THE ROAD TO NINEVEH
By Larry Centor
Short Story Library, November 1, 2009
The youngsters found him washed up on the beach, unconscious and breathing heavily, long hair splayed across his sharp features. They ran home to tell their parents, and a short while later two middle-aged men arrived with a two-wheeled cart drawn by a tired ox.
By then, the man was on his back, arms thrown wide open to the sky, snoring loudly, a heavy aroma of a hearty brew on his breath. They hauled his sorry ass into the cart, and carted him off to the local lockup to sleep it off.
Some hours later the local jailor woke him by throwing a pail of water over him.
“Wake up, ya bum!”
The man sat up, startled, eyes wide open, unfocused. “Huh? What? Where am I? Oh-h-h-h, my head.”
“Must’ve been some party. What’s your name?”
The man stared bleakly at his jailor. “What?”
“Your name. Your name! You do have one. Some kids found you washed up on the beach.”
“The man patted himself around. “My money. My luggage. Oh-h-h-h, my head.”
“All you came here with was that crummy robe you’re wearing. Listen carefully. What’s your name?”
“Huh? Oh. Jonah. My name is Jonah.”
“And your last name? You do have a last name too, don’t you?”
Jonah shook his head, trying to focus. “Ben Amittai. Jonah Ben Amittai.”
“Well Jonah Ben Amittai. Like I said, that must’ve been one helluva party.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me reconstruct the events as we know them,” said the jailor, a smirk on his face. “The kids found you on the beach, dead drunk, wearing that robe and nothing else. Nothing. Let me clarify. We found you smashed, on the beach, snoring drunk – and barely clothed. And here you are, in all your hung over glory.” His tone softened. “Wouldya like something to eat?”
Jonah gasped, threw his hands over his mouth and barfed all over himself.
“I guess that was a poor choice of words.”
Jonah swallowed and asked for some water. Moments later, he said, “God told me to go to Nineveh.”
“And God told me never to believe drunks. So you were going to Nineveh?”
“No, I got on a ship at Joppa heading for Tarshish.”
“God tells you to go to Nineveh, and you decide to go to Tarshish. Might I ask why?” with just a hint of sarcasm.
“I was supposed to tell the folks in Nineveh to repent.”
“Whaddaya? Some sort of prophet?”
“Well, I’m not a biggie. I’m just Jonah Ben Amittai. And at the moment I feel like I’ve just eaten my mother’s cooking.”
“Never a great idea,” empathized the jailor. “Trust me, I know. They wouldn’t let my mother cook for soldiers.”
“Yeah, I understand, but I don’t comprehend. God sends you to Nineveh, and you board a ship to Tarshish. What gives?”
“If I fail, God says the city is history. I need that on my conscience? Better not even try.”
“It happens,” agreed the jailor. “So you decided to go on a spree.”
“I thought it was just a couple of days to Tarshish. Maybe God would forget. After all, who am I – Jonah Ben Amittai.”
“Wow. First thing, they offered me this triple-sec mead. Real buzz. Then another. Virtual party. Then they asked me if I wanted to see the oars.”
“The oars?” smirked the jailor. “They asked you if you wanted to see the oars?”
“Couldn’t figure it out. I knew the ship had a lot of oars, but I thought if you’ve seen one oar you’ve seen them all, so I said, ‘An oar is an oar. What’s the big deal?’
“And this guy says, ‘We have the best oars in the Levant.’
“I say, ‘I’m sure you do.’ Then he gave me another triple-sec mead.”
“And insisted you see the ship’s oars.” The jailor was turning beet red, trying mightily to keep from roaring, You idiot!
“So I went to see the oars.”
“And then? And then?”
“That’s all I remember.” Jonah looked straight at the jailor. “Until I woke up in the stomach of a big fish. Without my money. Or my luggage.”
And here the conversation died for what seemed like eternity.
Finally, the jailor closed his mouth, which had been hanging agape, and said slowly, “Let me get this straight. You went down to see the oars, and the next thing you know you’re inside a big fish, with just that crummy robe you’re wearin’.” The jailor paused. “Any bite marks?”
Jonah stared at him. “I really don’t know. There wasn’t a mirror inside the fish.”
“Clever. That’s clever. Was there an oar inside the fish with you?” said the jailor smugly.
“Looks like you got hit in the neck. Could be an oar did it.”
“All I remember was waking up inside this fish, a really big fish, with lots of little fish sloshing around in its belly, and a mess of slimy green stuff. I was inside a fish. Can you believe it?”
“I admit it does sound fishy.” The jailor actually yukked, then continued. “Howdaya know what was in there? How could you see the little fishies, and the green stuff?”
“It kind of glowed in there about half the time, pale green, a trace of yellow. Maybe the fish swam with its mouth open.”
“Right. And on the surface of the sea. Otherwise you coulda drowned. Right?”
“Well, I was able to build a small raft from some of the things the fish had swallowed, but couldn’t digest. Pieces of wood, some luggage.” Jonah paused. “Maybe some oars.”
“Now for the hundred shekel question. How’d you get out?”
“I prayed a lot.”
“You prayed to Lot?”
“You’re confusing me. I said I prayed a lot. I told God that if he spared me I would go to Nineveh, and tell the people to repent or perish.”
“So how’d you get out?”
Jonah look at the jailor, a puzzled look on his face. “All I remember is waking up in here.” He looked around. “I have no idea how I got out of the fish.”
“Maybe the fish belched,” suggested the jailor.
“Or maybe God decided to give me another chance.”
“You’re going to Nineveh. Right.”
“I think I’ll walk.”
© 2009 Larry Centor