For Holy Week, a fictionalised account of the courtyard mockery and torture of Jesus before his crucifixion.
This scene is told through the eyes of Miriam. (Mary Magdalene.) I use the Aramaic version of Jesus – Yeshua.
I pace up and down, up and down. I pace like a mad woman outside the prison walls.
The price of freedom is my beating heart, thumping and sullen today, and everyone an enemy – each passing soldier and temple guard, each Sadducee in a hurry, each hunched Pharisee giving advice in the market place – in holy distaste at my hurrying.
But I wait for my man, I will keep vigil. Peter arrives by my side, he asks me to calm; though his own eyes are those of a frightened horse.
‘He has been taken,’ he says, ‘there is nothing we can do; certainly nothing you can do. You should be home.’
‘I am home.’ I realise this as I speak it. I am surprised but he is my home, this man Yeshua; and I tell Peter the same. ‘He is my home.’
He laughs with hollow eyes, as if somewhere else in his mind.
‘You should not say such things,’ he says. ‘They’re the words of a stupid woman and Yeshua doesn’t need stupid women right now.’
‘But he does need you?’
‘You don’t know what you say, you never did. You’ll only betray him – and then what? Then what?’ He’s nodding at me, as if in pain. ‘You’re no better than the rest of us, Miriam, and not the special friend you imagine.’ I am in shock.
‘And you can’t stay here, you’ll be recognised, you’ll be followed. We’ve been seen with him, we’re known, you and I…when it’s best not to be known. Think about it. It doesn’t help him if we’re caught. What help is that, woman?’
‘Let me through – I need to see the governor.’
I push forward towards a Roman soldier. I am pleased to be free of Peter, I leave him behind. I do not know what I have done to offend him. Is it all women he hates? Or is it just me? I have liked him – I have tried to like him, hale and hearty Peter.
But he has pushed me away when I wished to be friends and I do not understand. Yeshua says to be at peace about it; he says that Peter is Peter. But how can I be at peace when he speaks rudely to me, as if I don’t exist?
‘Steady there, woman.’ I am grabbed by a soldier whose face I recognise. I remember faces. Can he help me? It is Marcus, who I once spoke with in the market place.
I was in a hurry; I dropped my basket of fruit. He picked it up and I thanked him, I was grateful – before remembering that you should not thank a Roman… though Yeshua talks with them.
‘Oh, it’s you!’ he says. ‘I remember you – the girl who can’t carry fruit. And you should not be here.’
I am appalled. I gasp. I cannot watch and I cannot turn away. He sees the line of my eyes. I see Yeshua.
‘That’s the Syrians and the Greeks for you,’ he says. But I do not know what he means. ‘Your very own enemy from Palestine.’
He is covered in blood – Yeshua, my friend. His body tortured and bent, held by soldiers either side; but not in kindness, as I would hold him – held only that the horror may proceed.
And I’ve seen horror, I have seen much horror, but what is this? And how is it so? My song is a love unknown, ever since I met him; but this is quite another song.
I vomit at the feet of Marcus – and now they mock, and laugh, and kneel… and strike with staves, on his shins.
‘Why?’ I cling to Marcus, so big in his armour. Can he help me? Can he save Yeshua? ‘Why do they do this?’
‘These people hate the Jews, woman – and why wouldn’t they?’ He looks in my eyes, hands on my shoulders, as if to hold my listening. ‘Know your history – we Romans do.’
History? What has history to do with this? I don’t want his speech. I want Yeshua freed. I push forward again.
‘I must see the governor,’ – but he grabs me roughly by the arm.
‘They’ll do the same to you, woman.’
‘I don’t care.’ He holds me firmly and speaks again into my face.
‘The last Jewish kings, the Hasmoneans – they conquered and fucked all the surrounding Syrian and Greek cities. Yes?’ He almost shouts at me. ‘So don’t wonder at this, woman, don’t cry “innocent me!” The Jews made slaves of these people, vassals at best – so these guys aren’t friends of any Israelite. They hate the lot of you. Long memories will kill us all, eh?’
He pushes me back again, satisfied in some manner. My arm is sore from his holding and Yeshua doesn’t seem to move now. But they’re lifting him again; he is lifted up. They’re putting a purple robe around him. But why? Why a robe?
‘The robe?…’ I ask.
‘Someone called him “King of the Jews”. Not a clever line.’ He speaks without turning to me. He’s watching; I think he’s enjoying it.
‘He never said that.’
‘Didn’t go down well in the barracks. “King of the Jews” – didn’t go down well at all, not with the Syrians and the Greeks.’
I do not understand this. What has history to do with this present hate? All those years ago! What has history to do with Yeshua? He speaks now for the poor, for the children, for the blind, for the lame – these people are his kingdom! Only this present matters!
‘Romans hate the Jews as well, mind!’ His tone is mean now; it curdles. ‘Sejanus, back in Rome, he’s famous for it.’
He laughs as he speaks and I see it clear. This Marcus hates us too, I know this now. His kind mask cracks, I see behind it.
‘Total Jew-hater, Sejanus! And proud of it…they do like a Jew-hater in Rome. But there’s hate – and then there’s hate.
He nods towards the sweating courtyard mockery. He nods towards the men with hysterical eyes, forcing some crown down on Yeshua’s head, his eyes to heaven – ripping thorns, blood bursts down his face.
‘We tend to leave Jews to the Syrians.Saves us a job.’
Yeshua cries out and buckles, his legs have gone; and when those holding him let go, he falls horribly and sudden, his swollen and blistered head cracking. Tight around him, like a binding, is the robe, a twisted mess of dust and blood.
‘“He saves others; but sadly can’t save himself!” It’s a joke in the barracks.’
I hate Marcus.
‘He doesn’t save – only God saves.,’ I say. I cannot breathe, so how do I talk?
‘Not today, darling.’
I move to leave, I cannot stay. ‘You will tire of armoured fame,’ I say. I remember these words; Yeshua’s words to a soldier once. “You will tire of armoured fame.”’
Marcus says: ‘I think he’s tired before I have…looks very tired to me.’ And then he laughs again.
The court yard groan is beyond pain, beyond a scream. Yeshua buckles again and I cannot stay. I am revolted at myself, I feel shame; but I walk away and then bend again to vomit.
I do not know what to do with my love, for I cannot leave my friend… yet I leave him.
Is this to be my last memory of the man? Is that our farewell? No justice…no justice. I’d prefer not to live.