Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 3

"Go back to your uncle," said James. "Why do you follow us and bother us? No one else in Nazareth will talk to you. Go back. Your uncle needs you now. Aren't there pages to be written, to report these hideous goings-on, to somebody? Or is this country lawless as the brigands who live in the hills? What, we just put them in a cave and nothing is recorded of how they died? Go back to your work."

Joseph now gave James a stern look that silenced him, and sent him on ahead with his head bowed.

We went on our way, after him, but Jason followed.

"I don't mean you any harm, Yeshua," he said. His confidential tone was infuriating James, and James turned back, but Joseph stopped him.

"I didn't mean you any harm," Jason repeated. "This place is cursed. The rain will never come. The fields are drying up. The gardens are withered. The flowers are dead."

"Jason, my friend," I said, "the rain always comes, sooner or later."

"And what if it never does? What if now the windows of Heaven are shut against us and with reason?" A torrent of words was about to break from him. But I put up my hand.

"Come later on, and we'll talk over a cup of wine," I said. "Now I have to be on my way to this family."

He fell back, ambling towards his uncle's door. Then I heard him behind me from a distance,

"Yeshua, forgive me," he said.

He said it loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Jason," I said, "you're forgiven."

Chapter Four

YITRA'S MOTHER had the whole family packing everything into bundles. The donkeys were loaded down. The little ones were rolling up the rug off the dirt floor, the fine rug which had been perhaps their most important single thing.

When Yitra's mother saw Joseph she rose up off her knees and flew into his arms. But she trembled with dry eyes and merely clung to him as if she feared drowning.

"You travel safe to Judea," Joseph said. "Even the journey will do you good, and by nightfall, your little ones will be far away from the whispers and stares of this place. We know where Yitra lies. We'll see to him."

She stared off as if trying to make sense of this.

Then in came Nahom, the father, with two of his hired hands. We could see the hired hands had forced Nahom to come home, and he fell back against the wall, his eyes vacant.

"Never mind those creatures," said Joseph to him. "They've fled. They know they did wrong. Leave them to the mercy of Heaven. You go on to Judea now, and shake the dust of this town off your feet."

One of the hired hands, a gentle sort of man, came forward and nodded as he put his arms around Joseph and Nahom. "Shemayah's going to buy your land, and he'll send you a good price," he said. "I'd buy it if I could. You go on. Joseph's right, those creatures who accused the boys are far away now. They'll probably find their way to the brigands in the mountains. That's where trash like that often goes. What can you do to them anyway? Can you kill every man in this village?"

Yitra's mother closed her eyes, and her head dropped. I thought she'd faint but she didn't.

Joseph drew them both closer to him.

"You have these little ones now. What will happen to them if you don't stand up to this?" asked Joseph. "Now, listen, I want to tell you . . . I want to tell you. . . ." He faltered. His eyes were welling with tears. He couldn't find his words.

I came close and put my arms on the two of them, and they looked to me suddenly like terrified children.

"There was no trial, as you know," I said. "That means that no one will ever know what Yitra did or the Orphan did, or how it was, or when it was, or if nothing ever happened. No one will know. No one can know. Not even the little boys who accused them knew. Only Heaven knows. Now you mustn't have a trial for the boys in your heart. There can't be one. And that means there should be none. And so you mourn for Yitra in your heart. And Yitra is forever innocent. He has to be. It can't be otherwise, not this side of Heaven."

Yitra's mother looked up at me. Her eyes narrowed and then she nodded. Nahom gave no expression, but slowly he moved to pick up the bundles that remained, and sluggishly he carried them out to the waiting animals.

"We wish you a safe journey," said Joseph, "and now you must tell me if you need anything for the journey. My sons and I will get whatever you need."

"Wait," said Yitra's mother. She went to a chest that lay on the floor, and undid the fastenings. Out of it she took a folded garment, what might have been a wool mantle.

"This," she said, as she gave it to me. "This is for Silent Hannah."

Silent Hannah was the Orphan's sister.

"You will take care of her, won't you?" the woman asked.

Joseph was amazed.

