Motto: "And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha." John's Gospel
The eagle flew high in the sky, scarring the ashen clouds with its mighty wingspan. It drew spirals closer and closer looming over the barren, frozen landscape watching, waiting. And then it saw the sluggish snake, carving a path between the hills.
It screamed, piercing the cold air.
The snake, tail lost into the forest, oblivious to its pursuer, slithered heavily across the plain, rising its head halfway up the mountain, toward the east. The large body, brown with a yellow patch, molded its shape to fit the pattern of rocky heaps, scattered here and there, but never stopped, not even during the night, no matter the obstacle, its determination leaving a wide trail of dejects and crushed grass. All along its rough outline, there was a swarm of black dots, little ants running through the thicket in search of food and water. They never went too far, always came back and disappeared among the others, trying to get as close as possible to the spine of the larger animal for fear of getting lost into the wilderness.
It sometimes shed skin, dull-grey scales of tired people, too old or too sick to keep up with the crowd, collapsing under the weight of their burdens. They would lay where they fell, slowly exhaling their last breaths in small wisps of steam, some begging for water, others crying silent tears, knowing full well their journey had reached the end.
The slope was arid and steep and the people had to crawl sometimes, on their hands and knees, like supplicants, feeding the crumbling earth beneath with their fluids. They used staffs ripped from the trees, stabbing their paths, bent under their burden as the snake sped up toward the smoky top. When they fell, the carcasses tumbled down fast, hitting the mountain fangs, tears splattered under their companion’s boots.
No one would stop for them or help them carry their weight.
“To each his cross”, thought a young man, walking with his wife within the neck of the snake.
They both wore warm, winter clothes and carried light luggage in a small cart, two suitcases each and provisions. They moved lightly in their proud health, passing by old, wrinkled women and small wide-eyed teens, all dressed in dull dark clothes, to match the hostile environment. The woman kept her eyes firmly planted on the ground, carefully bypassing obstacles, graceful on her high heels.
“They cannot possibly expect us to slow down for them, my dear”, he said, fastening his long coat, custom made. “We need to move forward, it’s getting too cold.”
“Oh, but those poor people. We could at least give them a small loaf of bread.”she whispered, adjusting her smart fur hat.
“We barely have enough for us. Think about it, now matter how pleased they would be that we have escaped, the city has only so many welcomes. That’s why it’s so important that we arrive among the first.”
The woman sighed heavily, leaning on his arm.
“But I’m so tired. Couldn’t we stop? Only for a moment.”
“There’s but little road ahead of us, my dear. See out there, the top of the mountain? We can take a train from there.We still have some money left for the tickets.”
“It does not seem that far but I can’t really tell for all this fog.I’ve never seen such a thick, dirty fog. One could even think it was smoke.”
“Yes, a horrible weather for a walk wouldn’t you say?” he attempted to joke.
Suddenly,a bony hand grabbed the hem of the woman’s mantle.
“Water, water”, they heard a coarse voice. “Please have mercy, some water, lady!”
“Let go of me!” The woman screamed. She kicked the wretch with her foot.
“Please don’t hit him anymore. Can’t you see he’s hurting?” A tiny voice said at her side.
“He just wants a bit of water .”
The little girl tugged lightly at her sleeve, looking up with old eyes. Caught in her dark gaze, the woman stammered.
“I was scared, I didn’t mean to, I’m…” she trailed.
“Go on your way, lady, I’ll take care of him.”
The little girl took out a bottle of water from her oversized yellow coat and gave it to the dying man. She smiled gently and caressed his forehead as he coughed and splattered, then with a shudder, lay still among the dry leaves.
After a brief moment, she picked up her bundle, also bright yellow and attached it to the front, tied with a long black scarf, across her back and around her sturdy waist. It was almost as big as her and probably very heavy, because she had to straddle like a pregnant woman, belly forward, feet firmly planted on the ground. The bundle stirred and moaned, disturbed but then quieted, rocked by the rhythm of her climb.
The young woman had watched ashamed, as the child shed tears for the stranger.
“How old do you think she is?”
“Perhaps five”, her husband answered.
“But did you see her eyes and her face? She seems so much older, almost a woman.”
“Don’t be silly dear. These war children always look the same. Starved and pathetic. She’ll beg for some food soon, you’ll see. Spare your pity and concentrate on the road.”
“Excuse me, sir, but I’m not a beggar.” the tiny voice replied proudly from behind.
“Oh?”said the man, doubtful. “Well, you’ll soon run out of provisions if you keep throwing them away.”
The woman eyed her husband defiantly, fumbling in her bag.
“Here’s a candy for your brother, sweety!”
“Thank you, lady! But he’s not my brother, he’s my son.”
“So sad”, the woman said to her husband in a reproachful manner. “Of course, he’s in your care now, brave little one. Have you been walking for long?”
“Oh, for more than I can remember. It feels like I’ve been climbing forever. But soon, my son and I will reach the top and all will be well. We’ll be safe.”
The man snorted angrily and ignored the two chatting at his side. “Women!” he cursed. “I should give her a baby as soon as possible, maybe then she won’t get all maternal on every abandoned orphan.”he thought watching his wife wrap a wool shawl around the child’s head.
“You know, little kid, yellow is not such a good color for you. It’s easily spotted in case we have to make a run for it.”
“And it sullies so easily”the woman added hastily, kindly.
The little girl cradled the baby closer and said thoughtfully:
“I don’t like yellow that much but we had to dye our clothes.”
“Why?”the woman asked.
“Because of this.”the little girl pointed to the baby’s breast. And there it was, a bit of cloth, cut to look like a star, masterfully hidden in all the bright color.
The couple recoiled in fear and disgust.
“You! You’re one of them.”the woman shrieked. “You should have told me.”
“But what difference does it make?” The little girl stood rebuked. “I thought we were friends. You said you’d show us the city.”
“Now, now, child! You must understand we can’t be seen with the likes of you. God only knows where you stole that child from.” The man said severely. “ Come along, my dear! We fell behind our place.”
They hastened, clinging to each other, the woman whispering shocked.
“I didn’t know, how could I have known?”
“Quiet, now, hurry! Thank god we’re not Jewish.”
The little girl watched them walk away with sad eyes. She sucked on the candy and held tightly to the crying baby.
“Shush, my love! It’ll all be all right! Mommy is going to take care of you. No one will ever harm you, I promise.”
And there she went, straddling heavily through the cold, a small patch of yellow, carried away within the crowd.
The snake reached the smoky peak and started to uncoil resting his giant head on top of the mountain.
The eagle, high above, half hidden in a murky cloud eyed the ground while his peers assembled into formation. Then they dove silently as the little girl made her way into the mouth of the snake, engulfed in the bloody sunrise.