Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Page 16

Toda told him they had to get back to work.

"The market's open again. Have you seen the market?" Toda asked.

"No, where is it?"

"You go," said Old Sarah.

The town was coming back to life.

Chapter 13

The marketplace was only a gathering at the foot of the hill. People threw up canopies and laid their goods out on blankets, and women sold the vegetables from their gardens that they didn't need. A peddler was there with some goods, including some silver plate. And another peddler had linen to sell, and lots of dyed yarn, as well as trinkets of all kinds, and some cups of limestone and even one or two small bound books.

I met more friends, but the mothers were keeping the children close. And James came to look for me quick enough.

The town grew busier and busier. Women passed on their way to market, and old men and women were out in the courtyards, and some men were coming and going from the fields.

But people were worried, and they spoke of the woes of Sepphoris in hushed voices, and no one was at ease except perhaps those of us who were little and could forget about it for a little while.

When I got back home, I saw new children in the courtyard come to play with Little Salome and the others, but most of the family was hard at work.

It was our job to take stock of the repairs that had to be done, and we climbed up first to see the roof of mud and branches, and where the holes had to be fixed, and then to pass through each room to be sure of its mud plaster, and how the floors on the upper stories were holding up. There was much white painting to be done where the plaster had gone gray or black. And on the walls of the lower rooms in the flood of light from the open doorways, I could see the traces of fine painted borders in different colors and designs that had once been very beautiful, no doubt.

Joseph and Cleopas talked about repainting all of this, and I'd seen them do this work in Alexandria with great speed. I wasn't old enough to do it, to keep a long strip of green border perfectly straight.

But there was much I could do with them now.

The cribs in the stable needed repairing, and the frames of the lattices for the vines on the front of the courtyard had to be rebuilt as I'd seen when I first came.

But what most surprised me was to discover the huge cisterns which the house had, both of them holding much rainwater even though they needed to be patched.

And then the final discovery was the big mikvah that had been cut into the stone beneath the house many many years ago.

Now the mikvah was a pool for purification, which I hadn't seen in Egypt, and it had steps leading down to its very bottom so that a man could walk all the way under the surface of the water and come back up again without ever bowing his head. It had only half as much water as it ought to have had, this pool, and there were many places where its walls were flaking or blackened and needed work. Joseph said we would bail out the water, and replaster the entire bath. The water from this pool was piped from one of the cisterns. And thanks to the heavy rains, the cisterns were full.

It was Old Sarah's grandfather who had built this pool, we were told, when he settled in Nazareth. This had been his house for him and his seven sons, and Joseph knew their names, every one, but I couldn't remember them, or all those who came down from them - only that my mother's father was descended from them, and also Joseph's mother's father, and so on it went with these stories. I was eager for us to get to work.

Brooms were at work everywhere by late afternoon; the women were beating the dust from rugs; and Cleopas went with the women to market to buy fresh food for supper, and the oven in the courtyard was working all day.

Bruria sat in the courtyard crying for her son who'd gone off with the rebels to Sepphoris. She believed that he was probably dead. We all knew this meant perhaps that he'd been nailed to one of the crosses on the road, but we didn't talk about this. No one was going to go down to Sepphoris, not yet. We worked in quiet.

By nightfall, the house had been divided up amongst the families: Alphaeus and his wife, and his two sons to one set of rooms, and Cleopas and Aunt Mary to their rooms with their little ones, and Joseph, my mother and James and I to others, though our rooms ran into Aunt Mary's rooms, and we had Old Sarah and Old Justus as well. Uncle Simon and Aunt Esther and Baby Esther had their rooms near the stable in the middle of the house.

Bruria and her slave Riba had their own room.

Then there was an old serving woman, a thin silent woman, named Ide, whom I hadn't seen the day before. She took care of Old Justus and Old Sarah, and she slept on the floor in their room. I didn't know for sure whether this woman could talk.

Again, our supper was very rich with the stew from the night before, and the hot bread from the oven and more of the sweet figs and dates. Everyone was talking at once about what had to be done to the house and to the courtyard, and how eager they were to get out to the garden beyond the town, and see how it was there, and to see others, whom they had not yet seen.

We were lying back, taking our ease, not talking much, doing nothing, when a man came into the room from the courtyard. Joseph was on his feet at once. When he came back from the door, shutting it against the chill, he said:

"The Roman legions are gone out of Galilee. Only a small number of men are left with Herod's men to keep the peace until Archelaus comes home."

"Thanks be to the Lord on High," Cleopas said, and then everyone was saying it in one way or another. "And those who were crucified? Have they all been taken down?"

Everyone knew it could take two days or more for a man to die on a cross.

"I don't know," said Joseph.

Old Sarah bowed her head from her stool and chanted in Hebrew.

"The last of the soldiers passed on the main road over an hour ago," said Joseph.

"Pray they never have to come back," my mother said.

"A crucified man should be taken down before sunset!" said Cleopas. "It is a shameful thing, and it's been days since these men - ."

"Cleopas, leave it," said Alphaeus. "We are here and we are alive!"

Cleopas was about to speak when my mother reached out and laid her hand on his knee.

"Please, brother," she said. "There are Jews in Sepphoris who know their duty. Leave it alone."

No one spoke after that. I didn't want to be sleepy, but I was.

When we went to bed, it was very strange to me to be in a room alone without Symeon and Joses, and the babies as well.

I'd always been with the women and the little ones. But the little ones were with their mothers. And my mother was with Old Sarah, and Old Justus, and Bruria and her slave, even though they had a separate room. I missed Little Salome. I even missed Baby Esther who woke up to start crying and only stopped when she went to sleep.

