To Be Together Again
“Iskender, could it be him?” Simay asked, a look of wild hope in her eyes.
“It’s always possible.” He replied. “We asked that God take care of Ibrahim, and I believe He has – whether this particular young man is him or not.”
“He would be eighteen now…” Simay said wistfully. “And my Seda would be sixteen…”
Simay felt a small hand tug on her sleeve. “Yes, Hadassah.”
“We’ll find them.” The little girl stated confidently.
“You can’t know that, dear.” Simay said suddenly downcast.
“But I do know, Mama.”
The utter conviction in her daughter’s voice caught Simay’s attention and she looked at Iskender. The man nodded, seeming to understand Hadassah’s confidence in a way that Simay didn’t. The only explanation that she could conjure was that God had given this girl a special kind of faith that Simay would ever really understand.
The marriage between Juliana and the young Jewish man was to take place before the end of the month. Rumors flew about how and why the consul’s daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law had chosen this little town to conduct their wedding in.
Guests began to arrive a few days before the ceremony itself. The increased traffic was good for business and the merchants soon abandoned their gossiping, focusing instead on the profits they were raking in.
The day of the ceremony came. Juliana, her family, and her groom all gathered at the house that would stand in place of the bride’s family’s real house many cities away.
A Roman wedding in a town like this one was not an event to be ignored. Guests and strangers alike lined the streets, awaiting the emergence of the bride and groom.
The first portion of the ceremony seemed to go without incident. Even the ritual sacrifice of the pig did not disgust too many of the denizens – though a few of the more Orthodox Jews left the festivities.
As the bride and groom left the first house Hadassah tried to push her way through the crowd of people, straining for a glimpse of the couple. Her diminutive height betrayed her and she was pushed away. The same thing happened when the couple left the second house – the one where the groom’s parents were staying.
Not willing to give up so easily, Hadassah wracked her brain, going through the whole traditional Roman ceremony in her mind.
“The bride and groom will split off from each other soon.” Hadassah thought and ran away from the crowded area towards a more sparsely populated section of town. The girl lapsed into a prayer as she ran, “Jesus, help me to know where I should go; guide my feet…”
Hadassah ran down first one street, then another, searching for a likely route for the groom to take to the house he would present to his bride. She rounded a corner and almost ran through a roadblock. A few obviously Roman men stood guard, making sure that no one else used the street until the wedding party had passed.
“Sir?” Hadassah’s small voice called out to one of the men.
The Roman turned to see who had called out. He saw Hadassah and said, “What can I do for you, little miss?”
“Is this the street that the groom will be traveling to his new house?” she asked hopefully.
“It is indeed.” The man said proudly. “And a fine man he is – even if he is a Jew.”
“What is his name, sir?” Hadassah probed, eyes bright with anticipation.
“It’s – “
“Valens! He’s coming!” shouted one of the other men stationed down the street back towards the wedding party.
“I must go.” The man nodded to Hadassah and ran down the street to meet the coming groom and his portion of the procession. His companions remained to keep the crowds out of the street.
Hadassah’s heart crept up into her throat as she watched Valens greet the groom – a handsome young man who, surprisingly, lacked the facial hair she had expected him to have. His face remained unclear until he was within about twenty feet of her. By then men, women and other children were packed in around her. If there had not been a rope strung across the opening between buildings the crowd would have spilled out into the streets.
The groom’s face, now in focus, was unmistakably of at least half Israeli blood. His dark hair and eyes were complemented by his skin – a bit lighter than her own. His walk was confident and less militaristic than a Roman’s would be. All of this information Hadassah filed away in her mind to describe to her mother later.
The girl caught her breath as the groom walked by, not three feet from her. To her shock, he looked directly at her and almost stopped in his tracks, his eyes opening wide, a spooked look spreading across his face. Hadassah thought that he might even come over to her. But to her disappointment he was swept along by Valens and the rest of the swarming attendants, none of whom were paying attention to the strange look on the young man’s face.
The instant that Hadassah saw the young groom’s face change she knew without doubt that this was her brother.
“Hadassah!” Simay called out when she saw her youngest child returning from her mission. “Did you see him?”
