As soon as the birds sang, Jesus slipped out of the house and went down to the stream. Zadkiel watched him from beneath his wing, then rose to follow. It was getting warmer, at least. But hot days and cold nights still made for wet grass, and Zadkiel went reluctantly down the path.
By the time Zadkiel got there, Jesus was leaning against a tree, looking out at the water. As usual, he’d found a stone, and was turning it over and over in his hand.
Zadkiel felt weary. They were getting close now, and there were moments when he didn’t want the job he’d been given. He walked past Jesus to the water’s edge, and stooped down to trail his fingertips through the ripples.
Jesus watched him for a while, and registered his own surprise. Usually it was the other way round: Zadkiel watching, Jesus longing for the bright splash of grace. He set down his stone and went to Zadkiel’s side. The angel smiled, but did not move, and his eyes went out to the far shore.
‘Peter thinks that I am the Messiah,’ Jesus said suddenly.
‘I heard.’ Zadkiel muttered.
‘I told him not to say.’
‘Yes, that was probably wise.’
Both of them, now, were trailing the fingers through the water, relishing the cool of it against the warmth of the sun.
Zadkiel looked at Jesus, cautiously, and summoned his will. He could do this…
‘And you? What do you think? Are you the messiah?’
It was Jesus’ turn to look away. He turned from the stream and walked up the bank. He saw a dead branch lying there, picked it up and gave it a tentative swing.
‘When I was young, some of the boys would play “Messiah”. They’d find a stick, like this, and they’d steal a pot to wear as a helmet. Then they’d round us all up, with stories of how unfair the world was, and claim that they would be the one to change it. Sticks, pots, off we’d go to prepare for battle.’ Jesus threw down the stick he’d been swinging and turned to face Zadkiel. ‘The thing is: I hated it. It never felt right. Violence breeds violence, and killing people doesn’t really tell me much about God’s love.’
‘No,’ Zadkiel said, ‘I can see that. So, if you were the messiah?’
Jesus sat down, looked at the stream. Further up, the women were beginning to gather, filling their jugs.
‘There was a song my mother used to sing — a sort of lullaby when I couldn’t sleep. A song of trust in what God was doing, of light coming to the nations.’
‘Yes. I remember. Simeon had taught her.’
‘Simeon. She used to talk about him. She loved remembering that day they took me to the temple and Simeon raised me in his arms and sang, and Anna laughed and shouted that God was good. They were so startled by it that they forgot about the doves, and went home carrying them still. We had those doves for years. It was one of her favourite stories.’ Jesus paused, remembering. ‘But sometimes, if I asked her about it at the wrong moment, it felt different. She’d say all the same things, but her eyes would be distant. She seemed afraid.’
Zadkiel turned away from Jesus, and went back to the stream. He watched the light dance and thought how Jophiel would be noting the rhythms of it. He wished he were anywhere but here.
‘Yes, well, Simeon said a lot of things that day.’
Jesus was getting annoyed now. This wasn’t like Zadkiel at all. He went to him, and put his hand on his shoulder, forcing Zadkiel to look at him.
‘What is it? What did he say?’
‘Oh, just the usual sort of thing. The sort of thing Peter said. And that you would be opposed.’
Jesus laughed harshly, ‘is that all? Well that proved true enough. Opposed at every turn. I’m getting used to it by now.’
Zadkiel looked relieved. Maybe they could stop here, and go back to looking at the water? But no. Jesus was still thinking, and when he spoke it was less bravely: ‘But there was something else too, wasn’t there? Opposition doesn’t explain the look in her eyes.’
Zadkiel looked at Jesus, and knew he would have to tell him. ‘Simeon saw it all. He had met so many mothers. He told her that a sword would pierce her own soul too.’
Jesus looked confused, as he turned Simeon’s words over in his mind, and then he seemed to realise.
‘When we played,’ he said, ‘when it was my turn to be “Messiah”? I never swung my stick. I just carried it, and they followed.’
‘Yes.’ Zadkiel said sadly, ‘I remember that too.’
Jesus stood long on the water’s edge with his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the sun. ‘I know how it will be, then. I think I’ve known for a while, really. I must tell the disciples.’
Zadkiel nodded, and said nothing. He knelt down to touch the water again, as Jesus turned and walked up the dusty path alone.