The mother and father were not from around here, but the king told them to report. They came from a town up north, also small, about seventy miles away. It was an uphill journey to the capital and then a little more uphill to our town.
The woman was pregnant when they arrived—and they had no place to stay. The lodging for out-of-towners was all booked up. Poor girl.
Our next door neighbor had a space for them—in his stable.
I am not sure how long they were here before she gave birth, but that is how I got to know them. I heard the baby crying. I asked father if I could pay them a visit.
I am the middle child, ten years old. We are a family of musicians. We make all kinds of instruments. The holidays had passed not long before so we were back to life as usual.
The strangers next door were a welcome curiosity to me. Mother gave me some bread, cheese and wine to take to them.
The father was holding the baby when I arrived. The mother was resting.
I greeted him. “Mazel tov!”
“Thank you! Shalom.”
“My name is Asher. I live next door.”
“I am glad to meet you. My name is Joseph ben Jacob.”
“He is a beautiful baby.”
“Would you like to hold him?”
His eyes seemed smaller than my little brother’s. His fingers were shorter and he had less hair on his head.
“What is his name?” I asked.
We made fast friends. I wanted to teach him to whistle.
"Here is a tune you should learn."
It has been some days since I met Joshua ben Joseph.
The king’s men came through town three nights ago. It was horrific.
They killed my little brother. Slashed his throat.
I was awakened by the sound of my mother screaming and crying, fighting for my brother's life. My father was bent over his small body. He kept me away.
My mother cried and cried and cried. I had never before seen her like this. My father covered his son, held him, joined my mother by the wall and cried, heaving.
The following morning I found out that every boy in our village two years old or younger was killed.
We buried him yesterday, according to our custom.
Earlier today, I wondered what had happened to the family in the stable and found out they left town just before the slaughter.
There will be no flute-making for twenty-seven more days. We will say Kaddish. Mother and father will attend no celebrations for the next year. Most of the town would have no celebrations, anyway. An entire village in mourning.
We will not strum our instruments. Our harps will be played only by others and we will stop our ears from their sounds. Slavery in Egypt would be better than this hell.
I miss my brother but I wish Joshua well. I wish I could see him again. I would take him to my special hiding place and whistle softly so no one else could hear. He needs to learn these tunes, even the songs of mourning.
I am glad he escaped. I hope to meet him again some day. He is just a normal boy but I suspect there may be something special about him. He reminds me of music, a simple tune.
Maybe some day I can play some music for him. For now, there will be no music.
A Newborn Named Joshua
a short story by Troy Cady