The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry

 

 

By

Jennifer Keogh Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumpy in Jerusalem

 

 

 

 

 

 

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

©2017

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

 

 

H

arry is thrilled.

We're going to Jerusalem!

On our last case, we solved a three- hundred year-old mystery involving a spirit in a manor in Edinburgh. Now we're off to solve an even older mystery. A two-thousand year-old mystery.

While Harry and I were in Leith, a part of northern Edinburgh, we met Dr. Ian Owen. He was the curator of a small museum and while we were there we got to know him well. With Harry being a Christian, they talked a lot about God and Christianity. Dr. Owen said that he'd be happy to believe in Jesus Christ if only there were some really solid proof that he existed.

I was surprised.

I'm no Christian, but even I don't doubt the existence of Jesus Christ. Isn't it pretty much basic history that a man named Jesus was born in Bethlehem, went around telling everybody they should love one another and then got crucified on a cross?

Apparently not.

Not if you're a real historian.

Dr. Owen explained to us that real historians doubt things that the ordinary folks like Harry and I take for granted.

Harry said he'd be glad to go putter around the Holy Land and look for proof that Jesus Christ used to live there. No charge. Kind of like lawyers doing pro bono work.

The way it usually works is that our client pays a fee, plus our expenses. But Dr. Owen is just a humble curator of a small museum. Harry says that's OK. We've made a lot of money already, we can certainly afford it.

He looked at me and I just shrugged.

“Why not?” I said.

No one else had hired us. I'd rather keep busy than just sit at home in the tiny apartment that Mom and I share back in Toronto.

Dr. Owen said that if we can find proof that Jesus Christ existed, he'll create a whole room in the museum for it.

That's good enough for Harry.

Harry considers himself an agent of God on earth, daily spreading God's love around to all he meets. Me, I have no problem with Harry at this point. I'd go so far as to admit that I even really like . . . OK, love . . . the guy, but I've got to get a few things straight in my head. I'm not sure what though. That makes it a little more complicated. Maybe that's why I'm doing something that you would normally associate with Harry, something that I've never done in my life. I'm talking to a stranger on a plane . . .

 

“So, that's how we ended up here,” I say, finishing off.

It's a seriously long flight to Israel.

Harry says that we'll be landing at the Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, which is 15 kilometres away from Tel Aviv.

This flight is packed and I was really annoyed when we didn't get seats together. Harry's about 15 rows behind me and all I can really tell is that he seems to be babysitting one of some busy mother's three small children. I guess he's an answer to her prayer.

I'm talking to an older lady, Marilyn, who is going to Israel on a pilgrimage. She just plans to go from place to place by bus and pray where people like Jesus and Abraham prayed.

I told her that I've read Genesis so I know who Abraham is.

She really seems interested in me so that's why I told her all about Harry and I and how we have this arrangement to investigate things together and how we've solved four cases so far.

She nods a lot and doesn't look bored.

She has the aisle seat, I'm in the middle, and there is an ancient-looking woman in the window seat. She's snoozed the whole time and I don't think she's heard a thing I've said, even if she understands English.

“And you and Harry?” she asks. “How does that work?”

“Well,” I say, taking a deep breath. “That's where it's complicated. We're close. But he's got his faith. And at first I thought it was stupid.”

Marilyn's really cool. She doesn't mind anything I say. She's kind of like Harry that way.

“But now you don't think so?”

“That's just it,” I say. “I don't even really remember why I was hostile to it in the first place. Harry's a great guy.”

“You've been seeing Jesus in Harry and that's what's changed you,” explains Marilyn.

Really?” I say. “Is that it?”

Marilyn nods.

“The fact that you've become less hostile to him shows that you're becoming a person of faith yourself.”

“But that's the thing,” I say, turning to her. “It's about me. I don't want to just follow Harry's faith. I want to find my faith.”

“You're smart to know that,” says Marilyn. “In fact, that's exactly what you have to do.”

“Do you think I'll find it in Jerusalem?” I ask. “I mean, isn't it, like, a holy city?”

Marilyn shakes her head.

“I'm going there just to see it, but it's not really holy anymore. It was when God lived there in the temple, but now he lives in the hearts of his people. People like Harry back there.”

“I see what you mean,” I say. “But why do people still go? Actually, I don't really care about that. Why are we going?”

“Only God really knows that,” says Marilyn. “I think he's been with you two this whole time . . .”

The flight attendant interrupts our talk. She's distributing about our third meal aboard this plane. I really have no idea what time it is anymore or whether we should be sleeping.

“Marilyn?” I say, when we're done with the crackers and cheese and grapes. Everything is finger foods since 9/11.

“Uh-huh?”

“I know this sounds crazy,” I say, lowering my voice. “But I actually do want to become a Christian.”

Marilyn looks surprised, but pleased.

“I've been thinking a lot since Edinburgh and I feel like God's been telling me stuff. Like that it's not enough to just love Harry, I've got to love him. God, I mean.”

Marilyn squeezes my hand.

“I think you've got it exactly right, sweetie,” she says.

“But the thing is,” I continue. “I can't talk to Harry about it. It's between me and God. So do you think you could tell me how I should go about this? How do I become a Christian?”

“Well,” says Marilyn. “You just pray to God and ask him to forgive your sins. Tell him you accept his son as your saviour and that's about it. The Bible talks about getting baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit, like Jesus did in the Jordan River, but that would be a bit difficult here on the plane. You could do that later.”

“The important thing is I'd be connected to God, right?” I say.

“Exactly,” agrees Marilyn. “And I think he's been connecting with you all this time.”

So I do it. I pray the prayer, I tell God I'm sorry about all the sinning I've done. I ask to be forgiven and that Jesus will be my saviour. And I tell him I'll get baptized as soon as I can. Amen.

“Amen,” says Marilyn while the lady beside us actually snores.

Now I just have to wait for the right moment to tell Harry.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

 

T

he right moment is not when we arrive in Lod.

The airport is pure confusion. And we don't even have to go near the luggage carousel. But we do have to go through Customs. There must be about sixty languages being spoken all around us. Hebrew is the official language, but according to Harry's guidebook, most Israeli officials speak English.

But Harry decides that he's going to do it all in Hebrew. He has a Hebrew phrasebook which he studied on the plane when he wasn't babysitting.

The result is that when they ask us if we have anything to declare, he says ken instead of lo, which is yes instead of no. When that gets cleared up, he tells them nigmar li habenzim, that he's run out of gasoline. It's quite bewildering to the female customs officer, who asks him why he's run out of gasoline. (She speaks in English.) This flusters Harry who replies, bakbuk lager bevaasha. I'd like a lager please.

At this point, the customs officer is sizing him up. Is he being insolent? Is he a lunatic? Or is he just seriously confused?

I step in at this point and say, we're from Canada, we have nothing to declare and we're here to see the holy sites.

Our knapsacks are searched. The contents are found to be harmless. The customs officer waves us through and Harry thanks her by saying kama ze, how much is that?

“Did you ever consider trying Arabic instead?” I say.

“We went to Marrakesh one winter so I already know a bit of Arabic,” says Harry. “Someone told me Hebrew is similar. You know, shalom, salaam, that sort of thing. I thought I'd pick it up pretty quickly.”

Normally I'd say something sarcastic, but I really want to tell him about what happened to me on the plane.

“Uh, Harry . . . ?”

But he's not listening. He's charged ahead to secure us a cab.

Our destination is Jerusalem. Though Tel Aviv is closer, Harry says there's no point in going there. It didn’t exist before 1909 and therefore has nothing to do with the life of Jesus.

The cab is not to take us all the way to Jerusalem, only to the nearest bus station.

But the middle-aged driver says, why do we need to go to the bus station? He will take us wherever we need to go.

“But we want to go to Jerusalem,” says Harry. I'm glad he's not doing this in Hebrew. We could end up in Saudi Arabia.

“I take you to Jerusalem.”

“It's a long way,” says Harry.

“We take highway,” says the driver. “Highway 1.” I can tell he's going to win. Especially when he introduces himself as Isak and starts telling us all about the area.

“I Russian,” he says. “Lots of Russians here. Many work at the airport.”

“Why did they come to Lod?” Harry asks, sitting back and resigning himself.

“Lod very interesting,” says Isak. “Many interesting things. Crusader church. Tomb of St. George. Many Christians come to see. Are you Christian?”

Harry doesn't notice when I nod too.

“Who's St. George?” I ask Harry.

“He killed a dragon,” says Isak. “Very important. English saint. But you are not interested in Lod. You go to Jerusalem.”

“Do you know Hebrew?” Harry asks Isak.

Da,” says Isak. “I mean ken. Yes, I try to learn. Everyone learn when they come here. My daughter born here. She speak well.”

Harry gives up on Hebrew for now and turns to a gigantic map that came with his guidebook. He pulls it out and tries to figure out where we are. It takes up most of the backseat.

I ignore the map in my face.

Up in front, Isak has switched on the radio to some kind of Hebrew folk music.

“Harry, I want to tell you something,” I say.

“Uh huh?” he says. “We're right here.” He points. “See, I think this is the highway to Jerusalem.”

I look at the map and then out the window.

Lod is a mix of ancient and modern. Most of the buildings are new and white, some of them as high as eight stories. But some of the buildings are white and decrepit, but with bright blue doors and a certain panache amid the poverty.

Any place where there's a patch of grass there's usually a palm tree.

I see Hebrew writing everywhere. That's what makes me feel like I'm in a foreign country. That and the fact that there are groups of soldiers here and there, male and female, standing around with machine guns strapped to their backs.

“Right, here we are,” I say, turning back to Harry. “Anyway, as I was saying . . .”

“It's probably just easier to take a taxi,” says Harry.

Harry, rich though he is, is always for doing things economically. My inclination is to do things easily. But I think we're sort of moving closer together in that. Or maybe I'm just getting used to him.

“Probably,” I agree.

“I have to decide where we're going to stay,” says Harry, folding up the map and putting it back in its pocket in the back of the guidebook. “Somewhere cheap.”

The guidebook looks pretty battered.

