Mama, who like Jesus never seemed to sleep, came out into the hall to greet us as we slipped into Samuel’s house. Reuben, of course, was nowhere in sight. I remember the distressed expression on Mordechai’s face when he saw how many of us arrived that night. This hadn’t been in the plan, he muttered fretfully. Mama was very unhappy that Papa was drunk. The chamberlain led us into a room where a table offered us a meager fare, which was nothing more than leftovers from the evening’s sumptuous feast. Because three of us were suppose to remain at our home, Samuel would not have expected all of us to show up for dinner. I wondered if he would offer lamb, fish, and such delicacies every night. Simon, Tabitha, and the twins had eaten most of the sweetmeats. Tabitha ran up to hug Jesus and me, before I fell upon the remnants of candied dates, pastries, and fruit. I totally ignored the leftover lamb and fish. Papa, who was still quite tipsy, inspected the jugs on the table for wine until Mama prodded him irritably to their room.
Uriah and I would share a room. Michael would be sharing a room with Jesus. As the servants led us down the corridor to our chambers, James and Joseph grumbled under their breaths about the lack of hospitality. Jesus reminded them amiably of the original plan. Because of Papa’s new order they were not suppose to eat dinner with the others. Three of them should not even be here tonight. Nevertheless, James and Joseph felt that they could have at least saved more of the delicacies, which would have made a nice late night snack. It was one of those rare moments when I silently agreed with them. I was certain that Uriah felt the same way, and yet he managed to scrounge up a napkin full of candied dates and pastry scrapes that we munched on while we lie in our pallets discussing my interesting family.
“Jude,” Uriah declared lazily, “I’m having more fun at your house than I’ve had in my entire life.”
“You consider what happened today fun?” I replied, chewing methodically on a date. “You should’ve been at our house when Mariah was here. I’ve lost track of how many disasters we’ve gone through.” “Let’s see,” my voice dropped off gradually, “Mariah’s house on fire, Reuben threatening us, Michael’s mischief, Papa and Joachim wrestling in your front yard. . .”
“I’ve heard about them all.” Uriah nodded thoughtfully in the candlelight. “Many of my Papa’s sermons were about your family’s evil deeds.”
“Ho-ho!” I laughed aloud. “Those were the days. The whole town hated our family then!”
“Do you blame me for any of that?” His voice softened.
“No, of course not.” I said with a yawn. “You were just a boy. Your father probably had a demon, like Michael. Papa said most rabbis, Pharisees, and priests are soft in the head.”
Uriah made a face, while stuffing a date into his mouth. While chomping on the morsel, he responded slowly, sleepily, “I dunno. . . At least you have your brothers and sisters. . . . For a long time I had no friends at all.”
It seemed appropriate to point out to him that, except for Tabitha, Michael and he, I didn’t have very many friends, myself. In stead, I closed my eyes and pictured my great white horse. He was waiting for me. Waves of slumber lapped at my mind. At one point, I heard Uriah ask me a startling question, “Who was that strange looking bald-headed man in Samuel’s house? “I don’t remember seeing a bald-headed man,” I replied irritability. Reuben had, I recalled with relief, a full head of hair. I don’t remember seeing Reuben wandering around the house. I had almost mentioned our ordeal with him after listing Reuben among the disasters of our family, but I had thought better of it. Although I sensed that Uriah had gotten wind of the story, I remember Papa forbidding me from telling it to any of my friends. I knew that Uriah couldn’t keep a secret unless you threatened to beat him up. Now, because of his isolation from the rest of the town, I saw no reason why he shouldn’t know this deep, dark secret.
With that thought in mind, I found my body drifting weightlessly above the floor. Down below, Uriah was asking me the same question again and nudged me several times when I didn’t respond, but my wakeup world had ended and my dream world had returned. My friend’s voice faded and the candlelit chamber in Samuel’s house grew dimmer and dimmer until I was far away, in the midst of another nightmarish dream.
