I bloody hate holidays, me. Everyone asks, every year, “what you doing for Passover?” “Celebrating passover with anyone nice this year?” “Who’s hosting your passover meal for you this year?” “The usual”; “No”; “Me” are my standard answers. Passover doesn’t mean holidays for innkeepers. Passover means extra work, ungrateful clients, absent servants, inflated prices that I can’t pass on to the ungrateful customers, and crowds, crowds, crowds.
I mean, look at what happened yesterday. She had gone again. Whatsherface? Tabitha. Takes off every high day and holy day, and leaves me to do the women’s work, the servant’s work. If we’re going to hire the rooms for the provincials’ passover parties then the rooms need to be cleaned. Even Galileans can tell when a room hasn’t been swept, and Galileans especially would take that as a reason for a discount. So rooms need to be cleaned, and brooms need to be used and water needs to be fetched. Women’s work, servant’s work. And then Tabitha disappears again, and I have to go to the well to fetch the water. Honestly, if I hadn’t got all those bookings, I wouldn’t have bothered. The grief I get from the neighbours! “Here comes the dancing girl!” “Give us a drink, love!”. I’ll give you a bloody drink!
So there I am, on the third trip back from well, with that enormous jar under my arms (how do women manage them on their heads),when up comes creeping two of the Galileans, all cloak and dagger, like, as if they were on some secret mission. And they were pathetically obvious. Provincials, with their scruffy clothes and worse accents.
“The Teacher says…”, they start. “Teacher? What teacher?” says I, knowing full well that it’s the Galilean rabbi who made the booking three days ago. (Rabbi? Another nutter, more like). But they have to go through the whole “on his majesty’s imperial secret service” routine. “The teacher wishes to know where is the guest room.” “Oh”, says I, thinking to have some fun. “And the screech owl hoots in the valley of the tombs,” and gesture to them to give the pass-code. The look on their faces! Pure panic!“Don’t worry, legates. I know who the teacher is, and I know where his booking is. Come with me. Lovely room, freshly swept, ideal for intimate Passovers for family and friends. Good times guaranteed. When Elijah comes, these are the rooms he’ll use for his Passover”. Honestly, like shooting fish in a barrel. No sense of humour, Galileans.
So along they come, and sniff out the room, like they’ve ever seen anything better, mutter things about “the teacher’s place at table” and “away from the scribes”, still playing the frumentarii secret service nonsense. And then they hang around, getting under my feet, all afternoon, as I boil the eggs, and lay out the plates and cups, and roast the lamb, and pour the wine in the jars around the room. “We’ll need more wine”, they say. “More?” says I. “How many cups of the Passover do you propose to drink tonight? The usual twenty-three?” “There are only four cups of the Passover,” says the big one, a lumpen fool if I ever saw one. “But there will be thirteen or more of us for the meal”. More wine it is then.
And then, as it gets dark, the rest of them turn up, more frumentarii secret service nonsense. This time literally cloak and daggers: some are packing ironmongery under their travelling cloaks and I think to myself, “Great. Legions every where and no weapons in the city, and I’ve got the Maccabees Brothers’ reunion Passover happening in my rooms!” The Teacher turns up, and then I remember why I didn’t like him when I took the booking earlier in the week. It’s the same bloke who encouraged all that fuss the day after the Sabbath: donkeys, colts, branches and shouting. The holidays are bad enough without adding street theatre to it as well. People’s tempers are short enough without angering the Temple guards and the Roman soldiers. Typical drippy Galilean rabbi: all sweet smiles until something annoys him, and then its cursing fig trees and condemning pigs. Thank God Passover is over in a night; at least I haven’t got them for a week of Tabernacles.So in comes drippy rabbi, and he immediately starts changing things and ordering people around. I’m standing there, holding the water and the towel (and biting my tongue in best servile manner), and he nicks them off me and starts washing his guests’ feet. It’s that kind of inverted snobbery I can’t stand. I’m the most important person in this room, and to make sure you all know it, I’m going to take the servant’s job from him and ostentatiously do the foot-washing.