“Harry,” I say, taking it from him and opening it up. “This guidebook is from 1982! Some of these places may not even be here anymore!”

“The important things will be,” says Harry, taking it back. “The Via Dolorosa hasn't changed much in two thousand years.”

“Is that why you think we'll be able to find proof that Jesus lived here?”

Harry nods.

We're out of Lod now and on a highway like any other back home. But there's still the Hebrew on the signs, plus Arabic and English. The scenery is different from home too. Hilly and rocky. If I ignore the cars zipping along beside me I can sort of imagine a shepherd out with his sheep two thousand years ago. But what if Jerusalem is like this? All built up with just a few hills leftover in the distance? How could anything two thousand years old survive in a modern nation?

Apparently it can.

Isak, who I thought wasn't listening to us, says, “You want place where Jesus lived?”

“Yes!” says Harry leaning forward.

“In Nazareth,” says Isak, looking at us through the rear-view mirror. “They find house of Jewish family from Jesus time.”

“Really?” says Harry.

Isak nods.

“Very news. Very old. Maybe Jesus live there?”

From that I gather the old house was found recently.

“Is Nazareth close to Jerusalem?” I ask.

“No, yes.” Isak sort of nods and shakes his head at the same time. “You go to Jerusalem or Nazareth?”

“We'll go to Jerusalem today,” says Harry. “Nazareth another day.”

Isak nods.

Harry is back to his guidebook, trying to figure out where we should stay.

I decide to tell him I'm a Christian after he gets that all sorted out. Besides, Isak is listening and it's kind of something I want to tell Harry when we're alone.

“It says here that the hotels in East Jerusalem are less expensive,” says Harry. “We'll stay there.”

“But East Jerusalem in Arab,” says Isak.

“That's OK,” says Harry absently, his eyes running down a list of hotels.

“I do not go there,” announces Isak. “Jerusalem, yes. Arab, no.”

This is news to us.

“OK,” says Harry. “That's fine. Jerusalem.”

What else can he say?

Harry points to something in the guidebook. I lean over to read it. He's found the section about Ben Gurion airport. It says there's a bus running from the airport to Jerusalem every hour on the hour.

“Next time I'll read the guidebook on the plane,” Harry says rolling his eyes.

Still, having taken the more expensive option, we're in Jerusalem in about an hour. I almost don't realize we're there. The countryside was brief. We're passing a lot of settlements made up of square white box homes. They just seem to go on and on and they're all around Jerusalem so it's Isak that tells us we're almost there.

“That's the Old City,” says Harry pointing to the slight hill. I can see the famous Dome of the Rock. But Jerusalem has high-rises like any other city, so it's hard to really distinguish the old from the new at this distance. There are a lot of those white buildings. Other buildings look Mediterranean with red-tiled roofs. I can see church spires and towers. Some grey-domed buildings.

There are cranes in the distance, suggesting more construction. The ancient is being overwhelmed by the new.

Driving along beside us is an olive-green army truck filled with soldiers in the back.

“What's that over there?” I point to a grey concrete wall that runs the entire length of one side of Jerusalem, looking completely out of place. It's not old. It's new construction and it's about as ugly as anything I've ever seen back home. It's high enough that if we were standing by it, we wouldn't be able to see over it.

“Barrier to keep Arabs out,” says Isak.

“Meg, don't you watch the news?” says Harry. “That's the wall the Israelis put up to keep suicide bombers out of Israel.”

“Oh,” I say. It sounds vaguely familiar.

I stare at the ugly grey wall.

I don't know what it is about it, but something makes me want to be on the other side of it. To see why the Israelis would build such a huge and ugly wall right down the side of a city like Jerusalem.

Something Marilyn said on the plane comes back to me.

“Is the Jordan River on the other side of that wall?” I ask Isak.

“Jordan River? Yes.”

“Then that's where I want to go,” I say, to him and to Harry.

“But Meg, we wouldn't be in Jerusalem then,” says Harry.

Because that's where we are now. Driving through crowded streets. Among the buildings that we had seen from the distance.

And again, there are the soldiers with the machine guns on their backs. They are on street corners, some milling around, any place where there are crowds.

“We're looking for Jesus, aren't we?” I say.

Harry nods.

I should be looking all around me. There are stores and restaurants and people, a complete mix of East and West and everything in between. There's energy in the air. But I can't stop looking at that grey wall.

I think Jesus might be on the other side.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

 

 

 

T

here have been a lot of times in this relationship where I've asserted myself just to let Harry know he's not boss. But this is not one of them.

The Jordan River is on the other side of that wall and that's where I'm going. Marilyn said I had to get baptized and that's where Jesus was baptized. So that's where I'm going.

“But Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River,” I say to Harry.

“We're not going to find anything at the Jordan River, Meg,” says Harry. “Everything is here in Jerusalem . . .”

“Fine, Harry,” I say. “Let's work it this way. I'll cover whatever's on the other side of that wall and you cover Jerusalem. Then we'll get back together and see what we came up with.”

“We can't split up!”

“Why not?”

“I dunno!” says Harry. “It's dangerous.”

Isak has been driving and watching us in the rear view mirror at the same time.

“Dangerous!” he agrees. “Arabs!”

“Harry,” I say, ignoring Isak. “We have faced bad guys in New York City. We have camped out at the South Pole. We have faced a ghost in Edinburgh. Stop here, please,” I say to Isak. I'm pretty emotional. Isak is forced to pull over because I'm already opening the door. “I'm not afraid of Arabs!” I get out of the cab and nearly slam the cab door shut. Harry rolls down the window. “Meg, wait, get back in here . . .”

“Where do you want to meet?” I say. I've got my knapsack on my back. Some people are looking at me. I guess it was the comment about not being afraid of Arabs. Not that there's an Arab in sight. Everyone around here looks like they came from somewhere in Europe.

I reach into the window of the cab and grab Harry's guidebook, flipping it open to Jerusalem. Hotels. East Jerusalem.

“There,” I say, stabbing. “The American Colony Hotel. We'll meet there in a week.”

And I'm off.

I don't know if Harry starts to come after me because I don't look back. The crowds are thick; it's a noisy spring day. Everyone seems to be out in the streets. By the time I'm a block away I wouldn't be able to hear him anyhow.

But I'm not really looking around. My eyes are on that grey wall.

I discover that getting to the wall is one thing. Getting across it is another.

There's nothing in sight. Just this long, long wall.

People are passing by. There are stores and streets but life just kind of ends at this wall. I stop a middle-aged lady and ask her how to get across. She looks at me like I'm crazy. Why would I want to get across? Then she mutters something and points. I look in the direction she points but the wall just keeps on going. Still, at least it's a direction.

I start walking.

Despite that I'm in civilization, I can't help but feel a little bit like an explorer crossing a desert. I have sun block on, but I stop in a little shop to buy a straw hat. I don't want to get sunstroke. I haven't eaten since the plane, but all I am is thirsty. So I stop in another shop and get some orange pop with Hebrew writing on it, plus a large bottle of water for my knapsack. By the time I come to a place to cross over to the other side, I feel like I've walked the Sahara.

I find out that it's called a checkpoint.

There are cars all lined up to cross this opening in the wall.

There's a high tower with an Israeli soldier and his machine gun pointed down at everyone. Lots of people are on foot, like me, standing in line under what looks like corrugated iron awnings. It's not a neat line, but sort of a mess of people in groups, some carrying bags and loads of goods. There are men on the side with coolers selling drinks. Some people have blankets laid out and there are bags of sunflower seeds or oranges for sale. The line looks long and I'm hungry so I go over and buy a couple of oranges and some of the sunflower seeds. The older Arab man is kind to me, smiling. He says, “Shukran.”

“Thank you?” I say. He nods.

Shukran,” I repeat.

My first Arab word.

I watch as the cars move slowly through the checkpoint. Israeli soldiers with guns at their sides, look everything over. I notice that they take more time when the car is full of young men. A woman wearing a long black dress and a white hijab, with about six children in the car moves through much faster.

Sometimes people have to get out of the car and one man is even taken away. He has to sit down on the ground with a soldier assigned to watch him. I don't know what happens because it's my turn to show my passport and explain to the soldier why I'm going into what he calls the West Bank.

Harry's always told the truth and it works for him, so I do the same.

“I'm going to the Jordan River,” I say. “To be baptized.”

He looks at me.

“Alone?”

I nod.

“I'm looking for Jesus,” I explain.

He raises his eyebrows and shakes his head at the same time.

“Not my problem,” he mutters, waving me through.

And then I'm on the other side.

Right away, I see the difference.

The Israeli side is prosperous and things were a little old, but they were moderately well-kept. I'm now on the side of poverty and the first thing I notice is a field with an old baby carriage just abandoned in it.

The same people who waited with me in line now hurry off with purpose.

Some are climbing into taxis waiting on the other side. Others just seem to know where to go as they spread out and disappear down streets.

For a moment, I feel alone.

But then I remember Laircassle, and the people who saw the spirit of Laircassle. They were the ones who were truly alone.

I take a deep breath and look up at the brilliant blue sky. The sun is blinding but it's also warm. And I don't feel alone anymore. Everybody in this country already thinks I'm a lunatic so I just say my thoughts right out loud.

“God, I'm here. Where should I go now?”

Behind me, I hear laughter.

I turn.

It's a pleasant-looking man, maybe in his mid-thirties, and he's heard what I said. But it's a friendly laughter. The first thing I notice about him is that he’s dressed like a priest with a long brown robe and a white rope as a belt.

“Hello,” he says with a heavy accent. “I am sorry. I didn't mean to laugh.”

 “That's OK,” I say.

“Talking to God is normal,” he says, now walking beside me. “I do it all the time. Not always out loud though.”

He looks worn out but there is warmth in his eyes. Although his skin is almost as pale as mine, his hair is dark and curly and he has definite Arab features.

“So you have no place to go?”

“Well,” I say. “I'm heading for the Jordan River. I just became a Christian and I want to get baptized there.”

“When did you become a Christian?” he asks. We are walking along now, although I have no idea where we're going.

“On the plane ride over.” I say.

“Really? But why were you coming here?”

