[Man working on the last stages of a cross, planing it and smoothing it as he talks.]
I’ve been doing this job for as long as I can remember, it’s in the family I s’pose you could say! Brought up with the smell of sawdust in my nose and wood-chippings in my hair and brought here to the work-shop in my cradle I shouldn’t wonder!
I love the job…..no, I’ll re-phrase that, I used to love the job. I had no trouble coming down here before the sun rose in the sky, and the town woke up, get something that I had been working on the day before up on the bench and starting on it, seeing it come to life. Whatever it was…. a huge box for the Farrier to keep his tools in, a rocking horse for a boy’s birthday or a crib for a new babe…..didn’t matter what it was, I felt like I was creating something special and beautiful and I took a pride in every last part of it.
But that was before they came, marching on our land with their heavy boots and clanking armour, filling the air with their foreign smells and harsh language. The Romans I mean…..cruel bastards the lot of ’em, not fit to call human. They changed everything the day they marched in here and occupied our country and our lives. They took over our laws, clamped heavy taxes on our businesses that brought many a man down and turned others to criminal ways to try and keep their children fed. They took over our women too, in some cases….Flattering them with their high ideals and jangling money bags, or worse, if they didn’t capitulate, robbing them of their faithfulness and leaving them dirty and ashamed in the gutter where nobody wanted them, least of all the men who had once loved them.
[Spits in disgust] Yeah, there’s no love lost for those filthy swine and there’s many who would stick a knife in one of them on a dark night, if they dared.
Worst of all is their way of punishment……. Crucifixion….Surely the cruelest of deaths? And that’s where they came into my life and changed it forever. You see….I have to work and I have to pay the taxes like everyone else and I was strugglin.’ I’ve a wife and five children, y’ see…. a quiver full. (The Lord be praised!)
My eldest, she’s a lovely girl, Miriam…..long dark hair, and eyes that look right into your soul…just like her Mother she is. She’s thirteen years and betrothed to be married a year from now. Then there’s a mixture of 3 boys going from 10 to 6 years and the baby, another girl and only six weeks old. They are all my pride and joy and I want to provide well for them and any others that may come along. And I was doing.
Our lives were blessed and we were well thought of in the area, always able to help out if anything was needed by others, like a Father figure in the village I was….reliable and generous with my income. Then the taxes….and that changed it all.
At first I could keep up payments by just working more hours and taking all the work the people could give me, even learning to do things I had never attempted before…..and that was alright, a challenge I called it. Trouble is, my work is good and I build things to last, so, what with everyone struggling to make ends meet an’ all, the work just began to dry up, and….well….I had to find other ways to use my hands and my skills.
So, one day when I was messing around in my work-shop, trying to make the day go by and thinking about how I was going to manage, this centurion from the Roman army came by. I was surly at first, stand-offish and making it clear to him that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the likes of him. He wasn’t a bad man, I have to say, in fact I almost felt I was talking to a friend, he seemed like a decent guy, and I realised then that you can’t help what you’re born into can you?
Anyway, he talked to me about how much they needed gibbets to be made, crosses for the crucifixions, and how reluctant other carpenters were at making them, superstitious a lot of em, afraid of the bad luck it may bring. He told me of the money they were willing to pay and I saw in my minds eye, the bills being paid off and the peace of mind that would come if I could earn that kind cash. So I agreed, and although I felt bad about it, I signed the parchment of agreement to make so many crosses a week and more if they needed them.
Just before he went he stopped at the door and said, almost in a whisper, “We’re not all the same you know, we Romans…..Some of us hate all this as much as you people do”……Then he was gone.
So I’ve been making these instruments of torture ever since and hating myself for every one that is loaded on the wagon to hang those poor criminals on to die in the noon-day sun.
But this cross….this lump of wood, this is different, and this has got to be the best I have ever made, the smoothest I have ever planed and the most excellent wood I have every used.
Because this one, this cruel gibbet is for the man who drew my little uns (along with a crowd of others) to Him, and showed us adults how we needed to become like little children and humble ourselves and live purer lives, and forgive one another.
This man is the man who touched the blind beggar that used to shout every day in the market place, and took the veil from his eyes so he could see. And one-day when I stood up on the hill-side listening to him I watched my little lad give him his lunch, and I saw Him lift it up to God and then feed thousands of us with five little loaves and two small fishes!
This man changed my life and the lives of everyone I know who met Him, and today I am having to make a cross for them to hang him on. Today hate will crucify love……But it will never take away what that man taught us, I reckon we will remember that forever.
Chrystabell 2013. ©
Published in ‘A Passion for Shoreham’ 2013