The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire (Continued) 2

It was not until years later, after the boy’s limbs grew long and ropey, after he nearly reached the same height as the beekeeper, after his body began to fill up the coils of barbs around his body — the wire sinking into the meat of his flesh —it was not until after he’d given up on the prospect of communion that something just like that began to happen.

What happened was, a minister came to town holding a Bible in one hand and his daughter’s hand in the other. This minister had plans and was telling everyone about them. He was going to re–open the abandoned church that stood in the center of town where the two main streets intersected.

For years the town had gone without a preacher, but although the people had lacked a spiritual leader for several generations, you could not say they were unspiritual. And this, the minister said that first Sunday, was the reason why the Lord had led him to them. "You are a flock," he told them, "without a shepherd. Come. Follow me to the Lord."

During services, the minister’s daughter sat in the first pew, occasionally raising her hand to praise the Lord or her father. Sometimes it wasn’t apparent which one she lauded, but that didn’t matter. To most people, and to the girl herself, the minister and God were one and the same. She was a righteous one, the minister’s daughter.Everyone could see that from the start. When the minister asked the congregation to sing, "Shall We Gather at the River," she played the organ to accompany his strong, dark voice. When the minister asked the congregation to make a joyful noise, her voice curled up and over the others, rising up to reach the rafters.

Soon a great revival was in full swing and people began taking one another, friends and neighbors, to hear the minister. Several town mothers even gathered their courage to walk down the winding dirt road to the beekeeper’s cabin in the forest. The beekeeper needed God as well, they all agreed. But when the beekeeper stood in his doorway and wouldn’t hear of it, they implored him to at least let them bring the barbed wire boy to the Lord.

"He’s never been baptized," said the mothers. "Since his life here on earth has been so mangled, you can at least secure the child a place in heaven." These same women had never before shown an interest in the condition of the barbed wire boy’s soul, nor in their own children’s, but now that the minister had spread the good news, they worried over this part of their existence, which previously they had never known to be lacking. "His soul!" they cried, as if it were an endangered species. "His soul!"

The beekeeper was not a religious man, but when he saw the look in his son’s eyes at the sight of those mothers crowding the doorway, he decided to allow them to take the boy to church.

* * * * * * * * * * *

To say that a church is home to God and anyone who follows Him is to speak in sacred literality. Let us speak in metaphor then, because what the barbed wire boy saw after he crossed the threshold and sat in the last pew, listening to the hymns of his fellow townspeople, what he saw after one of the town mothers came over to give him a large Bible, apologizing for its age and thickness but saying she hoped he’d enjoy it "as a gift from the church," what he saw when he opened the book was nothing so much as the image of his own being.Upon the first crisp page he turned to, Christ hung on his cross. And although the blood seeping from his eyes reminded the boy of his own occasional bleeding, it was the crown of thorns upon the Lord’s head that caught his eye. He licked his lips, wanting to cry, wanting to give a great shout or to fall on his knees. Never before had he felt so not alone in the world. Spread out before his very eyes was someone else who suffered the torments of body and spirit. Jesus hadn’t been born wearing a crown of thorns, but metaphorically — andwe have established that metaphorically is how we are speaking — we could say that the Lord was born with that crown of thorns, for that crown was waiting for him since before his birthday.

It was during the preacher’s sermon on Unity, how the town had fallen apart without God to bring them together, that the barbed wire boy was overcome with something he could only call holy. "Yes!" he shouted, mimicking the others. "Hallelujah!" he cried. Soon everyone’s eyes were on him, as if he’d been saying hallelujah at an inappropriate moment, so he closed his mouth and sat down. As he took his seat, the wooden pew creaked in the silence, and in the front row the minister’s daughter cocked her head to the side and smiled.

After the minister received the offering, everyone stood to leave. As they departed, the minister grabbed the hands of each member of his congregation. To shake the men’s firmly. To hold and caress the women’s palms, soft and noble as a knight. But when the barbed wire boy came to him, the minister only smiled, curious and wary. "Well now," he said with a squint in his eye. "I see we have a visitor."

"Not a visitor, sir," said the boy. "I plan to come every week." He almost reached out to take the minister’s hand, to thank him for introducing him to Jesus, as if the minister’s being in the Lord’s favor would make the man immune to his barbs, but stopped halfway through the motion. Not even ministers, he figured, were immune to pain.

"That’s a large cross you bear, son," said the minister, stern but fatherly. "You carry it well now, hear?"

The barbed wire boy beamed at hearing these words come out of the mouth of the very minister! He, too, saw the similarity then. Finally, thought the boy, finally I am home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

For the next few days, the barbed wire boy talked about nothing but Jesus. He was Jesus this and Jesus that, and the beekeeper could only shake his head in annoyance. "What’s all this about Jesus?" he said, and the boy blinked as if his father had asked the stupidest question in the world.

"Jesus is our Lord," said the boy. "He died to cleanse your sins."

The beekeeper shook his head, though, his eyes darkening with frustration. "You sound like your mother," he said, and turned to leave. But before he could make it out the door, the barbed wire boy grabbed hold of his father.

"How?" he asked, while at the same time a long barb sunk into the flesh between his father’s neck and shoulder.

"Ow!" shouted the beekeeper. He pulled away from the boy’s hand and blood welled in the spot where the barb had lodged, a fat apple. It burst a moment later and dripped down under the beekeeper’s collar.

"How," said the boy. "How do I sound like her?"

The beekeeper took the boy up to the attic. He rummaged through boxes until he found what he wanted. "Aha," he said, and pulled out a dust–covered book. "This," he told the boy, "was hers."

It was a Bible, the pages tattered and yellow. "I hadn’t known she was religious," said the barbed wire boy.

"She wasn’t. But she often read it."

The barbed wire boy sat on the floor of the attic, paging through his mother’s Bible. It did not have many pictures in it like the Bible the church mother gave to him. His mother’s name had been written in pencil on a page recording the births in her family history. Below her name though, he found an empty space. There had been no time to enter him into her story.

He put aside his mother’s Bible and took up the church mother’s Bible, seeking out the picture he’d found earlier that week, after he’d returned from his first day of church. There it was, the one that made his heart swell, tightening the barbed wire coiled around it. The one of Lord Jesus with his mother, holding him in her arms, his side pierced, his forehead wet with blood. That embrace, the love in her eyes as she held her child, now a dead man, in her strong arms.

The beekeeper did not bother his son about church any further. He spent most of his time with his hives. The hum, the smell of honey, the flutter of light on wings — those were the beekeeper’s religion. Some days he would do nothing but lick honey straight from their combs. The nectar of heaven, he called it. The only pure substance on earth.He seemed able to somehow get drunk off the sweetness. Sometimes he’d suit up and let the bees cover his entire body. He would hold his arms out, his face tilted toward the sky. And in those moments he’d think of his wife from the time before their son came through her. He would stare at the sun as bees covered his visor, eclipsing any visible light.