“Well, it's like this . . .” I start telling him about me and Harry. How many times have I told this story? Except that each time there's more to tell, so each time it's longer.

When I reach the point where we agree that we'll try to solve the mystery of the stolen necklace, the man I'm walking with interrupts me and introduces himself as Yusaf. He says he's a parish priest in Bethlehem. He lives with his sister and I'd be welcome to stay with them while I'm here. He's stopped at a bus-stop. The buildings around us are dilapidated, but that doesn't diminish the activity. Lots of other people are in line for the bus.

“Sure!” I say. “If you don't mind?”

“Not at all,” he says. “Miriam will be glad to have the company. But go on, your story is interesting.”

I carry on and the bus comes when I'm telling him about me and Harry in Texas.

With Yusaf asking questions, the story continues right on until we get to Bethlehem. Everything around here is close together.

“Is Bethlehem near the Jordan River?” I ask, as we get off the bus and I'm looking around.

“Not really,” says Yusaf. “But we can go there if you like. Me and Miriam and you.”

Bethlehem is a mini Jerusalem. Lots of those white buildings everywhere. Except that there are Arabs here. They all look busy and harmless and I can't understand why the Israelis are scared of them enough to build that wall.

“This is where Jesus was born, isn't it?” I say.

“Isa, yes. Isa is the Arabic for Jesus.”

We are walking down a residential street.

“There is a church here. Perhaps you have heard of it? The Church of the Nativity. Built on the spot where Our Lord entered the world.”

“Is there any real proof of it?” I say. “I mean, of him being born here and all.”

“Not anything that would convince your Dr. Owen,” says Yusaf. “Secular scholars say the Church of the Nativity is just an old ancient shrine where Canaanites worshipped their gods.”

“Harry says that when a believer prays and his prayer is answered, an unbeliever can just dismiss it as a coincidence. That sounds like the same thing.”

“Yes, it is actually,” says Yusaf. “There is always another explanation for things. When the Romans came to Bethlehem, they built a temple to Adonis on top of the site where Isa was born. Adonis was also said to have died and been reborn.”

We are going up the steps of one particular three-story building. Although the building is rundown, it has a simple dignity, built with white stone that Yusaf says goes back to the days of the Ottomans.

Inside the building we go up a flight of stairs and Yusaf unlocks one of the doors.

Marhaba!” a female voice calls out, before appearing in a doorway.

Miriam is a female version of her brother, but her hair is longer. She looks startled but Yusaf is quick to explain that he found me at a checkpoint talking to God and thought he should offer me shelter.

Miriam’s smile is open and inviting. Perhaps her brother often brings home stray travellers.

“She has the most interesting life I have ever heard,” he adds before saying he has to take care of some things. He leaves us alone to get acquainted.

Miriam makes some peppermint tea and I end up telling my story all over again.

She says that, of course they will take me to the Jordan River and we will talk about Jesus and we will pray together and look around Bethlehem . . .

I think this is great, but as I see more of their apartment, I realize that they're really poor. I don't want to impose on them.

But Miriam is already showing me to a bedroom. It's tiny and has a cot and a little dresser. I say I don't want to take anyone's room but she says it is there for visitors. With her brother being a priest, they often have people stay with them.

“Our God provides, Meg,” she says, smiling. And that's when I know it's OK. They don't have a lot, but they have faith.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

 

F

or dinner we have pita bread, hummus and a spinach yoghurt salad.

We sit around a small kitchen table.

Yusaf tells me about the Christians here in Bethlehem. Many of them have been here for hundreds of years, maybe even right back to the days of the early church.

“Things are not good, not good,” Yusaf shakes his head.

“In his parish,” explains Miriam.

“His parish?”

“The Church of St. Catherine,” explains Miriam. “It is part of the Church of the Nativity. The local Church used to be large. But these are hard times and even the Church suffers.”

“Is that because of that wall?” I ask.

Miriam nods.

“Partly. Tourists don't come here anymore like they used to. Many people had little souvenir shops near the Church of the Nativity. But now the tourists are scared to cross the checkpoints and they hear the news that we have suicide bombers and that we throw stones . . .”

“Meg wasn't afraid,” says Yusaf.

“I don't watch the news,” I explain. “I don't really know much about all of this . . .”

“With much knowledge there is much sorrow,” says Miriam. “Suleiman said that. I think it is better not to know everything.”

“You have been a great encouragement to me, Meg,” says Yusaf. “I know I found you praying, but what I didn't tell you was that I had just said a prayer. I had to cross over to Jerusalem to see a man who had lived here once. He had some business he wanted me to do for him, but that is not the point. As I crossed over the checkpoint, I prayed that God would give me a sign that he was still here with me in this forgotten land. We are the forgotten Church, Meg. The Christians in the West send their money to help the Jews rebuild Jerusalem but we live here, occupied.”

“And forgotten,” agrees Miriam, standing up to put the kettle on.

“But then, there you were, standing there praying out loud.” Yusaf smiles. “It was all I needed to know that God hadn't forgotten me. And that's all that matters.”

“That's how I feel,” I say, leaning forward. “I need to know God is with me. I know he's with Harry. But I have to get to know him myself.”

“That is wise,” says Miriam, nodding as she puts coffee grinds into a brass Arabic-style coffee-pot.

“I need to get baptized,” I say. “And I need to get baptized where Jesus did. I’m meeting Harry in a week.”

“Under normal circumstances, it would take some time,” says Yusuf. “There are classes, you know.”

“Classes?”

“For catechumens. Disciples.”

I must look dismayed because his tone reassures me.

“But if you promise me to take those classes when you return home, I will baptize you.”

I promise.

“I’m sure there’s probably a Catholic Church near my house. I’ll ask Harry to ask his priest or something. I’ll have to go Mass every week, right?”

Miriam smiles broadly as she and Yusaf exchange a look.

“What?” I say.

“You will attend Mass without Harry?”

I nod.

“We don’t live close together.”

Yusaf is happy.

He explains, “I had only one concern. That you might be becoming Catholic for Harry. But now I know that isn’t that case. Tomorrow we will take you to the Jordan,” Yusaf promises. “It has been a long time since I baptized anyone.”

 

The cot is not the most comfortable bed I've slept in. But what makes it hard to sleep is reliving the events of the day in my mind.

I've realized to my horror that I have walked away from Harry. I only have the money in my wallet. He's got the credit card. And the plane tickets home. But despite the insanity of it, I seem to have come out OK. I'm not sleeping in the streets and tomorrow I'm going to be baptized in the Jordan River!

Breakfast is pita bread, some sliced tomatoes and some sliced cucumbers, along with a milky cup of coffee.

“This is really good,” I say, between mouthfuls. “Tomatoes in Canada don't taste this good, and I never eat cucumbers but I really like these ones.”

“We have a little garden out back,” says Miriam. “I picked them this morning.”

“That's what it is,” I say, nodding. “Who knows how old the tomatoes are by the time I eat them at home?”

Miriam says Yusaf had to go to see one of his parish people but will be back in time to catch the bus to Jericho.

“You mean, like the place where the walls came down?”

“That's the one,” says Miriam smiling. “From there we will take a taxi to a spot where you can go right into the river. Not every spot is safe. Some parts are deep.”

“Miriam?” I say. I'm thinking this is going to cost money and I want to contribute some of what I've got in my wallet. “You'll let me pay for the taxi and stuff, right?”

Miriam hesitates.

“Yusaf won't, no,” she says. “It is a matter of honour to Arabs to show their guests hospitality.”

“But I want to do something,” I say. “I'm a Christian now and that makes us connected, right?”

“We're sisters now, Meg.”

“Then we're family and families help one another.”

“They do,” agrees Miriam.

“Then let me pay for . . .”

Miriam shakes her head.

“Yusaf will not permit it.”

“But Harry . . .” I'm trying to put it into words. “I think Harry would want me to share our money with our brothers and sisters here. And Yusaf said that the Christians in the West send all their money to the Jews and forget about the people here.”

Miriam smiles as she picks up my plate and takes it to the sink.

“There are a lot of needs here, yes.”

I go to my little room and get my knapsack. I bring it into the kitchen and open it up. My wallet has two-hundred American dollars in it. Harry gave it to me before we came and said we'd exchange it in Jerusalem.

I hold onto ten dollars, just to get me back to the American Colony Hotel, wherever that is. I give the rest to Miriam.

“Meg, this is too much,” she says, just standing there.

“No it's not,” I say, forcing her to take the money.

It's that voice inside of me again. The one that said, just do it! And it's not enough. Now it's saying, give it all.

I look at the last ten dollars in my hand. And I give that too.

“I can't take this,” says Miriam.

“You have to,” I say. “You know how I told you all about the Laircassle ghost and how God just gave me this calm feeling. I could have panicked but every time I chose to be calm, everything was OK?”

She nods.

“Well, that's what's happening to me now. I could panic. But God's giving me a calm feeling and telling me to give it all.”

Miriam sighs.

“Well, I can't argue with God.”

She gets an old tin down from the top shelf and rolls the money up inside of it and puts it back up high.

“Thank you, Meg,” she says.

We hear Yusaf coming in the front door and Miriam quickly removes an apron and hurries to get ready to go out.

I zip up my knapsack and return it to the little room.

“OK! OK!” Yusaf is calling out. “Let's not miss our bus!”

And he hustles us out of there with Miriam still slipping on a shoe.

We hurry down the street back to the spot where Yusaf and I got off the bus yesterday. This time we are on the other side of the road and we barely get there in time because the bus is coming down the road. Miriam is right. Yusaf pays for our tickets without even looking at me.

The bus is crowded so Miriam and I sit together while Yusaf joins an older woman loaded down with bags.

“Uh, should I have brought a change of clothes?” I say.

Miriam laughs.

“I don't think Yusaf gave us enough time for that.”

“I guess I don't have to worry about pneumonia,” I say. After the spring chill of Edinburgh, I'm feeling the heat of the Middle East. It's only April but with the intense sun it feels like a summer day in Canada.

“Not in Jericho,” agrees Miriam. “It is one of the hottest places in Palestine. The archaeologists go there in the winter months. It is too hot to work in the summer.”

