At around two in the morning, my mother shook me awake. The Messiah was coming. There was no doubt about it, he’d been spotted ten miles outside of Włodawa. At this rate, he would be here by daybreak. Get up, get up. We had to pack.

She left me to dress. It was a cold November night; gale-force winds rattled the roof tiles and chimney pots. Reluctant to surrender the warmth of my bed, I shut my eyes tight and snuggled down into the covers to consider this information.

It wasn’t as if there hadn’t been signs. Strange lights in the sky, unusual weather. An actual golem saving the lives of two hundred and fifty people being led off to slaughter. A whole battalion of Deutschen wiped out by mysterious forest creatures. The news was on everyone’s lips. We were in the throes of an epic showdown between good and evil, for sure.

Downstairs, I heard the sound of my mother’s voice, hurried, anxious. There would be time for exhilaration later. Now she had to make certain that everyone would have enough food and clothing for the long journey to Eretz Yisroel, the Promised Land.

It was then that I heard it, a tread as light as a cat’s footfall. The rustling of cloth, the faintest of sighs. The end of my bed depressed just a bit.

“Get off of my bed, Temma,” I said loudly. My sister liked to sneak in when she could. When I was little, I allowed her under the blankets with me, but I was twelve now, almost a man. There was no answer. Annoyed, I stuck my head out from the covers.

A stranger was sitting there in a long white gown tied with a rope around the waist. Over it, he wore a linen robe woven with stripes. On his feet, sandals.

“Hey, kid. Do you mind if I stay here for a minute?” he said. He had shoulder-length brown hair that he wore parted in the middle, and a small neat beard. “It’s been a long night.”

“How do I know you’re the real Messiah?” I challenged him. “There have been a lot of imposters, you know. I’ll have to ask you a few questions.”

His features had an incandescent beauty to them, like paintings of Jesus I’d seen in school. “Fire away,” he said, shifting his staff from one hand to the other.

One by one, he shot down the inquiries on my list. Yes, he was descended from the house of David. Yes, we would still have to keep Shabbos and kosher, he couldn’t do anything about that. No, he couldn’t raise the dead. Neither would he fly or walk on water. To my vast disappointment, there would be no miracles, no thunderclaps or lightning, no Leviathan feast, heavenly shofar blasts, or voice of God, no giddy ride to the Promised Land on the wings of eagles. He had come to Włodawa on a donkey. Downstairs, I could hear my mother shouting for me.

“I’d better get dressed,” I said. “She’s getting really mad.”

The Messiah made a gesture with one hand. “Don’t bother,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere. I quit.”

In the Land of Armadillos