The next day, Mary said a prayer of thanks for having no morning sickness. She felt strong, healthy and, most important, full of joy. She wiped the last dish, put it away and made one last search through the tiny Guest House. “This rest has been a blessing, Jesus. This little home has given us both a fresh breath.” She checked over the two large, packed bundles containing their only belongs.
“It must be time. I have two sandals!” They laughed as Jesus hoisted the two fat bundles and hugged them to his chest. Unable to see his feet, he blindly maneuvered each foot into a sandal. They stepped out onto the steps where Mary paused to take one last look at the House. She silently blessed their temporary sanctuary.
She joined Jesus and they headed in the direction of Uncle Jake’s stable.
As they reached the outskirts of Hebron, they found the domed structure and an aroma of fresh hay. Jacob’s diligent stewardship showed first in the condition of the grounds. “Hello Jacob!” Jesus called out.
Hearing Jesus’ voice, Darda the Donkey gave her loud and determined aww-squeak-aww-squeak greeting. “Have you missed us, Darda?” Jesus rubbed her ample snout. Darda flared her nostrils and gave a rumble in her throat.
“Oh sure, Darda. Make it sound as though you’ve been neglected and badly treated all this time,” Jacob chuckled as he opened the door of the stable and came out to greet Mary and Jesus.
Jesus returned Jacob’s warm greeting, “I’m sure she was well cared for, my good man! Knowing Darda, we would have heard her all the way from the Guest House if it were otherwise.”
“I only hope you’re as well rested as Darda. She was beginning to balk over daily exercise. I think she wants to continue her journey. Where are you going?” asked Jacob.
“We’re heading towards the Mediterranean,” Jesus gave Mary a look that signalled brevity.
Seeing there was no further information forthcoming, Jacob said, “Well! Many blessings on your journey. You have an excellent beast here. Darda seems less a donkey than any others I’ve met – if you know what I mean.”
“Indeed I do. This little donkey knows our hearts. She often tells us when and where it’s time to rest before we realize we need one.”
“Have you got everything you need?” Jacob looked down at Jesus’ feet. “I’m glad to see you have the right number of sandals for the trip. Oops…,” he chuckled. “You might be more comfortable if they were on the right feet”
Jesus quickly looked down dreading the possibility of his wounds showing. He laughed with relief when he saw how he’d blindly slipped his sandals on the wrong feet. “I knew it wasn’t an easy walk, but I blamed these two heavy bundles.” He looked at Jacob’s gleaming smile and added, “Guess they were heavy enough to exhaust the brains in my feet.”
Mary hid her grin behind her shawl.
Jacob laughed, “I’ll tell Levi that’s why there was blood on your sandals.”
Mary turned away momentarily with a shiver of dismay at the thought of people discussing them. It reinforced her determination to get back to their journey. Steeling herself to steady her voice, she said, “Please say good-bye to Levi for us. We so appreciate his care in helping us out.”
“He adopted you, you know,” Jacob said. “My brother, Alpeus told me Levi really wanted to go and visit you. I heard Levi say, ‘Father, I know I am to know these people.’ It’s like he had been appointed your Keeper and wanted to be certain you were okay. He even knew what you bought at the daily market, Mary, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows what you ate at every meal! Oh, he’s a good young man, but he can be strange at times. He’s already telling his father that he has a bigger job to do than make sandals. Alpeus thinks it’s just a young lad’s fancy and it’ll pass.”
Mary and Jesus exchanged glances. Was Levi one of the people ready to hear the message? Was he being spiritually prodded to draw near them and hear it?
As Jacob was bringing Darda to them, Mary heard a rushed set of footsteps. Levi suddenly appeared and approached Mary, “I’m so glad I got here to say goodbye!”
Mary greeted Levi by name and he quickly turned his back to the men. He whispered, “I know I’m going to see you again.” Disarmed, she drew back and studied the sincerity in this young man’s expression.
Puzzled, Jesus came to Mary’s side. “Thank you for rescuing my sandal, Levi,” Jesus said. “As much as I’d like to support your father’s skills at making sandals, time dictates that we return to the road.”
Levi looked down with shyness, “It was an honour.” He pointed at his panting companion laying at his feet, “With the help of this scoundrel – Hebbie.”
“Thanks, Hebbie,” Jesus said as he bent to scratch the dog’s ear.
Jesus stood up and gave a knowing nod to Mary. “Let’s give Darda some time to get used to being on the road again – without the load. I’ll carry the bundles until I tire.”
Mary welcomed the opening to move on. She reached over to rub Darda’s familiar face, scratched behind her ears and took the reins. “Sweet Darda. Our trusty friend…it’s time to go.”
Darda nuzzled Mary; then pranced her enthusiasm to be back with her family.