Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 8

"James, the Merciless!" said Aunt Salome. "Be quiet, or go yourself."

"No, no . . . hush now, all of you," said my mother.

"Yes, please, I didn't mean to . . . I'm sorry," said Avigail.

"You did nothing," I said.

And so on the day went.

And the next day.

And the day after.

Chapter Nine


James and I had just come out of the Rabbi's door. We stood at the top of the hill. And we saw them - two ragged men on horseback - racing down the far slope towards the creek.

The women with their water jars and bundles of laundry screamed and scattered in all directions, children racing with them.

James and I gave the alarm. The horn was blasting as we ran towards the men.

Only one drove his mount uphill right towards us, and as people came out of the doors on all sides, he pressed into us and we fell backwards, the hooves stomping past our heads.

"Avigail," James cried out. "Avigail" came another shout and then another. As I scrambled to my feet, my hand bleeding, I saw what all saw: the man who stayed behind had snatched her up by the waist. The children hurled their stones at him. Isaac dragged at the man's left shoulder.

Avigail screamed and kicked. The children grabbed hold of her flailing ankles.

All the women rushed at the man, hurling their jars at his horse.

We reached the creek bed as, assailed on all sides, the ruffian let loose of Avigail, pulling her veil and mantle free as she slammed to the rocky ground. Brandishing her robes like a flag the man, ducking low to escape the hail of stones flung at him, rode away as fast as he could.

Avigail scrambled up, drawing her knees under her and bending forward. She was in her long-sleeved tunic and her hair was streaming over her face and shoulders. Little Isaac threw his arms around her to shield her from all eyes.

I reached her and went down on my knees in front of her and took her by the shoulders.

She screamed my name and clung to me. Blood ran from her forehead and her cheek.

"They're gone," cried James. All the women surrounded us. My aunt Esther cried she'd gotten the man good with her jar. She'd broken it on his very head. The children were sobbing and running to and fro.

Cries came from above.

"The other one's gone. He was the distraction," declared James. "They wanted a woman, the godless heathens, will you look at this, look what they've done."

"It's over," I whispered to Avigail. "Let me look at you. These are scratches and scrapes."

She nodded. She understood me.

Then I heard a voice over my head.

"Stand back from my daughter. Get your hands off her."

I could scarce believe these words were meant for me.

My aunt Esther gestured for me to draw back. She took her place by Avigail as Avigail climbed to her feet.

"She's unharmed," said Aunt Esther. "We were all here and we gave him rocks and stones and blows for his pains, I can tell you."

There was a chorus of agreement.

Shemayah stared at Avigail as she stood there, shivering, in her long wool tunic, her hair disheveled, the cuts bleeding on her face.

I took off my mantle and quickly put it over her shoulders. But he thrust me back and off balance as she took it. The women hastily put it over her. Her tunic was modest enough. It was plenty enough. But now she was fully draped as usual in a mantle over her shoulders and down her back. And my aunt Salome drew back Avigail's loose hair.

Shemayah picked up his daughter. He picked her up in both arms as if she were a child and carried her up the hill.

The women ran after him, and the children, crowding and hampering his every step.

James and I waited. Then slowly we climbed the hill.

When we reached his door, the women stood outside staring at the wood.

"What is this? Why haven't you gone in?" I demanded.

"He won't let us go in."

My mother came out of our house with Old Bruria. "What's happened?"

Everyone told a version of it at once.

Old Bruria pounded on the door. "Shemayah," she cried. "You open this door now for us. This girl needs us."

The door opened, and out came Silent Hannah flung at us as if she were no more than a bundle of clothes.

The door slammed shut.

Silent Hannah was terrified.

I knocked on the door. I put my voice close to the wood, gesturing for James to stay back and not try to stop me.

"Shemayah," I called out. "The women are here to tend to Avigail, let them in."

"She was not hurt!" declared my aunt Salome. "We all saw it. She fought, and he dropped her! You all saw it."

"Yes, we all saw it," said Aunt Esther. "All of you men go, leave here, you leave this to us."

We backed up as they told us to do. More women had come. James' wife, Mara, and Mary of Little Cleopas and Silas' wife and at least a dozen more. The older women pounded all together on the door.

"Force it!" said Esther, and they flung themselves at the door, kicking and pounding, until it rocked free of its pivots and fell in.

I moved to where I could see into the dimly lighted room. I caught only a glimpse before it was filled with women. Avigail, white and crying, disheveled as before, like a bundle flung in the corner, the blood still dripping from her head.

The roaring protests of Shemayah were drowned out by the women. Isaac and Yaqim and Silent Hannah tried to get into the house but they couldn't get in. It was too filled with the women.

And it was the women who put the door back up on its pivots and closed it against us.

We went into our own courtyard, and James let go with words.

"Is he mad?" I demanded.

"Don't be such a fool," said my uncle Cleopas. "The bandit ripped off her veil."

"What is her veil?" demanded James. Isaac and Yaqim came to us crying. "What in the name of the Lord does it matter that he took her veil?"

"He's an old and stupid man," said Cleopas. "I don't defend him. I'm only answering you because it seems someone has to answer you."

"We saved her," Isaac said to his father, wiping at his tears.

James kissed his son's head and held him close. "You did well, all of you," he said. "Yaqim, you, and you," he pointed to the little boys who hovered in the street. "Come inside now."

It was a full hour before my mother came in with Aunt Esther and Aunt Salome.

Aunt Salome was furious.

"He's sent for the midwife."

"How can he do such a thing!" cried James. "The whole village saw this. Nothing happened. The man was forced to let her go."

My mother sat crying by the brazier.

There was shouting from the street, mostly the voices of women. Yaqim and Isaac ran out before anyone could stop them.

I didn't move.

