Loukas took the jar of wine as the innkeeper handed it over, two thirds watered, as asked for. He wanted to keep a clear head. He was hoping to be here for a while. He took the jar and the two cups and carried them over to the table where the old widow sat. Her great-nephew, thirty-five years old and bored, sat on the next table with a stronger jar of wine, staring into space. Loukas ignored him.
He placed the large jar down carefully on the wooden planks of the table and one of the cups before the old lady. He poured the wine. They sat in silence for a while, looking at each other, not looking at each other. She was different from how he had imagined her, older, much older. He had always imagined her as the others had described her, in her middle-years but still strong, the rough, brown face of a peasant woman, the soft, warm eyes of a mother. She must have been in her late forties when the others had last seen her, perhaps even entering her fifties. It was forty years later. Few people lived as long as her. Fewer people had survived the Desolation.
She still lived though. And she still had that look the others had described, those eyes that seemed to look right into you, that made you want to open your heart to her and tell her everything, though she knew your heart before you opened it to her. The older women had always said that her son had her eyes.
To Loukas, her expression still appeared vital, still bright. To his physician’s eyes she seemed the picture of health, her hands as they held the cup and brought the wine to her lips were steady, no trace of arthritis. She seemed healthier than Loukas, his twenty three years hanging heavier on him than her greater age on her. Her back was straight, her skin clear despite the deep tan of years outdoors, the lines and wrinkles. But even they seemed shallow for her age. She seemed young still despite them. He could still see that vibrant lady who had hosted the meals, who had captivated the others with her voice, with her presence.
They sat in silence for a long while. Loukas poured more wine.
“You were very hard to find,” he told her.
She smiled. “There are a lot of Miriams.”
“And you married again.”
“For a while. After Yoseph died Yaakob was so kind. Ill though, and after him…”
“A widow twice over,” Loukas remarked sympathetically.
“Not unusual.” Miriam replied. “Women are used to loss.”
She smiled sadly. “Yes, perhaps more than most, but then…Perhaps I was given more in the first place. A lifetime is a long time to look back on. And I have seen so much. I knew so many…” She looked up at Luke with a smile, “…So many of you young men. Hanging around, so…so serious.”
Luke grinned. “Men like me?”
“Just like you,” she answered with a smile. “Serious, concerned young men. All with a dream, and anxious to get there. There were so many of you though…at one time. I remember them as though it was yesterday. I could pick them out in a crowd even now. If any still lived.”
“I think a few still do.”
“Not around here though. I’ll never see them again,” she replied wistfully.
“Perhaps. Perhaps they’ll come back, look you up, like me.”
“Why. Why now. They’ll think I died years ago. If they have any sense”
“If I see them I’ll tell them…” Loukas offered.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.” Miriam replied. A pause. “It’s…dangerous.”
“You agreed to see me though.”
“Yes. Perhaps…I thought I should, if only once…maybe some of the things I saw…maybe they need to be told. I’ve kept them…locked up for so long. Sometimes I think. Sometimes I think they were a gift from him. And I shouldn’t…shouldn’t keep them to myself.”
“I’m writing an account.” Loukas told her. “A narrative. Of what happened. Of him. Of who he was and…and what happened to him.”
“Someone should. It needs to be written down. Things…things change otherwise. Already…” she nodded to her great-nephew sitting by himself. “…some of the things he comes out with, that he’s heard from his friends.”
“The truth is important.” Loukas replied firmly.
Miriam smiled at his expression.
“One of his followers, he’s already written a short account, I know. I’ve read it, it’s quite good, short but…but effective.”
“I have it,” Loukas said. “Its brief, just notes, all out of order.”
“What does that matter?”
“I’m planning to put it all together, so people can see, see how it all happened. And why.”
“It’s too much, you can’t make sense of it. Not now. We have him, that’s enough. We don’t need a…what do you Greeks call them? A ‘biographia’?”
“All the Emperors have their ‘Lives’ written and distributed to the Empire to be read and for their words and deeds to be remembered. Why not him? Is he not greater than any Emperor?” He asked fiercely.
She smiled. “He is greater than any written ‘Life’,” she replied simply.
Loukas subsided. He took a sip of his wine. “Maybe,” he said. “But I feel I have to try. I feel…inspired to do it.”
“Then you must. Will you use the other account, this collection of disordered sayings?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. If its…If its him. Is it?” he asked.
“As far as I can tell.” Miriam replied. “The author skips over a lot but what he does say, it’s good. It’s what’s needed to be said. There’s not much ‘narrative’ to it. But I know a lot of people have read it. A lot of Romans as well, I’ve even heard there’s copies in Spain, Paulus took them with him, when he left.”
“I’ve met Paulus. When he stayed here that last time. You knew him?”
“I was his…his friend for a time. As much as anyone could call themselves his friend. Companion perhaps. He moves so fast, it’s hard…it’s hard to be close to him…hard to live up to his standards. But for a time, when your path goes beside his, even if only for a short time, it’s like…” He stopped himself. Trying to find the words, “It’s not…not like ‘him’ so much but…I see him perhaps…similarities in Paulus…” He ran out of words, helpless before Miriam’s silent inquiry. “I think you’d like him.”
A burst of laughter from Miriam, her hand over her mouth. Loukas stopped talking.
“I’m sorry…” Miriam managed, bringing herself under control, “I’m sorry but, ‘I’d like him’? I never liked that part…the busyness of my son. Always rushing about. You know what he said once, when I came to see him? That he had no mother. No mother or brothers; his followers, those young men and women, were closer to him than I was, near the end. You think I liked that?”
“But…but you understand why he said…you…you believed..?”
“Oh, I believed, I believed before any of the others did. But it was different for me. It was all new to you, all sudden, a few years, a whirlwind, an adventure. For me…it was thirty years before it all started, for thirty years I believed before…before any of it. I believed before he was even born. “
“Know?…I don’t know if I ‘knew’ anything. But I believed. I always believed. But even so, even at the end…he was always my son. It was different for me. You knew him as…as rabbi, teacher, master, saviour. I never thought of him like that. I always remembered him as a baby, in my arms, crying for my milk. Sleeping, his first steps, his first words, falling over and hurting his knee, running to me in tears, hugging him as he wept. He was my baby, my child.”
“I wish I’d known him too…as a man. Eating, drinking, laughing…I heard, from others, at times they forgot, almost, who he was.”
“No they didn’t.” She shook her head sadly. “None of you men did. I remember Simon especially, so intense around him. His eyes, always staring so intently at everything he did, eating up his words even if he didn’t understand any of them. He was such a simple man but he was always watching, trying desperately to understand and getting everything wrong. Simon never knew him as anything other than messiah. Simon was different with me, admitting his confusion, showing me the man underneath the disciple, the Simon underneath the Kephas. But he would have died rather than show that to him. He knew of course but Simon still never wanted to let it show.”
“Tell me then…help me know him as…as the man, not just the Christ. Tell me from the beginning.”
“The beginning? Not from the start? The start was when he left home, when you started hanging around him, all of them, a handful at first, everyone else laughing at him behind his back and avoiding me in the street. Then a few more, then crowds, thousands fighting to get close to him, travelling miles just to catch a glimpse of him. Don’t you want to know about that?”
“No…I mean yes but…I thought, there’s lots of people I can talk to about that. If I can find them. But you…you’re the only one who can tell about…before that. You said you believed before he was born. I want… I need to know. There were the prophecies of course…”
“I was fourteen years old, a girl. I’d never heard the prophecies, not that I paid any attention to.”
She smiled. And she waited while the innkeeper refilled the jar.
“Let me tell you,” she said. “Let me tell you from the beginning.”