Photo: A. Elmi
Jesus' Carving (6/6)
By: A. Elmi
15th of December 2022
Maryan closed the kitchen door after her, and my siblings and I shut the door to the hallway, sealing Mum and Uncle into the front room together with Jesus. I was about to go join Maryan in the kitchen and give another shot at convincing her to come with me to buy a new dress. Her collection of tattered dresses had grown in size recently, and when I asked her why she’d waste her money on more torn and stained dresses, she would smile and blush and turn away. However, my brothers stopped me, motioning wildly for me to follow them into their bedroom.
Idris closed the bedroom door, slouched against it, and clenched his eyes shut before a sigh escaped him. Xirsi kneaded his face and then fell backwards on his bed with a groan.
I watched them closely as I slowly lowered myself onto Idris’ bed.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked.
Idris slid away from the door and crept up to me to whisper, ‘We were down there!’
‘Hooyo sent us to the basement to search Jesus’ things for anything that might tell us what he wants from us,’ Xirsi explained.
‘And what did you find?’ I asked them.
Idris slapped his thighs and folded to the floor theatrically. ‘Nothing! Not a thing.’
‘Except for wood shavings,’ Xirsi added, ‘and a bag of tattered dresses.’
‘Tattered dresses?’ I urged.
‘Yes, the type a farmgirl would wear in some village,’ Idris said.
‘A medieval village,’ Xirsi corrected, then looked over at me. ‘When Jesus isn’t Jesus, he’s a peasant maid in a medieval village. What does that tell us about why he’s here?’
Our speculations were wasted, for Mum and Uncle Long Nose managed to draw out Jesus’ motives that very day. It turned out Jesus was a beggar, here to collect donations for his trip to his birthplace, Bethlehem. And now, when he wasn’t receiving donations from us and other people in the community, he sat somewhere scratching away at the carving or pulling vanishing acts vaguely reminiscent of the old secretive Maryan’s. With Jesus refusing to name a satisfactory sum and to engage in discussions on this subject, the situation became unbearable as the weeks turned into months. We had emptied our pockets and were at our wit’s end where to find more money. Uncle Long Nose decided he’d had enough and briefed us on his plan to dump the man at a remote train station already. And with that in mind, we convened in Mum’s kitchen and waited for Jesus to turn up, for he was nowhere to be found.
As evening aged into night, and Jesus still hadn’t reappeared, Uncle snapped and spewed out elaborate curses.
‘There’s no need to get all riled up, brother!’ Mum said. ‘What if he’s lying somewhere dying? A lunatic he may be, but he’s still a human being. We should’ve at least given him a mobile so he could call us in case of an emergency.’
‘Give? Hah!’ Uncle sneered. ‘Why not throw in your house and car while you’re at it, Xalan?’
Mum kissed her teeth.
‘Let’s go look for him,’ Xirsi suggested.
Mum nodded, opening her mouth to say something then closing it and casting about with a grimace. ‘Where’s Maryan?’ she asked. ‘I haven’t seen her all day.’
I shrugged. ‘She made lunch and dinner for Awoowe this morning and asked me to serve both, before she raced off to run some errands in town. She said she should be late, but I didn’t think she’d be this late.’
Mum dipped her head. ‘Okay. This is what we’ll do. Brother, you’ll go with the kids to look for Jesus,’ she told Uncle, ‘and I’ll stay here with our Aabbo.’
It was well past midnight when we stumbled back home. Mum was pacing up and down the kitchen and halted at the sight of us.
‘Well?’ she prompted.
‘There’s no trace of him anywhere,’ Uncle said.
‘I’m calling the police,’ Mum said, rushing over to the landline hung up on the wall behind the dining table.
‘Xalan,’ Uncle said, ‘the police won’t do anything. Jesus is a grown man.’ His brows bunched up as he took a moment to think. ‘If he doesn’t show up in two days,’ he said, ‘we’ll file a missing person report.’
Another day and then another rolled by without a sign of Jesus, and Maryan for that matter. And it was this last absence Mum fretted over the most.
‘He’s killed her!’ she shrieked on the second day, while Uncle Long Nose stood off to one side on the phone with the police. ‘Poor girl! She was only 27 years old.’
‘You speak as if you know she’s dead,’ Uncle said, tucking his mobile into the back pocket of his jeans. ‘The police are on their way. Let’s hold off speculating until they arrive.’
‘Fine, brother!’ Mum said.
The taller of the pair of police officers asked us to show them to the basement. When we got down there, we had one of those moments of disbelief where you find yourself questioning what you’ve seen. We had popped into the basement several times in the past couple of days to see if Jesus was back. And not knowing when or whether he was returning, we’d left his litter and mess alone so he wouldn’t accuse us of violating his privacy again. But now we stepped back into the room, the place looked completely different. I palmed my eyes and blinked, wondering if I was imagining it. If I hadn’t known any better, I might have said a storm had passed through and swooped up the rubbish and carried it away. But, of course, it was likelier someone had come in, tidied up, and even removed Jesus’ suitcases. Only one of his belongings remained. A carving of a face. It stood on the billiard table in the centre of a perfect ring of wood shavings. It faced an uncovered window which let in a stream of sunlight. I went over to pick it up and found myself examining the dark wood. Jesus must’ve brushed a thin coating of oil on it, for it had a subtle sheen and left hints of shimmering liquid on my fingers. The material, the texture, the oil, everything about the statue recalled Maryan’s ring so vividly that my mind circled back to when I’d traced my finger over it.
‘Hey!’ Idris grabbed the statue from me and made a face at it. ‘Isn’t this Maryan’s face?’
I snatched the statue back and searched the wooden face.
It was her.
It was Maryan.