“Did Jesus ever go to Jericho?” I say.

“He passed through there. It is close to where he was baptized. Do you know the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus?”

I shake my head.

“He was a tax collector in Jericho. He was a short man and when Isa was passing through he climbed a sycamore tree in order to see over the crowds.”

“Jesus, I mean Isa, was pretty popular?”

Miriam nods. “A lot of people followed him or wanted to see why people followed him. Zacchaeus wasn't considered a righteous man but Isa looked up and told Zacchaeus that he would eat at his place that night. Zacchaeus was very happy but everybody grumbled that Isa was going to eat at the home of a sinner.”

“Why did he?”

“When they were eating at his house, Zacchaeus said that he would give half of his goods to the poor and pay back anyone he had cheated, four times. And Isa said that salvation had come to this house and that he had come to look for and to save the lost.”

“That's a good story,” I say. “I've only seen the movie The Gospel of John. I guess Zacchaeus is in one of the other books.”

“Do you have a Bible?”

“Harry does. He'll let me read it when we get back together.”

Most of the people on the bus get off at Jericho.

Yusaf is going to get a cab but I say, if the Jordan is close maybe we could walk.

He hesitates.

“We can do it, yes, but it is a long way.”

“I don't mind,” I say.

I really don't want Yusaf having to pay for a cab ride. And besides, I like walking.

Yusaf says fine, but that he's going to buy us some water. He goes over to a road-side vendor and comes back with three large bottles of water.

“Let's go down this road,” says Yusaf, pointing to a smaller, dustier road than the main one. “There is an Israeli checkpoint down the other one.”

Occasionally a car goes by and we have to move over to the side, but the road is unpaved and anyone who values their car wouldn't bring it down this rough track.

We pass other Arabs on the way. One of them even has a donkey loaded with baskets.

The closer we get to the Jordan, the greener things get. And there are more trees. In the distance, I can even see the river.

But we have a ways to go and Yusaf makes us stop and drink our water.

“I'm sorry I made you walk so far,” I say. “I'm enjoying myself, but I kind of dragged you guys along . . .”

Yusaf laughs. He's a bit ahead of us but he turns to say, “This is an answer to prayer, Meg. To walk like this to the Jordan River, to the spot where Isa was baptized . . . it makes my faith feel alive again. Isa walked all over this country and sometimes I forget that when I'm on the bus.”

“We used to have a car,” says Miriam. “But it just fell apart. At the end of its life it was held together with string and chewing gum!”

I laugh.

“But it is good for me to walk like this,” Yusaf calls over his shoulder. “To remember that this was the only way for Isa to get around too!”

I'm glad he feels that way because we've got the long walk back.

But the closer we get to the Jordan, the more I'm not thinking about stuff like that.

When we get to the river, to the spot where Jesus was baptized, I can tell there have been many more like me who have come here. Little shelters have been built to protect people from the sun while they wait. There are stone steps going down into the water.

“It looks like they can handle a lot of people,” I say, as we stop by the edge.

“Whole bus loads come here sometimes,” says Yusaf.

But today it's quiet.

I'm glad.

Not that I care about other people seeing me. It just feels more real not having to get in a long line to be baptized.

Yusaf is slipping off his sandals and taking his wallet out of a pocket. Miriam is kicking off her shoes.

“We will go with you, yes?” she says, smiling.

I nod.

I almost feel like I'm going to cry. This is really real. I was sort of a Christian but now I'm going to be a real Christian. And the funny thing is, I'm not doing this for Harry. Otherwise, I would want him here. I'm glad he's far away because I know I'm doing this for myself.

I unlace my boots and take off my socks and then down we all go into the water.

Yusaf says a prayer in English. He thanks God for my faith and for bringing Meg into his and Miriam's life as an encouragement. He asks that my walk with God be blessed with grace and favour. Then he asks that God fill me with his spirit, the same spirit that was in his son. And then I'm dunked under the water. For a moment I remember that scene in The Gospel of John when Jesus, Isa, is coming out of the water, and I feel totally connected, with God, with his Son, with everything. And then I'm up again, and we're laughing and Miriam gives me a hug.

We go back up on shore and try to dry off, as much as people can without towels, and then it's shoes on for the long hike back.

By the time we get to Jericho, we're dry. Crumpled, but dry.

And starving.

Yusaf says we will have lunch in Jericho and leads us to one of the, what he calls, “garden restaurants.” This is a farming area, I realize, as we sit down under the shade of a large tree in one of the restaurants with outdoor seating.

“We will have a full mezze,” he says. “To celebrate!”

“So nice today,” murmurs Miriam. “In a month it will be too hot to sit out here.”

Mezze, as it turns out, is an Arabic spread of vegetables in the form of salads, an assortment of dips and a pile of pita bread to dip into them. There are also some stuffed pastries. Everything is aromatic, loaded with herbs and spices. I would love it even if I weren't famished.

When we're finished, Miriam takes my hand and we stroll around Jericho a bit while Yusaf talks to the proprietor of the restaurant who knew their father when he was alive. We walk through the town itself and then Miriam shows me the famous walls. It's really just a giant archaeological site for tourists to visit. The walls don't even seem high because there has been so much construction on top of it since the days of Joshua. You actually end up looking down at them.

“That is how it is here,” says Miriam. “New people come and build on top of the old.”

“So then, theoretically, there could be archaeological proof that Jesus visited here?” I say. “The kind that would convince Dr. Owen?”

Mumkin,” says Miriam. “Possible.”

That's my second Arabic word, mumkin.

We rejoin Yusaf and get into the line for the bus.

When we get back to their apartment, Miriam says I can stay with them as long as I need to.

“Thank you!” I say. “I have to meet Harry back in Jerusalem in a week. Well, six days now.”

“Would you like to meet some of the Christians here?” Yusaf asks.

“I'd love to!” I say.

“Good. We will do it tomorrow. They will enjoy meeting you.”

It's been a long day and we all agree we're exhausted. Miriam makes us some peppermint tea to finish the day off and then we all go to bed.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

 

 

 

T

he first family Yusaf and Miriam take me to meet is Mikhal, his wife, Hawwa, and their six children. Also living with them is Hawwa's parents.

They have a three bedroom apartment.

Mikhal is a day-labourer in Jerusalem, which means that sometimes he can get work on construction sites there. In better times his family had a souvenir shop near Manger Square. Mikhal's brother has moved to Kuwait where the work is steadier. He and his family attend Mass every day at St. Catherine’s.

We drink tea and eat dates while Hawwa tells me about the children. The older ones are at school today. The three youngest are still at home. But she worries about their future. An educated Arab in Palestine doesn't always get a job. So many young people just give up and move to Amman or some of the other Arab capitals.

“We have families who have lived here since Roman times,” Mikhal says. “But we cannot survive on air.”

It's kind of depressing, but the kids are so cute. They giggle and watch me. Two girls and a boy. The older girl rushes over to me and whispers, “I like your hair!” And then she rushes back to her mother.

After a lot of smiling, the boy, who's the youngest, comes over and sits on my lap. He has wavy black hair and dark eyes.

That gives the girls an excuse to be brave and they come over to me. The older one asks if she can braid my hair.

I say, “Sure.”

Her mom tells her not to bother me, but I say it's fine, I don't mind. So the girls braid my hair while the boy snuggles on my lap.

The adults talk and seem to find comfort in just being able to talk. We're there for about two hours and the kids and I are both sad when we go.

I hug Hawwa and her children and she says she will pray for me.

That makes me think. I can pray for them. And that will keep us connected.

“I'll pray for all of you too,” I say sincerely.

“You've just met a third of my little flock,” says Yusaf when we're out in the street again.

Our next stop is to visit with two carpenters, brothers, Yahya, and Petra. They have a little workshop in the back of their small house. Their elderly mother lives in the house and they look after her.

We visit with the men. They use olive wood that is trimmed from nearby trees and make small items. Things like jewellery boxes, camels, crosses, Christmas tree ornaments, and nativity sets.

Miriam suggests that she and I go visit with their mother, Amala, in the house.

On our way from the workshop to the house Miriam tells me that Yusaf helps Yahya and Petra sell their products on eBay. They used to sell them in the souvenir store belonging to Mikhal's family.

Amala is happy to see Miriam. She clasps her hands and kisses her on both cheeks. Then she does the same to me when Miriam tells her I'm a new believer from Canada.

She's very old, but urges us to come into the kitchen and she makes us tea. Along with it, we have some almond cookies.

Amala is very happy to hear that I just got baptized in the Jordan yesterday.

Mabrook! Mabrook!” she says to me. It means congratulations, Miriam tells me.

So that's my third Arabic word, mabrook.

Amala tells me about her life in Bethlehem. She has lived here all her life. Her father was a caretaker in the Church of the Nativity.

She speaks in Arabic so Miriam translates.

The Christian community used to be much bigger and it is still special on December 25th when Christians come from all over the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But then the Christians go back home and the Christians of Bethlehem are forgotten and left to live under the occupation of the Israelis. Her boys have always stayed quiet and out of the way of trouble. Amala says it's because she prays for them every day. But she knows some mothers whose sons are in prison. Not because they did anything. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Israelis are quick to suspect any Arab if there is the slightest suspicion he was part of an attack on Israel.

Amala shakes her head and continues to speak. Miriam translates.

“But God is still good. He takes care of me and my boys. Men are bad. But no matter what, God is good.”

We all nod.

Yusaf sticks his head through the door and calls out “Marhaba!” That's hello, I think.

He comes in and gives Amala a gentle hug.

We say good-bye to Amala and she says to me, Allaah yubaarik feeki. God bless you.

“That's nice that they take care of their mom,” I say to Yusaf and Miriam when we're on the sidewalk.

“They can't afford to get married,” says Yusaf. He is carrying a box full of olive wood products.

“But we try to make sure that they can at least afford to eat,” says Miriam.

We walk back to the apartment and after a light meal of fried eggplant in tomato sauce, Yusaf goes into the living room where the box of olive wood products are. He has some orders from eBay that he has to send. I ask him if I can help.

