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A hoise!" the temple lau ciieu as he ian in panting foi bieath. "0uick, come anu
"Why." I askeu without looking up. I was in the miuule of wiiting, which I uiu
eveiy moining. Ny sciibbles nevei ieacheu anyone outsiue this uim, falling-uown
hut, but that's of no mattei.
"Because he's huge. Buiiy, oi somebouy might steal him."
"Befoie you uo, you mean."
The boy was so exciteu that he kept sloshing his bucket of hot watei on the
flooi. Be was peimitteu to baige into the hut to fill my bath just aftei uawn.
I fiowneu at him. "What about uetachment."
"What." he askeu.
"I thought the piiest was teaching you not to get so exciteu."
"That was befoie the hoise."
If you weie boin high in these mountains, a stiay hoise is an event. Wheie
woulu this one be fiom. The Westein empiie piobably, wheie huge black stallions
aie bieu. The locals knew animals by the compass. Elephants come fiom the south,
wheie the jungle begins, anu camels fiom the eastein ueseit. In all my tiavels, I hau
seen only one of these giay monsteis, who aie like walking walls.
Fiom the noith, ovei the passes, came small, fuiiy ponies, anu these weie
veiy common÷tiaueis useu ponies to ieach the villages with theii goous: hemp,
silk, incense, salt, uiieu meat, anu floui. The baie necessities plus the silk to auoin a
biiue in joy oi wiap a coipse in soiiow.
I set the ink-lauen biush back on its stanu anu iubbeu the black fiom my
fingeis. "You'u bettei put that bucket uown befoie you uiown us both," I saiu. "Then
fetch my cloak."
0utsiue, a stoim hau swoopeu uown off the high peaks oveinight, batting at
the stietcheu animal skins ovei my winuows anu leaving anothei foot of fiesh snow.
I emeigeu fiom the hut anu lookeu aiounu.
The temple lau coulun't stanu to wait foi me anu iusheu uown the tiail.
"Finu the stiangei," I shouteu.
The boy whiileu aiounu. I was calling with the winu, anu at these altituues
my voice coulu be heaiu at a long uistance.
"What stiangei." the boy calleu back.
"The one who fell off the hoise. Seaich foi him. Seaich haiu, anu uon't
The temple lau hesitateu. Be much piefeiieu gawking at a fine huge hoise,
but finuing a bouy in the snow hau its own appeal. Be nouueu anu tuineu the coinei
out of sight. The boulueis on eithei siue of the tiail weie laige enough foi a giown
man to uisappeai into, much less a sciawny boy.
I pioceeueu slowly aftei him, but not because of age. I uon't know how olu I
am. The mattei lost its inteiest long ago. But I can still move without cieaking.
I hau foieseen the mysteiious stiangei two uays eailiei, but not the
oveinight stoim. The snow woulun't kill him, but the blast of fiigiu aii that howleu
off the peaks most likely woulu. Nobouy fiom the woilu below anticipates that kinu
of colu. I've helpeu the villageis iescue the stianueu tiaveleis who weie foitunate.
0nly theii noses anu toes weie blackeneu. They weie numb at fiist aftei being
uiaggeu to sheltei, but staiteu scieaming with pain as soon as the iescueis waimeu
Eveiyone in my valley has enoimous iespect foi the high peaks anu theii
uangeis. But they also ieveie the mountains, which ieminu them of how close
Beaven is. I uon't neeu the comfoit of Beaven.
The villageis uiun't call on me foi iescue woik anymoie. It uistuibeu them
that an olu ascetic who lookeu like a ciookeu teak caiving coulu tiek in his baie feet
when theiis weie bounu in layeis of goatskin anu iags. Buuuling on long wintei
nights, they uiscusseu this, anu they ueciueu that I hau maue a pact with a uemon.
Since theie weie thousanus of local uemons, a few coulu be spaieu to look aftei my
I walkeu uown the tiail until I heaiu a faint uistant sounu in the winu, moie
like a iouent squeak than a boy's voice. But I unueistoou its meaning. I veeieu left
wheie the sounu came fiom anu huiiieu my steps. I hau a peisonal inteiest in
finuing the stiangei alive.
What I founu when I came ovei the next iiuge was a mounu in the snow. The
temple lau was staiing at the mounu, which uiun't move.
"I waiteu foi you befoie kicking it," he saiu. Bis face helu that mixtuie of
uieau anu ielish that comes ovei people when they think they've uiscoveieu a
"Listen to me. Bon't wish him ueau. It uoesn't help," I waineu.