Big-Lump objects, and at first I think he’s brighter than he looks. You’re being called out on your inverted snobbery, Rabbi, thinks I, but then I realise that Big-Lump just doesn’t get it either. Big-Lump thinks he should be doing the washing. What about the servants! I want to shout. If we don’t wash you, we don’t get the tips. Are you planning to roast the lamb as well. Don’t suppose you’ll get into a fight about the washing-up, will you?
So they get the foot-washing sorted out, and there’s a sort of embarrass pause as they all realise what the Boss has done, and then they’re back into squabbling mode, trying to get a cushion closest to the boss at the top table. Handsome wins, and sits at Boss’s right hand. The rest settle themselves discontentedly. As they are doing so, one of the guests, the one with the money satchel, catches my eye. He raises an eyebrow and gives me a quick grin. Yeah, you’re a sharp cookie, thinks I. You know what’s going on.
So the meal starts and carries on in the usual way, and I’m rushed off my feet serving wine, because these Galileans are thirsty chaps, and they drink the four cups of Passover, and five or six cups of greed between. I’m going to have to change my pricing scheme for next year: I can’t afford all-inclusive rates. And as I rushing in I realise that the Rabbi is doing his own version of Passover. It’s not just good old Moses stuff, but he’s giving his own commentary, his own explanations. Worse than that, he’s inserting himself into the stories: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”; “this is my blood of the covenant”; “Do this in remembrance of me.” I don’t know about you, but I happen to thing that if it was good enough for Moses then it was good enough for me. I don’t hold with new-fangled mucking with the Passover.
And then the wine started to have its effect, and the Boss started getting testy with his guests. Something about “betrayal” and “hands raised against me”. Ah, thinks I, divide and conquer. And, of course, an argument breaks out, with Big-Lump denying stuff and Handsome whispering questions and Boss handing out bits of bread and making pointed remarks. Honestly, people forget that servants are there, and that we hear everything.
So Boss hands a bit of bread to the wry guest I shared a grin with earlier, and mutters something to him, and wry guest grabs his satchel and stumbles his way to the door. Most of the rest of them are too bleary-eyed to notice, but I do. I go to the door just as Wry Guest gets there. I decide to be helpful, as he was the only one of the whole lot I liked. “Can I get you, anything Master?” He looks distracted, and fiddles inside his satchel, before looking up at me. “Um.. No.. Thanks. No, I’ve just got to.. Do an errand or something.” “Well let me get the door for you, in any case.” And I open the door, helpfully, for him, and let him out in the night air. My goodness, but it’s dark. As if Jerusalem has never heard of lanterns. He stumbles off into the darkness, and I shout, cheerily after him “Thank you for your custom! See you again, I hope!” And he waves a hand as he disappears.
It’s what I call the “destruction of the temple” stage of the evening. Everything is eaten, and most everything is drunk. The story (with additions!) has been told, and there’s not much left to do but sleep it all off, and wait for the quiet of the Sabbath the next day. But Boss-Rabbi is hassling his guests once more, and they are all looking for sandals and cloaks (and the swords they have hidden in them).
“Are you going anywhere, Master?” I politely ask, without a bit of irritation. “We wish to continue our worship elsewhere,” he replies. “We don’t wish to disturb you or your neighbours. Or be disturbed. We will leave. Did Judas settle the account?” “Judas?” I ask. “The disciple who left.” “No. Not yet. But I trust him. He can pay me in the morning. He looks like a reliable man with money.” Just a harrumph from the Boss. I don’t know why I bother trying to compliment anyone.I open the door, and they all sweep out, most unsteadily, into the night, Boss, Big-Lump and Handsome in the lead. The others launch, a bit uncertainly, into a hymn as they go. A rather wobbly hymn, to be honest. It would be better once they sober up a bit.
“Good night! Good night! Happy Passover! A peaceful Sabbath to you all! And perhaps next year in Galilee!” (I added that last bit under my breath– I don’t want them back, but I don’t want to lose the custom).
Eventually, before midnight, they’re gone. What a relief. I can’t tell you how glad I am, and I hope I don’t see them again. I have no idea why that nice man Judas hangs around with them. Perhaps I’ll be able to share a cup of wine with him when he pays the bill in the morning.
In the meantime, without Tabitha, the clearing up is left to me. That’s the worst thing about holidays.