In midnight air, in desperate straights, I clamored for the single vendor selling at that hour.
The candles were dim and I was the only one in the shop. My bloody footprints marked the floor as I searched the shop.
“May I help you?” said a warm, aged voice. I looked around at the fruits and dried meats, bitter herbs, and potions. But the curing salve I needed was behind the counter, behind the vendor.
“May I help you, sir?” he asked again kindly. Could he not see the scrapes and bruises? My torn clothes and bleeding face? Could he not see my body shaking with every ragged breath?
“Yes. I need that salve,” I pointed with a wavering finger.
“The salve?” he asked, “The one for insect bites and rashes? My friend, you need something more.”
The vendor placed a corked glass bottle on his counter. It was old as the earth and filled to the top with liquid of an incomprehensible shade of black. My stomach clenched at the sight.
“How do I apply it?” I asked slowly, then barked: “I’ve come so far and hurt so much to get here. I’ve done everything I can! Can’t you help me?!”
“Then give me the vial!” I demanded bitterly, tears in my eyes, hand outstretched. His hand closed around mine. I ignored the pain and begged: “Please.”
He smiled as he held my hand and uncorked the vial. He pressed it to his lips and drank. Sweat formed on his face and tears stung his eyes. He paused halfway and coughed, gasping for air.
“What are you doing?” I asked, confused and hurt.
He kept drinking and large cuts and bruises formed on his face and hands
mimicking mine. His hand slipped from mine as he leaned on the counter, his breathing labored. Blood dripped from his face.
“It’s done,” he said simply. “Go your way. Hurt no longer.”
I looked down at my hands and touched my face. The cuts were gone, the pain was gone. Whole again for the first time in a long time.
“How can I possibly thank you?” I asked, stunned.
“Go your way,” he smiled. “And hurt no longer.”