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.
Then, one day, the scraps changed. There were just some pods that came from the city. I searched desperately through the waste. Nothing. Nothing I could eat. I waited for the carter to return two days later, and asked him what had caused the change.
He looked at me, arrogance lighting up his eyes.
“Times are hard,” he said. “My family is starving. Why should these pigs get food that my family can eat? You have no idea how little I’m paid to do this work. I’m only taking what’s due to me. The pigs won’t suffer.”
I realised with a shock he had no idea I’d been eating those scraps myself. In my pride, I’d always waited for him to leave before sorting through his load. Now that pride was coming back to bite me. I started to explain, desperate for him to change his mind, but he dismissed me with a shrug and flicked the reins so that his donkey moved away – back to the city and civilisation.
That night I stewed up the pods that the pigs would share with me, for the first time praying to God. I was afraid they might poison me.
They were disgusting.
I shudder every time I think of the awful taste.
For two days and two nights I bemoaned my fate to God. How could I survive in such desperate conditions? I found myself praying to Him more and more as time passed. Then one morning, as the sky in the east began to glow with the coming day, it struck me.
“How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’”
Even then my pride delayed me. It would not allow me to crawl back to my father and beg. But there was no change in the carter’s load – just pods for the pigs.
After another day of wrestling with myself, I realised at last that going home was my only option if I wanted to survive. I had no choice. I had to swallow my pride and leave.
The next morning I just walked away, leaving the pigs to their own devices. The carter would arrive later so he would be able to tell the owner of the pigs, but I no longer cared about them or him and I headed back to the road and began the long hard journey home.
It was easier said than done. No one had spare food to share with a beggar. They were too concerned about feeding their own families.
The journey took several weeks and it was with both relief and trepidation that I came over the final hill and saw my father’s land spread out below me. I wasn’t sure whether I would be welcomed or turned away. I threw my chest out in an act of bravado I was not feeling and strode down the road.
The sun was setting and the hills ahead of me were silhouetted, the sky blazing gold and red, the valley darkening rapidly. I heard someone shouting but could see no one. The voice grew louder as I marched on, and I realised that whoever it was, was calling my name. I peered into the valley, now deep in shadow, the sunlight still blinding me.
There. On the road ahead. Something was moving – no running. Running towards me, calling my name! I hesitated. I thought I recognised my father’s voice but dismissed the idea instantly. It was not possible for the old man to run down the road like this man was running. Yet as I stepped out of the sunlight into the shadow of the hills I saw him just ahead of me. My father. Running, running towards me, crying and laughing, his arms outstretched, calling my name.
I too began to run. No longer hesitant about the welcome I would receive I ran into my father’s arms and he held me in a grip that drove the breath out of me. I clung to him like a drowning man, sobbing in relief and regret, trying to apologise, to explain, to ask for forgiveness, for work, for life.
He pulled away from me and held me at arm’s length. For a moment I thought he was going to send me away. But then I saw his face. His eyes … his eyes. They were full of love. I’d never seen him look like that before. The love flowing from him was so strong my knees buckled and he clutched me to him again.
Two servants arrived, gasping for breath. I understood then how my father’s love for me had given him the energy to run so fast. They tried to help me but my father waved them away.
“Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
So the servants turned back to the farm, rushing off to carry out their master’s orders, whilst he, my father, half carrying me, helped me back to the safety of the house.