"That's ridiculous!" Magdalen said.
"There can't be two places where Christ was resurrected. Why can't they
just get together on one?"
Daoud shrugged apologetically. It
was, after all, not his fault that Anglicans had their own ideas about the
location of Christ's tomb. He wasn't Anglican -- she was!
"There's only one place where
Christ was born," she ranted on. "Only one place where He was crucified.
Why do there have to be two places where He was buried?"
Since he had no idea, Daoud just
They were standing on Nablus Road
in East Jerusalem, just outside the garden that contained the tomb in
which, according to Anglicans, Christ had been buried and then
resurrected. It was a chilly April day, shortly before Easter, and
Magdalen, a shapely woman just over forty, had on a black raincoat over
her yellow wool suit. Although it was cloudy, she wore large, dark
sunglasses to keep out the glare bouncing off the white Jerusalem
"This is very unsatisfying, very
unsatisfying!" she complained. "I came here for a spiritual experience. I
thought I felt it in Bethlehem. I thought I felt it on the Via Dolorosa. I
thought I felt it at the Holy Sepulchre. But here I felt nothing. I have
to know it's the right place or I feel nothing."
Unwilling to shrug a third time,
Daoud merely smiled.
"What are you smiling at?" Magdalen
asked. "It's not funny."
"Sorry, Ms. Brixton, I
"It's Maggie!" Magdalen broke in.
"I told you. I'm not Ms. Anybody. I'm Maggie."
"Sorry ... Maggie." Daoud forced
out the name as though spitting out blood. Calling a strange woman by her
first name was as unnatural to him as pissing in front of her, and it was
a terrible effort for him to do it.
He had to remember not to call her
anything at all from now on.
"Well, where do we go from here?"
Magdalen asked impatiently.
"The Western Wall," Daoud said.
"We'll need to drive there."
In the taxi, Magdalen kept talking
to the back of Daoud's head.
"Why did you take me there?" she
said. "If I had never known about it, I would have been perfectly happy
with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That was where Christ was
crucified, buried, and resurrected, all in one place. OK, that was it,
one-stop shopping. Now it's all ruined. I'll have to go home not knowing
whether or not I was in the right place."
Daoud said nothing, hoping the
storm would blow over.
"I asked, why did you take me
there?" Magdalen repeated with a nasty edge to her voice.
"You said you were Anglican," Daoud
answered, careful not to address her by name. "We're told to take
Anglicans to the Garden Tomb."
"Who tells you?"
Daoud shrugged. "Everybody does
"Well, you shouldn't," Magdalen
said, annoyed that there was no one in the taxi with whom she could be
As they inched along, Magdalen
gazed out at the crowded, run-down street and wondered why she was there.
She had taken her life in her hands and had spent a good part of her
savings, and for what?
The disagreement about the location
of Christ's tomb raised the question of whether anything she was seeing
was authentic. The events she was retracing happened over 2000 years ago.
How did anyone know where they had taken place?
"There is another tomb that people
say is the right one," Daoud said tentatively, unsure whether he was
saving the situation or making it worse, unsure which outcome he
"I've had enough of tombs,"
Magdalen said. And then: "Who says it's the right one?"
"That Hollywood director. The one
who did The Titanic."
"Oh, yes, I remember that!" She
hadn't actually seen James Cameron's documentary, but she had read about
it, and had seen clips on the nightly news.
"The ossuaries had names on them,"
Daoud continued. "Joseph and Mary, and Jesus, son of Joseph, and Miriamne,
who is thought to be Mary Magdalen."
"Magdalen!" Magdalen laughed.
Thank God! Daoud thought. She's in
a good mood.
"Take me there," Magdalen
"But the Western Wall," Daoud
"I'll see it another day. I just
have a feeling about this. Take me."
"It's a long way."
"What do you care? I'm paying you
by the hour."
"But there's nothing to see
"What do you mean there's nothing
to see there?"
"Just a concrete slab. The
authorities won't let anyone in. It's all closed up."
"Then why did you mention
Again, the ugliness in her
"Just to make conversation. I
wasn't suggesting we go there."
"Take me there," Magdalen repeated.
"I want to be there, even if there's nothing to see. I have a feeling
Daoud shrugged once again and
pulled the taxi off the crowded little street they were on and out onto a
broad avenue. Soon they were speeding away from the Old City and out into
the Judean hills, whose rocky outcrops sprouted massive housing
developments in gleaming white stone.
