- Written by Alexandra D Smith
- Category: Migdala
The stranger returns to our home with Zebadyah.
He smiles with teeth white as bleached linen from Misr. His eyes reach out to each one of us and make us feel heard and singled out. His hair is tight coils of springing gold, the top of it bound back so his fleece doesn’t fall across his face. His name is Yeshua. He is the same age as Gabura.
His mother is my mother’s sister—my mother’s other sister. In the family, we call her Mimi. Yeshua is my cousin. He came down the mountain from the house of his father’s people, a tiny dusty cluster of huts near to the One on High and good grazing. Those are his words to describe the place. My cousin has a way with words.
His father, Yusuf, returned from a decade of cabinetry work in Misr, to help with the fine-work in the building of a new resort on the shores of Yam haKinneret. They will name the new city for the Emperor in Roma and call it Augustus.
Yeshua, Zebadyah and the older boys talk about the price of fish and the amount of work which the new city brings in its construction. Mother and I set out the Yom Teru’ah feast while the small boys run in and out and all around and everyone else sits talking.
“Yeshua, what do you hear from your mother?” my mother asks.
“She says she keeps well and busy. The temple charges her with maintaining gardens at the spa and the residential quarters, both. She likes the work. It suits her to strive for perfection in every task of the day,” Yeshua answers easily.
“She would more easily see the motes which want sweeping if she could see around the sunbeam in her own eyes,” I hear my mother mutter to herself, or no one. Yeshua hears her too, and he gives me a merry look. He agrees with my mother about Aunt Mimi.
“How does your father, Yeshua?” my mother persists in interrupting the golden tower of good fortune upon which Zebadyah speculates to get some news of the family.
“Yusuf looks forward to making more than cedar lined chests and common household furnishings in Augustus. He knows lathe turning from our time in Misr. He also knows the styles and proportions of furnishings popular with the people of Roma, and those who emulate them.” Unlike some of our neighbors, and Zebadyah himself when the mood is on him, Yeshua speaks of the Roma with no bitterness or distaste. When he talks of the Roma, they sound like folk living just up the lakeside. They don’t sound cruel, or unmannered, or greedy.
“The house up the hill is from my father’s mother’s people. It needs lots of work. It stood empty for years until we came. The roofs leak. The floors are soft. The walls crumble day by day. The well requires relining. He says he wants me out of the way while he mends the structures. My nephews promise to help with the heavy lifting. He hopes I can stay with you for a month or two. I eat little, sleep soundly, and learn quickly,” Yeshua finishes with his whitest smile. His eyes swear complicity in a plot my mother understands and meets with her own steady gaze.
Zebadyah sees nothing, but hears the words which are spoken. Gabura and I find we know there is more in the air than mere sounds. After the feast, we will take our cousin for a walk and see what he shares with careful questioning.
This cousin from Misr with a father who makes furniture for the Roma, and a mother who works in the Temple, this is new. This is exceptional. And another pair of hands to help with all the chores of the weeks and months following the new year celebration right up until the festival of light. Gabura and I see a future for this cousin in our home.
Gabura, Yeshua and I leave the house together after dinner. But Eleazar on the pier challenges Gabura to shed his baby sister and play boys games with boys. I feel this, and try not to feel hurt. If Miryim were my friend, I would choose her over almost anyone to play with again and again.
“How do you know things?” Eleazar asks the questions and roughly. “How did you know who Gabura is?”
“Gabura looks as my Aunt Mariamne describes him when she visits,” Yeshua answered calmly.
“How do you know about Gabura’s lens? How do you know the fashioning of Marta’s necklace without seeing it?” He continues, now etzba’ot from Yeshua’s nose, his stern voice cracking when he tries to bring more force to it.
From my hiding place, stretching flat in a tiny crevasse in the rocks of the pier, I see the merry look in Yeshua’s eyes again.
“Aunt Mariamne gave me a lens when last I saw her. Being the same age as Gabura, I guessed he would have one like mine.
“Better jewelry takes more craft than the homemade sort. Your sister’s necklace must be well made, and the pearls are certainly drilled as you will see if you ever find it. If you have a very small child in the family, look where it plays more carefully. Tiny ones like shiny things, and have no sense of property,” Yeshua suggests with patience. The boys stare at him in awe, and Eleazar with some envy too.
“You make it sound easy, knowing things,” the Syrian princeling mutters.
“A man at a biblioteka taught me logikos—the working of one thought from another within the realm of facts.
“So, few people in Migdala have red hair. Only one my age. My aunt brings the same gifts to Gabura and me to see how differently we make use of them.
“The pawn-broker near the street of the Hare showed me how to gauge jewelry made of coral, pearls, shell and amber. He specializes in the fruit of the sea. Specialized…” Yeshua corrects himself, and his eyes are less merry for a grain or two of time.
“I learn logikos from my tutor. Generals must have strong logikos. You have more logikos in your least utterances than my house slave has in a year of discourse. The Lion calls me to be a great general. You, Yeshua, coming to Migdala now, are proof. You must teach me while you live here,” Eleazar commands, but his eyes implore.
“As you wish,” Yeshua replies, his face again alight with laughter.
“Tonight we work the mussels. They are the source of those pearls on my sister’s tunic. I wear the fate of the youngest captain on Yam haKinneret, and my pearls will buy the lumber, hemp and linen to make a boat,” Gabura states. He believes fate works as strongly on him as it does Eleazar, or Yeshua—whatever that may come to be.
The boys wade into Yam haKinneret’s choppy wavelets. I take my new knowings with me as I slip invisible from the beach.