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Chapter Eighteen


The Paddling




One morning, several days after the revelations on that fateful day, our parents gathered us together at our morning meal to explain the new living arrangements.  All of us, especially Simon and I, sat with bated breath.  Uriah and Tabitha were just happy to have a safe haven.  Michael, who sat next to Jesus, his spiritual advisor, was happy just to be alive.  Though James and Joseph were Papa’s apprentices, they hoped to manage their time between the shop and Samuel’s estate.  We were all eager to hear Mama and Papa’s decision.

“Here’s what your mother and I have worked out,” he announced briskly. “Most of us will spend time at both locations, while others will stay indefinitely in Samuel’s estate.”

All of us clapped with delight.  Mama smiled tolerantly as Papa read the list of those family members that would live more or less full time at the estate.  There was only five persons in this group: Mama, who would become Samuel’s nurse, which meant she would have two patients again (Samuel and Joachim); Michael, who would be hidden away like Reuben in Samuel’s house; and the three girls (Tabitha and the twins), who, in addition to spending most of the time in the estate, would return with Mama to our house to prepare the morning and afternoon meals.  We would continue working on Papa’s orders during the day.  The evening meal would be shared with Samuel and his chief steward each night.  Reuben and Michael would have their meals separately and remain secluded in the house.  Until Papa clarified our arrangement, James and Joseph grumbled about the plan’s unfairness.  At first it sounded like we would be corralled in the shop while the girls spent lives of leisure at Samuel’s house.  To our relief, Papa explained that the boys would be spending half of their days learning the craft and taking care of our home and the remainder of each day, including the night (during our turns) at the estate.  Papa or Jesus would spend alternating nights each week with two of the boys, which meant we would still be sleeping at least two or three nights in our home.  The exceptions, Papa explained, would be Michael, Tabitha and the twins, who, like Mama, would be spending most of their time at the estate.  Tabitha, who wanted to be near me, didn’t like this a bit, but Mama was worried about her uncle arriving at the house in a drunken rage.  I promised to visit her on the days I would be staying overnight at our house.  Uriah, Michael, and Tabitha were overjoyed that they had been included in our long-range plans.

That morning we had a festive breakfast.  All of us, even Michael, chattered gleefully, as we speculated on the days ahead.  Michael promised Jesus he would try to make friends with his mother’s old enemy, Reuben, who would be sharing his part of the house.  Papa reminded the rest of us boys that we still had to do our share of the work.  When large orders for furniture came in, we might be required to work extra hours.  The girls would also have to do their share by assisting Mama in her gardening and the preparation of meals when Papa was busy in the shop.  A great irony was seen by us, especially James and Joseph, that a no account such as Michael, who had caused our family so much grief, would idle his days away without a care.  Nevertheless peace reigned in our family as we accepted the logic of Papa’s plan.  Michael, because of his reputation, was like Reuben, as my Roman friends would say, persona non grata in Nazareth.  The safest place for him was Samuel’s sumptuous estate.  More importantly for Papa’s peace of mind, it would remove the suspicion surrounding our house, which had caused Papa to start drinking again.  The issue of Uriah and Tabitha’s future, which depended upon Joachim’s health and Jared’s state of mind, respectively, would be decided at a later date.

            Because Papa wanted to finish an order for a rich Pharisee in Sepphoris, Jesus, James, and Joseph, now wage earners, would be working most of the afternoon.  Simon and Uriah were allowed to accompany Mama and the girls to Samuel’s house.  Michael would arrive at the estate late tonight, as had Reuben, to avoid detection.  I volunteered to keep him company and also help Papa in the shop.  My real reason, of course, was to sneak down into the orchard, and finger my gold.  To my dismay, Uriah’s conscience prickled him and he turned back, as did Tabitha, but Mama would only allow Uriah to return.  I should have been greatly moved by this scene, but I wasn’t.  It would be very difficult for me to check on my gold with Uriah following me around.  I did feel a little sorry for Tabitha.  She would be bored to unconsciousness having only Simon and the twins as companions.  That would change after today, however.  Everything would change when Michael was moved to Samuel’s house. 

