By Bonnie Meekums
Martha dipped the sponge once more into the sour wine and poppy mixture in its earthenware container to her right. Its blood red stained her clothing as she lifted it up to her lord’s lips, now deathly white. His eyes opened a crack, as he felt the welcome moisture of spent wine and tasted the pain relieving properties of its hidden drug, a cruel reminder of more hedonistic days. Now, all he wanted was for it to be over. His own frail frame hung heavy on the nails thrust through each palm, and through his feet. Searing pain. He lifted himself once more, fighting against asphyxia, unable to give up breathing despite his mantra: This will not last forever. All hope was lost. The woman he had called his own was, he knew, performing a last act of love. He could see, through his own mist, her tears, her body wracked with convulsions mirroring his own. One flesh, one body. Everyone had been speculating for years about him and Mary Magdelene. His secret might have been taken to the grave but for his one dear love’s last devotion – that, and her swollen belly which would soon become apparent even to the most disinterested eye. His physical pain intensified at the thought that he would no longer be able to protect her from the wrath of the masses.
This will not last forever. He was growing weaker, and welcomed it. Soon, the pain would not be felt. Again, he doubted himself. Had he imagined himself to be the Son, the Chosen One? Were the miracles he had performed just hysteria? Would this be oblivion? He no longer cared. Just. Let. This. Be. Over. He could hear her mother chiding her: ‘Come, child. You have done all you can. It is in god’s hands now. You must think of the living, and the quickening.’
‘No, mother. God will protect me. I will stay with him, until I am sure he can hear and see and feel me no more.’ Her gentle reproach silenced the older woman, for she knew in her heart her words were useless. She knew that her daughter’s love was immutable. But as a mother, she knew she would not sleep unless she had tried to be the voice of reason.
Martha turned towards a commotion she could hear behind her. A tall and powerful man was pushing his way through the crowd, to muted protests. Her heart beat its way into her throat, lodging there to stop all sound from escaping. ‘Make way, make way!’ The man’s goliath-like frame and deep, sonorous voice parted the crowd like the seas of Galilee, and there he stood before her, his eyes piercing hers and his torso blotting out both light and the crucified figure behind him. Martha froze as Judas addressed her directly. ‘I have come to claim my wife.’ The crowd gasped, as one voice. Some of them had known she had a lover, but this man, who had so recently received his 30 pieces of silver? Then, more softly so that only she and her mother could hear: ‘I have wealth, my Lady. I promise to take care of you and your unborn child. I could see the way things were heading, and I have loved you from afar these past two years. I know you love another, but I would not allow you to go to ruin along with him. Please believe me when I say I did this for you. In time, I hope you will learn to love me just a little. Your child will be Iscariot, and will want for nothing. Only, come now, without delay, before the crowd becomes restless.’
Martha looked beseechingly at her mother, who almost imperceptibly nodded her assent. Then she moved to the right of Judas, so that she could look one more time upon her one true love, hoping for a sign from the God they had worshipped with their bodies. His eyes opened just a fraction, closed, opened again, and closed one last time. Then his muscle tone relaxed, his breathing became noisy and irregular. Martha looked up at Judas. She hated him right now more than anyone in the world. But she had seen the sign – her Lord had given his blessing. She knew now that she must try harder than ever to be like him, to love and forgive her enemies. It would be a long, hard, lonely road, just as he had warned in his many parables.
Martha felt a quickening in her belly, like a fish turning in water. It was time. Everything grew misty and far away. She dropped her eyes, turned away from the cross, and walked.