Reporters and gawkers pounced on us as we marched out of the gardens. They ruthlessly taunted and interrogated Jesus. I had thought that his arrest was going to be quiet and discrete. I'd never meant for a crowd to be privy to his degradation. How had these vultures found out, anyway?
I found my answer when I looked into the sneering eyes of Annas. I immediately wanted to smash his self-assured mouth into his skull. How could I have been so naïve? Annas didn't care about the state of Jesus' soul or even the welfare of the people. He wanted to utterly humiliate him, to make him pay for his sins. I repressed my urge to hit the priest. I should have known better.
The party finally arrived at the high priest's house. The priests were letting them watch the interrogation. I felt more pangs of guilt. I'd assumed Jesus' confession would become known by word of mouth, not by direct witnesses. He was so vulnerable under the scrutiny of the throng. I wanted to protect him from their condemning gaze. I tried to get closer, but people pushed in on me from all sides, making it almost impossible to even move.
I berated myself for trying to protect him. I was the one who had caused this in the first place, after all. I had to remember that it was all for the best.
"Just calm down," I told myself, "It's better that he be judged by his own people than by Rome. He'll see this and confess. All will be forgiven. A ready confession from him and God will be satisfied with a sacrifice."
I felt the now-familiar weight of the money in my pocket. Thirty pieces could buy a suitable sheep for the occasion, and the rest could be used to buy food for the starving
"…If only my gut would listen to the soothing reason of my brain," I thought as I tried not to bend over from the pain.
The crowd suddenly quieted: the interrogation was officially beginning. Caiaphas spoke first.
"Jesus, as you must realize, you've been brought before us to answer for the multiple accusations of blasphemy. We have witnesses reporting that you claim to be the actual son of Hashem. Is this true?"
Jesus looked the Kohen Gadol in the eye and retorted, "That's what you say; you say that I am."
My mind yelled "What the hell are you doing?!"; my mouth was too parched to make a sound. I had to get to him and force him to confess, if not with my words, then with my fist. I desperately pushed through the mass of bodies, but was pulled back to the door by the guards. I tried to speak, to say something, anything that might change his mind, but my tongue felt cemented in place. I could only watch on helplessly as Annas passed out the judgment.
"There you have it. What more evidence do we need? He won't even acknowledge his crime." Annas turned his steely gaze on me. "Judas, thank you for the victim. Stay a while and you'll see him suffer for his arrogance!"
Everything had gone horribly, unbelievably wrong. Why hadn't he confessed?
Jesus was being led from the room. I was too dismayed to even hide myself. I crushed myself against the door jamb, longing to disappear into the cold wood, to discover that this was all some bizarre nightmare.
I tried to look away as he walked past me, but when he came closer I automatically turned to meet his angry gaze. Was he going to chastise me? Hit me? Spit in my face? I deserved far worse.
Suddenly I saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"Help me," he mouthed as he laid a hand on my chest.
He was so helpless, so pathetic…I had to turn away to keep myself from breaking down completely. Why was he asking for help from his betrayer? Didn't he see that now I was as helpless as he was? I felt his disappointment and sadness softly assail my face as he patted my chest, a somber gesture meant as sincere comfort. He let his hand slide across as he was taken away. I tried to block out the sensation of his touch, to forget about the many times he'd laid his head over my heart and fallen asleep to its rhythmic beating. Why did it have to be this way? Why did he have to be such a stubborn fool?
"Take him to Pilate! Take him to Pilate!"
The crowd's mantra woke me from my despondent reveries. I had somehow ignored their cries before, but now the truth came crashing through the protective glass of ignorance. The screaming shards rained down on my exposed flesh. The weight began to slowly crush my heart, making it difficult to breathe.
Pilate. They were taking Jesus to that butcher of hundreds. They wanted harsher punishment than excommunication and banishment. They wanted blood, to see his body writhe beneath the lash.
Annas' voice cut through my thoughts. "Aren't you going to see the completion of your handiwork?" He said it as if I should be proud.
I didn't reply. In a daze I followed the crowd to the Roman court.
I saw Peter, Mary, and few other disciples enter the decaying building ahead of me. I kept to the shadows, hiding behind columns and doors to make certain they wouldn't see me.
I found a place opposite from them and hid behind a wall. I could see Jesus through the bars. He looked exhausted. They obviously hadn't let him rest at all.