As Uriah trotted, huffing and puffing, back through the gate, I waved to Tabitha as she followed Mama, Simon, and the twins.                    
            “Are we gonna help your Papa?” He asked eagerly. “I’m glad you decided to stay.  There’s so much to learn, Jude.  Soon you and I will be apprentices, like Joseph and James.  I love working in wood.”

            “What?” I slapped my forehead in disbelief. “Are you serious?  I stayed because of Michael.  That’s all.  Tonight we’re gonna sneak him over to Samuel’s house.  Tomorrow, we’ll have to work until noon and then phtt—I’m gone!  I’m heading down the road.  Our work period hasn’t changed.  We—you Simon and I—work until noon.  The only thing that’s different is that we take turns sleeping in Samuel’s house.  Papa and my older brothers, who get paid for their efforts, are working on a special order.  Tomorrow, if they’re finished, James and Joseph will create great dust clouds as they run to Samuel’s estate.”

            “You don’t wanna be a carpenter, do you?” Uriah gave me a disappointed look.

            “No,” I confessed, kicking at the ground, “I never have.  Get that in your thick skull.  Stop volunteering us for extra instructions!” “Uriah,” I cried in exasperation. “Why are you trying to get us extra chores?  Don’t rabbi’s sons grow up to be rabbis.  You should be studying the Torah, not sanding table legs.”

            “I’ll never be a rabbi—no more than you’ll be a carpenter!” His face flushed and he stomped his little feet. “Never!  Never-never-never!  I don’t care what my father wants.  I won’t do it.  I won’t!  I won’t!” 

            “All right!” I muffled his mouth. “You’re not going to be a rabbi.  I’m not going to be a carpenter.  I don’t want Jesus to think we’re arguing.”

            Quickly, I prodded Uriah through the front door, expecting to see Michael sitting at the table or moping around the house.  As I looked around at the large room and kitchen area, though, I could see that it was plunged into lonely shadows.  A terrible thought came to me: in a befuddled state of mind, Michael had wandered off.  After looking into our sick room and finding it empty, I ran to the back door, threw it open and scanned our backyard and the orchard beyond.  All I could see was the distant figures of Falco and Priam walking up the trail.  Slamming the door shut before I was spotted, I retreated into the kitchen and began searching the remainder of the house.  When I found the back room empty, I decided to ask Papa and my brothers if they saw Michael lately, a nagging fear building up in me that he had walked out of the house, as he had before, and just kept going.

            “Where do you think he went?” Uriah’s eyes were wide with concern.

            “I don’t know,” I exhaled raggedly, “but we gotta tell my Papa and Jesus.  We better start looking for him before he’s spotted near our house.”

            “Let’s go!” Uriah shuffled swiftly across the floor.

            Together, in excited outbursts, we informed the woodworkers that Michael was gone.  At a glance, we could see Jesus, James, and Joseph in front of the shop, scraping and sanding wood.  Papa, we assumed, was inside his shop doing the more serious work of the carpenter.  Suddenly, to Uriah and my surprise, my brothers tossed their heads back and began laughing.  Papa stuck his head out, grinning in his beard, and motioned for Uriah and me to approach.  Jesus gave us both a pat on the back as we passed by him.  There inside the shop, as Papa stepped aside, sat Michael on a stool, sanding a piece wood.

            “Michael!” Uriah and I cried.

            “Shhh!” Papa whispered, placing his finger before his lips. “Michael has decided he wants to be a carpenter.”

            “Won’t someone see him?” I looked self-consciously around the premises.

            “It’s too late to worry about it now,” Jesus called discreetly. “After dinner, when it gets dark, we’ll spirit our new brother to Samuel’s house.”

            “We’re not eating dinner at Samuel’s house?” groaned Uriah.

            “No, it’ll be too late.” Papa reached over playfully and tweaked his cheek. “You boys should’ve gone with Mary, Simon, and the girls.”

            “We didn’t want to leave Michael alone.” I motioned with my head.

