- Written by Alexandra D Smith
- Category: Migdala
Gabura and I walk along the beach, stopping for pretty shells or smooth stones. We head south, towards the outcropping of weather-worn, sentinel rocks dividing our beach from the summer villas' beach.
At the edge of the shore, the toothy rocks march into the gentle surf. The stone spears are waisted from the pounding of Yam haKinneret. Some bore eyes piercing them clean through.
Gabura shows me how to climb one of the teeth at the back of the beach, toward the steep rise of the hills sheltering us from the west. The climb would have been easier if I were taller and stronger. It is the climb of an eleven year old boy, not his four year old sister. I like being with Gabura, so I climb to his instruction the best I can, and make no fuss.
High above the beach already lost in early evening shadows, Gabura shows me his private treasury. He has a small, carved driftwood casket. The damp of the lake spray keeps the lid tightly fitted. In the box roll pale miracles of nature, smaller than maggots, the color of the moon's broken reflection in the lake at night. Gabura has a cache of pearls.
No one in my village eats the mussels from which these freshwater pearls come. Finding a pearl is a chancy thing. No one on the lake believes there's a living in it. But Gabura doesn't have to make a living.
At eleven, Gabura will make himself a freshwater pearl broker. Though the spoonful of pearls in his driftwood box may be the harvest of many months, it is the most capital either of us has seen in one place.
Some of the pearls are seamed. Some are seed shaped. Some are smaller than the beads I sew to my tunic. Some are gnarled and pocked. The pearls sing in the rose gold of late afternoon. They are a sight richer than lilies.
“I need your help, Hannakin. I have mussels growing all over this end of our bay. I know where they grow fastest, and which parts of the shore make more pearls. But I don't have time to grow them and tend them and find the pearls as well. If you will help me, Hanna, I will let you have the fifteenth pearl you find, every fifteenth pearl.” Gabura smiles at me, his best smile—his third helping of tsimmes smile.
“Every tenth pearl will be mine, brother of my heart. Then I will help you.” I smile back at him, my admiring little sister smile.
“Every tenth pearl? Every fourteenth pearl,” He counters. We settle on every twelfth pearl. Little though I am, I know there are many, many mussels before either of us has more pearls.
“Do the children of the sun eat mussels, too?” Maybe we can sell the summer people the leavings of our pearl fishing industry. If they eat eel, they might easily eat mussels.
“I will ask the steward if they want our shelled mussels. There's a law against eating shellfish for us. And if there's a law against it, the children of the sun are first to make it their way of life. Lucky for us. What we can't use, they do. And they pay for it,” he pronounces with our father’s assurance.
I stare at the pearls greedily. Now they shine more brightly. We will have a store of pearls and the trade we take for the flesh of the mussels themselves.
I have no idea of the value of pearls. I know they are lovely. I know they are more lovely than my bangle from the wrist of Miryim bat Encharia. But shells and smooth stones from the beach are lovely. So are the delicate bleached bones of birds, or fields of dried wildflowers in winter. Nature makes beauty a by-product of everything.
In Migdala, every family catches, grows, or traps what they need for the year. And the village shares the largest chores, rotating them and making them collective celebrations—like the long flax processing cycle following the stilt-walking festival. We have no use for money in the village. The sacrifices are always given in harvest or yield.
Zebadyah's denarius are the first silver I have seen. Coins are rare as jewelry on a fisher's wife in our village. Every home has a few pieces, but they are put by and used only solemnly after forethought.
Do these pearls represent wealth or fame? Even Gabura of the mischievous smile does not dream so far. But they are rare, these pearls from lake mussels. They are beautiful with a value beyond our childish imaginings.
“Look, you can see the layers of them with this,” Gabura pulls a small, round object from his belt. Strapped with metal, it's clear and heavy and curved outwards. I look at the tiny pearls with Gabura's item. They jump in size. I can see where each layer of nacre rests on each pearl.
“Where did you find this?” I ask of the wonderful disk of crystal.
“Aunt Mariamne gave it to me last time she visited. It makes small things big for looking at. One day, I will use my pearls to buy a boat of my own. I will set the sail when I choose. I will lower the nets when I feel the fish running. I will call them in when they seem full to me. I will be the captain.
“We will save enough pearls to buy cedar wood for the hull. I know how to shape and cure the wood to build a ship. I watch the shipwrights in Bet-Tsaida and Kfar Nahum. Wood costs much less than a finished boat. You will make the sails and we will walk the rope together. Then I will be the youngest and bravest fisherman on Yam haKinneret.”
“Will I be the captain too? I'm helping to find the pearls and making the sails and the rope. I will be the other youngest captain on Yam haKinneret. Everyone will point when they see us.”
“I will be the youngest captain. You will be the youngest mate. You will be the youngest one to follow all the orders and empty the bilges on the lake. Everyone will point when they see us.”
