Good grief, the man was heavy. Jude shifted the pole onto his other shoulder, but it didn't help. Ezra was a dead weight, and he was going to be heavy even if you split the load amongst four men carrying him on a stretcher. The stony road was digging into the soles of Jude's feet, and he wished he'd brought thicker sandals. How long had they been carrying him? Jude's shoulders ached with the load, and the others weren't finding it any easier. Why hadn't somebody brought a cart - or a donkey, or anything useful? Jude knew why - because Ezra hadn't bought them for the building company.
He glanced back at Ezra, his stupid old head bobbing up and down with the movements of the stretcher. They were carrying him head first, the miserable old whatsit, so he could see where he'd been, but not where he'd be going (That way, he couldn't try telling them where to go). Ezra was a useless works manager. Just because he'd been longest working with the family firm, the bosses had made him manager of the whole house building project. Him! Jude couldn't believe it. Everyone knew Ezra was a thief except the bosses, who'd been fooled well and proper.
Workmen’s bags kept being interfered with, vital tools and materials kept going 'missing' and had to be replaced. The bosses would allow so much money to buy certain materials, planks and suchlike, but never quite enough, so work would stop, pay was docked - and the materials purchased would be shoddy... warped planks of wood, nails that bent in your fingers, badly-baked bricks that you could poke holes in with a sharp stick. Ezra was making money out of all this, but nobody could prove a thing. Ezra was sly, he never let himself get caught, he always had an explanation for everything - but the firm lost business because everyone knew they charged too much for a bad job. Building and house repairs were a steady occupation, but if the firm was crooked, it stopped you enjoying your work. Jude shook his head in disbelief, then glanced ahead up the road. The town was in sight now. He shifted the pole on his shoulder. Nearly there.
It was a stupid accident, when you thought about it. They'd been contracted to do the roofing for a new villa for some Roman officer settling down in the area. It was a big building, two floors, and despite all the prestige of having the chance to do some quality work, things had started going wrong again. The materials purchased were the worst of the worst, so Ezra must have been making a mint. Yet again, they were taking the client for a ride. He'd be sorry he chose a local firm instead of importing craftsmen from Rome! Only this time, it was Ezra who was sorry.
He must have been nosing around the site during the lunch break, maybe looking for something else to steal, when there'd been a splintering sound, a clattering, a series of thumps and a great billowing cloud of dust. The brickies went to take a look, shouted for others to come and help, and then they were all running. What a mess! A whole section of roofing on the main building must have given way, lines of tiles had slipped off - right on top of Ezra scuttling by, underneath.
'Why'd it fall like that?' asked a plasterer as they were pulling the building manager out from under the rubble.
'Easy!' Jude replied , pointing out a large piece of masonry. 'See that piece of cornerstone? All the weight's supposed to be on it, there, see?’ He kicked it where it lay. ‘It’s rubbish. See those cracks? It couldn't take the pressure. Bang! Down you go!' He looked at Ezra’s broken body, now free of the rubble. He still had a pulse, apparently. Somebody else brought some water, to start cleaning his face up. Jude felt this was classic - real poetic justice. 'Sub-standard materials!' he sniggered. 'We all said it, we all knew it. It serves him right!' The others looked at him oddly. Jude turned on them. 'What? He had it coming to him, didn’t he? You all knew it! That could have been any one of us under that lot! It serves him right!'
Elias, one of the carpenters, spat on the ground to clear his throat of the dust. 'Maybe, but he could be dying! Show some respect!'
'Why? He ripped us all off!'
'Shut up, and help make a stretcher. There's a doctor in the next town and he needs to see a doctor now!' Elias seemed to be taking over, and the others were going along with it. Oh well, thought Jude – sometimes, you need someone with a clear head. He busied himself with fixing up a stretcher. Then, as they asked for volunteers, he found himself offering to help, and soon they were carrying Ezra into town. At least it would all end there. Only it didn’t.
'Sorry', said the doctor after making an examination, 'I can't do anything. That bang on the head and neck has paralysed him. He can breathe, just, but he'll have to be fed, watered and looked after for the rest of his life.' The doctor shook his head as he cleared away his tools. 'It’s a sad case. At least he's got friends to care for him.' Friends? Jude smiled. Ezra didn’t have any! He said so to the others that night in town, when they met up for a drink. Yes, they all agreed with him. Ezra was a liar and a cheat, and he'd deserved what happened in a way that few people do.
'Still,' asked Elias, who seemed to be becoming the spokesman, 'What's he going to do now? He's got no family - they probably all ran away as soon as he was born, if they had any sense!' The others laughed. But Elias wasn’t finished. 'So what's he going to do now? Beg? Sit by the side of the road asking for pennies? He can't even do that! If he's not nursed, he'll die.'
Jude was puzzled. 'What about the firm? They'll give him something, won’t they?'
'Maybe. But he'll still need to have an eye kept on him. You know what bosses are like.' Heads nodded around the table.
'What are you saying?'
'It's up to us to see he's all right.'
Jude was puzzled. 'Us? Why? He ripped us all off!'
Elias shrugged. 'So what do you suggest? Abandon him? Dump him by the side of the road? I wouldn't do that to a dog! Of course he won't deserve it if we help, but if we sit back and don't do anything, then what does that make us?' Round the table, others were nodding. Tradesmen had to stick together. Jude found himself putting his hand in his pocket when a collection was made, and offering to help hire someone to look after Ezra at home. They'd all pay into a common fund, possibly for years. But it was the only decent thing to do.
As it turned out, the firm paid up for a nurse to look after Ezra, but Jude, Elias and the others still kept in touch with him. That's why a funny thing happened a few years later, again with part of another roof falling down - but that’s another story, and much more well known.
(To discover what happened next, Google 'Luke ch. 5, v. 17-26.' )
(To discover what happened next, Google 'Luke ch. 5, v. 17-26.' )