Magdalen could not begin to
understand what she was doing. She was perhaps as baffled as Daoud. Maybe
it was a rebellion against her depression, she thought, her sense that
this trip was turning out to be another failure. And like a gambler on a
losing streak she was throwing the dice foolishly, recklessly, one more
At the age of forty she was bitter,
lonely, and unloved, and was afraid that she would be for the rest of her
life. She had just wound up a two-year affair with an older man, an angry
and tempestuous breakup that had left her feeling like a piece of
splintered wood drifting in the open ocean.
So she had come here, perhaps to
find an anchor for the object of her longing. And instead, what she had
found was the same old human uncertainty.
Up, up they went, then curved
around a hill, then up again. Behind them the shifting views of the Old
City grew more and more spectacular, the golden dome of the Dome of the
Rock and the silver dome of Al-Aksa gleaming in the sunlight that now
streamed beneath the clouds, emanating from a sinking late-afternoon
In front of them the hills grew
less and less urbanized, until it seemed as though they were on the very
edge of the city, and beyond them were hills much as they had been when
Jesus had walked on them, rock-strewn and dotted with little villages that
seemed as ancient and natural as the landscape.
They turned off the main avenue
onto a side street and then into a white stone housing
"Here!" Daoud said. "It's in the
courtyard. We have to walk."
They got out of the taxi and walked
to a flight of stairs leading down to a dirt yard that contained a large,
rectangular concrete slab.
"That's it?" Magdalen
"It's behind the concrete," Daoud
said in a whisper, unsure why he was whispering. "The authorities don't
want anyone to disturb it."
It was nothing, nothing, Magdalen
thought. She felt like crying. Another wild goose chase.
She walked down the stairs slowly,
hoping to feel something. Daoud remained at the top, leaving her to
herself. She knelt at the side of the slab and waited to feel whatever she
Above her the little rectangle of
sky was turning pink. Around her were middle-class apartments, occupied by
hundreds of ordinary people coming home from work, making supper, scolding
their children, exasperated, at their wit's end, enduring their
And behind that slab was nothing.
An empty hole carved into rock that might or might not -- probably not --
have once held the body of Jesus.
Dearest Jesus! she found herself
praying. Help me! I came here because ... I needed You.
She realized as she thought this
that until that moment she hadn't been sure why she had come to the Holy
Land. But now she knew why she was there, not just in the Holy Land but
kneeling beside a concrete slab in the midst of an Israeli housing
development, and for the first time, unaccountably in the gathering gloom,
she felt fingers of hope come up over a horizon within
She began to weep, whether from
happiness or bitterness she didn't know, though it felt like both at once.
She took off her dark sunglasses and began to wipe her eyes and cheeks
with a tissue she had pulled out of the pocketbook still slung over her
"Ms. Brixton! Ms. Brixton!" Daoud
called gently, coming down the stairs and hovering near her. "Are you all
She nodded, grateful for his
concern. "I need more time," she said through her sobs.
Daoud turned and went back up the
Oh, my God! she continued, shaking
uncontrollably. Please help me! Please help me! Please --
She looked up at the now dark
little patch of heaven above her, and suddenly she was flooded with love,
as though a sun had just risen over the hills in her
Oh, my God! Oh, my God! she found
herself repeating, this time out of excitement rather than despair. She
heard a voice from within her say, You are mine! You are mine! You are
mine! and her sobs became sobs of joy, still choking her, still just as
beyond her control, but with a gush of happiness she would remember for
the rest of her life.
Later, in the semidarkness, she
came back up the stairs to find Daoud stretched out on top of a
"I'm back," she said, coming over
He came out of his sleep. "Ms.
Brixton," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine. We can go back
He jumped down from the wall and
they walked silently back to his taxi.
As they curved down the hills in
the darkness, down towards the lights of the city below, Magdalen was
still shaking from the love that had surged through her. She felt drained,
empty, actually, but peaceful, looking towards the future, though with
some fear that the love she had discovered might not be
"Ms. Brixton," Daoud asked her,
staring straight ahead at the increasingly crowded road. "Was it the right
"Yes, it was," she said, tears
again coursing down her cheeks. "Thank you for taking me there. For me it
was definitely the right tomb."