This time, it appeared as if the Lord might be replaying my previous dreamscape. If it wasn’t, as Jesus insisted, merely a nightmare, but revelation as he categorized my other dreams, God had added significant details. Once again, I was running from what Jesus labeled temple guards, whom I know now were the Persian soldiers arresting me for preaching the Word. This time, as I glanced back and saw the same bearded and peaked-helmeted guards, I realized I had gained greater distance on them and reached the top of the rise. “He’s getting away!” they cried. “Let’s head him off on the trail!” Not knowing if they meant the trail I was currently on, I wondered if I would run into a trap on the other side of the hill. I recalled the last dream I shared with Jesus and how frightened I had been. During our prayer circle, he prayed that God would take away my gift. He warned me afterwards that God might still plague me with visions, and yet I was still annoyed that his prayer had failed. At first, at the onset, I was certain it was another lucid dream. After all, as in the dreams of the crosses, there were reference points, such as the features of the players and the plot, itself. Nevertheless, I was, in spite my foreknowledge, frightened. New details had been added. More than the men chasing me, I had dreaded what lie at the end of my dream. Always in previous dreamscapes there was a shadowy punch line. What would it be this time? I wondered as I ran down the other side of the hill. As before, however, when a lucid dream began slipping away to become a nightmare, I was no longer sure why I was afraid. Did I dread the message or was I fearful of being caught? When I looked ahead and saw those awful men, the transition became complete. Turning sharply left, I found a second path. Praying feverishly that I would escape my pursuers, I followed the new path through a dark forest. I wished I had my white horse that moment. Why was I on foot and being chased by strange men? This, in itself, seemed significant. Flashing through my mind repeatedly was the question, “Who was I suppose to be?” Was I criminal or a victim of mistaken identity? After all, many of our Roman guards felt that all Jews looked the same.
A ghostly specter ahead now called out my name, “Ju-u-u-de!” At that point, with this added touch, I laughed hysterically as I raced down the path. Suddenly, just as I heard shouts in back of me, I looked ahead and saw a bank of fog roll over the trail. Inside the mist, dark shadows lurked, while behind me men, who wanted my blood, approached. Having no other choice, I entered the fog, realizing I had entered another nightmarish landscape, which I label in my chronicle, the Land of the Dead. Slowly, as in other dreams, I sensed a meaning to the imagery. Dark bodies moved around me—faces I recognized from the past: Uncle Joab, alongside of his deceased wife Miriam, whom I scarcely remembered, stood listlessly, with hollow, lifeless stares. Though there was no peace here, I called out “Shalom!” I could think of nothing else to say. Up ahead, on the forest path, I saw Nehemiah, with the same pasty complexion and sunken eyes. When I hailed him, he rotated his head slowly, like a turtle, but said nothing. When I reached out this time, he receded in disembodied fashion into the fog, as did all of the bodies I brushed against. The thought that I might be dead, like them, was offset by the fact that there were living men in pursuit, and yet, as I had been before on top of the hill, I began feeling trapped. Was I was visitor in this land or a tenant as the others?
As I continued my trek, I asked an old man. “Where am I? What is this place?”
“Bring us the lamb!” a deep voice sounded.
The old man hadn’t spoken. In fact, he faded back into the fog. The speaker was somewhere up ahead. Who was this specter? I froze in my tracks. Once again I was gripped in terror.
“What lamb?” I looked around fearfully. “Where are you? Is this Heaven or Hell? Why is my friend, an innocent child, in this place?”
“We wait for the sacrifice!” the voice boomed.
