish that was brought out to them every other day from the city. They would squeal and nip at each other as I threw it out to them. They ate it with relish. And they grew fat and content.
I, on the other hand, was desperately hungry. I was paid, yes. Once a week a few coins were given to me by the carter who brought out the food for the pigs. At first they were enough to buy food for me for a couple of days, and then, as the famine deepened, they did not even stretch that far.
I watched the pigs. They had vegetable peelings, sour milk, and other scraps to eat that began to look like manna to me. At first I refused even to contemplate sifting through the rubbish that came for them. But hunger got the better of me. Each day, after the carter had left, I sifted through the scraps, salvaging the better pieces of vegetables and fruit. From time to time there would be a morsel of meat. I fell on this with a greed I had not thought possible.
I tossed everything I could salvage from the pigs’ scraps into the old pot and stewed it hard. I had no salt or spices with which to flavour it, but it tasted wonderful. I settled down, becoming accustomed to my tough existence.