So we spend the rest of the day carefully wrapping the crosses and the jewellery boxes. When we're done, Yusaf takes them to a post office to mail.

“It gets busier the closer we get to Christmas,” says Miriam, coming into the living room with a coffee for both of us.

“Don't be surprised if you get an order from me,” I say. “Mom and I just have a tree and some presents. We never talked about Jesus, I mean Isa, growing up.”

“Is Harry's family Christian?” asks Miriam.

“No,” I say. “He's the only one.”

“Are there a lot of Christians in Canada?”

“I don't think so. I never heard much about Christians until I met Harry. There are churches but I don't know who really goes to them. It's not a big part of our culture. More people go to a Tim Hortons on a Sunday than they do to a church.”

“Tim Hortons?”

“A doughnut shop,” I say, smiling.

“Ahhh,” says Miriam, nodding. “Pastries.”

We both laugh.

I don't know why it's funny. It just is.

 

“What's the American Colony Hotel?” I ask, the next day at breakfast. We're having some boiled eggs and some pita bread and tea. “I'm supposed to meet Harry there in four days.”

Yusaf nods.

“Interesting history. An American family, Christian, came to live there during the time the Turks ruled Palestine.”

“A long time ago?”

“Yes and no,” says Yusaf. “Not ancient history. The Ottoman Empire, the Turks, ruled for 400 years. They were defeated here during World War I by the British and the Arabs. Then the British ruled until the Israelis.”

“I didn't know any of this,” I say. “But then, I don't really know much Canadian history either.”

“History is important around here,” says Yusaf.

Miriam smiles and pours me some more tea.

“I think that Meg is more of the type of person who lives now, Yusaf.”

“In the moment, you mean?” I say.

Miriam nods.

“I saw how the children loved you. To enjoy time with children and to be able to just live everyday as if it is a new day is a blessing.”

“I agree,” says Yusaf. “It is something I forget. But the Bible says Allah's mercies are new every morning. Something else Allah is teaching me with Meg's visit.”

I guess Allah is God, the way Isa is Jesus.

“But Meg was asking about the American Colony Hotel,” Miriam reminds him.

“Ah, that's right. The American family, Spafford was their name. They had come here because they had suffered great loss and wanted to be close to God. They lost their daughters in a shipwreck and Mr. Spafford had lost all of his business in America. I don't know much more than that. The tourists go there because Mr. Spafford wrote a famous hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.”

“I don't know it,” I say.

“You will still enjoying seeing the hotel. It was a palace belonging to a Turkish pasha and his four wives.”

Hellu kteer,” says Miriam. “Very beautiful.”

“Will I be able to meet more Christians today?”

“Tomorrow,” says Yusaf. “We will go to Mass in the morning. And some of our flock will come back here for lunch.”

“I will do some baking and cooking today,” says Miriam. “Do you want to help?”

“Of course,” I say.

Yusaf goes out. I notice he’s not wearing his robe but is dressed like an ordinary man. And he has a hard hat tucked under his arm.

Miriam is vague about what he does. But I get the impression that some days he does construction work to make some extra money because Miriam says, “It is hard to get steady work under the occupation.”

Miriam takes me out with her to do some food shopping.

“It's that wall,” I say. I didn't notice it before but the grey concrete wall runs right along the outskirts of Bethlehem.

Miriam nods.

“That's what cuts us off from the world.”

Miriam shows me the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square. There is one tourist bus parked nearby. Miriam says it used to be more like ten this time of year.

“Do you want to go in?” she asks. “I could wait here.”

I hesitate.

“Would it be proof that Jesus, I mean, Isa, was born here?” I’m really asking for Harry’s sake. I feel like my knowledge of God is more centred on the fact that I can talk to him and that he actually talks back.

Miriam laughs.

“No, not really. But Church tradition is pretty reliable.”

“Are traditions real?” I ask. “I mean, how do you know if it’s not just made up?”

We keep walking. Even if there's no sign that says “Isa was here,” the old stone walls and the narrow streets make it easy to imagine that he was. Most Arabs are wearing Western clothing, but there are still the older ones with the robes and the head-coverings.

Miriam doesn’t seem disturbed by my questions. “We have many historical records. The Church Fathers wrote a lot of it down for us. And there are other historical records,” she continues. “From outside of the Church. They tell us that Isa was a preacher and a miracle worker and that some considered him the Messiah. I will ask Yusaf the names for you, if you like.”

I nod. “That would be great.”

Now we're in a busy market area. There are big sacks of spices and piles of vegetables. Miriam is selecting zucchini and eggplant and pointing out all sorts of things to me, olives, dates, big piles of Turkish Delight. Miriam selects some onions and some garlic, as well as something she calls bulgar. It kind of looks like rice, but Miriam says it is wheat and she will use it in a salad. That reminds her to get some lemons and some olive oil.

Now that we're loaded down, we take a more direct route back to the apartment.

We put the purchases inside and then go out back to the small garden. The apartment has a communal courtyard and people are free to have little plots to grow things. There are lots of them back there. Miriam leads me to one that has cucumbers and tomatoes and she picks what's ripe and passes it to me.

Back in the kitchen, Miriam gets me started on a tabbouleh salad, using the bulgar, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice and olive oil.

She gets some flour and sugar out of a cupboard and starts on some cookies. They are similar to North American ones except that she puts more spices in them, things like cinnamon and cardamom and even rose water.

Yusaf doesn't come back for lunch.

“That means he found something,” murmurs Miriam.

In the afternoon, we make a lot of pita bread. And then Miriam shows me how to make hummus from scratch, with chickpeas and olive oil and lemon juice. There's something called tahini which is sesame seed paste. And then she shows me which spices to put in, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.

“There, that's done,” says Miriam, wiping her hands on her apron. “Now we have to think of dinner!”

She shows me how to fry up the eggplant and the zucchini, mixed with tomatoes and onions and garlic, plus the spices. It's nearly done when Yusaf comes into the kitchen looking tired but cheerful. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out some money. Then he stretches up to get the tin on the top shelf. When he sees the money in it, his eyebrows go up, but he doesn't say anything. He just adds his money to the tin and closes it up again.

We eat the vegetables with some of the pita bread we made.

“Did you ladies keep busy?” asks Yusaf.

“I learned how to cook,” I say.

Miriam looks at me with surprise.

“You never cook at home?”

“No,” I say. “Mom and I survive on microwave dinners.”

“Well!” says Miriam looking pleased. “Now you will have some new things to try on Harry, yes?”

I turn bright red and they both laugh.

Miriam tells him about our conversation today and asks him the names of historians who wrote about Jesus.

Yusaf nods between bites.

“Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions him. He is also referred to in their Babylonian Talmud. But it wasn’t just the Jews. There is also Tacitus, the Roman historian, as well as Pliny the Younger. Those are just the ones I can remember. There are many more.”

Yusaf is too tired to do anything but go straight to bed right after dinner. I help Miriam clean up in the kitchen and then she and I have a coffee in the living room.

She asks me lots of questions about life in Canada. And I find out that she used to be engaged to marry a man, but he ended up going to a university in America and not coming back.

“He wanted me to live there,” she says. “And I almost went. But somehow, I could not leave here. Because I knew if I did, I'd never come back.”

“Are you sorry you stayed here?” I ask.

“Maybe sometimes. But I would have been sorrier to go. The needs are great here. And Yusaf needs me. Also, I don't think I could have really loved a man who could forget his home here.”

“I think I understand,” I say.

“Meg, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“It is personal.”

“I don't mind.”

Miriam hesitates.

“If Allah did not want you to be with Harry, would that be OK with you?”

I nod.

“Are you sure?”

“I've known that ever since I met Harry. Harry's been like a saint. It's like . . . it's like, he belongs to God.”

Miriam nods.

“It doesn't matter,” I say. “God has been talking to me. So whether Harry and I end up together doesn't change that.”

“That is good,” says Miriam, nodding. “I just needed to know, I guess, because we shared your baptism.”

“I understand,” I say. “And I'm glad I'm here.”

“I'm glad you're here too, Meg.”

 

Yusuf and Miriam wake me up early. There is only time for a quick coffee before we are out the door. Apparently I have to do something called confession before I can participate in something called the Eucharist. Yusuf explains along the way. In the confessional booth, I will tell the priest all my sins…

All my sins?” I say. “That could take awhile.”

“He will understand,” says Yusuf, grinning. “Just tell him it’s your first confession and that you are sorry for all your sins. He will ask you to do penance, which will probably be prayer. Miriam will help you. I will have to help with the Mass.”

Miriam takes over as Yusuf, back in his robe today, hurries to join the other priests once we arrive at the Church. There is a short line for the confessional booth and we join it. Miriam goes in first and is in and out in under a minute. No surprise there. I didn’t notice her doing any sinning since I met her.

I take a little longer. Thankfully, I’ve seen movies where it’s done. The kind of movies where someone gets murdered in the confessional and the priest has to solve the mystery. This time, though, nothing like that happens and I tell the man behind the screen that it’s my first confession and that I’m pretty sure I’ve committed every sin in the book and that I’m sorry for all of it. He blesses me and then tells me my penance is to pray a decade of the Rosary.

I have no idea how to do that, but Miriam takes me to one of the pews and we kneel down. She pulls out some beads that look like a necklace and shows me how to pray on them. Decade means ten, she explains, showing me the first ten beads. A whole Rosary has five decades. She starts with the crucifix and we pray something called the Apostles’ Creed. She takes me through the other beads teaching me the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. I finish off my decade just as other people are entering the Church and taking their places in the pews.

It’s a good thing she taught me those prayers because during the service, we say them out loud. There are other prayers and then a priest gives a talk. And then it is time for the Eucharist. It’s all a bit overwhelming but I just follow Miriam and a priest gives me a sip of wine and a wafer. From what he says, it is the real blood and body of Christ. It’s pretty intense and I feel like it’s all very important. For just one brief moment I think of Harry. I hope he’s somewhere doing this too.

After the Mass, we head back on foot without Yusaf.

People start arriving at around noon.

