…continued from The Medallion – II
After they found it, one of his contingency plans would roll into action; none of them held a good end for good ol’ Simon of Cyrene…
“Oho!” Simon exclaimed. He had been studying the clue for a while; they put their heads very close together to hear each other above the noise of the teeming crowd.
“The Place of Skulls, you see that?” he pointed at the line, “that is Golgotha. It is on the outskirts, well beyond the city’s gates. But it is uphill and the road is very rocky so it might take a while to get there.”
“Hmm…” was all Rufus said while contemplating the best tactic to make Simon lead him to Golgotha.
But before he could think a nickel’s worth, the man offered to do so himself.
“I can take you if you want” he said, like an answer to a prayer. Rufus nodded enthusiastically, afraid to say a word lest he jinx his good fortune.
“This way,” Simon led the way, shepherding Alexander along while little Rufus stayed glued to his chest. “We must pass by the Praetorium,” Simon talked as he walked, apparently relishing his tour-guide role, “there is only one major road leading out of Jerusalem this time of the year but once we cross the city’s gates, we can choose from a number of bye-ways”
In the Praetorium, the crowd was swallowed up in its own uproar. In the center, Rufus saw the condemned man – Jesus – sprawled on the ground surrounded by a horde of soldiers. Sprawled on the floor like that clad only in his undergarment, he looked every inch a child, a badly whipped son. He was coiled into himself in a fetal roll with his back in the direction of the courtyard from which Rufus emerged with his companions. One look at Jesus’ back and Rufus knew.
The first lesson every youngster learnt growing up in the thief’s colony out in the outskirts of Capernaum was that a man who squealed on his fellow thieves was a beast and therefore wont to be treated like one. The punishment for such a betrayal was whipping. Now there were whips and there was the whip. When it came to a traitor, the whip was used; it was called the Hushrat, also known as ‘the screamer’.
A long winding work of metal from handle to flailing tip, the average Hushrat was two-branched, each branch firmly fitted with little curved hooks all along its length. While being whirled in the air, it gave off sounds akin to those of screaming babies; when it landed on the bare back of its victim, the hooks lodged themselves firmly in the tissue of the back so that when the whip was hurled back, each hook came away with its own ‘pound of flesh’ leaving a gushing mess of tissue behind and a screaming victim – ‘the screamer’! The handling of the Hushrat was a skill mastered by a lineage of men in the colony at the time and many a generation lived and passed on without showing off the skill on a man; the punishment was very rarely employed, reserved only for the worst breach of the colony’s codes of conduct.
The marks on the back of the condemned man, Rufus saw, were courtesy of a Hushrat but this wasn’t just any Hushrat, the gullies of red tissue and blood criss-crossing his back were like none Rufus had ever seen. As if to confirm his fears, one of the soldiers unceremoniously dropped the whip splattering blood and tissue on the stone floor. One look at the Hushrat and Rufus felt a chill shake him down to the knees. This Hushrat was four-branched! And each of the four branches split into two branches at the tip, little razor-sharp hooks glistened red along the lengths to the very tip of all the branches. Rufus did not need to see Jesus’ face to know the anguish he was feeling but he looked as the prisoner turned up on his back. His eyes were tightly shut, so tight that his entire head quivered with the effort and his hands clenched by the side vibrated with raw agony. His mouth was open in a soundless cry as blood and spittle dribbled out into his brown beard.
He could barely stand but the soldiers forced him up. Rufus watched as a soldier threw a purple scraggly robe on the floor, extricated his phallus without the least care for modesty in a crowd of women and children, and pissed on the cloth. Laughing maniacally, he picked up the foul garment and threw it over the condemned man, mauled back and all.
Rufus felt his teeth clench involuntarily in empathy for the poor man who now stood in a hunched position, his clenched hands quivering in an evident struggle to keep a hold of his sanity. Another soldier walked up and slammed what turned out to be a crown on his head. Rufus thought it was a mere wooden crown but upon impact with his head, Jesus’ knees buckled and his eyes sprang open in pained shock. His mouth snapped shut and immediately sprang open again in another cry that should have been a full-throated scream but only came out as a gurgled whine. Lines of blood-mixed saliva crisscrossed the distance between his gaping lips and his quivering hands sprang to his head in reflex but were quickly beat away with sticks. The crown, Rufus saw, was woven out of branches of the Burbar tree whose branches sported thorns sometimes as long as a man’s little finger. The brutality of it was almost incredible but the crowd did not mind. They jeered and jubilated the entire time.
Disgusted, Rufus turned away from the sight. Dragging Eleazer along a tad roughly, he turned to Simon. “Let us go”.
Simon was already pale in the face – his boys were not faring any better – but he turned up his hands in a gesture of helplessness, “This is the only way out to the city gates”. Rufus grunted, exasperated.
He made it out of the way just in time to avoid getting cudgeled by an enormous wooden cross being dragged in by two burly soldiers, huffing and puffing with the effort. As much as he hated to watch, Rufus felt his eyes drawn to this Jesus-man where he knelt on the floor; the purple robe was already soaked through, dripping blood off of its ragged edges and blood ran down his face in rivulets from where the Burbar thorns had pierced his head.
Jesus was dragged up again and the massive cross was thrust upon him. He struggled to adjust to the massive weight and in the process staggered towards a section of the crowd; the man towards whom he had blindly staggered let out a ripping slap on his face punctuated by a kick to the behind. Jesus fell and the cross landed on him with a sickening thud. People spat on him from every side; one woman who had spat twice and missed him moved closer, ignoring the teeming soldiers, and aimed a hoarse glob of mucus at the fallen man’s face. Only when it landed on his face did she turn around and skitter back into the crowd, her accomplishment earning her a few pats on the back. Rufus couldn’t help but wonder how one man could have so acutely offended so many people in one lifetime.
The soldiers had by then blocked the wide exit from the Praetorium into the city so that no one else could go through before Jesus with his cross. So Rufus stood to the side holding on to Eleazer with no choice but to watch the scene unfolding before him.
He watched as another woman disregarded the whips and menacing armory of the soldiers and ran to the place where Jesus had stayed fallen. This one did not spit on him however. Entranced, Rufus watched her say a few soft words into his ear and with visible pained effort, Jesus raised his head; unfolding a white piece of cloth which looked to have been dipped in water, she wiped his face. Even though Rufus didn’t see how wiping the face of a man in such predicaments could help any matters, the nerve of the woman and the affection with which she had executed the task had him blinking furiously, forcing back unmanly tears!
The soldiers pushed her away and she scurried back towards a horde of women huddled together a few feet away but within sight of the suffering man. She handed the blood-soaked cloth to a petite woman who stood hunched over in the center of the weeping horde. wearing a simple white robe with a blue cloak thrown over her hair and torso. All the women were weeping loudly, some rolled and trashed about on the floor but took care to stay a safe distance away from the soldiers while some others pulled at their hair and hugged their children hard to their bosoms. But this woman who stood in the center wept silently. She was dressed in a simple white robe which was now stained brown by dust in many places, and the edges of a blue woolen cloak half-perching on her hair and shoulders trailed in the dust, forgotten. Quiet tears slid down her cheeks while her eyes screamed anguish; Rufus felt the intensity of her agony, the helpless fury of it more than he saw it. With shaking hands, the woman raised the blood-soaked cloth to her face; it wasn’t clear if she was sobbing into it or just hiding her face from the havoc being wrecked on Jesus a few feet away. With every stroke of the Hushrat, every blow, every slap the condemned man was dealt, she cringed visibly.
Rufus looked over at Simon whose distressed face now trailed a line of tears.
“His mother, Mary” he answered.