Gabura smiles. I smile too.
“When do we hunt for the pearls, Gabura? I want to find pearls. How do you collect the mussels?” I want to know everything about the mussel farm.
“They grow where they can feed. Old ropes and broken spars are good. They like a lot of tide. They aren't afraid of the weather either. They like the rocks, but nothing too smooth or they can't get a good grip on their bed.”
“Can we start now?”
“The mussels are easier to open when the moon is growing too. We can harvest them next week. Now I must go to the man at the villa and ask him if the children of the sun want to eat our mussels.”
We smile at each other and climb down our rock spear carefully. The evening breeze is up and cooling off the bright heat of the day. Around this point, the wind plays against the stone like a giant's pipes. Whistles heard best through your feet, and fitful howls of love or fear sound while the wind blows.
That wind carries us a snatch of a different howl. In our large, crowded family someone howls over something every day, sometimes every part of the day. I hear a howl like one of those.
Gabura and I silently communicate. We will find the source of the howling. We finish our climb. The sobbing, gasping and choking come from just over the pier of rock, the summer people's side of the beach.
Dressed in a blue tunic, sparkling even in the shadows with its bright embroidery, we find a boy from the family we call the children of the sun. He must be the brother of Marta and Miryim. He is taller than Gabura, and reed thin with it. His hair is fine and dark, less curly than Miryim's. His eyes are the same striking blue of the family. He carries the nose of his family as well—a nose full of history and pride. A nose swollen and red from crying.
Gabura pinches me to make me stay behind him.
“We heard a noise,” Gabura says, staring hard at the lake. He holds a finger across my mouth warning me silent.
“The wind makes noises here all the time. I hate it. I like our garden in Bet ’anya. We hear birds and street vendors, but the wind is quiet on Har haZeitim. The view of the old city at night is like the fires of the hosts of an invader. All we can see here is the lake. And the lake is always the same.” The boy wipes his face hard on the sleeve of his tunic. He glares at Gabura, daring him to say something about the crying.
“I see the lake every day. To me it looks different. A little more wind, a little less cloud, something just hatched in the Nahar-haYarden, cool weather flowing down from the plains or over the hills from the sea, a strange growth of water plants, or one we see every year. The Yam haKinneret has a thousand, thousand faces.”
“The lake has a thousand faces, but they all look alike to me. I am the son of a Prince. I am a Prince in ash-Sham. I am not a fisherman on the lake. I have better ways to occupy my mind and my hopes than with the weather for catching fish.”
The boy has the same defiant white brow as his fair sister, the one with the rock. He is proud of his people. He is proud of his station. He does not know the lake as a partner in life.
To him the lake is a place to go and do nothing but wait to grow up. To us the lake is our beginning, our middle, and our end. Everything my family does is because the lake is part of our lives and our days. I cannot, even hearing it with my own ears, believe this boy who says he hates the lake and thinks he is too important to bother himself with its conditions and weather.
“Will you be a general, like your father?” Gabura asks.
“I will be a better general than my father,” the boy says with his chin lifted. “I will lead from the front and use tactics in the field to bring greater glory to my troops, and to my name.”
“What name is it you'll be bringing glory to?” Gabura asks.
“Eleazar Baal ben Encharia,” the princeling answers, raising his chin another notch. “Today I became a man. In three years, I will qualify to lead as a lieutenant. Then I work hard, suffer greatly, and take injury and maybe even maiming to become a great general. They will write my name everywhere. I will be carved in stone remembering my glorious death.” He glows with pale fervor as he speaks. Gabura takes a half step away from the future general.
Eleazar Baal ben Encharia believes in his glorious death. We believe in it too. We believe he will make himself famous with his last act, as he clearly believes.
“Generals need to know the weather when they travel through places they must conquer.” Gabura suggests to the epitome of sacrifice, “You will not wish to have to ask the boot boy what the weather will be every morning. Word gets around the general doesn't even know the weather. This is not good for the troops.
“I can't teach you the weather in other places, but I know the weather here. You should take notes to plan a campaign with. Write down everything, including what you guess will happen and what really does. This is how the fishers keep track of their catches. Good generals live in tents. They always need to know the weather.”
I cannot imagine where Gabura learns what he knows. He knows so much about everything. I am right to worship him. He knows how to make the prince of the house of the children of the sun treat us like people.
“I will learn the weather. I will become an even more brilliant general than I expected.” Eleazar stands to his full height and bumps the crown of his head on a jutting piece of the rock sculpted around us.
“I will meet you here tomorrow evening. You will tell me what you remember of the clouds, the day’s heat, and the wind,” my brother orders.
Gabura and the princeling suddenly wrestle.
Gabura is so smart. He needs someone smart to be around. Even if that smart person only cares about himself and his own dreams.