…continued from The Medallion – III
“His mother, Mary” he answered.
Under the barrage of spittle, stones and lashes, the man rose again. Rufus didn’t understand why he didn’t just stay down – he stood and hoisted the cross higher onto his shoulder, teeth chattering, knees locked together at a very unnatural angle and quaking uncontrollably. He rested his head very briefly against the brutish wood of the cross for a minute and as Rufus watched, two trails of tears escaped from beneath his shut lids. A moment passed, two moments, and the eye lids quivered open again.
Rufus could understand pain, he didn’t spend all those years in the colony without knowing suffering. But what astounded him in the scene unfolding before him was the acceptance in the eyes of the condemned man. It wasn’t a bitter resignation to a doomed fate, nor was it a grudging acquiescence brimming with hate and a hunger for revenge. It was acceptance, peace and a forgiveness that shone through the sheen of tears in his eyes upon the raving crowd. A look that – incredible as the mere thought of it was – looked very much like love.
The last time Rufus saw that look in the eyes of a suffering man, Eli had his head on the cleaver’s slab and his eyes on his wife of a half moon, her belly rounded like the full moon. All those years ago in the clan, Eli had paid the ultimate price for his wife’s carelessness; he loved her, he had said, and would die to save her life. Rufus had thought – and still did – it a foolish price to pay for a woman; maybe for a child, a worthy and only child, but not for a woman or any other human.
Whatever cause it was this man had been condemned for – he was clearly no criminal – had him sunk like a holed up fisherman’s canoe. Jesus visibly wanted to carry the cross; it looked like he felt a compulsion to bear the travails, to see it to the end. Clenching his blood-lined teeth behind the quivering but determined line of his chapped lips, he took one slow step forward. Then another one, this time much slower and a tad bit shaky. Then another. Unsurprisingly and to the tumultuous glee of the crowd, he tumbled to the dust again, the gargantuan cross landing on him with an audible oomf! There was no cause, Rufus concluded, – living or dead – that is worth this much agony. It was plain foolishness.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rufus noticed a sudden movement and turned swiftly to spot Alexander in the process of running towards the fallen man. Simon was faster than Rufus to reach him but not too fast that the soldiers did not notice the boy’s action. One of them brandished a horsewhip and advanced towards the duo of Simon and Alexander; father slid in front of son completely shielding him while one hand stayed outstretched in mute supplication. The soldier reached them and flexed the whip. Unconsciously and without realizing why, Rufus started to step forward.
“Oy! What do we have here?”
Rufus let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. An older soldier – the centurion, Rufus deciphered from the plumage that adorned his helmet – neared the trio.
“What do we have here?” he demanded again. The junior officer stuttered a spurious tale of how the little boy barely the height of a grown man’s waist had attempted to save Jesus from the midst of an army of soldiers.
The centurion quietly stared at his subordinate for a few moments, as if giving him time for the absurdity of his claims to sink in. Then he asked in that steely tone that only mastered authority could manage, “And you were going to do what with the whip, soldier?”
There was no reply.
The centurion released an exasperated sigh and turned his attention to Simon, the plume on his helmet waving in the air like a withered flag. “You’re the little one’s father?” Simon nodded, the nervous bob of his Adam’s apple visibly straining against his scrawny neck. He swallowed. Bob. Bob.
“What is your name, sire?”
“Simon” Bob. “Simon of Cyrene” Bob bob.
“Well, Simon of Cyrene,” the centurion drawled, “looks like your lad has got himself in a mighty load of trouble here” – he drawled the ‘mighty’ for the benefit of the nearby listening crowd who accordingly snickered while the young soldier burned red – “but you look like a reasonable man and I’m willing to work with you”
“Y-y-yes” Bob. Bob. “Y-yes, s-s-sir” Bob bob.
“Good man,” the centurion answered. “See we’re having a little problem getting the king of the Jews here up to Golgotha where his coronation ceremony awaits.” More snickers from the crowd. “You could help out by carrying his cross? Golgotha is only a few yards beyond the city gates; we’ll take over once we get there”
Bob. Bob. Simon turned slightly to look down at Alexander whose head was firmly wedged into his back, then at little Rufus standing a few meters behind looking lost and alone in the crowd. When he raised his face to the centurion, it was clear Simon intended to refuse. He opened his mouth to say the words.
“I’ll take them” Rufus heard himself say. Futuo! What?
“You will?” Simon asked him, suspicious furrows creasing his brow.
Yes, you will? Rufus queried himself.
He cursed some more beneath his breath. “Yes, I’ll bring your boys along” he said, and for good measure, stepped up and took the hand of little Rufus.
Simon looked him square in the eye for only a split second and for no reason Rufus could comprehend, trusted. He spoke a few inaudible words to Alexander then shooed him towards Rufus before straightening to face the centurion a determined look in his eyes. Simon walked towards the cross and hoisted it, he staggered a little then hoisted it higher and plunged towards the city gates, a tiny vein straining in the center of his forehead. The soldiers hustled up the totally battered Jesus and pushed him forward in Simon’s wake. The barrage of abuse continued from all sides.
There goes my shortcut to The Medallion, Rufus sighed. As displeased as he was with his newly acquired nanny role, Simon was his only hope of finding the treasure, especially considering the blood-craze that had enveloped just about everybody else. In Ninny’s beards – as his father would say – he had no choice.
Rufus hoisted Alexander onto his back, wrapped little Rufus – whose little face was already scrunched up, wailing nonstop – around the front of him and held Eleazer’s hand tight as the crowd thronged forward in the wake of the condemned man. Looking like a double-shelled turtle, Rufus waited for the entire crowd to go by then he brought up the rear. He patted the scroll where it was firmly lodged in the inner compartment of his robe. This was all that mattered to him, this treasure. And nothing else. No one else.
Rufus soon trailed far behind the excited crowd. He even stopped to rest on the way a couple of times. When he reached Golgotha, two men had already been crucified and hoisted up on the hill. The bigger cross to which Jesus was nailed was being hoisted between the two already crucified supported by a large boulder of rock, the largest in the vicinity. The inscription above the bowed head of Jesus read, “Behold, the king of the Jews”.
One would think that these dogs would at least cover them with loincloths, Rufus spat. He turned Alexander’s head away from the crudeness – Eleazer was no stranger to such sights and little Rufus was by now snoring softly against his chest. Looking around, he quickly spotted Simon seated on a small rock some distance away, obviously spent by the tortuous climb beneath the weight of that cross. On sighting his father, Alexander pulled away and raced into Simon’s arms. Rufus made over to them, he laid the still sleeping Rufus on a small piece of cloth Eleazer took out of his bag. He drank some water, offered Simon some then sat down to catch his breath.
“Hold it!!!” Rufus bolted up, one hand automatically reaching for his dagger…
…to be continued