Miriam says people will come and go all day. The Arab sense of time is a little different than the Western sense of time. There's no such thing as being late.

An older couple arrive first. Their names are Shamwil and Rida. They are quiet and only speak Arabic. Miriam serves them tea and when Yusaf returns, he prays with them.

I help Miriam lay the food out on the table. She's added a beautiful embroidered tablecloth to it, which completely transforms it from a kitchen table into something elegant.

Then Mikhal and his family arrive and it isn't quiet anymore. Now there are six children. The younger kids rush over to me because we're old friends. The three older children that I haven't met are two boys and a girl. The two boys keep to themselves but the older girl has heard all about my hair and wants to have a go at braiding it. Their mom, Hawwa, tells them again not to bug me and I tell her again that I don't mind.

The youngest girl has brought a picture Bible. She wants me to read it to her, but of course, I don't read Arabic. But thankfully, I have read Genesis and I've seen The Gospel of John, so I know some of the stories and we look at the pictures. I point to Noah and his ark and they say, “Nuh.” I guess that's Noah.

They tell me all the names of the animals in Arabic and I tell them the names in English.

The adults do a lot of praying together. And eating. Miriam is busy making tea and coffee. I would help her but the little girls all have a portion of my hair that they're working on so I can't move. The little boy is on my lap, just sucking his thumb and looking around.

Other people come and go. There's a young couple. And an older man. Amala and her sons. They all want to pray.

In fact, that's what seems most important to Hawwa too. Her kids are bitterly disappointed when it's time to go. I can only imagine what I look like with patches of my hair half-braided. The younger kids all hug me and when Hawwa is hugging me, she pulls back and looks into my eyes.

“Please, pray for me and for my children, yes?”

I promise that I will.

Then the apartment is quiet again and Miriam and I clean up and put away the dishes. Miriam shakes out the tablecloth and carefully folds it away for another week.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

 

 

 

M

iriam uses our remaining time together to teach me Arabic cooking.

I learn how to make lentil soup. Then we take it over to one member of the parish who wasn't able to make it out on Sunday. His name is Ayub and Miriam says no one knows how old he is. His family were Bedouins but had to settle down in one spot when their grazing land ended up inside of Israel. He married a girl from Bethlehem and they had a family, but his wife has passed on and his children are scattered all over the Arab world.

Ayub is happy to have the soup. Miriam gives him a bowl and then puts the rest in his tiny refrigerator. He doesn't even have a kitchen. Just a cupboard and a refrigerator in the corner.

He only speaks Arabic so all I can say is “Marhaba,” to him. Miriam teaches me to say good-bye, which is ma as-salaama, literally, with peace.

 

Then the day comes when I'm supposed to meet Harry.

Yusaf and Miriam walk me to the bus stop. I guess by now Yusaf knows I have no money because he pays my fare before hopping back off the bus. Miriam hands me a bag of Arabic cookies and a bottle of water. I hug Miriam and shake Yusaf's hand. The bus won’t wait so I have to hurry to get on.

“God bless you, Meg!” Miriam calls out. We’re all crying. I’m going to miss them like crazy.

Allaah yubaarik feek!” I call back, hoping I get it right. I must because they're both smiling and waving.

And then they're out of sight and I'm on the road to Jerusalem.

 

The bus stops and turns around at the checkpoint, so anyone who wants to cross over has to do it on foot. Harry and I never set a time, which is good because it takes a long time at the checkpoint. It's sometime after lunch by the time I'm back in Israel. I've eaten all of Miriam's cookies and drank half the water.

And there's still a long walk ahead of me.

I have to ask my way to the American Colony Hotel. Everyone knows where it is, I'm just really good at taking wrong turns. I actually end up wandering through the Old City. It's full of narrow old roads and lots of shops with smiling Arabs. There are tourists here. I guess because we're on the other side of that grey wall. I walk right past the Dome of the Rock. Lots of Jews are praying down in front of it, facing this big white stone wall. Finally, I find a road out of the Old City and am back in the modern section of Jerusalem. Another request for directions and I find out the American Colony Hotel is nearby.

It looks just as ancient as some of the buildings in the Old City. But everything is well kept and there are trees and bushes and flowers in the front. It's clearly a luxury hotel judging by the clientele that are going in and coming out.

I probably look pretty scruffy from my long walk. I wonder if they'll even let me in the front door. I might have to join a street vendor across the road and just wait for Harry from there.

Some people glance at me as I walk through the lobby. The place has a look of eastern elegance to it. The floors are a tiled stone, the ceiling is a painted antique wood and the furniture looks solid and comfortable, especially after how long I've been on my feet. There are large potted plants that give the whole area a feeling of being an oasis. In one direction is a large courtyard. From here it looks like it might be a restaurant.

I look around.

They probably won't let a dusty backpacker sit in their lobby for long.

“Meg!”

“Harry!”

I run across the lobby and we hug.

I'm so relieved to see him. Part of me was afraid that maybe we'd never reconnect again.

“Look at you!” he says, pulling back to stare down at me. “Did you walk here?!”

I nod.

“Part of the way, yeah.”

“You look like you need to rest,” says Harry. He's let go of me, as if he's remembered we're just business associates, nothing more.

“Yeah, I could sit down,” I say.

He leads me to the inner courtyard of the hotel. It has so many plants and small trees that it's a garden, really. Absolutely lovely. Miriam was right. Hellu kteer.

They have tables scattered here and there where people are drinking tea and eating sandwiches.

We sit down at an empty table for two and Harry orders the afternoon tea.

“So . . .” I say. “How did it go? Any luck?”

Harry shakes his head.

“All I found out is that the whole city was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. And then they rebuilt it once they bulldozed away all the rubble. Well, not bulldozed. They didn't have bulldozers. Slave labour, I guess.”

“But there must be something left,” I say.

“Yeah, there was some pavement from the 1st century. It's under a nunnery. A game scratched into the pavement by bored Roman soldiers.”

“Well, that's something.”

“It has nothing to do with Jesus though. I talked to some archaeologist guy staying here at the hotel. He said that Jesus was a common name in the first century. So even if I find the name scratched in the pavement somewhere, it doesn't mean much.”

He's really discouraged. This is totally not the time to tell him I've become a Christian.

“How 'bout you?” he says.

“No,” I shake my head. “I talked to some Christians in Bethlehem. They believe the birth site is authentic.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Not the kind of proof that could persuade Dr. Owen.”

It's nice to be back together again but I've never seen Harry so discouraged.

“I dunno, Meg,” he continues, looking around the courtyard without seeing it. “I thought I could do this. I thought I could just come over here and solve the greatest mystery of history. Did Jesus exist? I mean, I didn't even think it was a mystery. I thought the proof would be dripping off the walls.”

“Well, those walls around that Old City are pretty old,” I say.

Our tea has arrived.

I eagerly reach for a sandwich.

“But that's just it!” says Harry, not even noticing the food. “They aren't! They were built at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. Jesus never even saw those walls!”

“Isa,” I say, swallowing most of the finger sandwich in one bite.

“What?”

“Isa,” I say. “That's what the Arabs call him.”

Harry slaps the table in frustration.

“That's exactly what I mean!” he says. “We don't even have his name right! That archaeologist I talked to said the Hebrew way of saying his name is Yeshua and the Greek way is Yehsue. So he never heard the name 'Jesus' in his whole life.”

“Why's he called Christ?” I ask, biting into a cucumber sandwich.

“It just means Messiah. It wasn't even a name. We say Jesus Christ. But it would be more accurate to say Jesus the Christ.”

“Oh, I get it,” I say.

I'm looking over the tarts. I reach for one with kiwi.

I'm in the middle of it when I realize that Harry is staring at me.

“Do I have custard on my face?” I say, quickly reaching for a serviette.

“No. I was just wondering if you're going to run off like that again.”

I swallow and shake my head.

“Nope,” I say, reaching for the teapot. “One time thing.”

The Jordan River was on the other side of that wall. But God and I got that taken care of.

“Good,” says Harry. “Because it wasn't very fun investigating without you.”

I nod.

I feel a bit guilty. I never missed Harry. I was too busy meeting the Christians of Bethlehem.

“Do you have a place to stay?” I ask.

“Yeah, here,” says Harry.

Here?” I say, looking around. “It must have cost a bloody fortune.”

Harry shrugs.

“Well, this is where you said you'd be, so this is where I stayed until you showed up.”

Wow.

I guess we have money in the bank. I never asked Harry for my share. I never really cared. But after this is over I think I'll see what I can do to help the Christians on the other side of that grey wall.

That reminds me of something.

“Wasn't there a first-century home in Nazareth?”

“Yeah,” says Harry. “But it's just any home. It doesn't have 'This is the home of Joseph and Mary, mother of Jesus' written on the doorpost, or anything. Dr. Owen might concede that the events of the Bible are probable. But he’ll probably say that the archaeology only shows that it's possible that Jesus lived, but not that he actually did.”

Harry finally seems to notice that there's tea in front of him and he starts eating.

I want to tell him about all the historical records that talk about Jesus but then I would have to tell him the whole long story and that could take awhile. I’m willing to start now but Harry is rushing through this meal and saying that now that we're back together, we'll move to some place that's a bit cheaper.

The American Colony Hotel is on Nablus Road. Harry pulls out his guidebook and discovers another place on Nablus Road that's about a third of the price. It's called the Jerusalem Hotel. He knocks back a cup of tea and stands, saying all he has to do is go back to his room to get his knapsack.

My jaw drops when I see the room he's been staying in. The floor is covered in what looks like Persian carpets. The ceiling is gold and blue. The furniture is solid wood, including some elegant octagonal inlaid mother-of-pearl tables tastefully placed here and there. There are prints of old Jerusalem, framed in gold, on the walls.

“Wow! Look at this place,” I say, wandering through the rooms, checking everything out.

Harry shrugs as he tosses a sweater into his knapsack and grabs his Bible from one of the mother-of-pearl coffee tables.

“It's not much fun alone,” he says.

He slings his knapsack over his shoulder and we head back to the lobby so that he can check-out.

