35 Staying alive

Samaria City, Samaria, Israel, 870 BC
1 Kings 18:4-5

As Micaiah led his donkey into the still dark market, he whistled and bounced to the beat of The Lord is my light.1Psalm 27 In one fluid motion, he bent and looped the lead line onto a stone at the corner of his stall. Then he stood tall and belted out a verse.

The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Whom shall I fear?

Whom shall I fear?

Circling the donkey, with each beat he released a tie from the net draped over his many bags of figs. “Look at us, Imri.” He lifted his head of messy brown hair toward his cousin in the next stall. “Almost the first ones.”

“Hey, Mikey. We make our dads happy.” Imri slung a sack of pomegranates down from his donkey.

The sun tinted the last of the night sky and showed the shadowy forms of farmers setting up their stalls across the market. Donkeys blew in friends’ nostrils and nibbled each other’s necks while they dropped fresh manure, the first layer of market-day smells.

Micaiah raised on the balls of his feet and smiled at early bird customers who stopped and tipped their heads at his figs. Their neighbors would soon swarm through and fill the square with warm chatter.

Between the stalls, two little boys knelt next to a circle of polished chestnuts. They flipped nuts into the circle and sometimes tucked nuts from the circle into tiny cloth bags.

Micaiah squinted toward the far side of the plaza and stopped whistling. “It’s still there.” The hulking shadow of the Asherah temple showed lighter colors every moment.

Temple of Ba’al – Palmyra, Syria

 

The little boys ignored their chestnuts and gazed at the temple.

Imri yanked a string and let pomegranates slide into a pile on a goatskin. “And Liev and Ulam are still dead. If it weren’t made of marble, we could sneak in here at night and burn it down.”

Micaiah tipped his head back and laughed loud. “Or if old Joshua were here, you could help him organize a march.”

Imri held his empty pomegranate sack and watched a black-robed man swagger down the steps of the palace. “Here comes that filthy temple boss.”

Micaiah’s laugh died, and his smile slid to one side. He held a bag of figs and glared at the man. He should rip that pink Moloch design off the brute’s shoulder and tear it from his robe, but the evil lay too deep for such a simple cure.

The temple boss came into spitting range.

Micaiah trembled, and his nostrils flared. He leaned into the path and muttered, “He will send fiery coals and flaming sulfur down on the wicked.”2Psalm 11

A scowl fell over the face of the temple boss.

The two little boys collected their polished chestnuts.

Imri twisted his empty sack and unleashed another verse. “Blast them with your anger, Lord.”

The boss glared. “We’ll see who gets blasted.” A Sidonian accent marred his Hebrew.

Micaiah set the fruit down and stepped into the boss’s path. He crossed his arms and showed a lopsided smile. “When?”

The black-robed boss leaned left to see the temple, but Micaiah clenched his fists and thrust up his chin. “Not your hired thugs. You and me. Right here.”

The two little boys clutched their bags and dashed out of sight.

The face of the temple boss blotched red. He ducked past Micaiah and scuttled between farmers and donkeys over to the temple.

Imri wadded the empty bag and threw it to the ground. “He hides with the little girls Liev tried to help.”

Micaiah breathed loud and drawn out through his nose. He crouched over a sack of figs and with exaggerated care rolled the sides down to display the fruit.

He stood and smoothed the front of his tunic. His mouth puckered for a tune but blew only air. Maybe he shouldn’t have spouted off.

“Hey, Imri! We almost knocked knuckles with that thug.”

Imri’s eyes lit up. “Such fun.”

But what would their fists accomplish?

Micaiah pasted on a smile for three customers who scrutinized his figs.

Just as the sun popped free from the horizon, the two little boys returned, solemn-faced. Instead of bags of polished nuts, they brought Keren and Hodiah, Liev’s wife and mother.

Keren walked straight up to Micaiah. “Gera sent us. He needs you and Imri right now. Mother and I will sell your figs and pomegranates.”

Micaiah opened his mouth and knit his brows at Imri, but Keren stepped into his line of sight. “It’s urgent. This moment. Mother and I have sold more fruit and vegetables than you’ll ever see, and we’ll make more profit for your families.”

Keren rested her hands on the heads of the two little boys. “My helpers will take you to Gera.”

Hodiah touched Micaiah’s arm. “Go now, son. Please. For Liev.”

###

Micaiah stood flatfooted and empty of song as he searched Gera’s brown, weathered face. “How can we help you, Uncle Gera?”

Gera grasped the hands of Micaiah and Imri and examined their faces. He nodded to Keren’s two little helpers. “Thank you for bringing my friends. You may return to Keren.”

The little boys left.

