Quiet Streets

Quiet Streets

Margaret E. Sangater

She was seated alone, in an upper room to which John, her Son’s beloved disciple, had brought her. She was too tired to cry; she was too numb and cold. It was all over. The path her Son had walked, the rugged road that he had traveled, had come to an end on a stormy hilltop.

Sitting quietly, Mary thought back across the years, more than thirty of them, since she had clasped a newborn baby to her heart.

She had been so proud of her Son, all through the thirty odd years. When stories came back to her of His miracles she had been so proud, and so bewildered. He had raised the dead, He had walked on the sea, and He had fed a vast multitude. She had half expected, as she knelt on Calvary, that another miracle would come to pass. But no miracle had happened.

Yes, it was all over. Mary rose from her chair and walked wearily across the room and stood looking out of the window.

From somewhere, not far distant, there came a cry. It was a thin fretful cry, the cry of a baby.

She walked back to her chair and seated herself. The cry was insistent. It echoed up and down the street that had been quiet only a few moments before. Every now and then the cry ended in a choking gasp. Maybe another tragedy had happened, maybe another soul, a wee one this time, was passing. She was almost relieved when she heard once more the sound of pain. She thought, “Perhaps, the mother is very young. Perhaps she does not know how to care for it.”

As if drawn by some invisible chain, she crossed the room and opened the door and descended the steps that led to the street. The sound of the baby’s cry drew her down the street.

There were people standing in doorways whispering together. Their whisperings ceased as Mary went by, for most of them knew who she was. She walked without fear. What was there to be afraid of now! She walked up to the door of the shabby house and pushed it open. A girl with a sullen, haggard face was seated by a cradle, rocking it mechanically, and a baby, lying in that cradle, was wailing with a choking little gasp at the end of each wail.

The girl looked up at Mary’s approach and started to ask, “What do you want?”

Mary answered, “Your baby’s in pain.”

“He’s always in pain, ever since the day of his birth he has cried and cried.”

“What is wrong with your child?”

“It’s his back. No, don’t lift him. He cries harder when he’s lifted.”

“I know how to handle babies.”

She reached into the cradle and slipped her hands under the little body and raised the baby gently in her arms. Her fingers, braced under the baby’s body, felt the bump between his tiny shoulders.

“The poor little thing.”

“To be born a cripple, to start out with a handicap; my child were better dead. To be born a cripple… His father wanted a strong, straight son who would grow up to be a soldier, who would follow in his footsteps. Day after day, night after night, I rock my baby’s cradle, he never ceases crying.”

“Where is the baby’s father?”

“He’s on duty, you see. He’s one of the palace guard and there’s been a crucifixion on the hill beyond the city. He may not be home until the night is over.”

Mary, her fingers under the baby’s back, suddenly remembered the soldiers who had knelt in the shadow of the cross and had drawn lots for her Son’s garment. She thought, “I’m glad the baby’s a cripple. I’m glad he will never grow up to be a soldier.” She said aloud, “Put him back in his cradle, and take him away from my arms. I can no longer…” She stopped, for all at once she realized that the baby’s crying had died away and that the tiny, century-old face was touched with peace. “Why, why, he’s stopped crying!”

The girl came close to Mary and looked down with amazement at her child. She said, “If he would be like this for an hour or two, I could get some sleep.”

“Lie down and rest. He won’t cry again.”

Mary, with the baby tight against her lonely heart, walked to the doorway and stared out into the darkness of the alley. The baby was not asleep; his eyes were fixed on Mary’s face and it was to him that Mary spoke.

“If my son were alive, your future would be secure. You would be straight and strong. When my Son was alive He did miracles…and cripples were made whole.” The baby wriggled one hand free from his swaddling clothes. His fingers, like white threads, flickered across Mary’s down-bent face. It was such a helpless hand. In the years to come it would be outstretched, asking alms of the busy people who thronged by, for cripples in this city were invariable beggars. Mary, with bright tears in her eyes, was thinking of the vast number of cripples who would go through life, bent and twisted and hopeless, because her Son was dead. She was pitying all the people whose brains and souls were crippled because her Son was dead.

She was speaking to the whole silent city, to the whole silent world, not to a baby. “It’s not for myself that I grieve, I had my Savior more than thirty years, and may dwell with my memories. But those who will be born this year, and next year, for thousands of years to come, will have no memories to guide them, for He is dead. There will be no more miracles for He is….” Her voice trembled as she looked at the small face, it was round and pink, the face of a normal baby. And under her fingers the curled hump that had tortured the baby was melting away and she could feel the wee shoulders growing straight and strong. “You’ll be a soldier one day.”

And then she heard her own Son’s voice saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”