I felt very grown-up to be with Joseph and James, but I still asked Joseph if I could snuggle against him, and he said yes, that I could.

"If I wake up crying," I asked, "will you put me with my mother?"

"Is that what you want me to do," he asked, "to put you with your mother? You are little to be in here with us, but you're seven years old and you understand things. You will be eight years old soon. What do you want? You can be with your mother if you want."

I didn't answer. I turned over and closed my eyes.

I slept through the night.

Chapter 14

It wasn't until the third day that we were allowed to roam far and wide. By that time Cleopas had been down the road a piece, and come back, and said that all the bodies were taken down, and that the city was in order again, the market was open, and with a laugh, he said, too, they needed carpenters to rebuild what was burnt.

"We have enough here to do," said Joseph. "They'll be building in Sepphoris from now until years from now after we're all laid to rest." And we did have a great deal to do, bailing out the mikvah first of all which took us children to get down into the cold water, and to hand up the jars to the men. And then the replastering had to be done, and when that was finished, we would do the walls of the house.

I was happy because we could go outside the village, and I went as soon as I could out into the woods. I saw children, lots of them, and I wanted to talk to them, but first I wanted to walk in the open and climb the slopes under the trees.

Alexandria had been a city of great wonders as everyone was always saying, with its festivals and its processions and its splendid temples and palaces, and houses such as Philo's house with its marble floors. But here was the green grass.

It smelled good to me, better than any perfume, and when I passed under the branches of the trees, the ground became soft. A little wind was coming from down in the valley that I could see, and it caught the trees almost one at a time. I loved the rustling of the leaves above me. I walked on up the slope until I was out in the grass again, where the grass was thick, and there I lay down. It was damp there, because it had rained in the night, but it was good. I looked off towards the village. I could see men and women working in the vegetable gardens, and beyond that the farmers in the fields. People were picking weeds out of the earth. That's what it looked like to me.

But my mind was on the groves of trees here and there, and far away, and the blue of the sky.

I lost myself. I felt loose. I felt my skin. It was as if I was humming and the humming filled my ears, but I wasn't humming. And it was so sweet. It was the way I felt sometimes before I went to sleep. I wasn't drowsy. I wasn't sleeping. I lay still on the grass and I heard little tiny creatures around me in the grass. I even saw the flutter of little wings. I looked right before me, and there was a world of them, these tiny creatures, so very tiny, tumbling over the pieces of grass.

I let my eyes move slowly towards the trees. They had the wind in them again and were dancing back and forth. The leaves of the trees looked silver in the sunlight, and they never stopped moving even when the breeze died away.

My eyes went back to the closest thing I could see before me: the little creatures moving, running so fast over the broken bits of earth. It came to me that in lying down as I had done I had crushed some of these creatures, perhaps many many of them, and the longer I looked at them, the more little creatures I saw. Theirs was the world of the grass. That's all they knew. And what was I, coming to lie down here, feeling the softness of the grass and loving the smell of it, and robbing so many little creatures of life?

I was not sorry for it. I felt no sadness. My hand lay on top of the blades of grass, and the creatures moved beneath it faster and faster, until their world was all fluttering without a sound that I could hear.

The earth was a bed under me. The cries of the birds were a song. They streaked across the sky above me so fast I could barely see them. Sparrows. And then beside me, I saw right in front of me tiny flowers growing in the grass, so very little I hadn't noticed them before, flowers with white petals and yellow hearts.

The breeze grew strong and the branches above me moved with it. Leaves came down in a shower, a silent rain.

But a man was coming. He came out of the grove of trees down the hill, and made his way up towards me.

It was Joseph, with his head bowed as he walked up the slope. His robe and its tassels blew in the breeze, and he was thinner than when we'd left Alexandria. Perhaps all of us were that way.

I knew I should get up out of respect for him, but I felt so good here on the sweet grass and that humming was going on as if I was doing it, all through me, and I only looked at him as he came.

I didn't have sense enough to know it, but these moments on the grass under the tree had been the first time in my whole life that I'd ever been alone.

I only knew that this peace was broken, and had to be broken. What was time that I could spend it here staring until the world lost all its hard edges? Finally, I climbed to my feet, and I felt as if I was waking up from deep sleep.

"I know," he said to me sadly. "It's just a little village, not very much at all in this world, and nothing to rival the great Alexandria, nothing, and you've probably thought a hundred times of your friend, Philo, and all your friends, and everything we left behind. I know. I know."

I couldn't answer. I tried. I wanted to tell him how I saw it, how soft and sweet it was, and how all of it was so good to me, and searching for the words I didn't have yet, I didn't speak quickly enough.

"But you see," he said, "nobody will ever look for you here. You're hidden, and that's how you'll remain."


"But why must I - ?"

"No," he said. "No questions now. There will come a time. But listen. You must never tell people things." He stopped and looked at me to make sure I understood him. "You mustn't talk about what you hear at our fire. Never do you talk outside your house to anyone. You mustn't talk about where we've been or why, and you keep your questions in your heart, and when you're old enough, I'll tell you what you need to know."

I didn't say a word.

He took my hand. We walked back towards the village. We came to a little garden marked off with small stones, and near to a few trees. The plot was overgrown with weeds. But the trees were good. A great big tree stood by it, and the tree was full of knuckles and knots.

"My grandfather's grandfather planted this olive tree," Joseph said. "And there, you see that tree, that's the pomegranate, and wait till you see it come into bloom. It'll be covered with red blossoms."

He walked up and down looking at the garden plot. The others on the hill were neat and full of plantings.

"We'll harrow this tomorrow for the women," he said. "It's not too late to plant a few vines, grapes, cucumbers, and plant some other things. We'll see what Old Sarah says."

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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