My name is Demikus. I am a citizen of Rome. I was born in Rome. I have lived here all my life. And I am a carpenter. I make furniture. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. My wife’s name was Salara. She died 4 years ago giving birth to our only child, our son and my joy, Justic. He was born with a body and mind that, though beautiful, do not function for him. He rarely moves, and when he does, his movements are slow and contorted. His eyes, though deep blue like a clear summer sky, have never seen me or shown any sign of recognition of anything. When his eyes are open, he just stares blankly past me. Except for a few and infrequent low groans or moans, I have never heard his voice. I love him with more than all my heart. He is a constant joy for me and a never-ending reminder of the love of my life, who gave her life so my son could live. Ever since the moment he came into the world, we have never been apart. He is always with me. When he was small, I would carry my tool box in one hand and Justic in his basket in the other. Now that he’s 4, when I go out to work, I carry him on my back, in a pack I made for him. My neighbors and my customers now think of us as one person. Where I go, he goes. I think he is happy. I guess I choose to believe he is happy.
A man came to Rome about a year ago. He arrived under guard and moved, or a better way to say it, was put into a house across the city and has remained there ever since. He is not allowed to leave and the house is continually guarded. I have heard he is allowed to have people in and his friends are allowed to meet his needs, but he never leaves the house.
There are many rumors about who he is,(or was). Some say he was a powerful Roman official that got on the wrong side of Caesar. Others say he got on the wrong side of some Jewish leaders. Who knows? Anyway, it’s none of my business. That’s what I thought anyway, until last week.
A man I had never seen before came to my house the Monday before last. He said he had a job for me. His friend needed a table. The table he had was not large enough for him to work on. I asked the man what kind of work his friend did. He said he was a writer. He told me the size of table he needed, I told him the price I would charge, and he agreed. He told me the location of the house were I would be delivering the table, paid the deposit, and asked when I would have it finished. I told him a week and he nodded his head in approval and left.
So, for the next week, Justic and I worked on the table. Measuring, cutting, fitting, sanding. I would do the physical work, and my son would be by my side, encouraging me. When the table was finished, I tied the pieces on my pull cart, loaded my tools and set Justic in his pack and carefully placed him on my back. I took hold of the pull poles on the front of my cart and my son and I started our trip to the customers house.
As we approached the location the man had indicated, I asked a group of people sitting at a cafe if they could tell me where the house was that matched my description. A short time later, we came to the house. I was surprised to see two soldiers guarding the front door. As we approached the door, one of the guards asked me to state my business. Right when I was about to answer, the man that had ordered the table came out the front door and explained my business to the guards. They moved away from the door so Justic and I could carry the new table inside. After being shown where the table was to be assembled, we brought it in and put it in its place.
When we were finished, the man paid us. As we were about to leave, the man said the person that I had built the table for would like to speak to me, if I had the time. I agreed and he directed me to some stairs he told me led to a terrace where I would find him. We climbed the stairs and came to a bright and open terrace. There was a man sitting on a chair in the middle of the space with his back to us. As we approached, he rose from the chair with substantial effort and turned towards us. He was very old and had snow white hair. His face was cracked and wrinkled and marked with much more than age. But in the center of this ravaged face were two eyes I have a hard time describing even now. They seemed to pierce straight into my heart. They showed so much wisdom, strength, compassion, pain and heartbreak, I could hardly look into them. He offered his hand. I grasped it. It was even more twisted and scared than his face, but steady and strong. He said,”I have been so wanting to meet the two of you.” Most people only address me, and ignore Justic. I told him, this is my son, Justic, and I’m Demikus. He said, “My name is Paul”. There was another chair in the corner of the terrace. He pulled it out and placed it next to the one he had been sitting in and asked, “Would you mind if we sat and talked for a while?” I told him that I wouldn’t mind and prepared to bring my son around to my lap so I could sit down. But before I got him settled, Paul asked, ” Would you mind if I hold him while we talk?” Taken by surprise, because no one had ever asked that of me before, I hesitated for a moment, but then handed my precious son to a man I had just met. He gently cradled Justic in his arms, and as we talked, he would slowly rock him back and forth. We talked for about an hour. I told him about my growing up in Rome and learning to be a carpenter. He told me his best friend is a carpenter. I told him how hard it was losing my wife and what a joy Justic was in my life. He told me storys about all the places he had been and even being shipwrecked at sea more than once. It started getting late, so I told him we had better start for home. With that he gave my son a kiss on his forehead. He gave him him a last gentle hug before handing my sleeping boy back to me. We said goodbye and as I approached the top step to go down, I turned and the old man smiled.
Justic slept all the way home. When we arrived, it was late. I placed him carefully in his bed and he stayed asleep.
The next morning as the sun rose in my window and it’s rays rested on my face, a shadow moved across the light for a moment. I sprang to my feet to see who was in my room. I saw a small figure standing, looking out the window. As my eyes focused, I discovered it was my son! I ran over to him and embraced him. I turned him around so I could look at his face. He was smiling and for the first time I saw him in his eyes. As I cried, he hugged me like he was trying to comfort me. The whole time he was smiling. Was this real or a dream. I took a couple steps back and he followed me. A bird landed on the windowsill and chirped. Justic turned towards the window, pointed his finger at the bird, and also for the first time laughed. This was no dream. My precious son was well. I spent the next few hours watching him and playing with him. We went to all our neighbors and I introduced them to my son. All they had ever seen was the way he used to be and everyone was amazed and asked how this could be. I told them I had no idea. But I thought to myself, I do have an idea. That afternoon, Justic and I started out to see Paul again. I had to find out what had happened. Somehow, he had given me my son. And as we traveled, rather than riding on my back in silence, I felt my son’s hand in mine and heard his laughter as we walked together.