Dreading what lie ahead, I was between two worlds—the dead and the living. Both of them implied death. As I retreated down the path, I realized how hopeless my situation had become. At the boundary of the fog, the guards stood waiting, apparently reluctant to cross. One of the men shouted hoarsely, “There he is, with the others. Now he’ll never escape!” Surely, as I backed into the fog, I felt trapped in that underworld scarcely explained in the Torah. Turning back into the thick mist, I could see a multitude of dark shadows. Among the bodies randomly sprinkled in the fog, a number of them clumped together and came forward in the same disembodied way Nehemiah moved. I now, with insight, believe that many of them were members of the twelve, who became martyrs for the risen Lord. Though at the time I didn’t recognize him, I know my older brother James in the group. Like the others, he had a beard and had a travel worn, shaggy look. None of them, including James, whom, like the other members of the twelve, I identify in retrospect, were familiar. Thanks to my nearly perfect memory, I know their names now. At that point, the looming hulk of Peter became the only one of my dream images to speak, which was fitting as the chief disciple. I knew it was his voice that had beckoned me, when he elbowed his way through, exclaiming, “We, his apostles, wait for the lamb!” This makes no sense to me even now. The apostle John told us after the crucifixion that Jesus promised a repentant thief on the cross he would be with him in paradise that day, and yet Matthew wrote in his gospel that the dead shall rise for judgment, the goats being separated from the sheep. Had there been both goats and sheep in the fog? I wonder now. Those moments during the troubling dream, however, it was confusing, yet I sensed the dark days of the future. It made me fearful but also angry. Why hadn’t Jesus prayer worked? Why did I have to suffer such dreams? The man, whom I would one day know as Peter, the Rock, was just one more nightmarish image to me. When he repeated those ominous words, stared at me with those dark foreboding eyes, and reached, as if to ensnare me in his nightmarish world, I decided that I had enough. Something triggered my memory, perhaps the absurdity of it, and I shouted into the man’s face, “This is ridiculous—a silly dream! You’re not real. Why are you troubling my sleep?
I wonder, as I write these words, if this was, in fact, a revelation of my own martyrdom when I will join other members of the twelve now long since dead, but the time, I was greatly annoyed. That moment in Samuel’s house, as I ridiculed my dream image, my shouts, which registered as grunts and groans, frightened my friend Uriah. Not yet fully awake as he shook me, I wanted to dispel these horrors once and for all. As if I were casting out demons from my mind, I thrashed about at war with my gift.
“What’s wrong Jude?” Uriah whispered frantically. “Why’re you pounding your forehead? Stop it, Jude! You’re scaring me!”
“Get out! Get out of my head!” A growl came from deep in my throat.
“You must be possessed,” he cried, jumping to his feet. “I’m gonna go get Jesus. He’ll know what to do!”
Those hysterical words brought me back to earth. Grabbing Uriah before he opened the door, I drug him back into the room, my hand clamped over his mouth.
“Listen, you numbskull,” I shrilled into his ear. “I had a bad dream—a nightmare. Everyone’s asleep. So shut up. Just calm down. I’ve caused my oldest brother enough grief!”
Uriah settled on a nearby stool, his lips quivering in fear. I drew up another stool, marveling momentarily by the fact that it had gold filigree running along its plush cushion and backrest.
“Samuel must really be rich!” I exclaimed, reaching across to finger a pillow lying on a table.
“What?” Uriah gave me an astonished look. “I thought you had a bad dream!”
I ignored him for a moment, as I studied the table. It was on which the pillow had sat. It was a dark, rich wood, unlike anything created in Papa’s shop. Uriah sat there quietly, his cubby faced screwed up in a frown. It must have been quite late. Earlier in the evening, before I drifted off, I could hear muffled laughter somewhere in the house and voices, but now there was dead silence—not so much as a bird’s chirp or rustle of wind.
“Jude, are you all right?” He reached out to grip my trembling hand.
“I can’t talk about this with you, Uriah,” I looked up, my face glistening with tears. “It’s hard enough trying to explain it to Jesus.”
“Did you do something bad?” He asked slyly.
“You mean inside my head?” I sneered. “I was asleep, Uriah. I had a bad dream. Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”
I was trying to make light of my dream. I was not certain whether Uriah was being perceptive or stupid. I had, in fact, done a bad thing, but I was upset by my dream, not because of my lust for gold. I had no intention of telling him about my dreams. If Jesus didn’t understand them, how could Uriah? As far as the gold was concerned, I had decided not to tell anyone about that until I had grown up and was old enough to see the world. Uriah, however, suspected a deep, dark secret and would not let the matter drop.
