The Adoption: A Short Story
Monica, a well-dressed woman in her late thirties, was just getting ready to go out the church door when she heard her friend, Clare, calling to her. She turned around and waited for Clare, who was doing her best to walk at a hurried pace in her wobbly, high-heeled shoes. Clare had been away for quite some time, and Monica had forgotten how awkward and uncomfortable Clare looked when she wore those shoes.
“Monica! It’s been so long!” Clare panted. “I heard the adoption finally went through. Congratulations!”
Monica raised her eyebrows. “What did you hear about the adoption? The details, I mean.”
“Well, nothing about the details,” Clare replied hesitantly. “Why? Is something wrong? Didn’t it go through?”
“Oh, it went through, all right. But it wasn’t quite what we were expecting.”
“What do you mean? You were hoping to adopt a boy, weren’t you? Did you end up adopting a girl instead?”
“No, no. Look, Clare, let’s sit down. This will take a few minutes to explain.”
The two ladies went to the other side of the plushly carpeted church lobby and sat on a soft couch in a quiet, secluded corner. Clare, always eager to hear the latest news about anyone or anything in town, leaned forward with hungry eyes to listen to Monica’s story.
“Well,” Monica began, “as you know, for years Peter and I had been hoping to adopt a nice boy, since we haven’t been able to have any children of our own. We had contacted agency after agency with no success. Finally someone suggested an agency that places refugees from foreign countries in American homes.”
“Oh!” Clare smiled. “So you got a boy from a foreign country! Does he speak English?”
“Yes, he speaks English – with an accent, of course. But Clare, he’s not a boy. We didn’t realize it, but that agency places adults in American homes – adults who need American sponsors.”
Clare’s smile suddenly disappeared as her jaw dropped in disbelief. “You and Peter adopted an adult?”
“If you want to word it that way, yes. We’re letting him live in our home, anyway.”
“Well, what’s he like? How’s it working out?”
“It’s a mixed blessing, I guess. You see, he’s Jewish.”
“Jewish?! Life is strange, Monica.”
“Talk about strange, Clare. We were expecting the agency to bring us a nice Christian boy, and instead, this 30-year-old Orthodox Jewish man arrives at our door, a homeless refugee. We answered the doorbell, and there he stood, long beard, long dark coat, and those funny looking strings hanging out of his pants. At first I thought his underwear must be unraveling, then I remembered the Jews have a custom of wearing some kind of ritual fringes.”
“What did you do?”
“Well, what could we do? We invited him in after he introduced himself and told us who had sent him. Of course we tried to contact the agency that had sent him, but it took us three days to finally get the right person on the phone. The agency apologized for the mix-up, then asked if we might possibly consider letting the man stay with us anyway. It seems there aren’t many American families willing to share their homes with his kind. Peter and I talked it over, and it seemed to be the Christian thing to do, so we agreed to let him stay.”
“Wow!” Clare exclaimed. This is some story! I’ll bet you and Peter have had to make some adjustments. What’s it like having this guy in your home?”
“As I said, it’s a mixed blessing. Even though he’s not a Christian, he’s really a good man, Clare. But he’s so… strange. To us, I mean. He wouldn’t seem strange to his own people, I’m sure.”
“What’s strange about him? Besides his appearance.”
“Well,” Monica smiled, “one of the first things he did was to ask our permission to attach a little box onto the door frame of our house. It contains a little parchment with some Bible verses. He called it a ‘Mazzaroth,’ I think. I looked in a concordance of the Old Testament, and found the word in the thirty-eighth chapter of Job.”
Monica pronounced the name Job like the word job, but it didn’t matter to Clare, since she always said it that way, too.
“A Mazzaroth, huh? That is a strange custom. Harmless enough, I suppose. I wonder where they get these weird ideas. What else?” Clare asked eagerly.
“Oh, he has peculiar eating habits. Very picky. He won’t eat ham or bacon or pork chops – nothing with any pork products in it. He refuses to eat seafood, too. ‘It has to have both fins and scales,’ he says.”
“He won’t eat lobster?” Clare responded in disbelief. “What’s he do during Lent?”
“Well, he doesn’t really do anything for Lent,” Monica answered. “He’s Jewish, and Lent is a Christian custom.”
“Oh, of course, I wasn’t thinking.”
“Yeah. His strange diet wouldn’t be so bad, but he’s always reading ingredient labels on everything in the kitchen. That kind of irks me. Although he usually just buys his own food and eats it off paper plates. Oh, and there’s one week every spring when he refuses to eat anything with yeast in it. He just eats these big crackers called ‘mitzvahs’ with his meals all that week.”
“Does all this make it hard on you?” Clare inquired sympathetically.
“Well, Peter and I have had to make some adjustments in our diet,” Monica confessed. “But actually, we’ve noticed a change for the better. We both feel healthier and more energetic than we used to.”
That’s good,” Clare said, nodding her head approvingly. “Anything else unusual about him?”
“Oh, he’s always looking at the calendar, carefully counting off days and marking certain times that the Jews observe. Of course, he never wants to come to Mass with us on Sundays.”
That’s right,” Clare interjected. “Jews go to church on Saturdays, don’t they?”
“Right,” Monica agreed. “But they don’t call it church. And of course that means he isn’t available to help us with the housework and yardwork on Saturdays. At first, Peter was annoyed that he wouldn’t help with the work on Saturdays. But he does more than his share the rest of the week.”
“Does he do anything besides housework and yardwork?” Clare asked.
“Oh, yes,” Monica replied. This month he’s been helping Peter build a room addition onto our house. At first we didn’t know if he’d be of much help, but once Peter showed him how to use the power tools, he really caught on. He’s really becoming quite a carpenter.”
“But he won’t do any kind of work on Saturdays, huh?”
That’s right,” Monica answered. “But with his helping so much on the weekdays, we don’t have to do any housework or yardwork on Saturdays anymore. He always makes sure everything’s done before sundown on Friday. It’s really kind of nice.”
“Well, I guess that would be a blessing,” Clare smiled. “By the way, what’s his name, and where’s he from?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Monica apologized. “He’s from Israel, the town of Nazareth. He said most of the people in his country know him by the name Yeshu, but some of his friends call him Yeshua. Both of those names are kind of hard for me to say, so he told us we can just call him ‘Joshua’ if we want.”
“Joshua from Nazareth, huh?” Clare said thoughtfully. “Well, I admire you for putting up with him, Monica, but I’m sure glad this strange Jew doesn’t live at my house! I gotta go. See you in church next week.”
*This story originally appeared in Gates of Eden Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 1 (1995).