            “You didn’t have to do that,” he murmured submissively, “I don’t want to be a bother.”

            He doesn’t want to be a bother, I thought, shaking my head in wonder; he just wants to be a carpenter!  I mentally choked on his show of humility, yet visibly displayed a stout hearted smile.  This was completely out of character for the Michael I once knew.  I couldn’t help wondering if he was not playing a game with us.  It seemed almost inconceivable that Jesus efforts to cast out his demon had failed or that Michael’s travails in Jerusalem and escape from death had not changed him from the selfish, reckless youth he was before, and yet those words “I don’t want to be a bother” seemed insincere.  Perhaps he was just embarrassed by all the fuss given to him, but if that was the case why did he journey all the way back from Jerusalem just to collapse at our doorstep in such dire straights?  I had heard how horseman often had to break wild horses in to make them good mounts.  Was it possible, I wondered that afternoon, that Michael’s wild spirit had been broken in enough that he could be trained for such a dull task as working with wood?  Somehow, I didn’t think so.  I am reminded today of how Judas crept into Jesus circle, only to betray him later.  For Michael this would prove to be only partially true, and yet that day, as he half-heartedly worked at a piece of wood, my distrust of him was rekindled.

            To my utter disgust, Jesus also gave Uriah and I pieces to sand, so we spent the remainder of the afternoon, when we normally romped in the backyard or orchard, helping Papa fill his special order.  As it turned out, Michael was only sanding scrap wood, as Uriah had been during his training period.  All we had for a late afternoon meal was cheese, uncut fruit, and stale bread.  I know the rest of us drank well water, but I wasn’t so sure about Papa, who smacked his lips a few times as he often did when drinking wine.  During our dinner, Jesus’ ears pricked up and he motioned for silence at the table.  Running to the back door, he threw it open just in time to see Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz skulking into our yard.

            “I warned you about trespassing!” he called out angrily. “Do you want our guards to arrest you?”

            “My Papa said your family are collaborators,” we heard Jethro scream.

            “Do you even know what that word means?” Jesus asked.

            Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz, responded to Jesus warning with foul curses that caused Papa to slam his mug down and stumble for the door.  James, though afraid, felt obliged to make a show of his outrage, himself, grumbling, “Come on, Joseph, they can’t whoop us all!”

            “How dare they come on my property and talk like that!” Papa shouted.  “I’ll give them a thrashing they’ll never forget.”

            “No, no, Papa,” Jesus counseled, “it’s the wine talking.  Let the guards chastise them.” “James and Joseph.” He pointed to the table. “Sit down!”

            As if Jesus had once again conjured up a miracle, we heard the distant voices through the doorway of Falco and Priam.  Swiftly, I raced to the entrance to stand with Papa and Jesus.  James and Joseph sighed with relief as they joined our vigil.  Behind us, cringing in the shadows, stood Uriah, while Michael sat calmly at the table as if he didn’t have a care in the world. 

            “They’re gonna get it now!” I whispered excitedly. “Better get the wine ready, Papa.  They’re coming our way.”

            When the three trespassers took to their heels, Priam charged ahead, while Falco, holding back, called through cupped hands, “You three!  Hold on!  We know where you live, so halt—stop dead in your tracks!”

            Jethro and Obadiah stopped at once, but Boaz continued running.  Priam, with sword drawn, told the two boys to lie face down on the ground, while his cohort retrieved the third member of their gang.

            “This isn’t good,” Joseph groaned. “They’ll really think we’re collaborators now.”

            “Come,” Papa motioned, stepping forth, “let’s diffuse this situation.”

            “May I do the talking?” Jesus asked from the corner of his mouth as we approached.

