The Childhood of Jesus

by Grace Andreacchi

deadbird

He was born into quietness. At first it seemed nothing could go wrong, he had all his fingers and toes, and a golden halo hovered round his infant head; the shepherds and angels in attendance expressed themselves well content with the wonder. At first he was beautiful, his softly rounded limbs swaddled in white rags met our expectations perfectly, his hair was abundant for an infant’s, curly and fair, he sometimes even sat up in his Mother’s lap to receive visitors. This was in the early days. When did it begin to go wrong? Perhaps it was sometime during that long journey into Egypt. When the Holy Family paused for rest under the shade of a delicately proportioned palm tree, Mary unwrapped the child and put him to the breast – did she notice then that something was amiss? His eyes that had been so bright now appeared curiously sunken, and the halo of pale gold round his small head was diminished. She drew Joseph’s attention to it. A practical man always, he thought it might be the effect of the desert light. Things don’t shine in the desert as they do in a dark stable, after all, do they? But he looks unhappy, she thought, but did not say. She kept these things in her heart, and was troubled.

As the days went by and the weeks and the years he grew but it was not as you may have heard, in wisdom and stature. By the time he had marked his fifth birthday his face was as puckered with sadness as that of a very old man, his eyes, dark and lustrous, were deeply bedded in shadows, his teeth were rotten and had begun to come out, giving his small mouth a lopsided appearance. His hair too was sparse and white as that of an old man. He rarely spoke, and when he did it was in riddles that no one, not even his Mother, could fathom. His appetite was tiny, and he ate only indigestible foods such as grasshoppers, which he chewed raw, and the leaves of wild hyssop. At night he refused to come into the house but slept under the stars, even on the chilly nights of winter. Though his Mother urged him to come in, still he would not; though she questioned him he gave no reason, only looked at her with those sunken eyes.

One day when he was playing with a small bird he held it too close and it died. He lay down with the small dead thing clutched in his right fist and would not be comforted. In the middle of the night, while he slept a tearful sleep, he dreamed of a way to make the creature whole again. He awoke just as the sun was coming up. The still bundle of feathers and bone had slipped from his sleeping hand and lay now on the hard earth, bathed in the pink light of dawn. He stroked it gently with one finger, then he breathed upon it ever so softly, but nothing happened. It was dead. He sat back on his heels and stared at it, willing it into life. Had one of the blue wings just stirred? He closed his eyes and willed it. When he opened them again it was sitting up, pecking at the dirt. He gave a cry and it flew off into the blushing sky.

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Grace Andreacchi was born and raised in upper Manhattan but has lived on the far side of the great ocean for many years, sometimes in Paris, sometimes in Berlin, nowadays in London. Her favorite things are words, opera and marrons glacés, not necessarily in that order.
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