She came looking for her, thirty years after the event. She tracked her down to the city where she lived a quiet anonymous life. Once a week she walked the journey from the governor’s palace up the hill to the site of executions, there to give succour to those who would be suffering. She knew they would not want to die alone. They wanted someone to tell them they are loved and they would be forgiven. She caught sight of the old lady, now hunched plodding her way from where the soldiers were taking down the bodies for disposal. She called her and the old lady stopped and looked at her. She paused and then seemed to recognise her.
“The young Cohen girl,” she said, “On my husband’s side?”
The women embraced and as they walked back to the old lady’s lodgings, the Cohen girl told her all about her family, her children and her grandchildren as well as her husband and his trade which prospered much these days. When they stepped inside, an older man came forward to greet the old lady and help her to a seat.
“Thank you, John,” she said and then introduced the Cohen girl to her.
‘It was my wedding day all those years ago,” the Cohen girl told John. “I remember you pouring freshly drawn water into the vast vats. I did not know he was a preacher then, but I met some people who showed me your account of his life and I wanted to see Mary again. Mary appears twice in your writings, at the, well my wedding and you claimed it as a miracle and then that day up the hill at the place of executions, where I saw her today so I knew it must be her.”
“Do you believe?” John asked.
“I only talk to living rabbis,” the Cohen girl said. “Is that wrong?”
“No,” said Mary. “Leave us John.”
The man left the room, and the two women brought their chairs together as Mary’s hearing was poor these days.
“Tell me about that day from your point of view,” Mary asked her.
The Cohen girl’s eyes lit up. She began: “You know how important a good wedding feast is. Joseph built us a wonderful long table so we could lay out the foods and the jugs of wine and the goblets to fill, and refill. He was not just a good carpenter but a lovely man. He stepped in to be like a father to me on that day, as you know, my father was away. He was there, fussing, making sure everything looked fine. We were the poor members of the family but he did not want us to look like that. Everything had to look as if we were a comfortable family. And you fussed about the food and drink.”
“Oh yes,” said Mary. “We had to put on a good show.”
“Was your son meant to be there?” the Cohen girl asked.
“He had from an early age been able to recite the Torah in its entirety and talk to the elders in the temple and he wanted to start his own ministry,” said Mary. “But for a week, he put aside his other father, the god of our religion and helped out. His followers came. Twelve of them, cleaning the place, making everything look just right. Jesus showed us he was an equal carpenter to Joseph. It was a wonderful wedding. We had to impress a lot of distant family. Your husband was going to make a great carrier, he needed investors and the family had a few well off members. We had to put on a show. You tell me what you remember.”
“The food was good, and a good supply of it but the whole affair hinged on the wine, as it always does,” the Cohen girl recalled. “The tricks we have to play! The best wine out first, then a batch of it diluted and then whatever we could afford, almost always borderline drinkable.”
“The trick is that the last wines should linger on the palette, and everyone would know you were a family with good prospects,” said Mary.
“You worked the room a lot that day,” said the Cohen girl. “The twelve of them were a cohort of waiters, looking out for everyone, always on hand with jugs of wine to replenish the empty goblets. The eldest, Peter, was a bit of a charmer. He worked the room.”
“I would go around,” said Mary, “telling the guests what a good prospering family you were marrying into and how Joseph had been like a father to you.”
“But about two hours into the celebrations, there was a commotion and guests began to look at the wine with horror,” said the Cohen girl.
“I saved the day,” said Mary and gave a short laugh. “I told them my son was the best wedding planner in the town and that the best quality wine would be opened shortly. But Jesus was unmoved and Peter and I had to take him to one side and reason with him. He said he was a preacher not a magician. Peter said that a preacher had a line to the God of heaven and he would understand, but Jesus didn’t like that,” Mary continued. “He stormed out of the house and I followed him. I found him under a tree. I told him family was everything. We Jews are one family and we live and die together. He was unmoved. His skill was to teach and forgive not to offer cheap fair-ground tricks which played with people’s minds.”
“So who’se idea was the large vats of water?” asked the Cohen girl. “I remember Peter getting his twelve together and bringing freshly drawn water into the area behind the kitchens. And I remember you saying that the best of times were yet to come and everyone should hold their breath and wait a few minutes.”
“Except it was a little longer,” said Mary. “Peter managed to get that Judas to stand up and tell a few jokes while I worked on my son.”
“What did you tell him?” asked the Cohen girl.
“Preachers have to surprise their followers. We’ve heard all the stories of our history before. We always need to be surprised. The best rabbis are the ones who touch and forgive us and cure us of our troubles.”
“And that did it?” asked the Cohen girl.
“Jesus called me to that tree. He was passionate. I don’t do conjuring acts, he explained. I want people to believe me. I told him only he could save the good name of your family and by extension, Joseph’s link to your family. If he was to become the rabbi he believed himself to be, then he would have to save a great many people who were family. Then he said something that chilled my heart. My father will exact a payment for this day. He will set me on a path and I will be like a play thing in his hands and my life will no longer be my own.”
“You told him our family was worth the risk?”
“The twelve felt they would need to have good stories to tell about him as he made his journey as a rabbi. In the end he relented and blessed the water, and you know the rest.”
“I remember the wine,” said the Cohen girl,” and how you glowed later in the day. Everyone said what a great family Joseph had and what a business manager was his son who had kept the best for the end of the day. You were clucking around said “That’s my son, the best son God could have created.”
“Later that day,” Mary said, “he said he would leave and start his life as a rabbi and he hoped the story of the wine would not be remembered. He wanted the people to see him as the rabbi who brought them to God, not a charlatan. But that miracle would come to cast doubt in many minds that he really was not the rabbi he claimed. Many said it was a cheap trick and he ended his days up that hill on an awful day all those years ago.”
“John still looks after you?” said the Cohen girl, and the old lady nodded. “The gentiles like his teachings. And then again, the wine was good and you can’t make something out of nothing, can you? He was someone special, I can see that.”
“John says he is the true rabbi and all will come to see that one day,” said Mary. “But I remember his words up there on the hill, in pain, father why have you forsaken me, and I felt, and I still do that he should have not have saved family honour that day. It was a cheap trick and as a mother, I would pay for it.”
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