The long, long look.
The older woman grunted and turned over on her bedroll.
Salome opened her eyes to see her sister’s feet, kicking up anxious puffs of dust. She rolled onto her back. Mary’s face loomed white, her eyes huge.
“What?” Her voice mixed aggression and concern.
“It’s Jesus. He’s missing.”
“Oh… he’s just stealing dates somewhere. Boys will be boys. I should know!” She made to lie down again.
“No, no-one’s seen him all day. I think he’s been left behind.” Mary’s voice rose in panic.
“Then we’d better go back and find him.” Salome sighed. “But I hope that when we find him, Joseph will give him a good thrashing.”
The road had a different character in the dark. Spreading trees, for whose shade they had breathed grateful thanks at midday, now might harbour cut-throats. They hurried, all three treading cautiously.
“Little brat. Wait ‘til I find him. What he’s putting us through.” Salome’s complaints rumbled like a cart-wheel.
“Salome!” Mary interjected abruptly. “Jesus doesn’t cause trouble. There’ll be an explanation.”
“Of course, your son can do no wrong. I forgot.” She threw a sideways glance at Joseph’s stubborn profile. “Have you ever thrashed him?”
“Once.” The big man spoke softly. “For upsetting a water jar and flooding the house. Turned out it was Jude. Jesus never said a word.”
“Look!” Mary pointed. “It’s dawn.”
To their south, the holy city shone pale and luminous.
“There’s Joseph!” Salome indicated the solitary figure making his way dejectedly towards their lodgings. Clearly his day had been as fruitless as theirs.
“I’ve walked every street in the northern part. Asked everyone.” His voice was dry and harsh. “And you two have done the south?”
Mary sat, rocking, on the floor; comforting an invisible baby.
“Here, bread and olives.” Salome pushed the food across to him. “I’ve been trying to think what my two would have done.”
“He has a little money,” Mary offered.
“Well, he’ll be buying sweets, then. We’ll go to the markets; ask the traders.”
“He’ll have used it for lodgings.” Joseph spoke quietly.
“He’s twelve years old!” Salome rolled her eyes. “I know what James and John would do! They’d go to watch the executions. There’s nothing boys like more than blood. We’ll go tomorrow, ask around.”
“No, you’d never find Jesus at Golgotha.” Mary was firm. “More likely he’s been taken in by some hard luck story. He’s so generous and trusting.”
“Oh yes, little Master Perfect. I forgot. Not like my two little devils, with their tempers and their mischief.”
“He does get angry about some things,” Mary conceded, then gasped. “Oh no! If he saw a beggar being mistreated…”
“… or a woman being hit…” Joseph chimed in.
“He might have done something foolish…”
“…got into trouble with the Romans.”
Their faces were twinned in horror. The soldiers were best avoided at all times.
“Then we’ll ask them tomorrow.” Joseph spoke grimly. “Tonight, let’s get some rest.”
After three days, in desperation, they decided to pray. The Temple loomed above them, foreboding and majestic.
“What a dreadful crowd!” Salome was impatient. “Let’s do this quickly and then try the markets again.
“Hold on.” Joseph strained his eyes over the obstructing heads. “Wait here.”
A few moments later he returned, a diminutive figure nestled under his huge arm.
“Jesus!” Mary flew at the boy, embracing and flailing at him simultaneously. “We’ve been looking everywhere! How could you?”
“Mother.” His voice was muffled. “When I realised I’d lost you, of course I came here - to my Father’s house. Where else would I be so safe?”
“But you had money.” Joseph looked puzzled.
“I gave it to a blind beggar.” Jesus frowned, then brightened. “I’ve met some interesting people.”
Suddenly, Salome became aware of the men who had followed Jesus out. One stepped forward.
“Madam.” He bowed to Mary, hands folded under his cloak. “It has been our honour to spend these days talking with your son.”
“Such Scripture knowledge!” A second man stepped forwards.
“And wisdom!” The first nodded. “I would like to speak with him again.”
Salome pushed through. It was time these dreamers took their son home. “I’m afraid that’s impossible, er…”
“Nicodemus.” They inclined their heads.
“Well, sirs, this child has had enough excitement for a lifetime. I don’t think he’ll be coming back to Jerusalem.”
As he left, swept away by his parents and aunt, Jesus turned his head and gave the two men a long, long look.
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