Finally Old Bruria came in. "The midwife has come and gone," she said. "Let it be known to all this house and every house, and every lout and bully and no-count in this village who wants to know it, and fret about it, and gossip about it, the girl is unharmed."

"Well, that's hardly a surprise," said Aunt Esther. "And you left her alone with him?"

Old Bruria made a gesture as if to say she could do no more, and she went off to her room.

Silent Hannah who had seen everything got up quietly and slipped out the door.

I wanted to follow. I wanted to see whether or not Shemayah would let her in. But I didn't do this. Only my mother followed and came back moments later and nodded and so it was over for now.

At noon, Shemayah and his field hands rode out into the hills. Inside his house, his two maidservants remained with Avigail and with Silent Hannah, bolting the door behind him as he told them to do.

We knew he wouldn't find the bandits. We prayed he wouldn't find the bandits. He didn't know what to do against men armed with daggers and swords. And the ragged bunch he'd taken with him were only the older men and the weaker men, the men who hadn't gone off to Caesarea to take a stand.

Sometime during the early evening, Shemayah returned. We heard the noise of the horses, not a common sound in our street.

My mother and aunts went to his door and begged to see Avigail. He wouldn't answer.

All the next day no one came or went from the house of Shemayah. His field hands gathered, then wandered off without directions.

It was the same the following day.

Meanwhile, news came in every few hours from Caesarea.

And on the third day after the attack of the bandits, we had a long letter in Jason's hand, read out in the synagogue, that the crowd was peaceably assembled before the Governor's palace and would not be moved.

This gave comfort to the Rabbi and comfort to many of the rest of us. Though some simply wondered what the Governor would do if this crowd did not go away.

Neither Shemayah nor anyone from his house came to the assembly.

The next day, Shemayah went out to his fields at dawn. No one answered when the women knocked. Then Silent Hannah came out quietly in the afternoon.

She came into our house and told the women in gestures that Avigail lay on the floor. That Avigail took nothing to eat. That Avigail took nothing to drink. In a little while, she hurried back, fearful that Shemayah might have returned and found her gone, and she disappeared into the house and the bolt was again in place.

I didn't find these things out until I'd returned from work in Sepphoris. My mother told me what Silent Hannah had let them know.

The house was miserable.

Joseph and Bruria went together and knocked. They were truly our eldest, the ones no one should refuse. But Shemayah didn't answer them. And slowly Bruria helped Joseph back into the house.

Chapter Ten

THE NEXT MORNING we went to the Rabbi, all of us together, the women who'd been there at the creek, the children who'd been there, and James and I and others who'd seen it. Old Bruria came with us, and so did Joseph though it seemed harder than ever for him to make the journey up the hill. We asked for a meeting with the Rabbi and we all went to the synagogue together, and we closed the doors.

It was clean and quiet there. The morning sun had even made it a little warm. Joseph was seated on the bench. The Rabbi took his usual place in his chair to Joseph's right.

"It comes to this," I said, standing before the Rabbi. "Avigail, our kinswoman, was not harmed by this man. All here saw what happened; they saw her fight; they saw her relinquished. They saw her taken home. Now days have passed. Silent Hannah comes and goes but only Silent Hannah, and Silent Hannah says, as best she can, that Avigail neither eats nor drinks."

The Rabbi nodded. His shoulders were hunched under his robes. His eyes were filled with pity.

"Now we ask only this," I said, "that her cousins here, these women, be allowed to attend to her, to the cuts and scrapes she received when she was thrown to the ground. We ask that they be allowed to go in to her. To see that she takes what food and drink she should. Her father won't allow it. The servants are doddering old women. It was Avigail who cared for these servants. How can these servants now care for Avigail? Surely Avigail is frightened and crying, and suffering alone."

"I know all this," said the Rabbi sadly. "You know I know. And her father went off after the evildoers. He went riding out to soak his rusty sword in blood. And he wasn't the only one. They struck Cana, those bandits. No, they didn't steal a woman, just everything else they could grab. The King's soldiers will catch them. They've sent a cohort into the hills."

"Be that as it may," I said. "Our concern is for our kinswoman Avigail."

"Rabbi, you must make him let us in," said Old Bruria. "The girl needs tending. She might be losing her wits."

"And worse, there's talk in the village," said Aunt Esther.

"What talk?" James asked. "What are you saying?"

My aunts were exasperated at James, but my mother was merely shocked.

"If I didn't have to go to the market again, I wouldn't," said Aunt Esther. Mara, James' wife, nodded, and said that she would not either were it her choice.

"What are they saying?" asked the Rabbi wearily. "What talk?"

"Everything imaginable," said Aunt Esther, "and what on earth do you expect? They're saying that she was dawdling, that she was singing to the children, that she was dancing as she likes to do. That she was drawing attention to herself. Beautiful Avigail, Avigail the one with the lovely voice. That she was away from the others. That she had taken off her veil to show off her hair. On and on and on. Have I forgotten anything? None of it, not a word of it, not a single word, is true! We were there and we saw it. She is the youngest, the prettiest, of that she's guilty, and whose fault is that?"

I walked over to the bench and sat down, not far from Joseph. And I put my elbows on my knees. I had suspected as much but I hated to hear it. I was tempted to put my hands over my ears.

My mother spoke up softly. "Shemaya invites shame on himself with this way of behaving," she said. "Rabbi, please, go with Old Bruria and talk to him, and let the girl have company, and let her come to us as before."

"To you?" asked the Rabbi. "You think he will let her come to you?"

All stared at him in silence. I sat up and looked at him.

He was as sad as before, with a faraway look in his eye as he pondered.

"And why not to us?" asked Aunt Esther.

"Yeshua," said the Rabbi. He pulled himself up and looked at me, but his eyes were gentle. "What did you do at the creek? What was it that you did?"

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