(Based on Matthew 2:16)
His eyes. Dark brown, framed with stubby lashes that glistened with tears. Tears that, even now, traced thin tracks into his milk chocolate skin. His lips that had screamed “mama!” repeatedly was now silenced, trembling in fear. His silence pierced the night more forcefully than the cries that he had uttered moments before. Tiny, tiny hands still grasped the warm bread the child had been eating at the dinner table when my own rough hands ripped him from the safety of his family home.
With every blink of my eyes, I prayed that this nightmare would end. The nightmare that had started when King Herod called the soldiers into his presence to order the mass-execution of young boys in Jerusalem to eliminate the threat from the so-called King of the Jews. The looks of shock that flitted across each one of my colleagues’ face. A nervousness in the room that you could almost smell as each man internally wrestled between the horror of the situation and pure fear of the king’s power.
In his distress, the child had started rocking. An image of my own daughter flashed before my eyes: she would always rock like that when something frightens her. She is safe. Four years old. Female. Safe. I ached to gather this child into my arms like I have done to my daughter a thousand times. My heart twisted as I realise that my daughter already has two more years than this child will ever have. Tears pricked my own eyes as another unwanted image entered my mind. The boy’s parents, the defeat in their eyes evident when they realise that they will never see their boy alive again.
King Herod, afraid of a two-year-old boy? My mind struggled to connect the terror that triggered the king’s murderous decree to this shivering, scared child in front of me. Struggled to see the anger that made him inflict grief for a lost generation on the city of Jerusalem. Struggled to understand why this child must die.
I hold the boy closer, snuggling him into the crook of my arm. The fresh aroma of bread still clung to his fabrics and hair, like a last reminder of home.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the boy.
When the still-warm piece of bread finally drops to the floor, I walk away.