Yeshu’a was a man unlike any other. He was a healer, a teacher, a father and a friend. He was compassionate, wise, unbelievably insightful. For me, he was gentle, patient, attentive, passionate; to his children he was generous and delightfully exuberant. His mother, like every mother in the world, considered him a gift from heaven. Scholars looked to him for guidance, customers considered him a gifted craftsmen, and to generations of Christians, he would be Savior. I, however, above all else, called him ‘husband’.
In the beginning, God created the heaven... and the hell, although Yeshu’a, from the first time I saw him, would not hear that.
“His creations are only good and pure.” He dabbed at my face with a cold cloth. “We shouldn’t blame Him for what man does.”
I was nine. He was two years older, but a lifetime wiser than I. Already, I loved him. I had watched him and his twin brother every day for as long as I could remember. They went to the well in the middle of town, first when they were smaller, with his mother, then on their own. I would hide behind my mother’s robes when I saw Yeshu’a, peek out when I was sure he wouldn’t be looking. The two brothers looked very much alike, but I was able to tell them apart... I was always able to tell them apart because of Yeshu’a’s eyes, and because while Tau’ma Yehuda was quiet and thoughtful, Yeshu’a exuded life, love and charm.
“Man didn’t make that rock and put it right where I was walking.” I held my ankle close, afraid to touch it.
Yeshu’a chuckled quietly, wiping the last of my tears. “And He didn’t make you not pay attention while you were walking so you would step on it and turn your ankle.” With a gentle touch, he picked up my bare foot, looked at my ankle then rubbed his cool cloth over it. It felt better already. “Come on. Let me help you.”
He steadied me as I tried to stand, testing my foot with some weight. It didn’t hurt as I thought it would. He watched, nodding with approval. I thought he would leave, knowing I was fine. Instead he walked beside me.
It wasn’t a question. I nodded anyways.
“You used to sneak over when my father would give lessons. You still do, when my Uncle Zachariah teaches myself, my brothers and my cousin.”
My cheeks grew hot. I nodded again, aware of the penalty for a woman listening to talk about scriptures. His uncle, the rabbi, would not take kindly to my intrusions.
“I knew you were there. I saw you.”
He had. I knew it... well, maybe not. I thought he had seen me several times, but he never said anything. “I would just like to learn, like you do. I don’t want to spend every day cooking and cleaning. I want to do more.”
“Someone has to cook and clean. It’s very important.”
“Yes, it is. My mother works very hard for us as well, and I love her for it, but none of that is what I want to spend my life doing.”
“Some women, the counsellors’ wives, don’t cook or clean. Maybe you will marry a counsellor.”
I stopped walking and stared at him, my hands on my hips. “I don’t want to do nothing. I want to learn. I want to understand so many things. Why can’t women learn? The men say that God didn’t intend us to think. Why not? Why would God hate us so much as to make us have no goals, no desire to know more?”
He stopped when I did then turned to watch me, his brow furrowed. “God doesn’t hate anyone. He wants you to be happy. If learning makes you happy, then you should.”
I thought about his words, but they weren’t enough. “What makes you think you know so much about Him?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seems logical to me. It says in the scriptures that He loves us, all of us.”
They were simple words, but words that changed my life. He was different from the rest; not as handsome as his brother John, not as funny as his uncle Clophas. The difference was in the depth of his eyes, the gentleness of his voice.
We met often at the well. When he attended lessons with his father and uncle, he would wink when he saw me hiding by the corner, wanting to hear the lesson. When no one else was around, he taught me to write and to read.
I had no idea where all of this would take me, but perhaps selfish ambition and a love of intrigue jaded my vision, prevented me from seeing the obvious. I admit, though, that seeing would not have made a difference. For a young girl looking for more than cooking and cleaning, Yeshu’a was the answer to a prayer.
Unlike the leaders of the day, people listened when Yeshu’a spoke, not because they had to but because they wanted to, not out of fear, but out of desire and respect. Age seemed irrelevant, his words reaching beyond his years, but never were they spoken down. For over four years, he helped me learn. Yeshu’a had spent many years, from the age of six, learning his father’s trade. Already he was a gifted craftsman, making the most lovely furniture, much of it with intricate hand-carved details, each created with love. He and his brother were expected to take over the family business, a business that held them in good stead, but I knew that wasn’t what he wanted.
