Here is Chapter Thirteen…
Chapter Word Count: 3061
Monthly Word Count: 12,687
Nazareth was bustling with activity when they arrived. The residents were getting ready for the Sabbath and the trading in the square was active and noisy. Ambigo was shocked at how quickly they were directed to the home of Joseph, the carpenter, and his wife, Mary. He felt the team hesitate at the door of the humble building. It was sturdier than Marit’s tiny home, but it was simple and modest compared to the other dwellings in the town. They stood outside the door, inspecting it and looking at each other in anticipation.
Philip pushed past them and knocked on the door without ceremony. A young girl opened it and Philip spoke for the group, “Is this the home of Joseph, the carpenter?” The girl nodded. She added nothing more and she didn’t invite them in. “Is he home?” She shook her head. Philip looked to the rest of the team to see if he was doing the right thing. Father Garcia continued the one-sided conversation with the girl, “Is Mary home?” The girl nodded, but she still refused to speak and neglected to invite them in. Madi came to the front of the group. “May we come in and talk to her?”
A glimpse of panic ran across the girl’s face and her cheeks colored darkly. A voice from inside called unintelligibly. The girl retreated inside the home and shut the door. The team looked at each other. Ambigo was confused. “What did we do wrong?” Father Garcia’s forehead crinkled in thought, “Nothing. Is that right, Andrew? Did we do anything that would have offended?” Andrew and Philip were just as perplexed as the rest of the team. Before they could decide what to do, the door opened again and the girl motioned for them to enter. They crossed the threshold confused, scared and excited.
“Who is it? Come here and shut the door so I can see you.” The voice crackled with years of coughing. It was a female voice, but only barely so. The team inched closer to the woman slouched in the chair by the fire, allowing their eyes to adjust to the light. Jaime and Madi merged near her. Father Garcia held Andrew and Philip toward the back, allowing the filming team more room. When Jaime kneeled at her feet, she clasped his hand. “Could it be?” She ran her hands over his face and then grabbed him in a rough, but motherly hug.
From what little Ambigo could see at the back of the team, Mary was old. She looked ancient old. She looked Methuselah old. Her skin was deeply lined and looked leathery in texture. Years of sun exposure had turned her face into a thick pelt of deeply creased rawhide. Within an instant, the images of the pale and beautiful Mary were erased from his mind and this harsh, thin woman was in her place. The flushed cheeks were replaced by wrinkles. The halo of light was replaced with a coarse, hand-sewn cloak. The soft, pink hands of supplication were replaced by gnarled and arthritic claws clutching at Jaime. The blissful countenance was replaced by the look of a tearful grandmother long-separated from her family.
“Oh my boy, you’ve grown so. I would have barely recognized you.” She still clung to Jaime and rocked him back and forth. “Why didn’t you tell Rebekah that you had returned? It has been too long, my son.” Father Garcia turned to the young girl with questions in his eyes, but she bowed her head in shame. Jaime gently pulled himself away from the woman, “I think there has been a mistake. I’m not your son. My name is Jaime. We’ve come here to ask about one of your sons, though.” Jaime turned to Father Garcia for help.
The old woman playfully patted Jaime’s head, “Such a funny boy.” Father Garcia asked her, “You are Mary, wife of Joseph?” She answered his question, but she kept her myopic eyes on Jaime, “Yes, yes. Jesus, introduce me to your friends.” Ambigo saw Jaime’s back tighten at the word “Jesus.” The entire team became stiff and awkward. A strange silence filled the small home and Ambigo could hear the asthmatic breathing of the old woman and the stressful breaths of his teammates. Jaime finally spoke, “You are misguided, gentle woman. I am not your son. My name is Jaime. Your son, Jesus, is the man that we are searching for…”
Jaime’s voice trailed off and Ambigo realized that this old woman would be unable to help them. She had not seen her son for so long that she mistook another man for him. She would not be capable of leading them to him. His heart sunk with the knowledge of it: another dead end. He began to regret the thirty days that they had spent with Marit. If his own mother didn’t know where he was, how would they find him? He failed to recognize that they had actual proof of his existence and all the hope that such a revelation provided the rest of the team.
Mary patted her head and arranged her garment, “So, introduce me to your friends.” Jaime looked to Father Garcia for direction and he nodded at Jaime. He introduced the team to her and she interjected with questions such as; “Where did you meet my son?” and “Did you learn together at the temple?” When he introduced Madi, the old woman exclaimed, “Is this your beautiful wife?” She pulled Madi to her. “What is it like to be a rabbi’s wife? I suspect it’s the same as being a carpenter’s wife. My son, he’s a hard worker, is he not?” Madi squirmed in the grip of the old woman. “Yes, Ma’am. Your son is a very hard worker.”
