Raphael watched as the coins fell into Judas’ hand.
Judas bowed to the priest, but there was no response. Judas flinched and looked afraid. Had he really expected more?
Raphael sat in a pile of feathers. They’d been at the temple all morning, and one by one, Raphael had plucked a fair patch of wing. He was angry — at Judas. At the priests. At the crowds as they prepared for the passover. Even at the lambs — poor things — who were everywhere, and causing chaos.
But mostly, he was angry with himself. How had it come to this?
As Raphael tidied the lost feathers into straight rows, seeking comfort. He barely rose his head when Michael appeared.
‘What are you doing here, Raphael?’
‘You saw, didn’t you? He went to the priests. We cannot stop this now.’
Michael looked unperturbed. ‘What made you think we could?’
Raphael scowled at him, and stood to walk away. Michael stopped him, holding his hand on his shoulder.
‘Raphael, what are you doing here?’
‘I tried to stop him. Someone had to! Ever since he saw that Centurion — saw power, and looked there for salvation — I’ve been pleading with him. “Judas, please. This is not who you are. You want Justice. You want Salvation. Stay with us. Jesus is the one you need.” He just kept shaking me off, and told me to go back to Peter.’
Michael laughed, ‘He wasn’t wrong — in that at least.’
Raphael was furious. He was not prepared to concede that Judas was right about anything — after what he’d just done?
Michael spoke again, ‘Just out of curiosity: when did you stop hearing the hissing?’
Raphael looked confused. ‘The hissing? It began when Judas met the Centurion. It lasted for a few days, and then it stopped.’
‘No, Raphael. It never stops.’
Raphael shook his head, trying to dismiss Michael’s words. But he knew he was right. It never stops. So when had he stopped hearing it?
‘What did Judas want, Raphael. Think: why are we here?’
‘Judas wanted his own way. He wanted to be the one to fix everything. He couldn’t bear it that Jesus chose Peter — that he trusted Mary. He couldn’t bear that he was not the one.’
‘And so: that is why we are here.’
‘No. That is why Judas is here. Why are you here?’
Raphael opened his mouth, but found no words. Before he could speak, the truth hit him.
‘I am like him…’ he whispered, facing more fear than he had ever known.
‘No, you’re not. But finish the thought.’
‘I wanted to be the one. I wanted to stop him.’
‘Yes. But why were you sent?’
‘I was sent to work with Jesus, to learn from him, to befriend Peter.’
‘And Judas — did he seek healing?’
‘No — but he needed it. Someone needed to try. He had to be stopped.’
Raphael’s anger flared again. ‘Of course he did. Look what he’s done! If you had helped me, maybe we could have stopped him.’
Suddenly, the sound of hissing returned. Raphael heard it swirling around him — there in his blame. He began to sob.
Michael came to him, and held him in his wings. ‘Raphael: no one asked you to save him. Let it go.’
‘But to fail now! How could I have failed now — when it matters so much?’
‘You failed because you failed. We do sometimes. It’s what happens when the world won’t conform to our will.’
Raphael looked up, and saw that Michael was smiling. Raphael was cross — but he began to see his own folly. Finally he laughed, and the hissing faltered.
‘My timing was bad, wasn’t it?’ Raphael asked, chagrin.
‘How can we know? The failure isn’t the point, really. It’s what you do with it. What happens next?’
Raphael had calmed down, and they were walking together around the square.
‘I was sent to help Jesus, to learn from him, and to befriend Peter…’
Michael nodded. ‘So, shall we find them, then? The passover is near.’