            Papa grunted his consent.  Uriah and I hung back a few paces, as Jesus chatted with Falco.  James and Joseph, who were unpopular with our guards, watched the proceedings at a distance.  The old Roman, like many of his fellow guards, was in awe of Jesus, the miracle-worker, but, in spite of Papa’s generosity, considered him to be just another troublesome Jew.  Priam, the most reasonable of the two, had always seemed found of our father, the more so for the occasional mug of wine and Mama’s warm bread.  Jesus explained to Falco, as simply as possible, that the three malcontents were friends of his brothers, who had been arguing over childish matters, but they meant no offense.  Nevertheless, despite Jesus protests, Falco playfully gave Jethro and Obadiah three swats with the flat side of his sword and warned them, “on pain of death,” never to be caught near Joseph bar Jacob’s house again.  Jesus and Papa were horror stricken by this turn of events.  Because Michael was alone in the house, James and Joseph sought refuge in the carpenter’s shop.  When Priam returned with Boaz marching at the point of his sword, he addressed Papa, the head of the house, which was normally the custom of Roman soldiers, and asked him if this young ruffian might be the ringleader, since he was the ugliest of the three.  Papa shook his head helplessly, making a feeble attempt to disengage the youth. 

Falco moved in front of him, his sword glinting in the evening sun.  “No,” he spat, glancing over his shoulder, “he’s not the leader.  Running from Roman guards makes him the dumbest of the three.  He’s lucky I wasn’t carrying my bow.”        

            “Please stop this,” Papa cried, wringing his hands, “these are mere boys!”

            Jesus stood beside him, arms outstretched, eyes raised to heaven, praying, I fancied, that God would send a thunderbolt crashing down on these cold-hearted men.  Boaz’s little eyes became slits.  Even now, as I wept in the background, he managed to communicate smoldering hatred for me, and yet as he clinched his fists, his lower lip quivered as if he was about to cry.

“Stop this!” Papa screamed. “Stop this nonsense at once!”

Unmoved by Papa’s pleas or Jesus’ praying, Priam singled Boaz out for discipline, ordered him to bend over then gave him a sharp whack with the flat of his sword.  To be fair to the others who received three whacks, he gave him two more on the rear and dismissed them all rudely with, “Out of here—all of you!  If we catch you around here again, it’ll be the cross!”

            Abject terror replaced the spitting hatred in Boaz’s face.  By the time Jethro and Obadiah had jumped to their feet, Boaz was running and stumbling in fear up the path beside our house.  The insensitive Romans, like children who just committed some minor mischievous act, snickered at each other, gave us expectant grins and stood there with arms folded as Papa signaled me to fetch them some wine.

            “Bring us some of that warm bread of your mother’s,” Priam called.

            Uriah followed me into the house, whimpering uncontrollably.  James and Joseph were nowhere in sight.  Michael had been napping on his arm.

            “Don’t exert yourself.” I glared at him. 

            I saw Papa hide his wine in a special place in the shop.  After, handing Uriah all the stale bread I could find, I told him to wait for me while I fetched a flask.  When I returned, I picked up some of the moldy uneaten grapes to compensate for not having fresh bread.  Though tempted to spit in the flask and on the food, I still felt enough wicked delight in our tormentors’ punishment not to judge Priam and Falco too harshly.  The boys were still alive and none the worse for their paddling.  Prodding the frightened Uriah out the door then down the little path, I felt both numb and light-headed.  I could just imagine how my timid little friend felt.  When we handed the guards the wine and food, they showed their disdain for the stale bread and grapes by shoving them back to Papa, taking turns with the flask until they had drained it dry, then, in a complete change of mood, gave Papa and Jesus bear hugs, afterwards ruffling Uriah and my hair.

            “Rules are rules,” Falco spoke directly to Jesus, the most upset of us all. “Until we capture the remainder of those bandits and quiet those hotheads in Nazareth, Jews mustn’t congregate in groups of two or more, especially in this sector of town.” “Thank you for the wine,” he added with a curt bow.

            “Why the long face?” asked Priam, handing me the empty flask. “Them boys were troublemakers.  I’ve seen their kind before.” 

            Falco and Priam swaggered up the path to reconnoiter with their reliefs, Clement and Arturius.  After guzzling down an entire flask of wine, they were probably drunk, but now, thanks to the men relieving them, they could return to camp and sleep it off.  I didn’t hate them for what they did.  They didn’t know any better.  I knew two noble Romans: Cornelius and Longinus.  That would be enough for now.  My only concern was the three enemies I had made this hour.  What comforted me, in spite of the excesses of our Roman guards, was the thought of that pot of gold in the wall.  Perhaps my all-knowing brother knew about it too.  For reasons I still find hair brained, he blamed himself for what happened this evening.

