Easter Exit

At dawn, in a modest home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the wife of a Roman soldier was applying a coat of paint to a crib her husband had made. She was thinking of how skilled with wood he is, that he should have been a carpenter, because he wasn’t a very good soldier. He was always putting his breastplate on upside down, or misplacing his spear, or forgetting that the night before he’d used his helmet as a chamber pot.

“Camilla!” The front door burst open and her husband Antonius Gluteus, in full uniform, ran to her with a look of extreme agitation. He was breathing hard, and rivulets of sweat raced down his face like chariots of water [Chariots of Water would be a good name for a movie – ed. note].

“You’re home early,” she said. “I thought your night shift didn’t end until IX in the morning.”

He gripped her shoulders. “Hurry! We need to flee as quickly as possible! No time for questions!”

“Please, Antonius! Just answer me one thing!”

“What is it?”

“If we live on the outskirts of Jerusalem, how come no one ever says they live on the inskirts?”

“What??”

“People say ‘outskirts’ but not ‘inskirts’. I wonder why. Maybe you could ask your commander. Didn’t you say he’s always trying to impress everyone with his huge vocabulary?”

“Marcus Thesaurus! He’s the last person I want to see now! Just grab some clothes and money and let’s hit the road! We don’t have much time!” Antonius was frantically stuffing personal items into a satchel.

“You need to tell me what’s going on,” said Camilla, putting down the paint brush. “Where are we going? Is it back to Rome? I hope so because this Passover thing is ridiculous! I’ve had it with these Jews and their nutty festivals. I miss the common-sense sanity of, for example, our Roman fertility festival, where boys draped in goatskins run around holding leather strips while women seeking to get pregnant offer to be gently flogged by them to increase fertility. There’s none of that enlightened thinking here in Jerusalem.”

“All right, look… I’ll explain as quickly as I can and then we have to run!”

“Speaking of pregnancy, if you haven’t yet noticed, I’m eight months along and can barely run faster than that crippled old man who begs at the temple.”

“He’s not crippled anymore. Word is, he was healed by that Galilean rabbi.”

“The miracle worker! I asked you to go see him! You shouldn’t have to live with male pattern baldness.”

“The miracle worker’s dead, Camilla. Another soldier and I were assigned to guard his tomb and now somehow his body’s gone!”

“Oh, honey, this is why I don’t buy you nice things. You lose them.”

“There was a flash of light, and by the time we could see again, the stone sealing the entrance had been rolled away and the grave was empty! We failed to do our job! In the Roman army, do you know what the price of failure is, Camilla? Do you??”

“Please don’t tell me they take away that big red brush on your helmet! It’s the only thing on your head I can still run my fingers thr--”

“Execution! No doubt the commander is searching for me now! We have to escape! I’m not ready to die! And what would become of you and the child in your womb? This is a cruel world for a single mother!”

“I might be okay. I have an idea for a series of novels about a boy wizard. I call him Harrius Potterus. I think it’ll be popular.”

“Wait! Do you feel that? The ground is shaking! It’s either the approach of a cohort of legionnaires to arrest me, or your mother is out for her morning walk.”

Antonius rushed to the front door and peered through the peephole. A bearded man stood there and smiled, dressed in a brilliant white robe that shone in the early light. Antonius thought he looked vaguely familiar. Cautiously, he opened the door. “Can I help you?”

“No,” said the radiant stranger. “But I can help you.”

“You don’t sell cleaning products, do you? This isn’t a good time.”

“Your commander will be here in a moment,” the man said. “I suggest you and your wife exit the back door and head across the field to the woods, through the woods and then southwest down the valley pass. Make your way to Egypt. You’ll be safe there. Don’t come back.”

There was something about the man that made Antonius decide to take his advice. “Who are you?” he asked.

“A friend. My Father understands that you were simply doing your job guarding that tomb. There’s been enough death this weekend. Go to Egypt. Become a carpenter. You’ve got the talent.”

Antonius’ eyes widened. “How did you know I…”

“Antonius!” Camilla called. “Get me onto the mule out back and let’s go!”

He looked at her and then back to the front door. The stranger had vanished.

Outside, Antonius helped his wife onto the mule. “What about the crib?” she asked. “Can we bring it?”

“I’ll make a new one in Egypt for our little one. We’ll name him Anastasius if a boy, Anastasia if a girl.”

“Why those names?” said his wife, adjusting herself on the animal’s back.

Antonius smiled, now in full recollection of the stranger’s identity.

“They mean ‘resurrection’.”

Happy Easter, everyone!

Cuyler Black