I wasn’t that happy that Mum made me carry all the food. But then, she was helping Gran, and Hannah, my eldest sister (the bossy one), had Becca, my youngest sister (the whingey one), on her hip, and Simon was keeping an eye on our wee brothers, yelling at them, so it was my job. And it wasn’t too hot, a warm spring day, the hills around Bethsaida still green and soft-looking, not dusty the way they get in the summer.
Not that we were that keen on spending the day together. Mum was always grumpy these days, and Gran was getting confused, and Simon was working so hard on the shore, helping the fishermen, that he was always tired and in a bad mood, and the baby was teething. But Mum insisted we were going to have a day out, whether we liked it or not.
Typical Mum. Nobody else around us was carrying much, but she always has to go out as if she’s taking a camel train to Jerusalem – we had blankets, and water skins, and a cushion for Gran’s leg, and a string to keep the dog out of fights, and some ointment to ward away the insects, and who knows what else. Each of us had a pack over our shoulder. It was just mine that smelled of fish.
Of course, in Bethsaida we get the freshest fish, straight from the lake. Nothing to touch them for quality. Still, I’m glad the weather wasn’t too hot, or we’d have had all the dogs in the crowd following us, instead of just our own mutt on his string.
Oh, the crowd – my, you never saw a crowd like it! It was as if the whole of Bethsaida had come out on to the hillside, a whole town up and going. Thousands, there were. How they all thought they were going to hear anything is beyond me. But I suppose when one person heads out, other people just follow. And the word was going round about that Jesus bloke from Nazareth and the things he said. A couple of our neighbours, people I knew, were actually following him round the place. Not that I expected to hear anything from Jesus. The crowd was much too big. It was just going to be a day for being there, no work to do (apart from lugging the food about), hoping to find a bit of shade to sit in, maybe play a game or two with Simon, try to keep the wee ones amused. A day out, a wee holiday with a picnic.
It was odd, though: that Jesus fellow was really too far away for us to hear anything, but somehow his words seemed to reach us. We heard him talking to people, asking them questions, blessing them – and then we saw people coming back through the crowd with a weird look in their eyes, talking about being healed. Adam who lives along our street, sits and begs in the market place because one of his legs is withered – I saw him dancing! Dancing! His face was all lit up from inside, and the others were the same. Weird.
So the day passed quickly, actually. There was always something to look at, something to listen to. And there was a kind of a feeling about the place – all those people, you’d think there would be noisy groups and people gossiping or arguing, or breaking away to go and do their own thing, but even as the sun began to set no one seemed to be in any hurry to get up and go home. Gran was leaning back against the blankets, her legs on her cushion, the sun on her face, and Mum was smiling at her, laughing at something Becca had said. Hannah was playing with the wee ones, with Simon – our family’s never this quiet! It was like some kind of a miracle – a happy miracle.
Then I noticed that some of the blokes who had been down on the shore with Jesus, they were walking round through the crowd, as if they were looking for something. I was just wondering what they were up to now when Mum said,
‘Seth! Might as well get that food out now, do you think?’
‘Yes, come on Seth!’ called Hannah, but she said with a grin on her face. ‘We’re all starving – it’s dinner time!’
But they were all too relaxed to pay much attention to what happened next. I pulled out my pack and opened it, checking to see that the bread and fish hadn’t been too mushed up on the way. And one of Jesus’ men was just walking past at that moment, and I recognised him.
He lives near us in Bethsaida – well, he did up to recently. He’s old Zebedee’s son – he and his brother John headed off to follow Jesus. He’s only a bit older than me, though. His wee brother’s in the same class as me at the synagogue.
‘Seth!’ James looked over, and I was dead pleased he remembered my name. But then he saw the bread and the fish. ‘Right, lad, you’re with me,’ he said, and grabbed the pack in one hand and my arm in his other and the next thing I knew he was dragging me through the crowd down to the shore. This is going to be embarrassing, I thought. Am I going to be told off? There’ll be people here will know me – it’ll be bad tomorrow morning! What does he want me for?
And there, ahead of us, was Jesus.
It was suddenly quite hard to breathe.
James hauled me over to him, all pleased with himself.
‘We’ve a lad here with – let me see – five loaves and two fish!’
‘That’s not going to go far,’ muttered his brother John – I know him too – and James went pink.
‘It’s a start,’ he retorted.
‘It is indeed,’ said Jesus, turning to me. ‘Do you give this willingly, Seth?’
How did he know my name? James hadn’t bothered to tell him.
I couldn’t say anything, though. I just nodded. I wasn’t sure what Mum was going to say when she found her food was gone – but I’d deal with that later. She would be flaming …
‘Right, we’ll need some baskets,’ said Jesus, and from somewhere they brought up baskets, and Jesus reached into my pack with both hands and murmured something, and then he drew out bread and fish and filled the first basket. And then he did the same with the next one, and the next one, and the next one, on and on. I tried to look into my pack and see where on earth he was getting the stuff from, but it was all a bit foggy in there – I mean, the sun was really sinking now and it was hard to tell, but Jesus just went on reaching in and scooping out food, and you could tell from the noise of the crowd that everyone, all of them, were tucking in and enjoying their supper. Finally the men closest to him sat down on a rug and filled their plates, and Jesus himself turned and smiled at me.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Just what we needed.’
Not that I really heard what he said. The smile was enough.
Later on, when we were all nearly too full to move, Jesus told his followers to do a bit of clearing up, and they took the baskets round again for the scraps. I didn’t think there’d be much, but I counted at least twelve baskets coming back full – where had all that come from? But it was a good thing to clear up. After all, the food was great and there were plenty of poor people in Bethsaida who could do with it – no sense in leaving a mess out there on the hillside. And at last I left them to it and took my pack and went back, stumbling through the crowd to find my family. All the people – so many people, even by then – were slowly packing up to go home, contented smiles on their faces, quietly discussing all that had happened, talking of healing and feeding and Jesus. If I had to give a word to the people I saw – well, it’s odd, but I’d have called them refreshed.
And there at last was my lot, with Mum wiping down the wee ones’ faces and Hannah shaking out the blankets, and Simon helping Gran to her feet.
‘Where have you been?’ asked Mum at once. ‘Did you not know it was supper time?’
‘Seth’ll have found food, Mum,’ said Simon. ‘You know him.’
Hannah stopped folding the rugs and looked at me more closely, as if I had crumbs on my face.
‘What’s wrong with you? No, wait,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. What is it?’
Simon looked over, then Mum, then Gran.
‘He’s sort of … shining,’ said Hannah.
‘Aye, right,’ said Simon, then he looked more closely at me. ‘No, you’re right. He does look … right, doesn’t he?’
Mum said nothing, but she came over and gave me a hug, as if she thought she’d lost me. Then she took my pack, and looked inside. I held my breath.
‘Plenty of food left,’ she said cheerfully. ‘That’ll do us all for breakfast. Well done for looking after it, son.’ And she handed it back for me to carry. But the look she gave me told me she somehow knew what had happened.
Some kind of a miracle. A happy miracle.