Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 13

"I know," I said. And then I told him as quickly as I could that Hananel of Cana had written to Avigail's family elsewhere. "And so we wait now for word."

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

"Home," I said. "I can't pester the man on the day of his grandson's homecoming. I left a message. That was all I could do."

"Well, I'm on my way there now to dine with them," said Jason. "The old man himself sent for me. I'll see to it that he remembers this. I'll see to it he remembers nothing else."

"Jason, be wise," I said. "He's sent the letters on her behalf. Don't come like a tempest into the house with this. Be happy that he's invited you to celebrate under his roof."

Jason nodded.

"Before you go I want you to tell me all of it," he said, "what those bandits did. They flung her to the ground on her face, that's what my uncle said - ."

"What does it matter now?" I asked. "I cannot do this. I won't relive it. You go on. Find me tomorrow and I'll tell you if you must know."

By late afternoon, Menachim and Shabi had come home, and almost all of the young men who'd gone away. The house was full of arguments and recriminations. Uncle Cleopas was furious with his sons Joseph and Judas and Simon. They stood quietly by, enduring the lecture, but confident with their secretive glances and smiles that they had been a party to a splendid thing.

James would have whipped Shabi, but his wife, Mara, stopped him.

I slipped away.

Outside Shemayah's house, Little Isaac and Yaqim stood watch grimly at a door that wouldn't open. Silent Hannah came up from the market with a small basket, heaped with fruit and bread. She looked at me as if she didn't know me. She gave a knock that was obviously a signal, and the door opened and I saw the dour face of the old serving woman before the door was slammed closed again.

I went on up the street and down and towards the stream. There was now so little water running down from the basins that the bed of the stream was gray, like everything else, with dust. The sun found sudden bursts of light here and there where the water still ran, deep and secretive and slow.

I went to the basin and slowly washed my hands and my face.

Then I went to the grove.

I knelt for a while and I prayed to the Lord for Avigail. I knew I'd weep, and only slowly did it occur to me that weeping here was perfectly acceptable. There was no one to see it but the Lord. And I gave way finally. "Father in Heaven, how has this happened? How is it that this girl is suffering when she's innocent, and how could my blunder have only made it worse?"

At last exhaustion came over me, almost a sweet exhaustion because it pushed all anxiety ahead of it, and I collapsed on the soft bed of moldering leaf.

I crooked my arm for a pillow and I went effortlessly into sleep.

It wasn't deep sleep. It was a kind of lovely melting into the soft sounds around me, the crunch of the freshly fallen leaves beneath me, and the whisper of those overhead. Soon I could no longer hear my own heart. The sweetest fragrances came to me. Half in sleep I wondered at it, that in this awful drought, little things, fragrant things, still blossomed in sun and in shadow, and these things were near to me.

Did an hour pass? Or was it longer?

I had some sense, the sense of the man who had to rouse himself well before dark and be home again. But I didn't really know.

I shifted and turned. A small collection of sounds had awakened me, something not usual for this place, or was it an aroma? A thick and delicious perfume.

An expensive perfume.

I didn't open my eyes yet; I did not want to shake off the web of sleep completely because I feared if I did, it wouldn't come back. And how lovely it was simply to float here, trying to define this pungent aroma, and then thinking, somewhere deep in my mind, of where I'd always caught that inviting fragrance . . . at weddings, when the jars of nard were opened for the bride and groom.

I opened my eyes. I heard the sound of garments rustling. I felt something heavy and soft drop down on my na**d feet.

I turned and sat up quickly, but I was groggy. A dark mantle lay on my feet and over it a heavy black veil. Fine wool. Expensive wool. I tried to shake off the grogginess. Who was here with me and why?

I looked up, forcing the sleep off my eyes, and I saw a woman standing in front of me, a woman against the backdrop of glittering sunlight in the canopy of the trees.

Her hair was luxuriantly free. Gold on the edge of her tunic shimmered, both at her throat and along her hem. Gold embroidering, rich and thick, and from her hair and her garments came this irresistible perfume.

Avigail. Avigail in a wedding tunic. Avigail, with her hair undone and flowing down, resplendent in the light. Slowly the light defined the long smooth curve of her neck, and the na**d flesh of her shoulders beneath the embroidered gold. Her tunic was unclasped. Her hands, glittering with rings and bracelets, hung at her sides.

All of her beauty blazed in the dimness as if she were a treasure discovered in secret, meant to be revealed only in secret.

And there came the awareness to me, as the last vestiges of sleep left me: she is here with me and we are alone.

All my long life I'd lived in crowded rooms, and worked in crowded rooms and crowded places, and come and gone amid crowds, and amid women who were sister, aunt, mother, cousin - daughters or wives of others, covered women, shrouded women, women wrapped to the neck with their heads covered, women swaddled in blankets or glimpsed at village weddings now and then in layers of finery, beyond cascading veils.

We were alone. The man in me knew that we were alone, and the man in me knew that I could have this woman. And all the many dreams, the tortured dreams and tortured nights of denial, might lead now into the undreamt softness of her arms.

Quickly, I climbed to my feet. I reached down for the mantle and woolen veil she'd dropped, and I picked them up.

"What are you doing?" I demanded. "What mad thought has come into your mind!" I put the mantle over her shoulders and I put the dark veil over her head. I clasped her shoulders. "You're beside yourself. You won't do this. Now, come and I'll take you home."

"No," she said. She pushed me away. "I go to the streets of the city of Tyre," she said. "I go to fling myself into those streets. No. Don't try to stop me. If you do not want for yourself here what many men will soon have for the asking, then I go now."

She turned, but I caught her wrist.

"Avigail, these are the ravings of a child," I whispered to her.

Her eyes were bitter and cold as she looked at me, but even hard as they were they began to quiver. "Yeshua, let me go," she said.

