“I’ve got this.” Nathan put his hand over Elijah’s mouth. “Neetzevet, I can’t lace sandals, so my brother helps me.”
Neetz snorted. “Nobody can lace sandals until you show them how. Move over, Lijah.”
Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC
1 Kings 17:16-17
Elijah slammed his shovel to the ground. Was he boy, man, or servant? In Tishbe he had been a boy, his father’s son. His first day in Zarephath, the widow called him a boy, yet Hashabiah called him a man. And this girl treated him like a servant. His breath rasped in his throat, and his nostrils flared, but he scooted over and gave her room at Nathan’s sandal.
I’d like to know what he calls himself.
Neetz dropped to her knees next to Elijah, refastened her scarf to hold the hair off her face, and scooted back so her tunic did not brush Nathan.
“Watch.” Neetz took the laces in her fingers, glanced up at Nathan, then focused on her task. “Make a little once-over knot and leave it there, see?” She spread her hands and let the knot drop onto his foot. “Now make another little once-over knot just beyond it.”
Zim and the widow hovered, focused on her fingertips, not uttering a sound.
From a vine post, a black redstart rattled his song.
Neetz held the laces between her dainty thumb and forefinger.
Elijah shook his head. The poor girl didn’t know how to grip laces.
“That little opening between the two knots is for bunny ears, Nathaniel. The left lace goes in.” She poked the end of the left lace into the left side of the hole, leaving a loop dangling on the left side of Nathan’s foot. “And then the right one.” She inserted the end of the right lace into the right side, resulting in a loop on the right. “Like so.”
Sweat dripped from Elijah’s forehead into his eyes. He pushed it aside. The two loops would never work. They were too easy.
“See the bunny ears?” Neetz picked up the two loops and let them drop.
Nathan kept his eyes on his old, worn laces. “Bunny ears. Right.”
“I pull on the ears.” As she tugged, the circle tightened around the laces. “And they’re tied. See how?” Neetz undid the laces and sat back. “Your turn.” She tipped her head up and gave him an easy smile.
Elijah sucked his breath between his teeth. She went too fast. She never should have untied it. Maybe that’s how they did laces in Zarephath, but Nathan would never master this style.
Nathan sat on the ground and grinned at Elijah. He took the laces in his fingers, put one over the other, reversed, reversed again, and dropped the jumbled mess over the arch of his foot. “Hmm.”
A slight moan escaped the widow.
Neetz lifted her head. “You’ll get it this time.”
Elijah sighed. Poor Neetz seemed to think a smile and a word were all Nathan needed to do the impossible. Poor Nathan. Another embarrassing episode. All because Elijah let this girl get too close. But he would be here to pick up the pieces.
Nathan kept his head down and took a breath. He picked up the laces, fumbled with them, and wrapped one under the other. He dropped them onto the ball of his foot in a loose once-over knot, not as pretty as the one Neetz had made, but a knot nonetheless.
“Yes,” the widow murmured.
Zim jumped up and down. “You did it, Mr. Nathan. You did it!”
Had Nathan’s fingers made a real knot? Elijah sucked in his breath.
Beside him, Neetz’s eyes twinkled.
With his head down and not a glance right or left, Nathan held the two laces up. He slowly pushed one under the other and tugged them into a second knot. He tucked a finger into the hole between the two knots and pulled it back out.
The widow gulped.
Zim stamped his feet.
Neetz pushed her lips together. “Mmm-hm.”
Elijah took a deep breath and leaned in. Was Nathan tying laces?
Nathan inserted a lace end between the knots. He grinned at Neetz and inserted the other lace. He tucked the two lace ends in farther, pulled on the two tiny bunny ears, and closed the knot. A smile splashed onto his face and his chest puffed out. “Nothing to it.”
Elijah and the widow stared open-mouthed.
Zim said, “Bunny ears.”
Neetz sat back and laughed. “The laces are yours now.”
“Wait.” Nathan spread both arms like a stork on an updraft. He undid the laces, stretched them out in a V, and winked at Elijah. He remade the two loose knots, poked the lace ends through, and drew the ears tight again. “Look, Lijah. See how it works? Thank you, Neetzevet!”
Elijah’s lips fell open. He saw Nathan as a tiny boy place his foot on a rock for Elijah’s little fingers to clutch the laces and jam them into a crude knot. He saw Nathan grow taller and taller, still smiling for a thousand lacings of his sandals. He saw Nathan with no one to lace his sandals, waiting with bloody feet on the road to Beitshan.
Elijah put a hand to his cheek and swiveled on his knees toward Neetz. This girl had given his brother independence.
Nathan stood and bent to ruffle Elijah’s hair. “Little brother, you just lost a job.”
