A girl is dying, but there’s a crowd to be reckoned with. Into the streets Jesus’ opponents pour to shout abuse, into the streets Jesus’ supporters stream to shout encouragement. Young men join the throng hoping things turn ugly, the way Roman soldiers who miss the adrenaline of the Coliseum sometimes bet on fights between stray dogs. Old men pour into the street to ask themselves what happened, how the spell of quiet that once hung over their lakeside town has been broken. Young girls slip out of their homes to see if Jesus can rescue the council chief’s daughter; their mothers follow them into the fray, hoping to find them and bring them home again. Thieves join the crowd looking for loose money; drunkards join the crowd in the hopes a celebration erupts; the crowd grows tight around Jesus until his apostles start to worry about how his ribs will fare in the press.
There’s a woman in the crowd who’s been bleeding since the dying girl was born. She doesn’t want to be here—for twelve years she’s been unclean from her constant menstruation and so she’s not used to being around people other than doctors at all, let alone a whole town at once. She knows she’s polluting everyone she touches, but she can’t keep from touching them as she pushes and shoves her way forward. This is not what she imagined. She didn’t even want to touch him, didn’t need to look at him: if she could just reach the hem of his robe, she’d told herself, it would be enough. Because she believes he can heal her. Though she’s believed in doctors before and saints before until it seemed all the wealth, hope, and energy were drained out of her bleeding body forever, the first time she heard a story about him, she knew she had to come. And she knows now that although she’s exhausted, she needs to make it just a few more steps, just reach her arm out a few inches farther, and it will all be worthwhile. She’ll be healed, and no one will ever have to know what sort of woman they touched. Just a few more steps, just a little longer reach, and twelve years of pain will melt and this pounding in her temples will stop and she can go home and maybe finally feel at home in her own skin.
She falls, strangers’ knees battering her as she lands on her own, but she can see it right ahead, and just another half inch, so she throws herself forward with everything she has left. Maybe she’ll be trampled to death now, in the middle of a faraway town’s road, but she can feel the threads against her fingers and she knows that at least she’ll die clean: she can tell at once she isn’t bleeding from the inside anymore.
“Stop!” says Jesus, and his voice is so firm that the hecklers stop shouting abuse, the young men stop egging them on. Mothers stop calling out their daughters’ names, old men stop shaking their heads, even thieves let the coins they’ve just lifted fall to the ground in their surprise. The feet around the woman don’t come down on her back or shoulders, the shins around her don’t slam into her head.
“Who touched me?” Jesus says, as she pulls herself up, as she whispers a prayer thanking God for life and health. His disciples laugh.
“Look around you!” they say. “Who here hasn’t touched you?”
“No, someone touched me,” Jesus says. “I felt some of my virtue go out.”
That’s when the woman starts to shake. When her relief turns to fear. Has she polluted him after all? Has the long impurity of her body somehow wounded this saint?
“Who touched me?” Jesus says, and she starts to cry.
Now everyone is watching her and so she has to tell the whole story: who she is, why she shouldn’t have been here with them, why she wanted so badly to touch him and how she risked their well-being to do it. No one seems to know how to look at her. “But I’m healed now,” she says through her tears, “I’m sorry I touched you all, but now I’m clean.”
“Don’t worry,” says Jesus. “Your faith healed you. It’s all right.”
But in Jairus’s house, it is not all right. In Jairus’s house, a girl whose face is pale as death when she sleeps has stopped taking in fresh breaths.