"You don't know what you're saying," I said. "The streets of Tyre! You've never even seen a city like Tyre. This is childish foolishness. You think the streets are a bosom on which you can lay your head? Avigail, you come home with me, come to my house, with my mother and my sisters. Avigail, do you think we've watched all these doings in silence, without doing anything?"

"I know what you've done," she said. "It's no use. I'm condemned and I will not starve to death under the roof of the man who's condemned me. I will not!"

"You're going to leave Nazareth," I said.

"That I will do," she declared.

"No, you don't understand. Your kinsman, Hananel of Cana, he's written letters, he . . ."

"He's come to the very door this day," she said in a dark voice. "Yes, Hananel and his grandson, Reuben, and they stood before my father and asked for my hand."

She pulled back from me. She was shaking violently.

"And do you know what my father said to those men, to Hananel of Cana and his grandson, Reuben! He refused them! 'Do you think this broken cup,' he said, 'do you think this broken cup is your pot of gold!' "

She trembled as she drew in her breath.

I was speechless.

" 'I do not put that broken cup on the auction block,' he said. My father said . . . 'I do not put my shame in the marketplace for you to buy!' "

"The man's out of his mind."

"Oh, out of his mind, yes, out of his mind that his daughter Avigail has been handled, that she's been shamed! And he would have her die in her shame! To Reuben of Cana, he said this! 'I have no daughter for you. You go.' "

She stopped. She couldn't continue. She was so badly shaken that she couldn't get out her words. I held her shoulders.

"You are free of your father, then."

"Yes, I am," she declared.

"Then, you come home with me. You live under my roof until we get you away from this place and to our kindred in Bethany."

"Oh, what, the house of Caiaphas will take the humiliated and shamed country girl, the girl denied by her own father, her father who drove off every man who came to ask for her for two years, and has now slammed the door on Jason again, and on Reuben of Cana, Reuben who put his pride away and begged on his very knees!"

She pulled away from me.

"Avigail, I won't let you go."

She broke into sobs. I held her.

"Yeshua bar Joseph, do it," she whispered to me. "I'm here with you. Take me. I beg you. I have no shame. Take me please, Yeshua, I'm yours."

I began to weep. I couldn't stop it and it was as bad as it had been before she ever came, and as bad perhaps as her own weeping.

"Avigail, you listen to me. I tell you with God nothing is impossible, and you will be safe with my mother and my aunts. I'll send you to my sister Salome in Capernaum. My aunts will take you there. Avigail, you must come with me home."

She collapsed against me, and her sobs grew softer and softer as I held her.

"Tell me," she said finally in the smallest voice. "Yeshua, if you were to marry, would I be your bride?"

"Yes, my beautiful girl," I said. "My sweet beautiful girl."

She looked up at me, biting her lip as it quivered. "Then take me as your harlot. Please. I don't care." She shut her eyes as they flowed with tears. "I don't care, I don't care."

"Hush, don't say another word," I said gently. I took the edge of my mantle and wiped her face. I lifted her off my chest and I made her stand on her feet. I wrapped her veil around her, and threw the end of it over her shoulder. I closed her mantle so that no one would see the gold-trimmed tunic underneath. "I'm taking you home as my sister, my dearest," I said. "You'll come with me as I said, and these words and these moments will remain locked in our hearts."

She was too weary suddenly to answer me.

"Avigail?" I said. "You look at me. You will do as I say."

She nodded.

"Look into my eyes," I said. "And you tell me who you really are. You are Avigail, the daughter of Shemayah, and you've been slandered, wickedly slandered. And we will make it right."

She nodded. The tears were gone, but the anger had left her empty and seemingly lost. It seemed for a moment, she'd fall.

I held her.

"Avigail, I will demand the elders come together. I will demand of the Rabbi that there be a village court."

She looked at me, puzzled, and then away as if these words confused her.

"This man, Shemayah, is not the judge over life and death, not even of his only daughter."

"The court?" she whispered. "The elders?"

"Yes," I said. "We will bring it out in the open. We will demand a verdict on your innocence, and with that you'll go to Capernaum or Bethany or wherever it is that's best for you."

She gazed up at me, steadily for the first time.

"This is possible?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "It is possible. Your father has said he has no daughter. Well, then he has no authority over that daughter, and we, your kinsmen, now have that authority, and the elders have that authority. You hear what I say?"

She nodded.

"Forget the words you spoke here; they were for me, for your brother who knows the innocent and suffering child who you are."

I laid my hand on my heart.

"Lord, give to my sister a new heart," I whispered. "Lord, give her a new heart."

I remained quiet, my eyes closed, praying, holding her shoulder with my left hand.

When I opened my eyes, her face was calm. She was Avigail again, our Avigail before it had all begun.

"Come then, let's get to it," I said.

"No, you needn't go to the elders, you needn't do this. It will only humiliate my father. I'll go to Capernaum, to Salome," she said. "I'll go to Bethany, to wherever you say."

I straightened her veil again. I tried to brush some of the leaves from her veil and mantle but it was impossible. She was covered in broken bits of leaf.

"Forgive me, Yeshua," she whispered.

"For what? For being frightened? For being alone? For being hurt, and for being condemned?"

"I love you, my brother," she said.

I wanted to kiss her. I wanted just to hold her close to me again in purest love and kiss her forehead. But I didn't do it.

"You're really the child of angels," she said sadly.

"No, my beloved. I'm a man. Believe me, I am."

She smiled, the saddest most knowing smile.

"Now, you go on down to Nazareth before me, and you walk right into my house and ask for my mother, and if you see your father, you turn and you run from him, and round about until you come again to our door."

She nodded. And she turned to go.

I stood waiting, catching my breath, drying my own tears quickly, and trying to stop my own trembling.

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