It had been a long dusty trip from Jerusalem to Samarrah, and so I stopped at an inn for a cup of wine. There was just one other customer, an old man whose eyes lit up at seeing someone to talk to, a victim to reminisce at. I sighed as I sat at the counter with my drink.
“I remember when around here was all desert,” was his opening gambit.
“Really,” I countered, as unenthusiastically as I could.
“Yes. That was before the Flood, of course.”
“Yes, I suppose that would have watered the area pretty – hang on, you can remember before the Flood?”
“But that was over six hundred years ago,” I said. “Just how old are you?”
“Nine hundred,” he said. He held out an old, gnarled hand, like those you find on bog people, or at least will do at some time in the future. I shook it, feeling like a water-diviner waving a stick over a hidden well. “Methuselah,” he said.
“Ezekiel,” I said.
“Bless you,” he said.
“No, that’s my name,” I said. “So you’re nine hundred years old?”
“Yes, I’ve had a good innings, I suppose.”
“What’s an innings?”
“Um, don’t know, actually, but whatever it is I’ve had a good one.”
“And you say you were around at the time of the Flood. What did you do, sneak onto the ark in a giraffe costume?”
“No, I went to Switzerland, where the rain fell as snow. Spent six weeks skiing. I don’t know why more people didn’t think of it.”
“You must have done all sorts of things in all that time,” I said, now hooked firmly into the conversation. You must have seen lots.”
“No, I didn’t mean Lot the person.”
“Oh. Mind you, I knew his wife.”
“You mean -”
“No, not that way. I mean we were at school together.”
“And how did you survive that?”
“Wasn’t there. I’d gone to Jericho for the weekend. I was trying to sell this new drink I’d invented – the Methuselah of champagne.”
“How did that go?”
“Not too well. It was so shaken after the camel-ride there that the cork, which was the size of a boulder, shot out. It knocked down a wall.”
“Yes. That was the first of a long string of jobs – for a while I was a barber. I used to cut Samson’s hair.”
“Yes, I had to give it up after I made an awful balls of one of his haircuts.”
“I’d say Samson wasn’t too happy,” I said. “I heard he was very proud of his hair.”
“Oh, he went mental. Absolutely wrecked the place. After that I ran away to sea. It was me who rescued Jonah from the whale.”
“Smacked the whale straight in the face with an oar, and Jonah got blown out through the blow-hole.”
“Well,” I said, “you’ve certainly lived a full life.”
“In every way,” he said. “I’ve been married sixty-two times.”
“So you’ve outlived sixty-two wives?”
“Well, sixty-one, actually. My current wife is still alive. In fact,” he went on, “here she is now. She works here as a waitress.” I looked up and saw a young blonde girl with huge jugs, which she was carrying on a tray. She looked oddly familiar.
“Hang on,“ I said. “Isn’t that Jezebel?”
“Sure is,” he said proudly.
“As in “The Dirty Jezebel”?”
“She doesn’t like to be called that anymore, not now that she’s respectably married.”
“But why would she marry a guy who’s nine hundred?” I said. “Er, no offence.”
“None taken,” he said. “Some girls go for older men.”
“Yes, but that phrase usually means about twenty years older. It doesn’t tend to refer to someone who remembers you from three re-incarnations back.”
“Well, I’m still quite a catch, you know,” he said defiantly. “I work out at the gym.” I just stared at him, one eyebrow raised, and the facade crumpled. “Ok,” he admitted. “I work, out at the gym. I sit and take the registrations. I know that she really married me just because I’m fabulously rich.”
“How come? You don’t seem to have done very well in any of your jobs.”
“No, but when you’ve been collecting the old-age pension for eight hundred and thirty-four years, it’s amazing how much money you can put by.”