            A notion had flittered through my mind, as I watched Falco and Priam paddle those boys: what if they had found the gold?  This thought filled me with dread. 

“I let it happen,” Jesus murmured, as we entered the house. “I just stood there petrified and let it occur.”

            “No Jesus,” I said, shaking his tunic. “You couldn’t stop it.  When the Romans arrived, it was out of your hands.”

            “Uh huh.” Uriah nodded. “They always come up the trail at the same time to be relieved.  It was just bad luck for those boys.”

            “Oh, now it’s luck,” Jesus groaned, grasping his head.

Papa, who was still tipsy, blurted, “Jesus, you can’t pray your way out of everything.  What’re you supposed to do, strike’em dead?  It just happened.  End of story!”

“I’m suppose to be good with words,” Jesus said, shaking his head, “and yet I was mute.  The one time I could make a change, I didn’t have God’s ear.  The prayer in my head was made in anger so it fell upon deaf ears.  I just stood there frozen, letting matters take their course.”

“It’s the Lord’s will,” Michael said in a deadpan voice.

“What?” Papa’s head jerked up. “That’s ridiculous, especially coming from you.  God had nothing to do with it, Michael.  He didn’t want that to happen.  That little episode outside didn’t help our family one bit!”

James and Joseph re-entered the house just in time to hear Michael’s pious exclamation and Papa’s response.  All of us, except Jesus, ganged up on Michael that moment.  Even Uriah took issue with him.  Sitting across from Michael at the table, I asked him if it was God’s will that Jethro, Obadiah and Boaz were going to beat me up the first chance they had.

“Don’t forget their parents.” Papa belched. “If they show up, I’m gonna point straight at the Romans.  This is their fault!”

“I thought they were our friends.” I looked at Papa, who seemed to be falling asleep.

“Oh, Priam’s all right, for a Roman.” He burped again. “Falco’s not that bad either.  It’s that Regulus you gotta watch out for.  He’s carrying a grudge.”

“I don’t like Regulus.” Uriah frowned severely. “He’s scares me.  I don’t think he likes Jews.”

“We can’t blame a creature for its nature,” murmured Jesus. “Is the lamb better than the lion?”

 James and Joseph laughed at his statement.  I don’t think I ever understood what it meant.  Jesus was always saying strange things.  In spite of their rough treatment of Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz, I noticed improvement in our guards, especially Falco and Priam.  During our nature hike with Jesus, Regulus had actually been friendly on the trail.  For several moments, as we sat digesting the latest crisis, I studied Michael’s placid face, wondering if I had judged him too harshly.  Unable to comprehend his dull expression, I motioned for Simon and Uriah to follow me into the backyard.  There would be no investigation of my coins this evening, unless I could slip away.



That evening, before the sun set, we congregated in the orchard as we had that day James read us Jesus’ letter from Rome.  It was one of those special times in our childhood that an event, such as the Roman paddlings, brought us together in solidarity if not fellowship.  I remember feeling a sense of well being that hour, especially with my pot of gold close by.  With the Roman presence re-established in Nazareth and Jesus’ vigilance, what did we have to fear?  Who would dare sneak into our yard and steal my gold?  I realized that moment how very special my family was.  In spite of our differences, we came together in good and bad times.  It once seemed that the whole town was against us, yet we had gained a special status in Nazareth.  We were the carpenter’s family with that strange older son, who, it was rumored, used sorcery to make it rain, cast demons out, and breath life into a dead bird.  Legends had grown up around the parents, who once gave sanctuary to a witch, that Jesus, as a mere child, performed acts of purest black magic, such as bringing clay birds to life, striking a playmate dead, and other slanders I heard in my youth, which the unstable Thomas would one day record in his gospel of Jesus’ life.  Real and made up miracles had increased since Jesus return from his trip with Joseph of Arimathea, especially after the miracles recorded in Jesus’ letters leaked out of our house.  In later life, as a disciple, I read a copy of Thomas so called gospel and was shocked to see a written record of our neighbors’ scurrilous lies, which made other God-sent miracles of his childhood suspect to followers of the Way.  And yet Jesus eccentric behavior and the stories surrounding his birth and lineage told by Samuel to his friends had made many of the outrageous claims believable to people in our town.  After all, was not the raising of his son from death and the quieting of two separate storms witnessed by Joseph of Arimathea, himself?  Could not such a prodigy, who breathed life into a sparrow, not turn clay birds into living things and, if bringing back life, not cancel it out? 