By the time we get to the Jerusalem Hotel, it's getting dark. It's a lot like the American Colony Hotel, just on a smaller scale. It's also a remodelled home with that look of eastern elegance. It has the heavy wood furniture, high ceilings and stone walls. It even has a garden café.

Harry books us two rooms.

We're too full from tea to eat so we meet in Harry's room and play some Rummy.

“What should we do tomorrow?” I say.

“I dunno,” says Harry. “I feel better now that you're here. But I have no idea how to go about this.”

“Well, don't people come here to walk the same streets that Jesus walked?” I say, putting down a three of hearts, a four of hearts and a five of hearts. Then I discard a card. Harry adds a six of hearts to my row.

“Yeah, except that they're not the stones he walked on.”

“That Dome of the Rock thing looks cool,” I say.

Harry starts to laugh.

“What?” I say, looking up from my cards.

“The Dome of the Rock has nothing to do with Jesus,” he says. “It's the Muslim holy site.”

I shrug and then I start to laugh.

Then we're both laughing.

It's good to be back together again.

 

Harry has his guidebook out, just to figure out where the Via Dolorosa starts and finishes. The whole route is in the Old City and it ends with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, not surprising since that's where Jesus was crucified and buried.

There are things called Stations of the Cross, fourteen of them, where you're supposed to stop and pray at spots because something important happened there. Harry understands it all because, as he explains, back in his parish they have Stations of the Cross in the Church and they go around them at Easter. I’ll be doing that in the future, I think. But at the moment, he’s having a hard time figuring it all out in the guidebook.

That’s OK because I like looking around and enjoying the people and the ambiance. The Arab shops are full of brassware and leather goods and all sorts of gorgeous scarves and tablecloths. I ask Harry for some money to buy a tablecloth for my mother. It reminds me of Miriam's.

At some point I plan to tell Harry all about my adventures in Bethlehem and how I was baptized in the Jordan, but the streets are too busy. And then we get lost.

We're way off of the Via Dolorosa, although we're still somewhere in the Old City.

“This looks newer,” I say, looking around. I realize there aren't any Arabs around. But there are a lot of those kinds of Jews that wear the black coats and have the curls over their ears, kind of like Fiddler on the Roof.

“Ahh, I don't really care,” says Harry. He's been trying to figure out where we are in the guidebook, but then he looks up at me and when he speaks, it’s with intensity. “The Church has been here for two thousand years and knows where the sites are. She has thousands of holy relics that go right back to the first-century. But for some reason, only the faithful really believe it. I mean, it’s not a case of not enough history, it’s a case of there being an overwhelming amount of history. All I should really have to do is hand this guidebook to the doctor back in Edinburgh and he can read it all for himself, but he won’t belive it.”

Emphatically, he tosses the guidebook into a nearby garbage can.

I've never seen him like this.

He starts walking, his stride long, and I have to practically run to keep up. Soon we're back in an Arab section. It's like the market in Bethlehem. Lots of spices. Piles of fruits and vegetables and rice and bulgar. Platters of Arab pastries. Little coffee houses with a whole line of older men sitting outside wearing traditional Arab robes and keffiyahs, but combined with Western-style suit jackets.

“I like it here,” I say. I really want to take his hand, to comfort him. “I like the people who are here now. Who cares if you can’t convince a guy about something that happened here two thousand years ago? There are people here now who still believe it all.”

“But you don't understand, Meg,” says Harry, stopping. “You're not a Christian.”

I open my mouth to protest.

“You don't have to worry about this,” Harry goes on. “You don't have to try to convince people that Jesus existed. If people knew he existed and was who he said he was, then they'd have to accept his message.”

I think about this.

I'm not really sure that it's true.

Logically, if he did live two thousand years ago, then people knew he existed then. But they still didn't accept his message.

But Harry's already striding down a narrow street.

I chase after him.

“Wait, Harry!”

He turns around.

“Meg, this whole trip was a failure. And I'm sorry I dragged you along. It was just a stupid attempt on my part to prove my faith to someone. Now I see I can't. We've wasted time. We've wasted money. And I'm sorry.”

He turns and keeps going. I don't even think he knows where he's going. But he's moving too fast for me to keep up. And soon he just disappears. I round a corner and I have no idea which narrow alleyway he went down.

I left Harry alone in Jerusalem. Now he’s done it to me.

 

At least I have some money.

When I asked Harry for some money to buy the tablecloth, he handed me a whole handful of Israeli shekels. I return to the street that has the fruits and vegetables and buy myself some oranges as well as some sunflower seeds. I figure I'll take them back to my hotel room and wait for Harry like he waited for me.

I say “Shukran” when the guy selling the oranges and sunflower seeds gives me some change.

He smiles and says “Afwan.” I guess that means, you’re welcome.

I wander the streets, just because I enjoy the ambiance. In fact, the oranges and sunflower seeds never make it back to the Jerusalem Hotel because I eat them on an old wooden bench. I do a Harry and even offer some oranges and half the seeds to an old man and a young boy with him, also sitting on the bench. They accept and both give me a grin.

As-salaamu 'alaykum,” the older man says to me.

I look puzzled.

The boy, who looks about eight years-old, says, “Peace to you. You say, wa 'alaykum as-salaam.”

Ah, I get it.

Wa 'alaykum as-salaam,” I say carefully.

The man nods and smiles.

“How do I say, my name is . . . ?” I ask the boy.

Ismee,” says the boy.

Ismee Meg,” I say.

Ismee Masun,” says the boy.

Ismee Abdullah,” says the older man. “Tasharrafnaa.

“Pleased to meet you,” explains Masun.

Masun and I talk while we all eat the sunflower seeds. Abdullah and Masun just spit the shells on the ground. I try to do it a little more discreetly.

Masun goes to a school in the Old City. That's where he's learned English. Someday he would like to see America.

I tell him I'm from Canada.

“Canada nice too?” he asks.

I nod.

“But I like it here,” I say, looking around. “I really do.”

Masun tells Abdullah what I've said and Abdullah nods in agreement.

When I finally make it back to the Jerusalem Hotel, I find Harry in his room, his Bible open on the bed.

“There you are,” he says. As if I was the one who took off!

“Here I am,” I agree, coming in and sitting down on one of the chairs.

“Let's just go back to Edinburgh tomorrow,” he says. “It's not working out and I can't figure out how to make it work.”

I nod.

“I understand.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Not really.” The oranges and the sunflower seeds, even shared, were enough for me.

“Neither am I.”

“Harry, should I leave you alone?”

He nods.

“Yeah, I think so. I'll call the airport and book something for tomorrow, OK?”

“OK,” I say, getting up and walking to the door. He follows me.

“Good night, Harry,” I say as I open the door, and look back at him.

“Good night, Meg.”

And he shuts the door in my face.


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

 

 

 

W

e're on standby at the Ben Gurion Airport.

Harry is determined that we're going to fly out of here today.

This morning he called for a taxi that picked us up outside the hotel and took us straight to the airport. Of course, we couldn't find out how to take a bus from Jerusalem back to Lod because his guidebook was in a trash can in the Old City.

The lady at the El Al counter says that we are not going to be able to get a direct flight to London today. (We flew out of London when we came here. El Al doesn't fly to Edinburgh) The only way we can do it is to fly to Rome, have a stopover of four hours and then catch another flight to London.

Rome! I would love to look Rome over now that I’m Catholic.

“Rome!” Harry snorts and turns to me. “Maybe the bones of St. Peter will convince Dr. Owen!”

The El Al lady's eyebrows grow up.

“How 'bout a direct flight tomorrow?” I ask her.

She nods.

“I can do it. The flight is almost full, but I can fit you in.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Is that OK?” I say to Harry.

“Yeah, sure,” says Harry, sounding indifferent.

I get all the flight info and then Harry and I move away from the El Al counter.

“What now?” I say.

“Tel Aviv?” he says.

I recall Harry saying that everything about Tel Aviv is new so there won’t be anything about Jesus there. That makes me kind of sad, but I nod. Harry needs a break from archaeology and history right now.

This time we take a bus outside of the terminal and get off right by the sea.

Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean and everything seems to be geared toward having fun. The beach is packed even though it isn't even summer yet.

All along the beach are cafés and restaurants and nightclubs.

“I don't see any Arabs here,” I say looking around.

“This is a Jewish city,” says Harry.

“Let's go swimming,” I say. Normally I'm not really one for swimming. For one thing, I have to think about things like sunburn. And, I can't help but noticing that unlike me, everyone on this beach is tanned.

“In our underwear?” says Harry, grimly.

“No, silly,” I say. “We'll get some bathing suits.” There are stores everywhere.

“OK,” says Harry, sighing.

We cross the crowded street and go into a beach store. Harry picks out some swimming trunks within five seconds. It takes me a little longer to choose something. I grab a bottle of sun block as well.

There are some large change rooms on the beach where we can also put our knapsacks in a locker.

One thing that's really strange here is how men in swimming trunks still have their machine guns slung across their backs.

“Do you swim?” Harry asks me as we walk barefoot across the beach.

“I'm lousy at it,” I say. “Doggy-paddle is about all I do. You?”

“Swimming lessons since I was five,” he says.

Figures. But at least it doesn't look too deep, at least in the shallow end.

I sort of expect we'll splash around a bit. But Harry dives right in and starts swimming out into the sea. There are other people out there but there is no way I am going to get in over my head.

Is he doing this on purpose?

I have no choice but to splash around near the shore. I only go in as far as my waist. Then I think this is ridiculous, wading around by myself, and go sit on the sand to dry out.

While I'm squeezing the water out of my hair, two guys come up to me. They're about my age. Just wearing swimming trunks. Very tanned. Very good-looking.

“Hi!” says one of them as they sit on either side me. “How are you?”

His accent is Israeli, but his English is good.

“Fine,” I say. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he says, grinning broadly.

The conversation momentarily lags.

“Do you like Israel?” ask the other guy.

“Oh yes,” I say. “It's nice.”

My answers are bordering on moronic, but they don't seem to mind. If Harry were here, he could impress them with his Hebrew. I don't even see him anymore.

“Do you like the beach?” asks the first guy.

