Matthew didn't want to be there. Every single person in his line seemed to be staring at him. The clink of coins rattled in his ear as yet another of his neighbors slammed their taxes in the tabletop. Please, he internally pleaded, I'm just doing this to make ends meet. I don't mean to do this, I just- His train of thought was severed when the man asked, "Is this enough?"
Quickly Matthew counted the coins, checked the Empire-issued instructions next to him and nodded, without once looking up. "It's enough," he mumbled. The man snorted and walked away. This continued for most of the morning. His face seemed to be stained a permanent red, whether from sunburn or shame, Matthew couldn't have said. After his break for midday meal, he gave up looking people in the eye at all. There were so many grooves in the well-worn table. They caught at his roughened fingertips as he swept up coins and nervously fidgeted with the ends of the boards and the cuffs of his tunic.
Then a hem came into his view, ragged and black. It's a widow, he thought, reaching up a hand to rub at his eyes. I have to take coins from a widow? Why did she have to come today? I would have been back in the fields tomorrow, why did she have to come today? He quickly swept up the coins she placed onto the table and counted them, muttering an "It's enough." A toe dug into the dirt under the table as the hem retreated from his vision.
Matthew ran a hand over his eyes again and looked up. Straight into a face he never thought to see in front of the tax office. "Jesus," he breathed. The Nazarene smiled at him and proffered a handful of coins. The tax collector's face devolved into misery. Of course. He's only here to pay taxes. Matthew swept up the coins. His hand slipped and he almost lost one over the edge of the table, but quickly grabbed it and started counting them, dropping another one because his fingers were fidgeting too much. God, how can I do this? My neighbors, the widows, Jesus? He doesn't even- He's not part of my town! Why are you making me-
A callused, brown hand settled over his fidgeting fingers and Matthew looked up, still for the first time in hours. His vision filled with the look directed at him and his brow relaxed. It was a smile, warm, with eyes holding no trace of scorn. "Follow me," Jesus said. I'm not making you, that look seemed to say. You can come with me instead.
Two words, just two, made Matthew get out of his seat and walk after the man, leaving a trail of wondering neighbors in his wake.