Ambigo could see the distinct swaying in the old woman. She didn’t shake so much as sway rhythmically. He approached her. “Tell me, Ma’am. What do they feed you?” Her eyes became big with fear. “They are trying to kill me. Everything they feed me, chokes me. I can only trust Rebekah. She feeds me well.” Ambigo nodded and approached Rebekah. He squatted down to her level, “What do you feed her?” Rebekah pulled his hand toward the table. The rest of the team ignored their communication, concentrating on Mary. Rebekah showed him the boiled vegetables. She took one out and mashed it thoroughly in a bowl and handed the bowl to him.
“Does she feel as if she is gagging no matter what you feed her?” The girl nodded. “Is she unable to hold her water?” She girl crinkled her brow as if she didn’t understand. “Does she wet herself like a baby?” Rebekah dropped her head in shame and nodded. “Has her shaking movement gotten worse?” The girl pondered the question and reluctantly agreed. “Do any of her children shake as she does?” She nodded, with regret in her eyes. “The boys?” She nodded again. Ambigo patted the young girl on the head and brought the bowl to the woman. “Rebekah made some food for you.” The woman awkwardly grabbed at the bowl with her gnarled hands.
While she ate, the door opened and three men arrived. “Rebekah?” The oldest of the three called to the girl. Mary called to them, “Joseph! Come here! Jesus has returned from the temple. Come see your son!” Joseph approached the team with distrust. She placed Jaime’s hand into Joseph’s hand and held them together in front of her. “So much like your father, Jesus. Look at the two of you.” The resemblance was uncanny. Ambigo felt as if he was watching a movie in which one actor played two characters. The older wore makeup and prosthetics. The younger looked at himself through the power of special effects.
Jaime was the first to speak, “I’m not your son, sir. I’m sorry. This is some weird mistake…” Joseph quickly interrupted him and visibly put on a mask of cheerfulness, “Not my son!? What a joker you are!” He put his arm around Jaime and turned him to face the old woman, “Look, Mary! The rabbi still has a joke for us! Has the temple not taken away your humor?! Come outside, my son! See what we have done with the house!” He jovially led Jaime to the door and the rest of the team eagerly followed.
Once outside, all pretense of familiarity dropped from his face and his arm dropped from Jaime’s shoulders. “Ok, who are you?” Jaime gave the man a slight bow. “My name is Jaime. We are looking for your son. Somehow, she mistook me for Jesus.” Joseph scanned the faces of the team. “How did that happen?” Jaime shrugged. “I don’t really know. I didn’t mention his name. She just looked at me and thought I was her son. Do I look like him?” Jaime looked at the two men that had followed them out of the house. Both of them seemed to have little control over the movement of their heads. They both had thicker faces like their mother.
“Do you look like whom?” Jaime directed his gaze back to Joseph. “Do I look like Jesus? She mistook me for him before I could even speak to her.” Joseph looked at the faces of each of the team members in confusion. He finally rested his eyes on Father Garcia, “My wife is sick. A demon controls her body and her mind is not as clear as it used to be…” He paused and whispered to the group, “…She believes that we are trying to kill her… She says that the food we feed her is trying to choke her.” Ambigo nodded knowingly.
Father Garcia placed his hand on Joseph’s arm in an effort to comfort him. “It looks like this has been a long journey for you.” Joseph sighed heavily and nodded, but just as quickly gained his composure and pulled away from the priest. “What are you doing here?” Father Garcia explained, “We are looking for a rabbi from Nazareth. We were told that he was related to you. Rumor says that he is your oldest son.” Joseph pulled even further from Father Garcia. “My oldest son is James…” He pointed at one of the shaky men. “…but he is no rabbi. He is a carpenter like myself.”
Father Garcia cocked his head to the side. “Mary mentioned Jesus. Is he not your oldest son?” Joseph pushed out a tiny puff of air. He looked as if he had been surprised by a blow to the solar plexus. He turned and looked at the two sons. “Go in the house and make sure your mother isn’t choking on her food.” The looked at each other and followed their father’s orders unquestioningly. Joseph turned back to Father Garcia and ran his tongue along his teeth. “Let’s walk to the square. The Sabbath is tonight. I need to get some supplies.”
The team followed Joseph as he walked toward the center of town. “I don’t know what you want from me, but I assure you that whatever you want I can’t give you. I have little money. I have even less reputation. If you plan to expose me, I have nothing to lose. I am the only carpenter in the town. They know of my past and they still come to me because there is no one else to go to.” He stopped walking and faced Father Garcia, waiting for an answer, but the priest was confused. He shook his head vigorously. “We have no intention of ‘exposing’ you. We are looking for your son. We heard he is a great man. We wish to learn from him.”
Joseph’s head twitched slightly as if his body was rejecting the thought. “I…” His face became hard as stone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His gaze went right through Father Garcia as if he were looking at something far away. Father Garcia looked at the team members and Simon stepped forward. He motioned for everyone to sit on the grassy area. Joseph followed along with the group and Simon sat next to him. “You were worried about us exposing you…” He didn’t ask a question. He just mentioned the subject and trailed off.