He continued to prod me with his eyes and wheedling words, “Come on, out with it. . . . Tell me the truth. . . . You want to get it off your chest. . . . Is it really a bad dream? Or did you do something really naughty?”
“Uriah, shut up!” I snapped, dropping my face into my hands.
“Why can’t you trust me?” He tried a different tact. “I won’t tell a soul. Is it really that bad?”
Uriah was more concerned with my conscience than my dream. I wouldn’t consider telling Uriah my deep, dark secret. I might as well stand on our roof and shout it to all of Nazareth. Yet there was no reason I couldn’t relate the substance of my dream. I would leave out what it might mean. It was, I sensed even then a revelation, but I doubted very much that Uriah would see that.
“It’s like this,” I began in an offhanded way, “I was being chased by guards. I thought it was because I was a criminal, especially other people appeared in my dream. They were all dead—ghosts, like lost souls. It was that place they call the underworld. My Uncle Joab and his wife were there. Nehemiah was there, too. I’m not sure if bad people as well as good people were there, but for a while I was worried. It certainly wasn’t Heaven. Oh it was really spooky, Uriah. None of those ghosts looked happy. They all had pasty faces and unblinking stares, like those people called the living dead.”
“You were in Gahenna!” Uriah exclaimed, rising to his feet. “What an awful dream. You’re conscience must have been bothering you for you to dream about that. Please, Jude, that’s enough. I get the idea!”
Though Uriah was convinced I had done something naughty, I remained silent. Lying back down on my pallet, I motioned for him to do the same. A nagging feeling lingered in my mind, as I prepared my mind for sleep. In his innocence, Uriah knew I had done something wrong. Also troubling me was the meaning of my dream, which Uriah missed entirely. Not wanting to go either place with him, I chatted lazily with my friend about down-to-earth matters.
“I’ve got an idea,” I gave out one last outburst of energy. “Tomorrow, let’s go exploring in Samuel’s woods after we’re finished with our chores.”
“How far does it go?” Uriah wrinkled his nose. “The hills in back of Samuel’s estate aren’t as wide and tall as the ones in back of your house.”
“I followed a trail to a clearing,” I replied, shielding my eyes from the sun. “Maybe we can find out how far it goes. Who knows we might find another cave.”
“I don’t like caves,” Uriah said with a groan. “I got bit by a scorpion in one. I almost died!”
“That’s right,” I laughed softly. “You’re one of our family’s miracles!”
“I owe your family a lot,” he said thoughtfully. “Papa’s never going to be the same. I might not see my mother again...”
“You’re part of my family now, Uriah,” I murmured, tumbling into slumber.
This time, as my friend whispered a groggy “Thank you,” we appeared to fall asleep at almost the same time. I could hear Uriah snoring softly as I drifted into my dream world. An inkling of dread followed, as everything faded to black. Bursts of light, dark shadows, and patches of dreamscape were punctuated by the familiar appearance and feel beneath me of my great white horse, but this time, when I awakened the next morning, I could remember only a simple, uncomplicated dreamscape: riding into a field of swaying wheat, cape fluttering in the wind, spear held high—aimed at a distant line of enemy warriors; climbing off my horse, walking to cliff—Jesus secret place in the hills—and looking out to an endless panorama of cities and roads; and then, receiving the last patches of dreamscape, I found myself riding through a familiar line of tall green trees. From that point, the scenery, even the ground below me, became warped, as would a heat chimera in the desert. As I wondered what horror waited for me this time, daylight turned to night and substance—my horse, cape, spear, and surroundings—turning to fluid darkness, as I tumbled down the long black corridor from sleep.
“Jude, Jude!” a familiar voice called in the darkness.
