He lay back in the grass. Sky. A man needed sky. Overhead, a swallow-tailed kite screamed at the kestrel it had fought off three times. The kestrel came back for more.
When he hid in Uncle Gera’s olive grove, he could lie back in the tall grass let it tickle his face. Take all afternoon to smell the wild blossoms of the grass and watch birds fight and clouds scud across the sky to drop their little storms. Sky stretched over palm trees, olive trees, and tall grass.
But caves had no sky. Caves smelled like rats and bats and moldy bread. If they had bread. He licked out the last drop from his skin of water. In a cave he would have to suck up yucky liquid that floated with slimy things whose only purpose was to crawled into caves, die, and pollute.
Mikey peeked through the pomegranate branches. “Here’s Imri.”
Imri ducked into the trees, and Mikey turned him to face the fourteen others. He kept his voice low. “Imri is the man who waved you west at Jenin. Uncle Gera said our guide would find us here in the pomegranates.”
He looked each man briefly in the eyes. “No talking. But if you have extra food, maybe hold it up for whoever’s hungry.” He yawned and then shook his head. “Someone needs to stay awake.”
“Shh!” Zophal pointed toward the road.
A little girl about eight years old skipped up to the intersection and pushed her scarf back on her head. Tight black curls fell around her face as she pulled a branch aside and squinted under the trees. She scanned the faces and locked eyes with Mikey. “Follow me.” This little child cannot be part of Uncle Gera’s team. Seventeen men would never trust their lives to a little girl.
She paused and re-tied the scarf over her curls.1 Then she struck off through the trees, and Mikey followed. He turned to Zophal. “We don’t have to spread out in the woods, but I need you to bring up the rear. Make sure everybody stays with us.” He and Imri followed right behind the girl and let the others trail them. Imri squeezed his arm. “Who is she?”
Mikey shook him off and took an extra stride that landed him beside the girl. “Who are you?”
She flicked him a sober glance. “No talking.” She led away from the road toward the gurgle of a stream that splashed over rocks and rushed down chutes. The men obeyed, so the only sounds came from the wind that ruffled through the leaves overhead, and the stream which splashed over rocks at their side. The girl paused. “No tracks by the bank, please.”
Mikey examined the ground. No path. They would make the first footprints.
She trudged ahead through thick bushes, keeping several paces from the stream. The morning sun reached through the trees and brought sweat to Mikey’s brow.
Mikey relayed her message and followed.
Uncle Gera had no control over the quality of his helpers way down here in the valley. This tiny, bossy girl could lead these seventeen independent men to safety or to a slow death. And even if safe, how could he and Imri help feed their families from a cave?
Sure-footed as a deer, their little dictator crossed on the large rocks and stepped into the stream. When Mikey put his feet into the water, they showed wavy but clear beneath the icy flow and unaccompanied by slime or pollutant.
Keeping to the center of the stream, their guide approached a large opening where the current gushed out of a limestone cliff. She led them into the dark. Mikey stepped out of the stream up onto the bank, and the men followed him. They all stood gazing back at the daylight.
The girl lingered in the water and pointed into the deeper darkness. “Stay back inside. No singing. No fires. This water is good to drink. Food comes soon.”
Finish up with Mikey whistling again?
1 Maybe a thought that shows that although he’s nervous about her, they can’t just sit there in the trees like sitting ducks. And she is wearing a scarf.