Jabesh, Gilead, Israel, 871 BC
Elijah hefted a wineskin onto its rack at the Jabesh bakery.
A warm, round body crawled over his feet. Tiny hands slapped the floor. “Mama. Baba. Ga. Dada.” The sweet smell of a baby newly bathed drifted up.
At the other end of the wineskin, Nathan laughed. He squatted down and looked the baby in the eye. “Hi, little guy.” Nathan clapped.
The baby clapped. “Ga.”
Nathan looked up at the baker.
The baker beamed at Nathan. He closed the oven door, handed two loaves to the first lady in line, and turned back to Nathan. “Omar. Name’s Omar.”
The baker’s wife stepped in beside him and smiled down at her child and Nathan on the floor beside him.
Nathan got on his hands and knees with his face in the baby’s face. “Omar. That’s a good name. Omar.” He wiggled his head and gave a huge smile.
Omar grabbed Nathan’s nose. “Ga-ba-da.”
Elijah laughed at his brother and focused on Omar’s head of curly black hair. What would be the baby’s next move?
Nathan glanced up at the still smiling mother and let Omar grab his ears. He slid his huge hands around Omar’s tiny chest and picked him up.
Nathan stood tall with his shoulders back. He gazed deep into Omar’s eyes and held him up to a man in line for fresh bread. “Good morning, sir.”
Omar wiggled. “Ga-ba-da.”
The man grinned.
Keeping his eyes fixed on his squirming bundle, Nathan moved to the next person. “Omar is so glad to see you, ma’am.”
The lady’s eyes twinkled. “Omar! Who’s got you, Omar? Uncle Nathan got you?” She clapped her hands.
Omar rewarded her with a belly-laugh.
Elijah allowed himself a private smile. His eyes flitted from Nathan to Dad and back again. Normally, the moment a wineskin sat ready for the shopkeeper to draw wine, Nathan ducked out and stood among the donkeys. He welcomed children, but if an adult came close, he bent and fiddled with cinch straps.
With Omar in his hands, Nathan grinned at adults. He stood the baby with his feet touching the floor and looked up at the baker’s wife. “Does he walk?”
She shook her head no as Omar plopped down on his bottom. “Baba.”
“Okay, Omar. Let’s show everybody how you crawl.”
Omar sat and gazed at Nathan’s foot. “Goo. Coo.”
Undaunted, Nathan made a small bow to the bakery crowd. “Maybe later.”
Dad collected his five silver shekels from the shopkeeper, shuffled back a step, and studied Nathan with a silly grin on his face.
Elijah scratched his chin and grinned at his big brother. Who would have thought Nathan would perform for an audience? As soon as Racham and Sheerah had a baby, Nathan would be putting on shows in tiny Tishbe.
The following week at the bakery, Elijah stood back as Nathan hoisted Omar onto the counter and wiggled his tiny toes. “This little sheep went to market…” Customers gawked and grinned while the young man and the baby giggled and chattered.
Each trip into Jabesh, Nathan’s eyes brightened.
That summer, Elijah started calling the bake shop “Omar’s Place.”
Early that fall, with two weeks to prepare for the Feast of Trumpets, Elijah led their ten donkeys loaded with twenty wineskins into Jabesh. Smoke hung in the air from booths along main street that sold roast mutton, eggplant, chestnuts, or pitas. Elijah laid his arm across Nathan’s shoulder. “Love the holiday smell.”
For the first time in months, shoppers surrounded him and his father and brother.
Tubal the blacksmith burst out of his shop with his bushy white beard framing a huge grin. “Give me two of your largest skins, boys.” He led them into his shop, scattering customers with, “Wine. Tishbe wine.”
No customers, however, collected at the bake shop. Elijah tried the door. Locked. He tugged on a shutter, but it did not open. With all these shoppers, why would the bakery be closed?
Elijah’s father went into the shop next door but came out and shook his head. “Something’s wrong at Omar’s Place, and the cobbler doesn’t want to talk about it.”
At the grocery, Elijah pushed through a knot of customers at the door and then more who clustered around the fruits and vegetables. Gaddi laughed. Even his one droopy eye opened wide. “Can you sell me three skins today, boys?”
Shop by shop, Elijah helped Nathan lift wineskins from donkeys and set them onto low tables behind counters. He smiled at shopkeepers and spoke politely with customers. So many customers. So many sales. Soon only three skins of wine rode their packsaddles.
Elijah dodged a customer who launched from the pottery shop, his arms loaded with shiny new bowls and plates.
Inside the shop, customers crowded three deep.
Elijah and Nathan lugged in a wine skin. And then another. “Excuse us, please. Tishbe wine.”
As they settled the second skin in place, Peleg opened his cash drawer and used his old phrase. “Can you boys organize your elbows and knees to bring in another skin?”
Elijah settled Peleg’s third skin, the last wineskin of the day, onto Peleg’s rack.
A drum tapped eight times and then gave a boom.
Elijah’s fingers and toes tingled. He scraped a hand through his hair and eyed the exit.
Peleg stiffened and slapped his cash drawer closed. He fumbled for his keys. The eight beats and a boom repeated.
Elijah’s eyes grew big. He turned to Nathan. “The black cart.”
The drum beat continued.
Dad nodded. “The idol. It shoved us off the road.” He stood aside as Peleg’s customers scooted past him and out the door.
Nathan gripped Elijah’s arm.
The beat continued.
Dad followed the customers onto the street with Elijah and Nathan crowded against him so tight their chests rubbed his shoulders.
Half a block away, Gaddi’s door popped open and slapped against the wall. Customers rushed out. A man with cabbages tucked under his arms stooped to retrieve cucumbers that dropped from his fingers. He clutched his vegetables against his tummy and waddled toward the sound.
Beyond him, Tubal opened his door, and a farmer ran out gripping plow points in his fists.
People poured from shops all along the street and turned toward the plaza.
Gaddi and Tubal locked their shop doors and joined the march toward the beat.
A silent, wide-eyed Peleg came out and locked his door. “Moloch.”