"My child, my poor child," he said. "So kind of you to think of Silent Hannah at a time such as this. Of course, we'll take care of her. We'll always take care of her."

Chapter Five

WHEN WE CAME INTO THE HOUSE, we saw Silent Hannah there at once with Avigail.

Now wherever Avigail went, Silent Hannah went, and wherever the two went, there was always a gathering of children. James' sons, Isaac and Shabi, my other nephews and nieces, there was always such a crowd around Avigail and Silent Hannah. It was Avigail who drew the children, often singing to them, teaching them old songs, how to read bits of Scripture, even now and then rhymes that she made up in her head, and letting the little girls help her with her twine and her needles, and all the bits and pieces of mending she usually had in her basket. Silent Hannah, who did not hear or speak, lived with Avigail most of the time, though now and then, if Avigail's father was very sick, with his bad leg, Silent Hannah might lodge with us, with my aunts and my mother.

But now, as we came in, only the women were there with Avigail and Silent Hannah. All the children had been sent away, it was plain, and Silent Hannah stood up at once for news and looked imploringly to Joseph.

Avigail stood ready to support her. Avigail's eyes were red from crying, and she looked not at all like our Avigail, suddenly, but rather more like a woman in the mold of Yitra's mother. The sorrow of all this had transfigured her face, and she kept her gaze fixed on Silent Hannah and waited.

Now Silent Hannah had fluid and eloquent gestures for everything, and we all knew them. It had been several years since she and the Orphan had come to Nazareth as vagabonds do, and she'd lived with us since that time, and the Orphan had lived in many places. But we all knew her language of signs and I thought her hands as beautiful sometimes as Jason's hands.

No one knew how old she was. She might have been fifteen or sixteen. The Orphan had been younger.

Now, she stood before Joseph and very suddenly she broke into the gestures that signified her brother. Where was her brother? What had happened to her brother? No one would tell her. Her eyes swept the room, swept the faces of the women against the walls. What happened to her brother?

Joseph started to answer her. He started but once again the tears came to his eyes, and his pale hands hung in the air, unable to describe the shapes he saw or wanted to see.

James was worried. Cleopas started with words. He didn't know the signs very well. He never had.

Avigail could say and do nothing.

Finally I turned Silent Hannah to me. I made the gesture for her brother, and pointed to my lips, which I knew she could now and then read. I pointed upwards and made the sign for prayer. I talked slowly as I made the various signs.

"The Lord watches over your brother now, and your brother is sleeping. Your brother is asleep in the earth now. You will not see him again." I pointed to her eyes. I leaned forward and pointed then to my own eyes and to Joseph's eyes, and the tears on his face. I shook my head. "Your brother is with the Lord now," I said. I kissed my fingers and gestured again upward.

Silent Hannah's face crumpled and she pulled away from me violently.

Avigail took firm hold of her.

"Your brother will rise on the last day," Avigail said, and she looked upward, and then, letting Silent Hannah go, she made a great encompassing gesture as if the whole world were gathered under Heaven.

Silent Hannah was in terror. She hunched her shoulders and peered at us through her fingers.

I spoke again, gesturing. "It was quick. It was wrong. It was like someone falling. Suddenly over."

I made the gestures for rest, for sleep, for calm. I made them as slowly as I could.

I saw her face slowly change.

"You're our child," I said. "You live with us and with Avigail."

She waited a long moment and then asked Where was her brother laid to rest? I gestured to the far hills, high up in the hills. Silent Hannah knew the caves. She didn't need to know which cave, that it was the cave for those who die by stoning.

Her face was fixed again but only for a moment, and then with a strange fearful expression, she made the gestures for Where is Yitra?

"Yitra's family is gone," I said. I made the gestures for mother and father, and little ones, walking.

She looked at me. She knew this couldn't be right, couldn't be all of it. Again, she made the gesture for Where is Yitra?

"Tell her," said Joseph.

I did. "In the ground, with your brother. Gone now."

Her eyes grew wide with shock. Then, for the first time ever I saw her lips draw back in a bitter smile. A groan came from her, a terrible tongueless sound.

