Elijah followed the woman up a street bordered by seven-foot stone walls. Oak trees reached from behind the walls and stretched a roof of leaves over their heads. She passed several houses and turned in at a high iron gate, crossed a small courtyard, and pulled open a tall, heavy, oak door that swung on wrought iron hinges.
“Come in, boys.”
The woman’s fingers lingered on the ornate iron hinges.
“My husband built this house with his own hands. He was a metal1 worker, and while he was alive, we ate well.”
The walls rose in smooth blocks each an arm long and a hand high. Elijah tried to picture a house on the ridge for Milkah made of these smooth-faced uniform blocks instead of rough-cut limestone. “Very nice house, Ma’am!”
In Tishbe, Elijah could touch ceilings, but even if he were to sit on Nathan’s shoulders, this ceiling would be out of reach.
A small child with an eager face bounced in and stood next to the woman. The starving child?
“This is my son, Zimrida.” She laid her arm along the child’s shoulders and showed Elijah a stiff smile on pale lips. “My name is Elissa. And what are your names, boys?”2
Zimrida glanced up at his mother and then smiled. “Happy to meet you, too, Mr. Lijah, Mr. Nathan.” His eyes rested on Nathan.
Nathan dipped his head toward Zimrida. “You show good manners, young man.”
The widow sighed and led the way to the back door. She pointed to the well in the yard. “There’s your drink, boys. With this drought, you have to let out all the rope for the bucket to reach, but its still good water.”
While Elijah and Nathan drew a bucket of water, the child’s voice came from behind them. “Like Mother said, my real name’s Zimrida, Mr. Nathan, but you can call me Zim. You, too, Mr. Lijah. I’m eight years old.”
The widow carried a small barrel and a jar out to the baking plate.
Elijah gulped. Why had he said all that about the flour and the oil? Yet he rose to his full height.
“I built many fires for our mother, ma’am.”
The widow nodded, and Elijah poked leaves and twigs under the low clay cone of the plate. He pulled a flint off the shelf and struck a spark into the leaves. As the tiny blaze grew, he laid on three larger twigs, then four more.
The widow turned the barrel upside down and spanked out its last dusting of flour then coaxed a few dribbles of oil from the jar.
When the clay of the plate felt hot, Elijah backed off and looked up. The widow laid four tiny pitas on the heat and wiped a tear from her cheek. In no time the pitas cooked on one side, and she flipped them over with fingers as fast as his mother’s.
“You’re Hebrews, so we’ll let you pronounce the blessing.” She carried the pitas inside to the dining skin, and everyone followed.
“Thank you, ma’am. But our father says the prayers. We listen.”
“You’ll do fine, boys. I’m sure you know how it goes.” She stiffened her face into a mask.
Elijah poked his brother, and Nathan recited, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen.”
They sat, and the widow put pieces of bread on the skin in front of Elijah and Nathan. “For our honored guests.” As her hand laid the pita in front of Elijah he saw his mother’s hand setting hot pitas twice as big in front of his father. But Elijah had run off to Fort Jezreel and prophesied a drought, so Mother hid with Uncle Hiram, and Raham baked the pitas. Would he ever see his mother and father again?
The widow broke nibbles from her bread, and Elijah did the same. He took tiny bites, chewed well, and swallowed when the widow swallowed. Nathan followed Elijah, and Zim followed Nathan. So everyone ate as the widow ate.
With their pitas half gone and three faces following her, the widow focused on Zim, and tears welled in her eyes.
Before the tears could spill, Elijah broke the silence. “Zim studies with a tutor who says blessings, ma’am?”
She wiped her eyes. “Professor Hashabiah is the best tutor in Zarephath.”
“Did I hear right, ma’am? Did you say the professor’s name is Hashabiah?” Across the dining skin, Elijah met Nathan’s gaze.
Zim squirmed and waved his half pita. “Got the best tutor in town and the best tree house in the world. You wanna see, Mr. Nathan, sir? It’s really, really high. It’s in this great big tree, see.”
“A tree house? I like tree houses.”
“That’s great, Mr. Nathan. You’ll really like mine. My dad helped me build it, see. The most beautiful tree house ever. First thing in the morning, Mr. Nathan.”
Zim pushed in the last bite, and Elijah held his breath.
The widow’s smile dried flat across her face. “I wish we could, dear.”
Elijah stood. When the widow put the flour barrel back, it was empty. Before she turned the oil jar right side up, she waited and held it for the last—the very last—drip of oil. So, out there by the city gate, who put those words into Elijah’s mouth—the Lord or his own imagination? He should work on self-control.
The kitchen shelf drew him like __________.
“Neither dew nor rain” raced through his head, and his fingers cupped to dig dry sand from the bed of the Kerith.
“Bake up a storm” echoed in his mind, and he pulled the flour barrel off the shelf. Would an empty barrel heft like this? “Please look, ma’am.” I like what you are showing here, but I had to read it a few times.
“It’s no use.”
He turned the mouth of the barrel toward her and lifted the lid. “Your flour barrel, ma’am.”
The widow stared down into the barrel. “Eh?”
He tugged the oil jar over, yanked the stopper, and turned the mouth of the jar toward her.
“So, Mommy, can I have another piece?”
Her mouth and eyes frozen in a zombie state, she drew out three handfuls of flour and mixed in oil.
Elijah’s eyes bugged out, and he stared at Nathan. “Wow! Thank You, Lord!” He added twigs to the fire.
She frowned. “I can’t believe… I didn’t think you were…”
What was he expecting? A dance? A song?
Flour and oil!
“That’s okay, ma’am. I thought it was the Lord talking, but then I saw your flour barrel.”
The hot pitas silenced Zim until his final bite. “So, Mommy, can I take Mr. Nathan and Mr. Lijah up to my tree house in the morning? And then to the professor’s?”
Her face relaxed. “But not in those filthy rags. Go find them something of your father’s. They’re tall like him.” She nodded toward the door behind the table. “And show them the guest room. And you’ll want to wash up at the well, boys.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Elijah and Nathan spoke as one.
After they washed and slipped into clean tunics, on the guest room sleeping mat, Elijah pulled the covers up and whispered, “Zim studies with a Professor Hashabiah. I never thought we would find a Hebrew in this place.”
“And from our tribe.”
“But why would anyone in this pagan town want their son to study with a Hebrew teacher?”
1When do we see his forge in the back yard?
2Mike: She seemed much too old in the last section to have a small child. When I read it I saw an old woman