The Good Shepherd

    He entered the house, shook his head. “Your son, again.”

    Without looking up, she tsked-tsked with her tongue. “Our son, again.”

    “He loves you more.”

    “He loves you as well.”

    “He never says it.”

    “Because he doesn’t know the words yet.” She turned to face her husband. “You are a good teacher. You care about about his learning, yes?”

    “I do.”

    “Because you want him to be a good shepherd, yes?”
    Adriel sighed and glanced back out the entrance, before returning his focus to his wife. “He lost some sheep. I found all but one. We’ve been searching, but…” He shook his head. 

    She nodded. “Where is he?”

    “Outside, I think. I shouted at him, and told him to wait until I allowed him to enter.”

    Galila put her hands to her husband’s cheek, and with her thumbs, she traced crescents under his eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She pulled his head down and kissed his forehead.

    “You, my love, are a good shepherd. You sit. I’ll go talk to him.”

    

    *    *    *

    

    “Nechemya,” she called. “Nechemya, where are you?”

    Silence. Galila took a few steps, noting the sound of the rocks beneath her sandals. “Nechemya, it’s your mother. Come sit with me.” She sat on the edge of the well, and exhaled. “It’s beautiful this evening, no? Why don’t we sit together?”

    Silence. Galila looked down at her hands, flipped them once, twice, then slid off the edge of the well and sat down on the ground. She rested against the well. “I’m going to tell you a story, Nechemya. Is that alright?” She waited, but heard no response.
    “Once, I lived in a town. This is before you were born, before I knew your father. When Roman soldiers rode through the village, they would ask for wine. I would serve them wine.”

    Galila picked up a small pebble, held it in her palm. “They would ask for other things as well…and I would give them those other things. Because they could make life bad for me if I said no.” She closed her fingers over the pebble, turning her hand into a fist. “You understand this, Nechemya? There was no choice.” Her breath, heavier now. “But people in the town, they disapproved. They wanted to teach me I was wrong to do what I did.” She paused. “So, one morning they — ”

    “Teach, mama…like the way papa teaches?”

    Galila turned her eyes right, and she saw Nechemya, her son. He held his shepherd’s staff loose. He didn’t stand still, but instead shifted his weight from side to side. 

    “Why do you do that, Nechemya? You sway like a reed.”

    “I don’t like to stand still, mama.”
    Galila opened her fist, and re-examined the pebble. She dropped it. “Nechemya, my love.”
    Nechemya approached and sat next to his mother.

    She smiled. “Papa teaches out of love. But the people who wanted to teach me — they were angry. They took me from my house. I shouted for help, but no one stopped them. They brought me to the feet of a Teacher in the square. I’d been accused of a crime, but they weren’t sure how I should be punished.”

    “What did the Teacher say?”

    Galila smiled. Her finger traced a winding path in the sand. “He said nothing. He drew.”
    “What’d he draw, mama?”

    “He drew a tree. He asked me what kind it resembled. ‘It looks like an olive tree, Teacher.’ I said. ‘Is it an olive tree?’”

    Nechemya shifted closer to his mother. “What’d he say?”
    Galila shrugged. “He told me about how he knew many people who’d sat under trees. ‘Friends, Teacher?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Yes, child. Friends.’ He told me about one person who sat under a tree, and ravens came to him with food. This man was tired and near death, and he was afraid — but the tree provided shade and shelter from the sun. As he sat, ravens visited him and kept him alive with food, and the nearby river gave him water to drink.

    As he told me this story, he drew the wings of the raven. ‘Do you have a favorite bird?’ He asked. ‘No, Teacher.’ I replied. ‘The birds,’ he said, ‘the birds provide shelter and safety for their offspring with their wings. When a predator comes, the birds spread their wings wide and gather their young to their breast. Here, they are safest.’”

    Galila extended her arm and draped it over her son. Nechemya glanced at his mother’s hand at his side, and smiled. “What happened next, mama?”

    “Next, he wrote his name — the name of God.”

    Nechemya’s eyes opened wide. “But that name must not be said. It is blasphemy.”

    She nodded. “Yes. But what if it’s God who’s doing the writing?” Nechemya said nothing. Galila continued making a path with her finger. “Other people before him claimed to the Messiah, my love. And afterward, people after him have claimed to be the Messiah. They come from dust, they claim to be the Messiah, and then the dust claims them back.”

    “Did he die?”

    “Yes.” Galila thought of the hill. She thought of the storm and the blood and the crown. “Yes, he did.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “But the dust did not claim him.” 

    “What’d he say — when he wrote his name?”

    “He — ” Galila stopped, laughed. “He started humming; singing even.” 

    “What’d he sing?”

    “Do you remember the song I sang while you were falling asleep?”

    “Yes.”

    She kissed her son on the forehead. “That’s His song.”
    Her son smiled. But when he looked back at the house, his smile fell from his face. 

    “Why now are you sad, my son? I thought my story made you glad.”

    “Father hates me.”

    “He’s angry about the lost animals, but he loves you.”

    “Do you believe that?”

    “When he’s out with the animals, keeping them safe, he’s finding the words to tell you how much he loves you. When he’s repairing the walls of our home, with each movement of his hand, he’s building the words, casting the words.”

    Galila leaned close to whisper. “And when he sits alone in the room, as he does now, he prays for words, for help — and like manna, the words fall into his lap. Everything he does, he’s learning how to say ‘I love you.’”

    “I don’t think I’m going to be a good shepherd.”
    Galila paged through the hairs on her son’s head. Specs of dust kicked up in the air. “Do you want to be a shepherd?”

    “I do.”

    “Do you want to care for the animals?”

    “I do.”

    Galila put her hands to her son’s cheeks and, with her thumbs, drew crescents underneath her son’s eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She kissed him on the forehead.

    “Go back to where you last remember having all the sheep, and start there. Look in the shaded areas, in the cracks of rocks — in the shadows of the mountains.”

    “Yes, mama.”

    He stood to leave, and headed toward the pasture. 

    “Nechemya,” she said. “If you’re still having trouble finding the sheep…sing.”