James sighed. He and Cleopas looked at each other.

"You come on home with me now," said Avigail.

But this wasn't finished.

Joseph quickly gestured to the Heavens again, and made the signs for rest and peace under Heaven.

"Help me with her," said Avigail, because Silent Hannah wouldn't be moved.

My mother and my aunts came forward. Slowly Silent Hannah yielded. She walked as one in a dream. Out of the house they went, the group of them.

She must have stopped in the street. We heard a sound like an ox bellowing, a huge and awful sound. It was Silent Hannah.

By the time I reached her, she'd gone wild, thrashing at everyone around her, kicking, pushing, and out of her came this shapeless bellowing louder and louder, echoing off the walls. She pushed at Avigail and flung Avigail against the wall, and Avigail suddenly broke into sobs and began screaming.

Shemayah, Avigail's father, opened the door.

But Avigail flung herself on Silent Hannah, sobbing and crying and letting the tears run, and pleading with Silent Hannah to please please Come. "Come with me!" Avigail sobbed.

Silent Hannah had stopped her moans. She stood still staring at Avigail. Avigail let herself convulse with her sobs. She threw up her arms and then went down on her knees.

Silent Hannah ran to her and lifted her. Silent Hannah began to comfort her.

All the women gathered around. They stroked the hair of the two young women; they stroked their arms and their shoulders. Silent Hannah kept wiping at Avigail's tears as if she really could wipe them completely away. She clutched Avigail's face and wiped hard at her tears. Avigail nodded. Silent Hannah patted Avigail over and over.

Shemayah held the door open for his daughter, and finally the two young women went into the house together.

We went back into our house. The coals were glowing in the darkness, and someone put a cup of water in my hand, and said, "Sit down."

I saw Joseph against the wall, his ankles crossed, his head bowed.

"Father, you don't come with us today," said James. "You stay here, please, and watch the little ones. They need you here today."

Joseph looked up. For a moment he looked as if he didn't know what James was saying to him. The usual argument did not come. Not even a sound of protest. Then he nodded and closed his eyes.

In the courtyard, James clapped his hands to make the boys hurry. "We mourn in our hearts," he reminded them. "Now we're late. And those of you who work here today, I want this yard swept, do you understand? Look at it." He turned around and around, pointing at the dead dried vines that clung to the lattices, to the leaves heaped in every corner, to the fig tree that was no more now than a tangle of bones.

Once we were on the road, crowded into the usual slow grind of wagons and teams of workers, he drew me close to him and said,

"Did you see what happened to Father? Did you see it? He tried to speak and - ."

"James, this day would have wearied any man, but after this . . . he should stay home."

"How can we persuade him of that, that I can run things now? Look at Cleopas. He's dreaming, talking to the fields."

"He knows."

"Everything falls on me."

"It's the way you want it," I said.

Cleopas was my mother's brother. It didn't fall to him to be the head of the family. It was the sons of Cleopas, and his daughter Little Salome, whom I called my brothers and sister. The wives of these brothers were my sisters. The wife of James was my sister.

"That's true," James said with a little surprise. "I do want it all to fall on me. I don't complain. I want things done as they should be done."

I nodded. I said, "You're good at it."

Joseph never went into Sepphoris to work again.

Chapter Six

TWO DAYS PASSED before I got away to the grove, my grove.

In spite of unceasing work, we'd finished a series of walls early; nothing further could be done until the plaster dried, and so there came an hour of daylight in which I could go off, without a word to anyone, and seek the place I most loved, amid the ancient olive trees and veiled in a tangle of ivy that seemed to thrive in the drought as well as in the rain.

As I said before, the villagers were suspicious of the place and didn't go there. The oldest olives no longer bore fruit, and some were hollowed out, big hulking gray sentinels with wild young trees taking root in their emptied trunks. There were stones there, but I'd years ago satisfied myself that they'd never been a pagan altar or part of a burial ground; and the layer of leaves had long covered them so that the place was soft there for lying, just as an open field might be with silken grass, and in its own way just as sweet.

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