Joshua and the Woman at the Water Dispensary (Reprise of Jesus and the Woman at the Well)

Road to the MountainsHe was four hours out of Los Angelis and needed to recharge his vehicle. It’s 2032 AD, he thought, and you can hardly drive a car three hundred miles without recharging—at least not when you had the air conditioning on full blast—and when  it’s 105F, you had little choice. 

He needed to stop for another reason. He had finished off the water in his personal water bottle an hour ago. He was very thirsty. 

According to his GPS there was a charging station thirty miles ahead that also served as a water dispensary. He tried to get his mind off his thirst by thinking about the Stella Aqua project. How odd that a philosopher and lover of poetry would even get involved. But now he was headed for a dream job. He thought excitedly about being there for the building of the prototype. And he loved the idea of waking up every morning in the mountains. It would feel…well, spiritual.

A glance at his battery gauge told him he could go another twenty miles at his current rate of power consumption. He looked at the GPS—eighteen miles to the recharge station. He turned off the air conditioning. Better safe than sorry.

The next thing he knew the big sign over the station jerked his mind out of its heat induced stupor. He coasted the last few hundred yards to preserve energy and stopped at the nearest plugin. Through the station window he saw a young brown skinned woman behind the counter. He turned a mirror toward his face to check his hair. It was okay. You sure look like a pale faced geek, he thought.

He got out, attached the charging cable in the scorching heat and grabbed his empty five-liter water jug. He might as well fill it while he was here. He went inside, set the big jug in front of the water dispenser, turned on the tap, and stepped over to the counter.

“I need a jug refill and a six pack of plain water.”

“That will be $4.50 for the jug and $2.85 for the six pack,” said the woman. “Anything else?” she added pleasantly.

“No. But I can’t believe a six has gone up a dollar in six months,” he replied. “I guess I’d best not holler—it’s only up a dollar,” he said, almost to himself.

“A poet,” she said with a little smile.

“Oh,” he said, a little embarrassed. “I didn’t mean….well at least it rhymed…”

“That’s okay,” she interrupted. “I like poetry. And I think the six is going up because they are discouraging the use of those little plastic bottles.” She pointed at them and raised her eyebrows as if to chide him.

He let it go and dug a few dollars out of his wallet. Buying the six returnable bottles was a personal splurge.

“Real money,” she said. “I don’t see that very often.”

“Yeah. My company pays for everything, but the six is for me. Put the travel jug on the card along with the charge up.”

For a minute it was quiet except for the soft sound of water flowing into the jug. 

He broke the silence. “This your store?”

“No, it’s my uncle’s. And it was his father’s before him—my great uncle Jacob (She pronounce it ‘Hah-cobe.’ He figured that was Spanish.) back when it was a gas station. There’s not as much money in it now, but we do okay. I’ll make 75 cents on your six pack.” She smiled.

He felt himself smiling back.

“Don’t you get bored or lonely out here?”

“Not really. I think the desert is beautiful. It makes me feel serene. And I get to meet lots of different people. I like that…most of the time anyway.”

“Most of the time?” 

“Yesterday a man came in and looked at me as though I had crawled out from under a uranium fuel rod dump.” He didn’t know if there was such a thing, but he liked the elaborate analogy. “He never smiled and hardly took his eyes off me. It made my skin crawl.”

“Jeez, I’m sorry. I thought people were past all that.”

“Oh no, I get that sort of thing every week or two.

“Aren’t you afraid, working here by yourself?”

“A little…sometimes. A year ago two guys came in. The guy who was bigger leaned both hands on the counter and started flirting with me. He was pretty vulgar. I did my best to give him a cold stare and I reached under the counter as if there was a button for a burglar alarm. They finally left me alone but it scared me. After that I took a kick boxing class and I brought this to work.”

She reached under the counter and held up a baseball bat.

“I’m impressed. Still…” but he couldn’t think of anything to say that would’t sound like an attempt to be chivalrous and end up being condescending.

They were quiet for a moment.

“I’m Becka,” she said and put out her hand, smiling again.

He shook it and said, “I’m Joshua…or make it Josh.” He felt pleasantly nervous.