“Well, I don't swim and I burn easily. But it's still beautiful.”

The two guys look at each other, over my head.

“Uh, would you like to go for ice cream, or something,” says the first guy.

Something in me would love to go off with them and just have a blast. Harry's in such a mood with his crisis of faith and it wasn't very friendly of him to swim off into the deep sea knowing full well that I can't swim.

But then I remember something.

I'm a Christian now!

And I'm pretty sure these guys aren't Christian.

“I really should stay here,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh come on!” says the other one, giving me a gentle punch on the arm. “We'll show you Tel Aviv! It's fun!”

They grin at me. They're both really hot. Another time and it would have been a seriously tempting offer. But I think of Yusaf and Miriam and all the people I met in Bethlehem and I just shake my head.

“Sorry,” I say. “I'm with someone.”

They shrug.

“Too bad,” says the first one. And they stand up and brush the sand off.

And that's that.

The funny thing is, when I said I was with someone, I was talking about Harry but I just know God wouldn't want me wandering off with these two guys.

Harry's back in about ten minutes, dripping in front of me.

He flops down beside me.

“You weren't lonely,” he says.

I look at him.

Was he watching me from somewhere out in the sea?

“Yeah,” I say. “The natives are friendly.”

There's a pause.

“I told them I was with someone,” I say.

“Thanks Meg.”

This seems to be a good time to tell him about my new faith and all I did in Bethlehem.

But then Harry lies back in the sand and closes his eyes.

I sigh.

Maybe on the plane.

 

We're miles apart on the plane.

We spent the night in separate rooms in a Tel Aviv hotel on the beach. We had dinner in a waterfront restaurant that had live music and dancing. Not really the type of place to quietly tell Harry about my new thing with God.

Now we're on a direct flight to London and since the plane was filled and we arrived at the airport a little later than usual, we're not together.

No one around me wants to talk and from what I can tell, no one around Harry wants to talk to him. Too bad we're not together because I really want to talk to him.

I give up all hope of telling him I'm a Christian for the next five hours and just rely on the in-flight movie to get me through. Although I do say some prayers in my head for the people of Bethlehem.

I actually consider getting up and walking the entire length of the plane to ask Harry for his Bible. But I figure, at this point in his life, he may need it more than me.

There'll be time to talk at the airport in London.

 

But there's only an hour and twenty minutes between our two flights. We had been told that we'd have a three-hour stay in London, but some kind of delay refuelling in Rome (yes, we got to pass through Rome after all) ended up shortening that stay. And since we have to pass through Customs and check-in at another airline, my plan to tell Harry that I'm Christian over a real cup of English tea falls to pieces.

But at least we get to sit together.

But all Harry talks about is this being our first failed case.

I don't really agree with him. Sure, we didn't come home with a piece of ancient tile that says 'Jesus was here' but we saw a part of the world that's important to our faith and we met a lot of people. Correction, I met a lot of people. Maybe if Harry had met some Christians, he wouldn't be feeling so discouraged.

I take a deep breath.

It's time to tell him.

The pilot comes on to say that we'll be landing in Edinburgh in ten minutes. The weather is rainy, but a warm 22 degrees Celsius.

And the flight attendant comes around to collect our plastic cups.

We land and are able to go straight out of the airport since we already went through Customs in London.

Sure enough, it's a bit drizzly.

But we're old pros in Edinburgh. We take a bus to the centre of town and then straight to the stop to wait for the one that will take us to Leith.

Arriving in Leith, we head for the waterfront and to the small museum where Dr. Owen is the curator.

Despite that it was only a drizzle, we're pretty wet when we arrive in the foyer. I miss the Palestinian sun that could dry our clothing on a walk back to the bus.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

 

 

 

W

e tell the lady at the front desk that we're here to see Dr. Owen. She goes back down the hallway and returns with him.

“Well, look at you!” he says, smiling. “What a surprise! Back so soon? But you're soaked through!”

He leads us back down the hallway where there's a little employees' lounge and a warm pot of tea.

Once he has filled our mugs, he sits down with us and asks us how it went in the Holy Land.

I’m surprised that Harry is able to pull himself together. He must have been busy reading his guidebook that week I was gone because he tells Dr. Own that the sites maintained by the Church in Jerusalem aren’t tourist traps, they’re authentic, many of them discovered by Helena, mother of Constantine.

“She came somewhat later…” interrupts Dr. Owen.

Harry is ready. He says that although Emperor Constantine’s mother visited the Holy Land in 326, local Christians were able to tell her where the site of the burial and crucifixion were.

Dr. Owen interrupts.

“Pious tradition at best.”

I lean forward.

“How about all the references to Jesus in sources other than the Bible? Josephus? Tacitus? The Babylonian Talmud?” I can’t remember the other name. Oh yeah. “Pliny the younger.” Or something like that.

Harry is just staring at me.

Dr. Owen seems to have anticipated this, though.

“What I can’t understand is, if they reported on the miracles of Jesus, why didn’t they become Christians? Surely that tells you that they probably didn’t really believe it was authentic.”

I sit back, deflated. I understand what Harry meant. Dr. Owen seems determined not to believe. Because if all those sources were Christian, he’d say they were biased.

“I didn't think you would find anything,” says Dr. Owen. “It was a pretty ambitious plan.”

Harry leans forward. I give him full credit. He’s giving it his best shot. “If anything, I’ve come to believe the places they take the tourists to are authentic, even if the structures built over them are not the original structures. I’m not ignorant of the fact that the Romans ploughed Jerusalem over and built Aelia Capitolina on top of it.”

“That's true,” agrees Dr. Owen. “There's really no proof that Jesus walked on this earth.”

Harry shakes his head.

“If anything, from what I learned in my guidebook, the Romans actually preserved the important sites. Rather than just have the Holy Sepulchre turned into something mundane, the Emperor built a temple to Venus over it. It was the same for the other Christian sites. Helena had to do a lot of digging to get back to the original tomb, but it was intact underneath.”

I didn’t know that due to never having had any contact with that guidebook. But Dr. Owen seems uninterested. Instead, they discuss Harry's conversation with the archaeologist who was staying at the American Colony Hotel. Turns out the man is famous in certain circles. He's actually found things that are now in the British Museum. He's very skeptical about the Bible although he admits that some of the stories are at least possible and the locations are more-or-less correct.

Dr. Owen talks about how you can't prove anything just because it's possible. I think I’m starting to understand why Harry is discouraged. After all, he predicted this back in Jerusalem. I get it. Harry was in Jerusalem where a person is surrounded by proof that Christianity is true. I mean, the Holy Land is like Disney World for Christians, you can go and look at it all and it makes your faith feel more real somehow. But then it must have occurred to him that if the Church has all these sites and all those relics, why don’t people believe? I didn’t really understand his meltdown at the time, but I think I do now.

“There's really no proof that Jesus walked on this earth,” repeats Dr. Owen, taking a sip from his mug.

That sinks in for me.

But it's not true!

“Me!” I say suddenly.

They both look at me, startled.

“Me! I'm the proof!”

“What do you mean?” says Dr. Owen. He and Harry are just staring at me. They don't get it.

“The Church is the proof!” I say. I continue, “I became a Christian I've been trying to tell you this whole trip, Harry! I was baptized in the Jordan River!”

Harry is speechless.

“And I'm the proof! I'm a different person. Yusaf, he's a priest in Bethlehem, he and his sister Miriam baptized me and then later we all went to Mass.”

“You got baptized in the Jordan?” says Harry.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m part of the Church now. Isn’t that what Jesus did when he came here? He started a Church. Don't you see? We don't need some kind of a birth certificate, or something, to prove that Jesus existed. All of us Christians are the proof that he existed!”

But Dr. Owen shakes his head.

I think Harry is still taking it in that I'm a Christian now.

“That might be proof for you, but it's not proof for me,” says Dr. Owen.

“Good thing we were doing this pro bono then,” I say.

Dr. Owen smiles. It's kind of a sad smile though. He’s working really hard to hold onto his disbelief, but I think part of him may have wanted us to find something so that he could have a reason to believe.

“I spent a whole week living with the Christians in Bethlehem,” I say to Harry. “Life is really hard for them there. But they have faith. And I think their faith is the proof we were looking for.”

“That's it, Meg!” says Harry. For the first time in days, he smiles, that familiar grin that I love. “You're right, of course.”

I can tell it's all making sense to him now.

But Dr. Owen just keeps shaking his head.

Oh well.

Maybe a piece of tile with the name of Jesus on it wouldn't have done it anyhow. Didn't that archaeologist tell Harry that there were a lot of people with the same name back then? There may be overwhelming archaeological evidence for the Christian faith, but people still have to actually choose to believe it.

Harry's a new person.

He's cheered right up.

I was never down to begin with, but even I'm feeling lighter and like life is better. Not Dr. Owen though. We just finish our tea and he walks us to the door. Not much to say at this point, but he courteously shakes our hands and thanks us so much for giving it a go and he wishes us all the best.

We open the door and discover that the drizzle has stopped and the sun is shining. I guess God does stuff like that sometimes.

We cross the road and look out at the water. There's really only one thing left to talk about.

“I guess this means we can be partners now,” I say, turning to Harry.

Harry's grin is wider than I've ever seen it.

“That's right! We can!”

“Partners, then?” I say, holding out my hand.

Harry shakes it, but then he doesn't let it go.

He holds onto my hand while we walk along the waterfront.

We're going to make a great team.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Other novels by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong

 

The Society for the Betterment of Mankind

Revolution in C Minor

Somewhere between Longview and Miami

Last King of Damascus

A Good Man

Death Among the Dinosaurs

Sami’s Special Blend

Three Peaks

 

The Kent Family Adventures

 

The Treasure of Tadmor

The Strange Sketch of Sutton

The Hunt for the Cave of Moravia

The Search for the Sword of Goliath

The Buried Gold of Shechem

The Cache of Baghdad

The Walls of Jerusalem

The Missionary’s Diary

 

Non-fiction by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong

 

Some of My Best Friends are Going to Hell

(And it Makes Me Want to Weep)