by Robin Wrigley
Father Van der Bosch’s Last Christmas
It was the last Friday, a week before Christmas and Jens Van der Bosch was walking through the alley from his residence in the walled city of Jerusalem. He had been invited for dinner by an old acquaintance, Maurice the manager of the Sinai Hotel, outside the old city walls.
Dusk was approaching, various craft and workshop venders were either closing down their shutters for the night or busy rearranging their wares and checking the lighting. Though he knew most of them by sight and in some cases by name, he endeavoured not to offer any greetings in order to avoid the inevitable time consuming cups of tea that would lead to his being late for his appointment.
As he silently walked through the labyrinth, turning this way and that, his feet knew the directions so well having trod this way so many times over the years; he was able to allow his thoughts into reflections rather than the need to concentrate on the route.
He had taken up this post as a novice, forty-one years ago at the age of twenty-three now, he was nearing retirement in this year on his sixty-fifth birthday. All too soon he would be a resident at the Franciscan retirement hospice in his native Holland. A slight chill came over him at the mere thought of it.
Where had the years gone? He smiled to himself as he remembered his first month trying his utmost to blend in and learn the art of obsequiousness in order to fit in to the ways of this smouldering, melting pot of the three major religions without fear or favour.
Unexpectedly it had snowed the first week in January that first year, something he never ever considered likely. He thought he had left snow and ice behind in Europe. But snow it did and he fondly remembered the look of righteous indignation of the camel hunkered down outside one of the tourist hotels; a white blanket slowly forming on his head and hump. How silly and incongruous he looked.
So much had happened in the intervening years some good but mostly sad. That first year there had been much celebrating at the rescue of hostages in Entebbe. This was but the first of many significant events during his tenure and a classic example of the tenacity of this tiny nation to survive against overwhelming odds.
As he turned a sharp right out of the last alley that led to the main road to meet the hotel taxi, he almost collided with a young Rabbi hurrying for the start of the Shabbat.
The Rabbi almost lost his hat and Jens offered his profuse apologies in English. Though he had mastered Hebrew as well as Arabic he still was not comfortable in the former.
‘My sincere apologies Rabbi, I’m afraid I was lost in thought. May I offer you the season’s greetings? Merry Christmas.’
The Rabbi glared back, righted his black Homberg hat and attempted to continue on his way but not before spitting loudly on the cobbles. Jens was extremely upset at such a response but in forty plus years he had learned a lot and not all from his calling or the bible. He had the advantage of middle-age; the Rabbi was but a young man and given to such outbursts.
He turned around embracing the Rabbi quietly but firmly and kissed him on each cheek. The Rabbi recoiled and pushed him away – he had spent over an hour ceremoniously dressing and preparing for the lighting of the candles. Now this stupid priest had defiled him and he would have to return to his home and begin the ritual all over again.
Father Jens Van der Bosch continued on his way out onto the main street to the waiting taxi. Having greeted the driver with all the necessary politeness he settled into the back seat with a smile on his face. A life of many twists and turns and the year was coming to its natural conclusion. But first he was to have supper with Maurice.