There are times in our lives when Fate steps in, decides our path, or at least a small portion of it, for us. Such was what happened now, not just for Yeshu’a, but for me, as well. He lost his father. I lost my mother. Yeshu’a was sad, but accepted the death, praying for him, holding his mother’s hand in support as he was entombed. I was mad, furious that my mother had left me, scared that I was on my own.
“May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity.” He held my hand as we watched my mother being carried into a tomb.
I was remembering the half-smile she wore while she worked, the gentle laugh I heard not often enough. I couldn’t bring myself to look in that hole. The anger and confusion helped hold the terror of what was to come for her, and for myself, at bay.
“You’ll be fine, Miryam. You aren’t to be alone.”
I frowned, looking slowly up into his face. “But I am alone.”
His smile tender, he wrapped his arms around me. “No. I have a plan.”
My mouth went dry.
“In the morning, you shall come with me. We will be off to see my uncle, Yusef.”
I shook my head. “That wouldn’t be proper. What would...”
He held me at arm’s length now, his hands on my shoulders. “Miryam, I love you. I love how you think, how you are so eager to learn, how you are so generous. Your learning can’t stop now.”
“But... yours has.”
His smile broadened. “No. No, Miryam, my learning has not yet started, and you will learn with me. My father’s brother, Clophas, is taking over the family business. He has worked a long time with my father, and it’s only right that he should now be at the helm, at least until Yuses or Shim’on are sure they want to. I, however, have no need to stay. My uncle, Yusef, will be leaving soon. We will travel with him. I don’t care what others think, and he won’t either.”
I was unsure of what to say, what to feel. A flood washed over me, first relief then joy, then sorrow, fear once again settling in my heart. “I... I can’t...”
“You can, and you will. We will get ready tonight then be off at first light.”
Responsibility weighed on me. “I have... I have my mother’s business to tend to.” She labored day and night to sustain what my father had created. It now fell to me.
“Is that what you want? Do you desire it or is it something you feel obligation to?”
I needed a moment to think it through. “I don’t really want to... I know that it provided many hours of pride and contentment for my father, and I know it provided a roof and food for us, but I am not sure...”
Yeshu’a smiled, took my hand and led to me the bench near the well. We sat beside each other. “Clophas is an honest man. You can trust him. Maybe we can talk to him together, see if he would oversee your interests... I’m sure he would. That way, if you want to return to it, you can. In the meantime, you can work on your education. It would hold you in very good stead should you want to return and resume what your parents started.”
I had no argument, no reason to refuse. “We should do that.”
Yeshu’a nodded. “My uncle will teach us on the way. He speaks many languages, does business abroad, knows where we can go to learn more. Are you listening to me, Miryam? This is a voyage we shall take together, a quest to learn all there is to know.”
“Where are we going?”
There was a glint in his eye. “We go where the waves take us.”
Intriguing as that might be, it wasn’t a good enough answer. “Where are the waves taking us?” I waited, arms crossed.
“Brittany. We shall start our learning, our real journey, in Brittany.”
“You are very quiet.” Yeshu’a held my hand, gave me an encouraging smile.
My other hand caressed the soft carriage seat on which I was sitting. I had never felt anything like it. I was afraid to speak. I was afraid to blink, for fear this would disappear, dissolve into the dust that had touched every aspect of my life. I tried to smile back, but my eyes started to rove again at the dark silky wood, the fine curves and carvings. The clop-clop of the horses’ hooves on new Roman roads was foreign, mesmerizing.
My mouth was dry. Words stuck before being uttered. “I’m... I’m fine.”
“It was nice of my uncle to send his carriage for us.”
My attention was focused on the seat. “Yes. Yes, it was, but...” I looked up at him, into his eyes. “Yeshu’a, I think I’ve made a terrible mistake.” The words spilled from parched lips. I was unable to stop them. “Look at how magnificent this is. I can’t... I’m just...” I had to turn away. I felt tears burning my eyes.
His hand reached for my chin. With a gentle touch, he turned me to look at him again. “Miryam? You think this...? You think that you... you aren’t worthy to be riding in a carriage?”