The mob jeered and mocked him without pity. He kept his eyes straight ahead as if deep in thought. I swallowed with difficulty. The faint taste of blood tickled my tongue.
"Just tell them the truth," I told him in my mind, "Tell them the truth, and everything will be fine. Everything will be fine."
More people pressed into the tiny space to watch, pushing against me like hungry rats. Each person's foul breath and viscid sweat absorbed into my skin and clothes, rendering me nauseous. The heat generated by so many writhing bodies suffocated me. I concentrated on remembering to breathe and on my silent pleadings of "Tell the truth."
I barely noticed Pilate's entrance, only his booming voice grabbed my attention, but I blocked out his words for the most part, waiting for Jesus' mouth to move. Finally, he had the opportunity to defend himself.
"That's what you say," he said calmly, his tone barely scraping above all-out irony.
"Damn him!" I thought savagely as I felt my stomach pitch and churn.
I didn't hear Pilate's reply to Jesus' remark, but I had no need to. How does a weak governor always respond to insubordination? With an iron fist and a hot head.
Besides, I was concentrating on other things now. The air seemed to be congealing and coagulating, pressing in on me and demanding the space I was wasting with my body. I was covered in a cold sweat and my breathing became laborious. My stomach pain was quickly spreading upward into my chest.
"He's doing this to punish me!" I thought blearily as I gasped audibly in pain. I vaguely understood that this wasn't very logical. Why would Jesus put himself in danger just to teach me some silly lesson? But I was preoccupied at the time with not breathing and I forgot about reason and logic. I felt that something horrible was about to happen, that Jesus and I were about to suffer some terrible affliction. It was as if I could feel the future's ominous, wolf-like breathing in my ear—and laughing.
Fat black flies and gnats began to fly into my eyes, filling my ears with their buzzing. I couldn't seem to get rid of them. Panicked and afraid that I was going insane, I forced my way through the throng until I made it to the outside of the building. Yet I still couldn't breath, and the flies were becoming ever more numerous. I was exhausted, and I wanted to collapse right there, but I also knew I had to get out of sight. I didn't want anyone's help, and I definitely didn't want anyone to see me in this state. There were about a dozen steps to get down first, though. I careened and staggered down them, amazed from one moment to the next that I hadn't fallen on my face. I was thinking I would make it when the flies finally swarmed completely over my eyes. Unable to see, I lost my balance on the last step. I didn't even feel myself hit the ground.
I must have regained consciousness after only a few moments, for I heard the opening of the doors behind me and a mass exodus of the barely-sated observers. I still felt faint, but I willed myself to open my eyes and sit up. The flies and gnats were still racing haphazardly before my eyes; their buzzing had turned into a distinct ringing. I dragged myself to the side of the stairs and prayed I was out of sight. I wanted to vomit, but there was little in my stomach for that purpose: I hadn't eaten in a couple of days. In any case, the necessary heaving and gagging would reveal my location. I wrapped my arms around my knees and lowered my head. I didn't want to pass out again, but I knew I'd fall asleep if I lied down.
"What have we here?"
I jerked my head up so fast the buzzing black spots overwhelmed my vision. It didn't matter. I recognized the voice.
"Go away, Simon," I said as threateningly as I was able, and succeeded in sounding gruffly annoyed.
A couple of other voices joined Simon's in vicious sniggers. I conjectured they belonged to his typical consorts, Thaddeus and Bartholomew
"I can't believe you are telling me what to do," said Simon with his usual artful sarcasm, "When did cock-sucking traitors get all the authority? Oh, wait, I forgot…I suppose you've just turned Roman on us, then, is that it, Judy?"
Surprising even myself with a sudden burst of energy, I leapt up and grabbed Simon by the shirt.
"You call me a traitor," I whispered vehemently to Simon's shocked face, "When you've told everyone about Jesus and—"
I was interrupted when Thaddeus wrenched me away and threw me back to the ground. I heard the unsheathing of a knife. Before I could react, Simon was back in my face, his hand at my throat, the tip of his knife blade pricking my side. I didn't resist.
"I only told them what you are, not what you tricked him into doing. Don't go around accusing me of your crime."
"Good to know," I rasped in relief, his grip making it difficult to speak, "What are you and your friends going to do now?"
