John sighed. Mary sat as always during this hour of the day at the top of the hill between the cypresses on the rock she always used to sit on, pondering it seemed, judging by the stale stares at the descending distant sun. John did not speak to her while she glared at the horizon, afraid he was of a mother’s tears. The sun beat down on his face, a drop of sweat ran over his forehead. After weeks on foot, one morning Mary had refused to travel further without apparent reason. She had laid her hand on John’s face and said: ‘No further, dear child, no further. Here is where we will find peace.’
John had protested: the swamp, the city inhabited with hostile enemies, eager to throw another stone at them. But Mary insisted: ‘Fear not, John, we are home at last.’
The first two nights they slept under the tarpaulin that John had tightened between the trunks of two small cypresses. They were sheltered by a heavy rock on the backside. He was convinced that Mary would change her mind again once she had rested enough, then they would pick up their belongings and catch a boat to one of the small Islands before the coast. They would be isolated from the mainland spread of uproar of the local population and the suspicious scrutiny of soldiers trying to root out any hostilities of the indiginous population. But on the third day, Mary again had called upon John, and solemnly spoke: ‘John, my son has come home.” At those words John felt as if he actually had arrived at these settings, not as by miracle, but simply by foot. There and then he would pop up from around a bush and smile at them with the same tranquil expression on his face as always. But of course, that was impossible. “It is time for us to prepare ourselves for our own reckoning. Here we will prepare our home,’ she continued and he understood she was of course speaking metaphorically.
It had been months now, almost a year, since they had left Palestine. They had been chased out of Jerusalem practically: ‘False prophets! Blasphemous dogs!’ And no one had paid a higher price than Mary’s son, whom they had tortured, humiliated and nailed to the cross among common criminals, betrayed by his own people, these Philistine goldseekers. They had split up, each to go their own path, this was safer they had decided, John would look after Mary. They had headed up North, to the great city of Ephesos, and from there they would head out for the Aegean isles, of which there were too many for people to search for them in pursuit of a few gold coins. But the road was far and brought not much more than hardship for forlorn immigrants, refugees that is they were! Without land, without a people, without his brothers!
John was struck by the serene determination Mary had portrayed, unlike the exhausted sadness that had burdened her the months since they left Palestine. He understood that something or some one beyond herself had spoken with confidence and assured her heart to settle where they had halted. He believed that when spoke of ‘preparing a home’ she had meant he should build permanent lodging, and so he started collecting the stones and trunks, to build a house for Mary. It was only later, years later, and not without humoring himself, that he recalled her words and finally understood that she had meant the home in the hereafter. Even now, he chuckled at his own material concerns, he only thought of collecting enough dry branches to heat a pot of water or to bake some bread. Mary had simply smiled at him motherly while he contrinued with his unresty toils. He chuckled, but then he cried, because in the restrained smile, he did not see a beam of content, but he saw a well of tears.
He of course, knew sorrow as only few men knew it, but Mary! Mary was a mother who had lost her only son, a bastard son, those villains at home called him, but a bastard who had embraced the lost and lonely souls of this land with love! And it was the love of man that had given them warmth and a home, and a mother a son. But she now, had no one but him, John, a stranger to her heart, ordained to care and look after her. Had he not have the obligation, would he have trodden this long path with her, would he have embraced her? He did not know, but he knew her sorrows now. And so he had held his sandy hands against his coarse lips, tasted the dryness of the land, and had set to work. In a few days time he had cleared a small plot of land against the hilltop and they had sat down, staring over the plain in front of them. “It’s not like Palestine, except perhaps if you look closely at that hill, doesn;t it resemble the hilltop at Petra?” And so they had discovered little bit by bit, not a new home, but a new sense of home. And with every stone John carried from the old city of Ephesos, where stones were luckily plenty to be found now the city was dwindling, housing more ill-fated souls than he had thought imaginable for such a famous city, John became more upbeat.
It was now that he learned the mysterious paths of his fate once more. Because grabbing for stones at the old harbor, he talked to many beggars who had caught malaria. In their sweaty faces he saw a state of desolation greater than his own, and felt ashamed for his idleness, for his self-pity that blinded him from seeing the suffering around him. He never had felt a greater enlightenment in his heart than at that moment, building stone by stone with no tool but his bare hands, but the help of a poor widow without a son smiling at him with love, and the certainty that there were many souls provided to him to bring relief to. “Now, how rich can a man’s heart be?” he contemplated at the crispy fire in the evening shadows.
Mary sat at the fire John had started and she knew, that as bright as the flames that were drawn from the dry wood, that’s how dark her heart felt. She knew the gravest blackness of man, and she did her best to cover it with a smile for John who had loved her son so much, like a brother, like an angel. It was not for her, to blacken not only her own heart, but also that of a man whose light reminded her of her son’s. In many ways, this vague resemblance was all she had, all the happiness she could still discover in life, a life that for her too was done. With her blood pilled on the hilltops of Golgotha, her veins but dry branches on a dead bush, how could she live on? Why would she escape the inevitable, merciful death, which she believed was the only union with the life she loved? So, she sat down where her feet had taken her, she lifted her skirt, knelt down with her bare knees on the hot sand, and felt a beam of warmth rise up to her chest, to her spine. She drew a deep breath, it created a heated sensation in her stomach. “Let life devour my body,” she had whispered, “oh man, oh life, have the mercy of the lord cover me like a blanket.” She must have sat there for hours, for when she opened her eyes, John stood silently, with fear in his eyes, afar, afraid to speak by the sight of Mary, praying he must have though, doubtlessly.