“I like that name,” she said. “ ’God saves.’ Or it could be ‘God helps.’ ”

“I…I think you know more about my own name than I do. I have read that it means the same as ‘Jesus’ too. I don’t know if I care for that.” 

“They are just names,” she said, as if to ease his mind, but went on to say, “and other forms are Jeshua—that’s Aremaic, Yehoshua—Hebrew, Jesύs (she pronounced it ‘hey-soos’)—Spanish…”

“How do you know all that?” 

“Oh…a combination of a Catholic schooling and a fascination with languages.”

“Well, I’m no Jesus, just a water geek.”

“So….Josh-Jesus-Jeshua-Jesύs—where is this water geek going and what is he going to do there?”

“I’m moving up into the mountains and I’m going to work on a big water project there,” he said with undisguised pride.

“Oh?” she said teasing. “The man who didn’t carry enough drinking water for the trip?”

“Yes, that man—by any name. My company has developed technology for getting all the water we need, straight from the atmosphere—the air—with minimal energy consumption. It’s not public knowledge yet, but we have taken the project from theory past the testing stage, and are ready to build a prototype.”

“And in the mountains because…I bet because water runs downhill?” she said.

“Yes! The first two hundred miles of water flow will require no pumping. And there are other reasons, like the rising of the westerly wind up the mountains, lots of space, and very few people. I will even tell you its name—a great secret, mind you—Stella Aqua.”

“Star Water,” she said.

“Yes, and I really like the name,” he said with enthusiasm. “I think everything is connected…water, animals, plants, us…and of course stars. Didn’t it all—and didn’t we all— come from stars?” He groaned a little inside. He was getting carried away.

“How did a poet get involved in water technology?” she asked.

“More irony…I mean on top of the water geek forgetting to bring enough water for his trip. Ever since I left USC—with a very useful degree…poetry major, philosophy minor—I felt a kind of empty space, a ‘what should I really do?’ kind of space. I was teaching and writing, and I liked it well enough, then this just appeared out of nowhere. Well…not quite nowhere…I was reading a lot about the dire future for water and trying to understand some of the proposed technologies when a school friend told me about this big project that virtually no one knew about. I sent my relatively useless resume to them and quickly forgot about it. Two weeks later they asked me to come in. They had read some of my stuff that related to environment and liked it. The rest—as people so tritely say—is history.”

“Awesome! I say—ever so tritely.”

They both laughed.

“So I’m more writer than geek. My job will be to promote Stella Aqua around California and then around the whole country, I hope even around the world.” He stopped. “Sorry—I’m preaching.”

“Oh no,” she said. “It sounds wonderful…and very exciting.”

He took a couple of breaths to slow himself down. The words “God saves” floated through his mind. In all his philosophical wondering, he had never figured out the God question. But he knew one thing for sure, he was no savior.

He noticed the sound of the water had stopped. It was good the spout shut off automatically—just like the old gas station hoses, he thought—because his water jug had filled ten minutes ago.

“I need to get going,” he said. “I…I’d love to talk some more.”

“Let’s,” she said without hesitation. “Call me any week-day. I’m here by myself a lot.” She wrote down her number and handed it to him. “I don’t care for texting.”

“Neither do I,” he said. 

He grabbed the big jug in one hand, the six pack in the other and started pushing his way out the door backwards.

“Please take care of yourself, Becka.”

“I will.”

“Becka,” he thought. That’s for Rebecca—Biblical too, wasn’t it? For “tie up,” or maybe even “snare?”

She watched him and said loudly, “I hope you change the world, Joshua.”

He nodded his head to her as the door closed. Maybe I will, he thought. Maybe I will.

He piled himself and the water into the hot car and turned on the air conditioning. Then he realized he was very thirsty, pulled a bottle from the six pack, and took a drink of water.

(Click Jesus and the Woman at the Well if you want to read the Biblical story.)

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Joshua and the Woman at the Water Dispensary (Reprise of Jesus and the Woman at the Well) — 6 Comments

  1. Good morning, Rod,
    Your three readings were the kick-off to my Saturday morning. I really enjoyed everything. The story brought back memories. Thanks for including me in your email.

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