By Angelika Rust
It’s pitch dark. Small wonder, as it’s the middle of the night. The lamps have long been extinguished, and not a ray of light shines through the narrow windows of the paltry huts lining the streets.
Nothing moves. No, wait, something does…there, at the back of a small alley. A lanky, coltish figure. A boy, with long, hazel hair and a pale face, around twelve years old. He stoops down to pick up a pebble. He aims carefully, then throws it upwards. With a resounding clatter, the missile bounces off the wooden window frame and drops back down into the sand. The boy waits for a moment, hoping for some kind of reaction. When nothing stirs, he picks the tiny stone up again and lifts his arm, squinting, aiming for another shot.
It takes three tries before a sleepy, ruffled face appears. Another boy, roughly the same age. His hair is distinctly darker, as is his skin. He stares down, unbelieving, and rubs his eyes.
“Jesus!” he blurts out. His hand flies up to cover his mouth. He hurriedly turns around to steal a glance at the room behind him.
“Whom did you expect?” The boy in the alley stands completely unperturbed, hands on his hips, an insolent expression on his gentle features.
“Shush, not so loud! Shouldn’t you and your parents be on your way to Jerusalem already?”
“Sure. Only it’s taken them so long to find me. And then it was too late to leave, which is why we’re staying another night. Come on. I’ve hidden a bottle of wine for us.”
“You’re nuts. I’m grounded.”
“Why?” the boy at the window repeats incredulous. “Because you and me disappeared for three days?”
“My mother cried her eyes out and my father gave me a spanking, I can hardly sit down. My parents are absolutely hopping mad, that’s what!”
The boy in the alley snorts derisively. “Well, so are mine. Is that supposed to impress me?”
“You’re not grounded?”
A mocking laugh sounds up in reply. “No.”
“Why not? You’re half a year younger than me! That’s not fair!”
“You’re not the son of God, that’s why. Oh, do come on, John. I’m bored.”
“You’re…” The boy at the window groans exasperation. “Wait.”
A scant moment later, the end of a rope hits the ground. John climbs down nimbly. He drops down the last few feet and lands next to his friend, burying his bare toes in the warm sand. They exchange a grin.
“Son of God, I gotta puke. You’re still putting on this act?” John shakes his head and spits against the wall of the hut.
Jesus shrugs. “And why shouldn’t I? My parents forced the part on me, after all. Now they gotta live with me playing it. And I’m playing it as long as it gives me an advantage.”
“Where did you get to anyway? I lost sight of you after that riot in the market place.”
Jesus chuckles. “Well, I could hardly stay, could I?”
“Why not? I had an excellent hiding place!”
“Excellent, huh? Then how come they found you? Plus, the son of God doesn’t hide in a chicken coop.”
“Oh, stop it already.”
“You don’t understand. I only get away with everything as long as I stick to playing the part, come hell or high water. You see, I knew they’d find us any moment now. So I thought: what would the son of God do? Where would he hide? Where would he be safe?”
“And so I went to my father’s house.”
“To the temple, you nincompoop. I went to the temple and raised a huge quarrel.”
“They found you there?”
“And…nothing? No…I don’t know…a major telling-off? A slap round the ears?”
“Of course not. I mean, sure, they rounded me up and pressed me for where I’ve been and all that. But I only needed to give them a solemn look and a cheeky reply with a cheap shot at that lineage story they’ve made up. That left them pretty dumbstruck, I can tell you.”
“How much longer do you think they’ll put up with your charade?”
“Forever! They don’t have much of a choice, do they? Do you think they can just go and say, oops, we lied all those years, Jesus isn’t the son of God after all, Mary was just too stupid to close her window, and too chicken to scream? Adultery is a stoning matter. That’s why your parents helped cover it all up when my mother came crying to their door. Rumor has it that Zachariah played the mute for months, claiming God had cursed him.”
John knows the stories well; he merely nods. He looks up at his friend, admiration and doubt mingling on his face. Jesus may be half a year younger, but he’s already taller. The shade of his hair really is unusually light for the area. Same goes for the skin. Not even a blind man would have mistaken him for dark, stocky Joseph’s son. “And for how long do you plan to stick to it?”
Jesus shrugs again. “Damned if I know. As long as it’s fun. Couple of years. People around here are craving for a messiah anyway. Why not for me? They could do worse, you know. I have a few ideas what to tell them. I could abolish some of those absurd regulations. You know what I mean. All that crap about how a temple has to be furnished, that bullshit about twined byssus and all that stuff, nobody has the remotest idea what it actually is anyway. And the offerings. Whole families are starving because they can’t afford the correct type and size of animal for every occasion. And those pervert penalties, a stoning for every minor offense. I could add a couple of new commandments, too. Like being nice. Especially to children. Stop casting stones. Something like that. How does that sound?”
John tilts his head. “Not at all bad. But…they’ll crucify you, you know that? The priests are making a fortune with those laws and regulations.”
“Ha. They’ll have to catch me first. I’ll lead them a merry chase. I am, after all,…”
“…the son of God, I get it.” John sighs.
“That’s the spirit.” Jesus smiles a self-satisfied smile and wraps his arm around John’s shoulders. “By the way, I’ll need a prophet. Think you’re up for the job?”