Joseph looked at him. Jaime moved closer to him, squinting both of his eyes expertly. The light fell on Joseph’s hair and face, causing small beads of sweat to crop up on his forehead. He wiped them away. “How did you learn about Jesus?” Simon sat cross-legged with his arms casually resting on his knees. He leaned closer to the man, “We heard he is a great man and the rumors tell us that you are his father.” Joseph looked Simon in the face, “I swear to you. I was not the father. I did not touch her before we were married. I did not touch her for months after we were married. We were married a full year before I knew her as my wife. I swear to you.”
Father Garcia nodded and placed his hand on Joseph’s arm. “We know. It’s ok. We aren’t questioning his legitimacy. We just want to know where he is.” Joseph wiped his face with both of his hands. He breathed deeply and placed his face in the crook of his arm. Father Garcia patted his knee. He wiped his face again and pulled his knees to his chest. “We lost him in the purge.” He stared straight ahead, looking into the past.
Simon queried, “Purge?” Joseph looked at him, “We tried to escape it. We took the children to Egypt. We heard rumors that the guards were stopping people who tried to return. Any sons Jesus’ age were murdered at the border.” Joseph stopped talking and continued staring into nothing. Simon asked him, “How did you get him home?” Joseph burst into tears. “We didn’t.” Ambigo saw the color drain from every team member’s face. He watched them deflate like beach balls on a hot day. They all sank two or three inches and remained silent.
Ambigo asked him, “Did they kill him right before your eyes?” Joseph looked up from his tears. “No. No.” He wiped away his tears and took in a deep breath. “We didn’t try to bring him back. We sold him to the Temple of Anubis in Wadjet… A life as a slave is better than no life at all… I don’t know… sometimes I wonder if I was right…” He stretched his legs away from his chest and ran his hand over his hair. “Now you tell me he is a great man and I don’t believe it. How would he know his father? He was three years…” He burst into tears again, hiding his face in his arm. Jaime crept over to him and hugged him tightly. “You ask if you look like him and I can’t tell you yes or no. I haven’t seen him since he was a baby.”
Joseph pulled away from Jaime. “I tried to get him back.” He looked that the team, justifying himself. “At his twelfth year, it was safe to bring him back and I had earned enough to buy him back. I went to Egypt with my brother. We returned to the temple. They didn’t really know which child was mine, but the only boy my Jesus’ age had blue eyes. He wasn’t my son. My Jesus had brown eyes and dark hair. This boy was fair.” He became wild-eyed and looked at each team member, “I lied!” He growled, “When I returned, I lied to Mary. I told her that our son had been trained to be a holy man. I told her that I couldn’t remove him from the temple during his training. She believed me.” He cried again. “By then the demon had taken her body. She would have believed anything I said.”
He looked at Madi, “Tell me. Tell me it was better for him to be a slave than to be dead. You would know.” He motioned at her scars and waited for her answer. She looked down at her legs and arms. “Yes, Joseph. You were right. It is better to be a slave than to die…” She looked him in the eye. “When a slave is released from bondage, he enjoys freedom more than any other man could know. It’s…” she paused. “…it’s strangely intoxicating.” The group was quiet and she continued, “You made the right choice.”
Simon stood up and helped Joseph to his feet. “We have a long walk ahead of us. You said the temple was in Wadjet?” Joseph looked at him and shook his head. “No. No.” He pulled Simon toward his house. “You cannot leave.” He pointed to the sinking sun. “Sabbath is almost upon us. You must stay with us.” He grabbed Jaime’s arm. “You MUST stay with us. You, my long lost son, Jesus, must stay with us. You must tell Mary stories of how you taught the Egyptians about the one true God.” He pulled Madi close to Jaime. “You must be his wife for the night. She needs this…please.”
The team looked to Father Garcia for orders. Simon pointed to the east. The priest turned to Ambigo. “The woman shakes.” Ambigo looked at Joseph and nodded. “The disease she has is incurable, even back home. I doubt she has more than six months and that is only if they force her to eat.” He put his hand on Joseph’s arm, “It will be harder and harder to feed her. She is not imagining it. She will choke on her food and die from this. I’m sorry…” Joseph put his hand over Ambigo’s, “Then you know how important it is that our Jesus…” He looked at Jaime and Madi. “…and his beautiful wife come to stay with her for the night.”
Father Garcia shook his head at Simon. “We should observe the Sabbath in this town, Simon. I believe this is a duty that calls to us.” Simon nodded and led the team back to Joseph’s house. Joseph entered his home with Jaime on one arm and Madi on the other. His countenance was artificially happy. “I have convinced our rabbi son to stay for the Sabbath! Am I not a good husband?!”