By the tiny hut where he managed the olive groves of the Samaria district, Gera sat on a crude bench and patted the spaces on either side. “Sit with me, please.”

Micaiah and Imri plopped down and gazed with Gera out across the hill. A raven patrolled the opposite slope. Kraa, kraa, kraa.

Common Raven, by Copetersen www.copetersen.com

 

Micaiah tugged on his ear. Yesterday, he and Imri picked and sorted and bagged figs and pomegranates. Their fathers assigned them two good donkeys, and this morning they trudged through the dark for an hour to set up their market stalls at first light. Yet Keren said Gera needed him, and he would never pass up a chance to help Uncle Gera. Did Gera only want them to sit and study the Shechem valley? He scratched his chin.

Gera draped his arms across their shoulders and pulled them close. “You two are what I call ‘bubblers.’”

Micaiah ran his hand through his hair. “Bubblers?”

“You and my Liev. Either too stubborn or too stupid to keep your mouths shut. And I don’t care which. I just want to keep you alive.”

Micaiah stiffened. “But I can’t keep quiet. This morning when that—”

“I know about this morning, Mikey. Keren posted her little helpers beside you two weeks ago.”

Micaiah glanced at Imri and bit his lip. Keren had been watching them? They should be angry. Act annoyed. But they could never defend their dignity against Keren or Uncle Gera. Micaiah stared off across the hills. “You’ve been spying on us.”

Gera lifted his arms from their shoulders and rested both hands on his knees. “Do you boys trust me?”

Micaiah leaned forward and opened his hands to Imri.

If we can’t trust Uncle Gera….

Gera slapped their knees. “You boys helped me mourn Liev, and then you helped bury Ulam. So you’ve seen how spouting off puts you and your families in danger.”

Micaiah turned his face up to Gera. “But —”

“The Lord put it in you boys to name good and evil for what they are, and I wouldn’t change that. But since that black-robed snake has marked you, it doesn’t matter whether you keep your mouths shut or let the truth bubble out. If his thugs find you, they’ll kill you.”

Micaiah clenched his fists and teeth as he drew in a lengthy breath through his nose.

Gera laid a hand on Micaiah’s fist. “You boys are fast, but they’ll ambush you in the dark, and you’ll be dead before you fall. I’m going to hide you.”

“Hide?” Micaiah frowned. What a ridiculous idea. He stood and faced Gera.

“In Othniel’s grove. You’ll be helping him with pruning, picking, pest control, irrigation—everything your fathers taught you in figs and pomegranates. Othniel is a good man and does right by his grove. He’s agreed to hide bubblers. Yesterday I sent him Zophai, the cobbler’s son.”

“Zophai?” Micaiah gasped. Last week Zophai had come through the market with his sister and stopped to chat like always.

“He only knows shoe leather, but you boys can teach him trees.”

“Zophai’s a great kid, Uncle Gera, but our fathers need us.”

Gera swallowed and dipped his chin. A weak smile touched his face. He laid his arms across their shoulders and pulled them to him. “Your fathers need you to stay alive.”

Micaiah turned and gawked at Imri. Their freedom was gone. The people they trusted most outside their parents had watched their moves and snatched them away. Were they saved or captured? And did it matter?

“I’m arranging skilled workmen to help in your absence.” Gera squeezed Micaiah’s shoulder. “I need you to stay put in Othniel’s grove. No wandering the hills for spies to see you.

The next day Gera’s wife, Hodiah, led a donkey to Othniel’s grove packed with pita bread, roasted eggplant, a skin for water, a skin of red wine, and three wool cloaks. “Your mothers said you boys would want these.”

The rain that should have fallen after the feast of trumpets held off, so Micaiah used the thick gray wool to keep out the wind, not to shed water. When Hodiah came with food that day, she led a donkey loaded with four huge bundles of charcoal. “No sense you boys attracting the Queen’s thugs with flames and smoke when you can stay warm with this.” She hugged each boy.

Micaiah helped Imri and Zophai stuff the long black sticks under an overhang and then drape them with branches and dead leaves. Uncle Gera said from a distance the leaves blended into the hillside. The pile would stay dry except in a hard driving rain.

That evening, Micaiah crawled under a nearby depression in the hillside. He snuggled down next to his buddies. Imri and Zophai were the best, but besides the striped hyena he surprised two days ago, they were the only breathing beings on this hill.

Striped Hyena, by permission from Israel’s Good Name, https://israelsgoodname.blog/2020/03/29/khirbet-luza/

 

He woke shivering and turned to let the charcoal toast his back. Uncle Gera’s friend was looking for a better hiding place. Would it be warm?

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