33 – Rome
The tensions finally peaked once we’d all had a chance to sit down and–at Father Antonio’s insistence–have a cup of coffee. To her credit, Amira made an American variety, not the jet fuel that we’d had down at the cafe, but Father Antonio at least took it in stride.
Finally, he was the one to break the silence. “So, you said that the two of you were old friends? Where did you meet?”
When Amira didn’t answer, I took it upon myself. “Iraq. A few years back.” I gave him the quick version.
Either Amira remembered it much the same as I had or at least she heard nothing egregiously wrong, as she let me speak without comment.
For whatever reason, I neglected to mention Amira’s prior connection with the shard of pottery. Somehow, I felt that it her story to tell and if she were remaining silent, well then it would just have to wait. Granted, I’d already told Father Antonio about seeing the shard before in Iraq–I just couldn’t remember if I’d mentioned Amira’s name that time. Surely he could put two and two together though.
Yet if he had, he remained silent on the matter.
When the story wound down, I took the chance to ask a question of my own. “So how do you know her?”
He shook his head slightly, as if he’d been in his own little world. My story hadn’t been that boring, had it?
“Know her? Oh right. Here in Rome, Ms. Jarrah is known as something of an in the field of… shall we say special artifacts. Particularly those originating from the early Christian church.”
Two thoughts flew thought my mind. The first was Jarrah? I realized that I hadn’t really even known Amira’s family name. I was sure that she’d told me at some point, it just hadn’t had an opportunity to really sink in. I think that more than anything settled the surreality of the situation in my mind. Father Antonio may actually have known Amira better than I did.
The second thought… “Special?”
It was Amira who answered this time, smiling slightly as she did. “You know that the there are things in the world that aren’t quite what they seem.” And she knew that I knew, she’d been there with me. “Well it turns out that that shard of pottery isn’t the only one.”
I looked down at the table. Father Antonio had finally put the shard down and it sat there on the table, curving a bit of the way around the vase in the centerpeace. Knowning where to look, I could see the stress fracture on one side now, the point where a bullet had struck the table nearby and sent shards into Amira’s back.
“I’d always thought that was God’s work,” I finally said. “A miracle.”
By all accounts, Amira should have died. She’d been lying there on the table, her condition worsening despite everything that the medic could do. I’d done all that I could do, praying for the medic to do what he was trained for and, failing that, for all that was left: a miracle.
And then she’d gotten better. A miracle indeed.
“It was God’s work,” Amira said. “In a way. I’ve come to believe that this piece is the sole surviving part of the Cup of Lazarus.”
I remembered Father Antonio calling it by the same name. Of course, it meant no more to me now than it had then. “The what?”
For some reason, she glanced over at Father Antonio. He nodded and only then did she turn back to me and start to explain.
34 – Rome
“The Cup of Lazarus never should have existed,” Amira said. “A whole series of circumstances had to line up just right in order for this cup to exist, yet line up they did. A miracle, you might say.”
“It started with Jesus coming to the small town of al-Eizariya. In those days, it was known as Bethany.”
Well, at least that narrowed down which Lazarus we were talking about.
“Despite being informed that Lazarus was dying, Jesus had remained away, only arriving four days after Lazarus' death.”
And Jesus wept.
“But what’s not mentioned is the potter in a house near Lazarus' tomb, a friend of the family. When Jesus came to call Lazarus from the grave, she was in the process of making a cup, spinning it about on her potter’s wheel. Well, it seems that as Jesus spoke, the vibrations were recorded in the structure of the cup itself, the force behind them cutting grooves into the clay.”
It seemed hard to believe, but then again, I’d seen several hard to believe things in the past few weeks. Most of them revolving around this very shard of pottery.
“After that, there are tales throughout the ages. Cases of those drinking from the cup being miraculously brought back from the brink of death, tales of The common thread is that the tales always seem to involves death and resurrection. So it’s thought that perhaps when the cup recorded the words of Jesus, perhaps some of his divine will found its way into the cup as well.”
“I think perhaps the most interesting work came about in the early 1900s, back when the whole collection was still in Egypt. A young man had been set to study the pieces as part of an ongoing effort to identify and label the collection, to try to identify and categorize each piece. When he saw the grooves, his mind had immediately gone to the absolutely brand new gramophone they’d been tinkering with. In those grooves, he saw the same dips and rises one might see in the wax disks of a gramophone. So of course, he had to try to make it play–just because he could.”
I knew that feeling at least. There were few greater reasons to do something than just because you wanted to know if it could be done.
“It took him the better part of a month to get everything right, rigging the gramophone to play from the broken yet still curved surface of the shard rather than the smooth curves of the disks that had come with it. Yet finally he triumphed.”
I realized that I was leaning fowards, sitting on the very edge of my seat. In spite of myself, I could feel the tale drawing me in.
“And when he did–he heard absolutely nothing worth mentioning. Just some sort of low pitched rumble that roughly rose and fell over the course of the shard. Crushed, he just about gave up hope right then. It was only through the actions of his little sister that he managed to discover the secret of the shard.”
“That evening, she was playing with the gramophone when she managed to knock it ever so slightly out of whack. Twisting one of the gears so that it slipped more slowly, the recording was suddenly playing back at a quarter of the normal speed. And what did it sound like? A low pitched rumble, roughly rising and falling.”
“Inspired, the older brother not only managed to fix the gramophone, he managed to speed up it even more, so that he could properly play back the shard. And when he did–oh when he did. He heard a voice.”
I felt a chill, starting low at the base of my spine. By now, I could already put together where surely her tale must have been going.
“The words he heard there were in Aramaic, an old dialect spoken in Israel during the Second Temple period. It took some time before they were able to find someone that not only spoke Aramaic, but could also make out any of the Old Aramaic in the recording.”
“When they finally did, they heard the words ‘… I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me. – Lazarus, come forth!'”
The chill sped up my spine. I knew those words. I knew them well.