"Punish a back-stabber," he spat. But he didn't push the blade in.
"I don't think you have the guts," I goaded impulsively.
He gave me a strange look and loosened his hold. I frowned.
"Come on, boy," I whispered, "Don't disappoint your friends. Just push it in. Or do you not know how to do that yet?"
I saw a flame leap in his eyes as his hand tightened its grasp again. Before he could act on his rage, a female voice cut shrilly through the air.
"Simon, what are you doing?! Let him go!"
Mary always knew how to end the fun. Simon sheathed his knife, spat in my face, and shoved me back to the earth.
I pulled myself into a sitting position, trying to appear as normal as possible. "It's been fun! Do come again sometime!" I called out as Simon sulked back to Peter and Mary.
Thinking that I'd finally be left alone, I dragged myself into a dark corner to wait out the dizzy spells and to avoid overhearing the domestic conversation the others were partaking in. The effort of the fight and conversation had drained me of energy. The black insects began swirl around me once again. My skin was chilled and rubbery, though I felt overheated. Everything was getting dimmer and dimmer.
I fell forward and passed out again, only to awake a few seconds later with the stench of soil in my nostrils. For a moment I became preoccupied with its strange muskiness of decayed life and crumbled stone. I wanted to taste it, to feel its grittiness against my tongue, but I was so tired.
I couldn't stay awake any longer.
As I let myself slip into sleep, I realized someone was gently caressing my face and hair.
"Thanks, Jesus," I mumbled drowsily, forgetting--or letting myself forget--that Jesus was gone.
I fell asleep.
It was night. I was supine on the ground, covered in a raggedy woolen blanket. I turned over and saw a small fire burning a few feet away.
"What the…?" I said as I rose up on one elbow.
"Oh, good. You're finally up," a familiar voice said. A shadow rose from the side of the fire and grabbed something from a bag before walking over to me.
"Who else? Here."
She dropped a napkin in front of my face. It contained some matzo. I felt nauseous.
"I don't want any…Thanks," I said, covering the food with excess napkin. My head was throbbing.
"You have to eat," she explained in an annoyed but motherly tone.I didn't move. "Fine. I'll get you some water. See if that makes you feel better."
"I'd prefer wine," I muttered, but in all honesty, I didn't care what it was as long as it was a drink.
I sipped slowly from the canteen. Mary promptly returned to her original location in the shadows, but I could make out her eyes watching the fire.
The water sharpened my thoughts a little. I finally sat up all the way and picked a little at the food. The only sounds were the crackling of the flames and the cracking of the matzo.
"Where are the others?" I asked, unnerved by the quiet.
"They're scattered around; wherever they could find a hiding place, I suppose."
Another awkward silence.
"Where is he?"
Mary looked at me in surprise. "You didn't hear Pilate?"
"I was a bit preoccupied."
"He's been sent to Herod."
"Pilate said he should be judged by his own people."
I snorted. "Pilate was passing the buck like he always does."
Mary suddenly started digging through her giant handbag.
"What are you looking for?" I asked out of curiosity.
"This," she said as she pulled out a large knife. I instinctively recoiled a bit.
"I promised the guys I would keep it handy," she continued, laying the knife to the side within effortless reach.
"Aw, you don't trust me?" I sneered.
"Cut the crap, Judas," Mary snapped vehemently, "You don't expect us to trust you after what you did?"
"Why'd you help me, then?" I spat back, trying to hide my surprise. She always seemed so damn nice before—on second thought, too nice.
"When I see a starving mutt in the street, I try to help it. That's all," she answered, the venom replaced with indifference.
"Fine. Thanks for the help…But… Why did you wait for me to wake up? Why didn't you just leave some provisions and go away?"
It was hard to tell from the firelight, but she seemed a little taken aback. I continued, feeling slightly glad I had finally disquieted her.
"So, you stayed here all this time just to find out why I did it? Why I betrayed your precious Jesus?" I taunted, "You women are amazingly predictable, you—"
"That wasn't it at all," she interrupted, a shimmering of outrage in her eyes, "It figures that you think this is all about you. I don't give a damn why you did it. Jesus is in jail; that's what matters…And don't pretend you know me. You only see what you want to see, nothing more."
"Then tell me why you play the caretaker when you're obviously anything but," I demanded, glaring at her.