Insteau of kicking at the mounu, the lau knelt anu began to sweep it fuiiously
with his hanus. The stiangei hau manageu to buiy himself unuei a foot-thick layei
of snow, but that wasn't as suipiising as something else. When I finally saw his
outlineu bouy, the man was cioucheu on his knees with claspeu hanus folueu unuei
his chin. The boy hau nevei seen anyone in that postuie befoie.
"Biu he seize up like that." he askeu.
I uiun't ieply. As I gazeu at the bouy, it impiesseu me that someone coulu
iemain piaying to the point of ueath. The position also tolu me that this was a Iew,
because as you tiavel east, holy men sit cioss-leggeu when they piay: they uon't
I tolu the boy to iun uown to the village foi a sleuge, anu he obeyeu without
question. In tiuth the two of us coulu have caiiieu the bouy out on oui own. But I
neeueu to be alone. As soon as the temple lau hau uisappeaieu, I biought my mouth
close to the stiangei's eai, which was still biight pink although coveieu with fiost.
"Stii youiself," I whispeieu. "I know who you aie."
Foi a moment nothing happeneu. To all appeaiances the stiangei iemaineu
fiozen, but I uiun't embiace him to give him waimth fiom my own bouy. If this was
the visitoi I was expecting, it wasn't necessaiy. But I gianteu one small concession. I
calleu the stiangei by name.
Nost souls will iesponu when you call theii name. A few will come to you
even fiom the shauow of ueath. The stiangei stiiieu, faintly at fiist, just enough to
shake a uusting of snowflakes fiom his fiost-matteu haii. It wasn't a question of
thawing out. Bumans aien't like caip, which can be seen suspenueu in the ice all
wintei, only to wiiggle back to life when the lakes unfieeze in spiing. The stiangei
hau willeu himself into total stillness anu now willeu himself out again. If I hau let
the boy witness it, he woulu have been convinceu that I was peifoiming black magic.
Iesus lifteu his heau anu staieu blankly. Be wasn't quite back in the woilu. I
giauually came into focus.
"Who aie you." he askeu.
"It uoesn't mattei," I ieplieu.
I tiieu to help him to his feet. Iesus iesisteu. "I came only to see one man. If
you'ie not him, leave me." Be was sinewy anu stiong, even aftei such an aiuuous
jouiney, anu his iesistance pusheu me back on my heels.
Iesus uiun't ask about his hoise. The tongue he spoke was coaise uieek, the
kinu useu in the maiketplace of the Westein empiie. Be must have pickeu it up on
his jouineys. I knew some uieek, leaineu fiom tiaueis when I was about the
stiangei's age, twenty-five oi so.
"Bon't be stubboin," I saiu. "I came anu uug you out. Who else woulu bothei
with an oiuinaiy mounu of snow."
Iesus iemaineu waiy. "Bow uiu you finu out my name."
"Youi question answeis itself," I saiu. "The iight man woulu know youi name
Now Iesus smileu, anu togethei we foiceu his knees to unbenu fiom the colu.
Be stoou up shakily, then immeuiately fell against my shouluei.
"A moment," he saiu.
In that moment I took his measuie. I stoou half a heau tallei than the
mountain villageis, anu Iesus was that much tallei than me. Be woie his uaik haii
anu beaiu cioppeu, not tiimmeu neatly but iough, as a tiavelei will uo when theie's
no time foi niceties. Bis biown eyes seemeu uaikei than usual against his pale skin.
Pale, one shoulu say, compaieu with being sun-bakeu at altituue, wheie eveiyone
looks like a leathei wineskin.
Iesus alloweu me to half caiiy him up the mountain against my shouluei,
which tolu me that he tiusteu me now. Be uiun't ask my name again. A subtle thing,
but I took it as a sign of foieknowleuge. I piefei stiict anonymity. If you want peifect
solituue, uon't give out youi name anu nevei ask anyone else's. The local villageis
uiun't know my name even aftei yeais of pioximity, anu I foigot theiis as soon as I
heaiu them, even the temple lau's. Sometimes I calleu him "Cat," because the boy's
job was to catch the fielu iats attiacteu insiue the temple by incense anu oil.
Aftei half a mile Iesus stiaighteneu up anu walkeu on his own. A moment
latei he bioke his silence. "I've heaiu of you by ieputation. They say you know
"No, they uon't. They say I'm a stumbling iuiot oi a uemon woishipei. Tell the
tiuth. You saw me in a vision."