I felt my lip tremble as I tried to speak. I could only nod.
He pulled me close to his chest. “Oh, no, you’re wrong. This carriage? It’s a thing. It’s something my uncle uses for business. Why could you possibly think you aren’t worthy?”
I was going to answer, but the horses started to turn without breaking stride. I stared ahead, my hands reaching out to hold on, hoping to stop their progress with the squeezing of my fingers on the cool wood. “Is that...?”
“It’s Uncle Yusef’s home.” He turned his head for only a minute before looking back at me.
“All my life, I looked at your home, at the white stones, the courtyard, the extra floor above... I could not imagine what it must be like to live in such a wonderful home. But this... this is a palace. This is a home of a king. I cannot go there. I don’t belong there.”
The smile faded from his face. “You don’t belong? If you don’t belong, then no one belongs.”
“My family were simple, hardworking people, Yeshu’a. I have... well, I have nothing, and...” I stopped, feeling the penetration of his deep, dark eyes.
I shook my head, dismissing him. “Nothing. It’s not important.”
Again his fingers found my chin. Again, he turned my face to his. “And...?”
I licked my lips, unsure of how to say what I knew to be true.
“You believe that because you are a woman from a poor family, you don’t deserve to even see that house? You believe that because of material circumstances, you are not worthy?”
“It’s the truth.” I whispered the words. “It’s the law.” I shrank on the seat, not wanting to be seen, not wanting to cause insult to the man who allowed me to ride in his carriage.
“The law? What law? Whose law? Sit up, Woman. Hold your head high. You have no reason to be ashamed or afraid. Those laws are not my law, they are not just laws. You have worked hard, given much, hurt no one; so what laws have you broken? Is it illegal for your parents to have worked hard to provide? They worked honorably. They broke no laws.”
We were getting closer to the house. I had to sit forward to see the top of it as we approached. Sunlight danced off the white stones, each perfectly sized, perfectly placed. A magnificent courtyard was in front; a man came out the front door, stood waiting with a smile on his face. I prayed to become invisible. My heart pounded at the sight of him. I grabbed Yeshu’a’s arm and clung to it.
“He doesn’t know me or who I am. Does he even know I am with you? He should have been warned. He might not want...”
“Shh.” His finger touched my lips. “That’s enough. You will see. The money does not make the man. The money should never make the man; Yusef is humble of heart, generous, kind, so stop worrying. He does not judge where you live or what you wear; you should do likewise.” He squeezed my hands. “Come on. We’re here.”
The carriage door opened. Yeshu’a jumped out, embraced his uncle, kissing him on both cheeks. He then held his hand to me to steady me as I stepped to the ground. “Yusef, this is Miryam. She and I are to be married.”
My hands dropped to my sides, tried to straighten but instead fidgeted and smoothed out the material of my robe. I was acutely aware of every mark and fray. I looked up into his face, his weathered skin, his graying hair, unsure of what I should say or do. My uncertainty was answered as he took me in his arms, hugged me then kissed my cheek.
“I received your letter. Miryam, my sympathies on your loss. Your home is here now. We will see to a wedding, when you are ready. First, though, we shall prepare to travel. I have wanted to take this boy of mine with me; the time is now.”
Yeshu’a put his arm around my shoulder then guided me into the house, following Yusef.
“We will allow you to rest for two days then will make our way. My ship is preparing as we speak. When I received Yeshu’a’s letter, I took the liberty of having them prepare for your arrival. There is a lovely meal waiting for you both. You must be hungry from your trip.”
I smiled at Yeshu’a as Yusef continued to talk. I felt I had known him all my life; that he was, in fact, my own uncle as well. He led the way into a large open room, the inside more than I could have imagined. There were chairs to sit on, a table, lanterns hanging above, art on the walls and plants surrounding the room.
“Miryam, have you been to Arimathea before?”
“No, Sir, I haven’t.”
He stopped in his tracks, turned around then locked eyes with mine. I trembled, my hand searching beside me for Yeshu’a’s hand. “I will not answer to anything other than Uncle or Yusef. Understood?”
I nodded, meek, looking for some place to simply slip into to hide.
A grin tickled the corners of his mouth. He pulled me close again to hug me. “Welcome to our family, Miryam.”