I looked up to find the reassuring face of Uriah once more. The house, itself, was astir with voices and movement. Morning had come quickly, though I felt as if I had experienced great epochs of adventure. This time, however, there was no apparent message to be deciphered. I can recall no other period in my life when the Lord gave me so many visions, but the remainder of that night after falling asleep had merely been confusing. Clearly I was destined to be a soldier. In almost all of my dreams I was on my horse, dressed as a warrior, but did I really want to be a soldier? I asked myself, rubbing sleep from my eyes. I had seen a dark side of the Romans that gave me second thoughts. As I listened to Uriah inform me that Mama had called through the door “It’s time for breakfast,” I wondered if I really wanted to join the army. It sounded like such a dangerous occupation. Perhaps, I reasoned, I could be a military scribe. Joseph once said he wanted to do that kind of work. Surely, the Romans would need them too.
I lay there a short while studying the little fat boy gazing down at me, wondering if he would follow his father’s occupation or really become a carpenter as he wished. Springing up to my feet I gave him a spontaneous clap on the back, then gripped his shoulders as I once saw Longinus and Regulus do. Throwing open the door, I greeted Papa as he shuffled slack-jawed down the corridor. I also called out to James and Joseph as they passed. “Uriah,” I exclaimed light-headedly, “you have a noble heart. Promise me you’ll never change.”
“I promise,” he murmured obligingly. “You sound like you’ve been drinking your Papa’s wine.”
“Not wine, wisdom. You must never be a rabbi, Uriah,” I added, ruffling his hair, “nor a Pharisee or money-grabbing priest.”
“Never!” He shuddered.
As we ambled down the corridor, chatting about the day ahead, Mama scurried past with Tabitha and the twins in tow. As she glanced back, I could see a smile dancing on her face, and she was humming off-key under her breath.
“You boys, go into the main hall,” she trilled cheerily. “The servants have laid out a nice meal for us. Samuel will be attending breakfast, himself.”
“Oh goodie,” Uriah whooped with joy. “I bet they’ll have pastries.”
When we reached the main hall, we found most of the family assembled at the large table, including Samuel and Mordechai, the chamberlain, whose diligence had found great favor in the Pharisee’s eyes. I looked out upon the gathering, seeking out the bright face of Tabitha, who had settled bubbling happily between Abigail and Martha. James and Joseph sat quietly across from them, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our meal. Simon, normally late to rise, raced into the hall as Uriah and I took our seats. Reuben, I was not surprised, was nowhere in the room. I was certain Samuel wanted to keep him out of sight. Strangely enough, though, Michael was in our midst. That moment, Jesus was talking to Michael in a muted voice at one end of the table. Samuel, our host, sat at the other end with Papa and Mordechai, pausing in his discourse to signal to the servants to bring in the food. With our mother seated, breakfast could begin. Though he was in no mood to do so, Papa arose to say the prayer.
Looking back upon the daily events of my life, I’m reminded of the fact that Papa rarely said the Hebrew Shema the way it’s suppose to be said. His morning, afternoon, and evening prayers were always personal. When he stood up, at Samuel’s request, to recite the Shema “Here O Israel: the Lord our God is One. . . ,” our family looked up in surprise. Unfamiliar with the words at first, our memories were jogged by the formula, and yet the words seemed uninspiring compared to Papa’s creative touch. Each of his prayers had always been unique. He talked personally to God, sometimes speaking poetically and even sang with Mama and Jesus in the spirit. His voice had never droned on with such little inspiration or passion as it did that morning nor end so abruptly we barely had a chance to bow our heads. Until then his prayers had always commanded our attention. In truth, of course, Papa had only given the first verse before collapsing into his seat. The rest of this most important prayer in Hebrew, so foreign to our ears, would have been tedious for us, and yet we knew full well there was more. We sat in embarrassed silence, aware of Papa’s illness, most of us remembering what happened to Uncle Joab many years ago. Samuel frowned with disapproval, as did the chamberlain, but said nothing. Upon Mama’s signal, Jesus finished the Shema, first looking apologetically at Papa and our host.
“Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
When Jesus was finished with the Shema, he sat down solemnly, our host silently blessed our breakfast, and we turned quietly to our food. The servants had brought in an assortment of chopped fruit, breads, rolls, cheese, and juice. It was not merely the variety but the quality of the food that made this a fine feast. After awhile, as we listened to each other munch, smack, and slurp our food, Samuel broke the silence.