She paused and studied me a moment, her face lit with curiosity and uncertainty. "Did you love Jesus?" Her voice was strained and slightly hoarse.
My face slackened with alarm and my thoughts began to race. How had she figured it out? We'd always been so careful, so discrete. No one else had even suspected, and Simon wouldn't have told her…Relax. It must have been a good guess, that's all. I smiled at her as if amused.
"How is that any different from what I said before? Why is it 'important'?"
"Just give me a straight answer for once."
"I used to respect him. I'd even go so far as to say I admired him, but love? No. Not at all."
She squinted her eyes at me in disbelief, but said nothing. I hoped she couldn't see my uneasiness.
"What?" I asked in exasperation. "Is there anything else? I'm leaving at dawn," I added, gesturing to the steadily paling sky, "You're running out of time."
"Fine," she said at last, "One final question, then: why did you say his name before you passed out in my lap?"
"That was you?" I asked incredulously before I could stop myself.
"Who else?" she echoed from before, this time with a smirk.
I remembered thinking I was with Jesus before I fell asleep, but I didn't realize I'd said anything out loud. I quickly tried to come up with something convincing, but I was overwhelmed and panicked, unable to think clearly or rapidly enough.
"I was half-delirious. If I even said anything, it was babble. You're obviously mistaken," I stated as calmly as I could. Was my voice shaking? I couldn't tell.
"No, I'm not," she rejoined decidedly.
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are, and that's the truth whether you accept it or not…Look," I continued hastily, standing up and wiping the dirt from my clothes, "Thanks for the help. You really shouldn't have troubled yourself."
Though I wanted to break into a run, I forced myself to saunter instead; I didn't want to appear to be in a hurry to get away from her. Then I heard her ever-increasingly irritating voice call out, "He often talked about you, you know."
I stopped dead in my tracts, exactly as she planned. I camouflaged my obvious interest with a laugh and replied, "He had only good things to say, I'm sure."
"At first? Yes, only good things."
I turned around.
"I see I've got your attention, now."
"For now. Are you going to continue?"
I inched my way back towards the fire's dying embers.
"I decided to join him the day I first heard him preach there in Hebron. I wasn't sure he'd even let me join. It took me forever to gather the courage to ask him. We hit it off, I guess, and ended up talking for hours that night. When I asked about the others in the group, the first one he mentioned was you. He said that any questions I had could be answered by you if he was busy, that you were unofficially his right-hand man. He said you had a good heart, but that you hid it well sometimes. He actually thought we'd become good friends."
We both burst out laughing.
"Well, you can't get them all right," I jested as I sat down again a few feet to her side.
"You'd sit beside a woman like me? I'm touched." she said in mock astonishment.
"I got cold," I responded reasonably, "Besides, there's still a while before the sun rises." She smirked knowingly. I ignored it. "Is that all he ever said about me?" I asked impatiently.
"When you started being so critical, he vented how stubborn and negative you were being."
"He's such an understanding soul," I grumbled.
"He also said you were just doing it for spite."
"What?! He thought I was spiteful?! That hypocritical son of a—!"
I immediately stopped when I saw Mary's eyes flash with comprehension.
"What?" I said defensively, afraid I had revealed something without knowing.
"Nothing, just…amazed how quickly you two can rile each other. A few words from one can push the other to the edge in a second…In fact, at times I thought you two had a secret language no one else could ever understand."
"Were you jealous?"
"Of course. Not to your extreme, but—"
"I wasn't—!" I interrupted hotly before I realized I was whining.
Mary rubbed her eyes in fatigue. "I've been up all night, Judas. I'm too tired to deal with egos." She sighed at looked at me piercingly. "We both know the truth."
"And just what is the truth?"
"You tell me."
I glowered at her as an impulse to do just that rose up in my throat. I opened and closed my mouth a few times like a dying fish, unsure of what to do. Did she really know about it, or was she simply bluffing?
"Mary—" I began flatly. At that moment, a door slammed somewhere on the next street. I looked around in alarm and realized it was finally daylight. With horror I thought about what I had just been about to say. I had almost made another huge mistake.
"Mary," I repeated as I dropped my eyes and stood up, "I—I have to go."
"Sorry." I ignored her protests and started running. I heard her chasing after me, but I was faster.
I soon disappeared into the labyrinths of the slums.