Tobit sat cross-legged under his fig tree, leaning his head against the trunk, his eyes closed. Why he bothered to close them, he didn’t know. Open, closed, it made no difference. He saw nothing. But somehow closed eyes and rest went together. Force of habit. And, by force of habit, when he heard a knock at the gate, his eyes flew open.
“Hannah,” he called. “Are we expecting anyone this time of day?” He heard her sandals scuff from the direction of the house into the courtyard.
“No doubt someone with a torn robe that needs to be rewoven. By this evening,” she muttered.
The knock came again, this time accompanied by a voice. “Father? Mother? I’ve returned.”
Hannah let out a cry, her sandals clipping at a run. Tobit rose, fumbling for his walking stick. “Tobias?” he shouted. He heard the gate open. Tobias and Hannah both talked at the same time, Hannah in a scolding tone. Tobit caught the words smell and wash at once, but there was joy in her voice.
“My son!” Tobit headed toward them, wishing with all his heart that he could see.
“Father!” Tobias’s footsteps sprinted across the yard. He smelled of fish.
Tobit laughed. Had his son come back by sea? A foolish, roundabout way to come home. But what did it matter now? He opened his arms wide, but instead of enjoying his son’s embrace, he felt Tobias slather ointment on his eyes. The vile stuff stank like fish and stung like fire.
“Gah!” Tobit pushed his son away and rubbed his weeping eyes. They felt scaly. But the scales were sloughing off like shedding snakeskin. “Light!” he whispered. He saw light. He rubbed and blinked and wept until he saw his son, taller, bearded, tanned, and richly robed. “Is it really you?”
“It is.” Tobias grinned, wiping his hands on a rag.
Tobit didn’t wait for Tobias to toss the rag aside. He embraced his son long and hard.
“I’ve returned with your money,” said Tobias. “And a wife.”
Tobit drew back and scanned the courtyard. Hannah – beautiful, white-haired Hannah – stood beside his son’s tall traveling companion. “Where is your wife, then?” asked Tobit.
“Raphael and I ran ahead. She’s on the way with . . . just come and see.” Tobias drew him toward the street.
Tobit strode confidently alongside Tobias to the city gate, marveling at the buildings, fountains, donkeys, birds, trees, men, women, children. And –
“Sarah,” said Tobias as a beautiful young woman bowed before them.
* * *
That night Tobit, his son, and Raphael sat around a brazier in the courtyard. After Tobias recounted all that had occurred on his journey, Tobit looked across the brazier to Raphael, who sat on the other side. “We’ve not paid you enough,” he said. “You are responsible for my son’s good fortune. And for my eyesight.” He blinked away a blur and felt a tear slide down his cheek.
“I am well paid,” said Raphael. “When you said your first prayer as a child, Tobit, I was with you. As you raised your son, I was with you. When you left your wife’s fine dinner to bury the dead, I was with you. You prayed, as did your daughter-in-law, and I brought the remembrance of those prayers before the Holy One. God sent me to free Sarah from the demon and to cure you from blindness.”
Tobit stared at Raphael. “Who are you?”
Raphael stirred the coals in the brazier. “I am one of the seven holy angels who offer up the prayers of God’s people and enter the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”
Tobias prostrated himself immediately, but Tobit bowed slowly in awe, his newly restored eyes feasting on the sight of an angel in his courtyard.
“Don’t be afraid. Give your thanks to God.” Raphael rose. “I must leave now, but know that I am with you. Peace.” The angel grew taller and thinned like a rising mist until he vanished.
Tobit hosted a seven-day wedding feast for his son, so for a second time, Tobias and Sarah joyfully celebrated their marriage. Then they settled into a normal family life with Tobit and Hannah. Tobit lived to be 158 years old, and Tobias gave him a splendid funeral. A few years later Hannah died. Tobias buried her beside Tobit. As for Tobias, he and Sarah and their sons returned to Ecbatana, where they inherited Raguel’s property. There, at the age of a hundred and twenty-seven, as Tobias lay on his deathbed, he heard a familiar voice call his name. There stood the tall angel Raphael, his hand extended. “One more journey,” said Raphael.
“One more,” said Tobias. He reached for Raphael’s hand and felt as light as air.
- the end -
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Based on The Book of Tobit, circa 200 BCE. Illustration courtesy