“Joseph, you have a fine family.” He laughed softly, focusing on Michael, Tabitha and then Uriah. “It looks as if it’s growing.” “Well,” he added with a shrug, “that’s why we’re gathered here this morning. I’ve opened my house to you. . . . And it’s about time!”
Raising his hands in a gesture of welcome, he nodded and giggled querulously as old men often do. I heard something else that morning that most persons at the table appeared to miss. Papa was looking forlornly at his plate, while the rest of us ate our breakfast. I was looking directly at Samuel as he inclined his head and whispered to Papa. I had never liked the haughty way to he talked to my parents. His voiced rose gradually until it filtered into my ears. Mordechai and Mama had looks of surprises on their faces. As Uriah stopped chattering a moment, I heard Samuel say, “It’s true my friends, I would like this arrangement to be permanent. I should’ve done this a long time ago. For many years I’ve valued my hermitage. After my wife and child died, I devoted my life to selfish pursuits: my garden, orchard, valuables, even my faith. Except for my chamberlain’s counsel, my house became a shrine to loneliness until I discovered your incredible son. Through him, I was introduced to Nazareth’s foremost family—Joseph bar Jacob, his wife Mary, daughters, and sons.”
Papa seemed to be speechless at what Samuel was muttering. Mama looked over proudly at her oldest son, who was talking to Michael, unaware of Samuel’s words. I’m sure she told Jesus about it later. That moment, however, he was only concerned about Michael’s well-being—the Good Shepherd, worried about the least of this sheep. It was a pattern exhibited throughout Jesus’ entire life. Because Uriah stopped eating long enough to begin chattering again, I never heard the rest of Samuel’s praise. The only thing that mattered to me were Samuel’s words “I would like to make this permanent.” The realization rang into my mind: The old man had just taken our family into his household!
Such an arrangement would solve our problem of living space and also permanently hide Michael, like Reuben, from the outside world. I could barely contain myself with this news. Why hadn’t Samuel announced this to everyone aloud, instead of acting so secretive? Before I saw Mama shake her head at me, I was ready to share the news with Uriah and my brothers, who were out of earshot too. The look on her face, though, said to me “I’ll believe it when I see it.” After Samuel’s promise to give everyone in my family gifts, I remembered Papa warning us about the old man’s state of mind. I never got my horse nor had Papa’s shop been improved. Now Samuel was turning his house over to my family, which now included three more children under my parents’ care. If the old man was addled, as Papa once suggested, this might all be forgotten by nightfall. Shrugging my shoulders with resignation, I finished my breakfast, waited until Uriah’s gluttony ended, then, after we all congregated in front of Samuel’s house, followed Papa and Jesus back to the shop.
I decided to keep what I knew to myself. Straggling behind the others, I managed to keep a distance between myself and my laggard friend. Glancing back with annoyance, I caught sight of Uriah—waddling unsteadily on his feet, belching freely, his tunic splattered with food. He had played the glutton this morning. Not only had he eaten his portion of breakfast, but Tabitha and Martha’s uneaten portions as well, plus everything else on the table he could cram into his mouth. It would be fortunate for my poor parents if Samuel’s words rang true. Otherwise, that fat little boy would eat us out of house and home. Overwhelmed with worldly concerns—Papa’s drinking, our family’s welfare, and the mysterious reappearance of my gold, my heart wasn’t into sanding furniture this morning or listening to Uriah say silly things.
As we gathered in front of the shop, we understood that Jesus was in control. Because there was only one order left, the workday would be light, but that didn’t mean we could shirk our chores. Dividing the tasks between us based upon ability, Jesus gave particular attention to the tabletop, which Papa had turned over to him. Without argument, I smiled as Jesus ruffled my hair and repositioned the sander in my hand. James and Joseph grumbled a little, as did Simon with Jesus overseeing our every move, but I had more important things on my mind. The day was still young. There was only one table left on this order. . . . And I still had a pot of gold in the wall.