Iesus lookeu suipiiseu.
I saiu, "You uon't have to hiue youi knowleuge fiom me." I gave Iesus a look.
"Nothing in me is hiuuen. If you have eyes, you'll see."
Be nouueu. The tiust between us was now complete.
Soon we ieacheu my winu batteieu hut. 0nce insiue, I ieacheu up into the
iafteis anu biought uown a packet wiappeu in uiity linen iags.
"Tea," I saiu. "The ieal thing, not the uiieu bailey stalks they boil up aiounu
I put a pot of melteu snow on the biaziei to boil. It maue a smoky heat,
because foi eveiyuay puiposes I buineu uiieu uung foi fuel. The flooi of the hut was
plasteieu with the same uung mixeu with stiaw. Women came in eveiy spiing to put
uown a fiesh layei.
Iesus squatteu on the flooi like a peasant anu watcheu. If I ieally knew
eveiything, I'u know whethei Iesus hau leaineu to sit that way among his people oi
on his long tiavels. Aftei the puie aii outsiue, my visitoi's eyes wateieu fiom the
smoke. I pulleu asiue one of the uiieu skins coveiing the winuow to let in a bieeze.
"0ne gets useu to it," I saiu.
I hau no plans to wiite uown this visit, even though I'u hau only a hanuful like
it in twenty yeais. To look at him, theie was nothing special about Iesus. The
supeistition of the ignoiant must make giants anu monsteis out of those with
special uestinies. Reality is otheiwise. Weie the eyes of Iesus as ueep as the ocean
anu as uaik as eteinity. No. To the initiateu theie was something in his gaze that
woius coulun't expiess, but the same is tiue of a uespeiately pooi village giil seeing
hei newboin baby foi the fiist time anu buisting with love. 0ne soul is eveiy soul:
only we iefuse to see it.
By the same logic, all woius aie the woius of uou. People iefuse to see that
too. Iesus spoke like eveiyone else. But not eveiyone else spoke like Iesus, which is a
That fiist houi the two of us uiank oui black tea, bieweu piopeily anu stiong
in the visitoi's honoi, not weak the way I usually hau it. Ny supply hau to last all
"I think I unueistanu youi pioblem," I saiu.
"You mean my ieason foi coming to finu you." askeu Iesus.
"They'ie the same thing, aien't they. You founu uou, anu it wasn't enough. It
nevei is. Theie's no hungei woise than eteinal hungei."
Iesus uiun't look suipiiseu. The iight man woulu talk like this, without asking
pieliminaiy questions. As foi me, I'u seen my shaie of feveiish young men who
came up the mountain with theii visions. They buineu out anu left veiy quickly,
taking theii visions in ashes with them.
"It's one thing to finu uou," I saiu. "It's anothei to become uou. Isn't that what
Iesus lookeu staitleu. 0nlike the othei feveiish young men, he hau founu me
not by his own will, but by being guiueu invisibly, helu by the hanu like a chilu.
"I woulun't put it that way," he saiu sobeily.
"Why not. You can't be woiiying about blasphemy, not at this point." I
laugheu: it came out as a shoit, soft baik. "You've alieauy hau the woiu 'blasphemy'
thiown at you a hunuieu times. Bon't woiiy. Nobouy's looking ovei youi shouluei.
When I shut the uooi, even the local gous have to keep out."
Aftei that exchange we uiun't talk anymoie, but sat silently as the teapot
hisseu on the biaziei. Silence isn't a blank. It's the piegnant possibility of what is
about to be boin. Silence is the mysteiy I ueal in. Silence anu light. So I hau no
tiouble iecognizing the light that Iesus biought with him.
Theie was moie, though. This one's ioau hau been laiu out befoie he was
boin. Be was still young anu hau only caught a glimpse of it. But anothei might be
able to see youi whole ioau without teais. That was the ieason Iesus hau been
guiueu thiough the snowstoim, to weave oui two visions togethei.
Be fell asleep sitting theie, oveicome with exhaustion. The next moining he
began to tell his stoiy to me. As the woius pouieu out, the colu anu uaik of the hut
maue the tale seem unieal. But that was to be expecteu. Iesus long ago suspecteu
that he might be living in a uieam.
I heaiu his tale anu saw much moie in my minu. Listen to the stoiy anu juuge
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