But I digress.  The plain truth is that our house was always full of secrets and strange goings-on.  We were fortunate that day Falco and Priam caught my friends sneaking into our yard and gave them the flat of their swords, that they hadn’t learned about Reuben and the witches son or, for that matter, my ill-gotten gold.  Even now I shudder at the thought!

This time, as we gathered below the trees, Uriah instead of Nehemiah was in our group.  He was, as usual, whiny and fidgety, filled with silly chatter, and yet, for my sake, my older brothers treated him politely as we discussed today’s events.  The main source of our concern had been Michael’s return and miraculous cure, but today a much more serious event had occurred.

“Mark my words,” James declared, pointing to our yard, “that action is going to cause us problems.”

“They’ll tell their parents.” Joseph looked fearfully around at the group. “Soon that grimy blacksmith and smelly tanner will be pounding on our door.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said, resting my head against a tree. “I’ve been thinking about this, Joseph.  How are those boys going to explain being in our yard?  No one in our family laid a finger on them.  How are they going to explain being paddled by our Roman guards?  Will searching for bandits’ gold be an excuse for trespassing in our yard.” “Tell me, my brothers,” I repeated, chewing on a twig, “how are they going to explain any of this?”

“Humph!” James scratched his chin thoughtfully. “An excellent point!  I don’t think their parents would be sympathetic with them if they knew why they snuck into our yard. 

Was not Boaz’s father one of the men accompanying Papa to the Roman camp?  Jethro and Obadiah’s father is too busy with preparing Ezra’s hides to make an issue of this.”

“Yes.” Joseph’s dark expression brightened. “. . . . Even so, who would they complain to—Regulus?  Longinus?  Papa?” “No,” he decided, with a great sigh of relief, “The mood of the Romans isn’t good.  After seeing Papa thrash the rabbi, I can’t imagine them charging up to our house”

“That matter settled,” I jumped up blithely, “let’s play a game.”

Everyone followed me into the trees, away from the wall and my hidden pot of gold.  What I had in mind wouldn’t require hiding behind trees or playing tag, which were games that James and Joseph now found childish.

Pulling the cubes from my pocket, I cried, “Let’s throw dice and gamble!”

“All right.” Simon nodded. “What shall we gamble with?”

“Gambling is a sin,” Joseph recoiled.”

“Hiding criminals in our house is a sin too.” I cocked an eyebrow.

“That was a crime, not a sin,” challenged Joseph. “I mean a Hebrew sin.”

“Its a matter of definition,” offered James. “What we’ve been doing would probably be considered a Roman sin.

Joseph laughed.  Uriah crawled around on the ground a moment as I explained how my game would be played, rising on his knees with a handful of small pebbles.

“We’ll use these,” he held up his hand.

“All we do is clear a throwing space and take turns tossing.  One player calls out one of the number equivalents we decided upon just as his partner throws his dice.  If he rolls doubles with the number on it, he shares the tally with his partner.  If he rolls only one of the numbers called out, he wins half the tally.  In this way a large call can be worse than a smaller number.”

“My head’s swimming.” Simon made a face.

“It’s easy,” I pshawed, “we’ll have a practice throw.”

“I get it.” Uriah began looking for more pebbles. “This is going to be fun!”

“And you’re a rabbi’s son.” Joseph shook his head in wonder.

