It was the fourth hour in Ephesus, and the day was well underway. An old man moved through the streets. He walked with a stick, with a deliberateness to his movements. The buildings of the city, a mixture of Roman and Greek stonework, displayed a grandeur which would have made Yochanan bar-Zebadiah the fisherman uncomfortable. Forty years later, the city was familiar, but Ephesus would never feel as much like home as Bethsaida, or even Jerusalem.
Yochanan fought his way through the crowds, occasionally having to use his stick to push someone out of the way, or utter a sharp, “Sygnome!” to a dawdling merchant or housewife. The crowd thinned as he got out of the centre of the city and finally came to a small house on the outskirts, away from the main road.
Maryam greeted him at the door. She saw Yochanan regularly, when the thriving community of Christians, as they were now called, met to celebrate the Eucharist, but they liked to meet like this, just the two of them who had followed Yeshua from the beginning.
Maryam took the bronze kettle from the fire and began to prepare the tea, chattering to Yochanan in Aramaïc about the life of the church, speculating about whether Sextus and Flaviana would be announcing their engagement soon, and when young Sophia and Theophilus would be bringing their new daughter to be baptized. Yochanan relaxed at the sound of the language of his home; his Greek had become better during his long years among the gentiles, but he had never become as comfortable with it as Maryam was, and he still spoke with a marked accent.
Maryam hadn’t lived in Ephesus for as long as Yochanan had. After Yeshua had gone again, Maryam didn’t know what to do. Knowing Yeshua had healed her, turned her from a widow who knew nothing but grief back into a human being who could think and feel again. So she took to travelling from place to place. It was difficult at first to find places to stay, but soon communities of Christians were springing up across the Empire and she was sheltered and fed wherever she went, making a point of visiting those who had known Yeshua during his earthly ministry. Now she and Yochanan were the last of them, and she had moved to Ephesus in her old age.
When the tea had brewed, Yochanan poured a cup for each of them.
“Any word from abroad?” said Maryam.
“Not lately. We just haven’t kept as well in touch without those letters that Paul kept writing.”
“Ha, indeed. He may have been obnoxious at times, but he kept us all talking to each other.”
Yochanan laughed. “You always had the knack of seeing the best in people. You were even in favour of giving Yudah the benefit of the doubt. Mind you, Paul was a great writer, really good at explaining what it all meant, even if he did need to find a wife. Or a husband, if salvation really doesn’t come through the Law.” He sipped his tea thoughtfully. “I had the dream again last night.”
Maryam sighed. “You’re still sure it means what you think it does?”
Yochanan nodded. “You know, it reminds me of that story you told me about Shimon, right at the end.”
An image came into Maryam’s mind, of Shimon the Rock, crucified, head downwards so as not to emulate Yeshua. Maryam had been staying with him when he heard that they were coming to arrest him. He made a clean escape from Rome, but soon returned, talking about having seen Yeshua on the road. Once, Maryam would have found that hard to believe, but she had seen many wondrous things, and horrors beyond description. She tried to suppress her shudder.
“You think he’s calling you.”
“It’s a relief, after so long,” said Yochanan. “You know, I think lost my enthusiasm for this world around the time they got Yaqov.”
Yochanan’s brother was killed not by the Romans but by the Judaean king, Herod, the first of a long list of their dead. Yochanan had shut himself away for months afterwards, refusing to speak to anyone.
“Let’s get the last part of my account written,” he said. It’s almost finished, and people should know what happened from someone who was there.”
Over the past few months, Yochanan had been writing down his recollections of his time with Yeshua, with Maryam acting as a scribe. Maryam had done the same, years earlier, while on a long voyage.
The sun was beginning to set by the time Maryam put down her pen and left the papyrus to dry. As Yochanan turned to leave, he said, “Did you love him?”
“You know what I mean.”
Maryam looked pained. “Yes, I did. But we never—my feelings weren’t returned. He knew, of course. I think he loved everyone he ever met, equally.” She paused. “What about you?”
“No. We were close, but it was never like that. I’ve been lucky to have loved many people, and been loved in return, but I’ve never loved anyone like that.”
“You are lucky. Pining never did anyone any good. But I’ve made my peace with all that. I’m just glad to be alive.”
She saw Yochanan out of the door, and sat, thinking about God, about life, and about love, which Paul said was the greatest of all virtues. But Paul was dead, like Shimon, like Yaqov, like Andreas, like so many others, and when the Christians of Ephesus met the next day to bury Yochanan, she wept for all of them.