While we settled into the rhythm of our craft, Uriah was applying his sander diligently in spite of his physical distress. He was following Jesus instructions exactly: slow deliberate motions and even strokes, sanding with the grain of the wood. Papa remained absent from the shop, while Jesus moved amongst us inspecting our work. As we went about our tasks—James and Joseph scraping, Simon, Uriah, and I sanding, and Jesus settling down to put the final touches on a table before slapping varnish on finished stools, we could see Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz slinking as jackals up and down the road in front of our house. They still wanted their portion of the treasure. Jesus shot up finally, glaring menacingly at the three boys as if to say “You’re forewarned: keep off our property!” Once again I felt great love and pride for my oldest brother. He would protect us. I wanted to have confidence in Papa as a protector too, but his battle with wine had come back to haunt him. I still had faith that Jesus’ prayers could work wonders again for him, and yet, as we waited for him to emerge from the house to announce our afternoon break, a gloom settled over my brothers and I. Jesus would have to coax Papa out of the shadows into the bright sunlight, blinking fiercely, wobbling to and fro, his head ringing like a gong. Jesus and James would have to escort him back to Samuel’s house that evening. . . . Our Papa was a drunk. Soon, if they hadn’t guessed already, the whole town would know.
Falco and Priam visited our house in time to pick up their wine ration. Aware of Papa’s latest hiding place, Simon and I dashed over to it with two mugs and quickly poured them brimming cups. While Simon carried the wine up to the guards, I detoured into the house to grab some fresh fruit Jesus had picked earlier. More tactfully this time, Falco and Priam each tried one of the plums, nodded appreciatively, and stood there enjoying their wine as we waited in the front yard.
During this familiar ritual, Papa sat down wearily on the garden bench as we glanced sheepishly over our shoulders at the street.
“What’s wrong with your father?” Priam addressed Jesus.
Jesus, who couldn’t lie, avoided falsehood but answered with an untruth. “Papa isn’t well. He’s been working too hard and needs a long rest.”
Before leaving our house unattended again, Jesus asked Priam and Falco to watch over our home and make sure the evening and early morning guards did the same. They both agreed amiably, as they handed back their empty mugs. We were certain that the guards would search our house for food and wine while we were away and might even find Papa’s stash. As we hiked up the road, Papa reminded Jesus that his order was not complete and he couldn’t rest very long. Jesus insisted that everything was almost ready. All that was needed was a little more sanding and varnish before we glued and nailed the pieces together. While Papa rested up, he could supervise us once more to make sure the order was finished on time. Before agreeing with Jesus, however, he argued feebly a few moments. We knew that he had been drinking a lot lately; we just didn’t know how much. He looked terrible in the sunlight. As Samuel’s house loomed into view, a legionnaire approached astride a large gray mare. The Roman looked down at Papa, as he rode passed, laughing softly under his breath. The sneer on his face seemed to say “Ho-ho, too much wine!” I was able to differentiate between Roman soldiers as well as horses now, so I knew the rider was an optio just like Regulus, the southwestern sector’s optio, but this officer’s men guarded the northeastern zone of town.
Once again in the midst of a family crisis, I focused upon something silly. My big white horse, shiny armor, long, sharp spear, gilded sword, and adoring troops flashed through my mind as I watched the optio gallop away. Not long ago, I might have shared such a fancy with a friend or member of my family, but I had learned to hold my tongue around my parents and older brothers. What was the use? Papa was a carpenter, but not one of his sons wanted to follow in his footsteps. James wanted to study the law, and Joseph planned on becoming a scribe. I’m not sure what Jesus would be one day, but I knew Simon hated carpentry as much as me. Only Uriah actually said he wanted to be a carpenter, and I didn’t believe that. . . . Uriah would be a rabbi, like his father—I knew it as certainly as I knew I would be a soldier one day.
But that was then—during the golden twilight of childhood. Now, as I sit in the darkness of my Persian cell, I laugh at my folly and weep at the loss of Uriah, my old friend, who, like all the others who followed the Savior, died so long, long ago.