Elijah rose and glanced from Nathan to Neetz and back. His heart should be floating in the treetops over his brother’s new freedom. Instead he dropped his arms to his side. His stomach lurched. A heaviness in his chest pulled toward the dirt. He had lost a job to bunny ears. How soon before he lost his brother?
The widow laid her hand on Nathan’s arm. “I’m proud of you, son.” She touched Neetz’s shoulder. “Good work, dear.”
Zim bounced from foot to foot. “I knew you could do it, Mr. Nathan. I knew it.”
Neetz sat back on her heels, smoothed the front of her tunic, tugged on her sleeves, and smiled down at Nathan’s laces.
“Well, folks. Show’s over.” Nathan picked up a shovel. “We have daylight left, and I need a volunteer. Who can show us how to water this next vine?”i
learning to tie his shoes makes Nathan seem like a special ed child.
how hard is it to water vines?
Zim squealed, “Me! Me, Mr. Nathan.”
Elijah hung his head and handed Zim the shovel. He turned toward the distant mountain. Cheer up, boy, man, servant—whoever you are. We have vines that need watering.
“Pick a vine, Zim.” As Nathan swept his arm toward Zim, his gaze lingered on Neetz. “Watch carefully while the great Zimridaii demonstrates irrigation methodology.”
Zim dropped the shovel and stood on tiptoe. “Uncle Hashabiah!” He waved at a figure marching toward them from the north gate. “Can I go help, Mommy? He’s got donkeys.”
The widow nodded.
Elijah grinned. Yes, donkeys had always been more fun than vines.
Zim jogged between the vines then followed the path beside the garden walls to Hashabiah and his five donkeys. Zim took the donkeys’ lead line and tried to keep up with Hashabiah by mixing long strides with skips and hops.
Hashabiah tramped between the rows to Elijah. “Zim tells me you found the spring and taught him irrigation.”
“Our young man’s a fast learner,” Elijah replied.
Hashabiah turned to the first donkey in line and pulled a basket from the woven-reed pannier. “Maybe we can eat under the vines. A little shade’s better than none.”
Neetz and her father settled under a row with Zim between them. Elijah, the widow, and Nathan sat facing them under the next row. Neetz opened the basket and passed around flatbreads, a small skin of red wine, and pieces of roast mutton.
“Mmm.” Elijah nudged Nathan as they nibbled the mutton. “Garlic and onions. With butter like at the Kerith.”
Nathan frowned and glanced at Neetz.
Elijah gulped. This might not be the proper moment to tell of ravens bringing food in that distant ravine.
“And red chili and corn flour, right, Neetz? Your mother’s the best cook in Zarephath.”
Elijah raised an eyebrow toward Nathan, closed his eyes, and let out a long breath. No one asked about the Kerith ravine. Close call.
Hashabiah paused with a flatbread in his fingers. “Nathan, you haven’t mentioned remuneration, but I expect to pay the same as I paid the man who went north with his uncle, three silver a day to each one who helps. Zim, if you and your donkey haul as much water as Nathan and his donkey, you get the same pay as Nathan.”
Hashabiah handed a little sack to Nathan. “For you and Elijah. I weighed the silver at home.” He dropped a sack of the same size into the widow’s hand. “For you and Zimrida.”
Zim’s eyes sparkled. “Wow, Mommy. Silver. Can we buy a goat? And then a cow. A brown one? I want a brown cow.”
Tears spilled onto the widow’s cheeks. She blinked and let them drip from her chin.
Hashabiah gawked then cleared his throat. “Um.” He looked down. “If we could board the four donkeys at your house, ma’am?” He handed her a second sack. “This should buy hay for the first month.”
The widow closed her eyes and breathed deep.
Elijah swallowed a lump in his throat. This woman had invited him and his brother to share her last handful of flour. “I’ll be glad to feed the donkeys and clean their stalls, ma’am.”
“Me, too, Mommy. I can haul water from our well.” Zim frowned at his mother’s closed eyes. “These donkeys will be just fine, Mommy. Honest they will. Mr. Lijah and Mr. Nathan’ll help me. We’ll take good care of our donkeys.”
The widow swallowed and lifted her chin. “Thank you, boys.” She wiped her cheeks with her hands and blinked at Hashabiah. “Thank you. Yes, the donkeys should stay with us, so we can bring them to the vineyard each morning.”
Zim rubbed his hands together. “Do we have to wait until after the last bite to say the blessing? Can you say it right now, okay, Mr. Nathan? I’m naming my donkey ‘Shamgar.’ What you gonna call yours?”
i I’m afraid learning to tie his shoes makes Nathan seem like a special ed child. And how hard is it to water vines???
iiHiram is a Phoenician name that might feel more masculine to American ears than Zimrida. Hiram is a nice name.