“Well,” James said with resignation, “Jesus saw no problem with us using grapes for tender.  I see no harm in pebbles, as long as it’s not money.”

Joseph joined us in our effort to clear a space.  After rolling the dice to see who goes first, we played until it was almost dark.  It was, I confessed to them, one of Michael’s favorite games.  Uriah did surprisingly well with his tosses, almost winning the game, but it was Joseph, of all people, who had the highest score, always calling low until his score was high enough to take chances.  Such thinking, I recall, would benefit him as a merchant and scribe.  Though we did poorly, ourselves, James, Simon and I were amused by how well our brother had done.  As I looked back at James and smiled, I saw Michael’s face in the window, perhaps yearning to play one of his old childhood games.  At just that moment, Jesus appeared characteristically in the doorway holding a lamp.

“Our night guards might take issue with this congregation,” he announced, motioning us into the house. “We’ll have our evening meal before escorting Michael to Samuel’s house,” he added as we filed obediently into the house.

We spent the remainder of our idle time, throwing the dice on the kitchen table before and after a quickly prepared dinner.  Michael joined in but with none of the wild abandon displayed in the past.  Papa, who seemed to be sober, was nervous about transferring another wrongdoer from our house.  There were, he explained, pacing back and forth, far more Romans in our town than before, who were in no mood for groups moving about in the night.  Escorting a hooded figure in the darkness would appear suspicious.  What if a sentry challenged them on the way to Samuel’s house?  How could they explain having Michael in their midst?  Ultimately, to calm himself down, Papa sat down at the table with a mug of wine.  None of us, even Jesus blamed him.  This single act could ruin his reputation in the town.  It made us shudder to think what the Romans might do.  The wine, added to his weariness from long hours in the shop, caused his head to droop, until finally, to no one’s surprise, a snore whistled through his beard.

As his forehead bumped the table, everyone, even the normally disapproving Joseph, laughed.  Jesus let Papa snooze for a short while, as he held vigil by the window.  If we heard hoof beats on the road it would mean that a night officer is making his rounds.  This, Jesus informed us grimly, would be our cue.

Back and forth from the front and back windows, he paced, until finally, hearing the clatter of hooves, Jesus roused Papa from slumber.  Softly he ordered, “Time to go,” helping him to his feet, and then guiding him to the door.  It all happened quickly, within one graceful moment.  Knowing full well what came next, we looked down at Michael, who rose more solemnly, as I recall, like a prisoner being led to his cell.  Like Simon, Uriah, James, Joseph, and I, he had been happy at the thought of living at Samuel’s house, but he now seemed reluctant to leave.  Part of Papa’s plan, to have at least two people staying in our house, had been scrapped tonight because of his condition.  Though he discussed it in a whisper with James, Jesus said he took full responsibility for the decision.  There was no need for anyone to stay behind.  We would all sleep at the estate tonight.  Fortunately, there would be a lull in his carpentry business, which would allow Papa to rest and recuperate before going back to work.  Jesus agreed with James reasoning that, technically at least, the Romans were guarding our house.  Our goal to spirit Michael to the Pharisee’s estate was simple.  James would run ahead to check the traffic on the road, while we led Michael’s hooded figure up the road.  We would also have to lead Papa, who would get lost in his current condition.  Because of the Roman rules of congregation, we spaced our trek, two by two: James guided Papa, Jesus led Michael, and Joseph, Uriah and I straggled behind to avoid being seen as a crowd.  It was an unjust rule, but, after what happened in our backyard, none of us complained.  We had learned a grim lesson today.  With the exception of Cornelius and Longinus, the Romans were not really our friends.  I wanted to believe that Priam and Falco were not like the other soldiers in town, but we had seen a dark side of them today.  In James words, “They had molested visitors (albeit intruders) on our property and treated us with great disrespect.”  Because of the rumors that would spread after today, our family’s standing in town might suffer a setback, but at least we could temporarily find a sanctuary in the big house.  With these thoughts weighing heavily upon me, I followed the others into Samuel’s estate.  The sweet burden of my treasure had offset my concern for my reputation in Nazareth.


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