“Yes!” Hadassah said excitedly as she shut the front door. “I know it’s him. He saw me and his face changed. It was like he thought he was seeing a ghost.” She played with a few strands of her long hair. The simple gesture resulted in a strange expression clouding her mother’s face.
“What is it, mama? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You…” Simay began, “In this light… you look so much like your sister, Seda… Your hair is not as red as hers, but it still holds some highlights. In this midday sun, the coloring stands out clearly.” She paused, still staring at Hadassah. “Iskender!” she called out.
The loud footsteps of the man Hadassah had come to know as “father” sounded as he came quickly in response to Simay’s call.
“Did she see him?” Iskender asked before he realized Hadassah was standing right there. When he saw her he adjusted his inquiry, “Did you see him, Hadassah?”
“Yes, father.” She smiled. “I saw my brother.”
Iskender nodded, accepting his little charge’s evaluation without a second’s hesitation.
In this, and many other ways, Iskender was like no other man that Simay had ever seen or known. His acceptance of her daughter’s vision often amazed Simay. This man accepted Hadassah’s statements more readily than Simay did many times. The big Ephesian seemed to hear not only the words Hadassah said, but the Spirit of faith behind them. As much as she had loved Malcus, Simay didn’t think that he would have understood his third child the way that Iskender was able to.
Iskender and Hadassah were suited to each other in a way that Simay could not explain. Even though she was not his child the Ephesian showed the girl the love that any man would show a child who shared his blood.
As she thought about Iskender and Hadassah, Simay realized that through the nine years since Hadassah’s birth she had truly come to love this man – for his understanding, his honor, his faith, his kindness. Then, for the first time since she married him, Simay smiled at Iskender, letting her affection for him show. This made the Ephesian stop mid sentence. Hadassah, with whom he had been conversing, looked first at her mother, then at Iskender.
“I’m going to go sweep now… or something.” Hadassah said, hiding a grin before she left the room to find something to preoccupy herself with for a while.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Iskender asked Simay as soon as the nine-year old had left the room.
“You love my daughter, don’t you?” She said.
“Of course I do. I love her like she was my own.” The answer came.
“And do you love my first two children?” She continued.
“You know I do.” He said.
“And,” she paused, her face softening, “do you also love me?”
Iskender looked at the woman he had married – the woman he had been charged to protect – whose family he had promised to reunite – and he thought back through the past nine years, stopping every so often at the occasional memory until he finally came back to the present.
“Yes, Simay.” He nodded. “I love you.”
Simay’s hug caught the Ephesian by surprise. In the nine years of their marriage she hadn’t so much as laid a hand on his shoulder – much less hugged him – so he did the only thing he could think to do. He returned her hug.
Hadassah cracked open the door just in time to see something that she had never seen her mother and adoptive father ever do before – share a real hug. Then, to her delight her mother kissed Iskender before laying her head on his shoulder and thanking him for loving her and her family enough to dedicate his life to bringing them back together again.
Over the next several days all three of them: Simay, Iskender and Hadassah searched the city for the newly married couple. Hadassah took her parents to the place where she had been on the day of the marriage – the place where the groom had seen her. But the street was crowded with the normal traffic. There was no indication as to where the couple’s home was.
Iskender went from door to door along that street asking if anyone knew where the consul’s daughter and her new husband were living. No one seemed to know anything.
The family sought out the best parts of the city and asked the servants of the houses if they knew anything. The only helpful bit of information that they gathered was that the Consul and his wife owned a house – which in reality was more of a mansion – which they visited once in a while. The dwelling was located towards the edge of town.
The three went quickly to the house but it was shut up, unoccupied, though it appeared to have been recently lived in.
Iskender studied the great house, the elegant architecture, well-tended gardens, and the rolling pastures surrounding it. It was as he was surveying the scene that he spied a lone gardener, pruning a host of oddly shaped bushes.
“Sir?” the Ephesian called out to the other man.
No response came, so Iskender tried again, speaking louder this time.
“Hmm?” the servant grunted in return.
Iskender moved closer to the gardener so as not to have to shout.
“Where is the family that lives here?”
“Nobody really lives here on a regular basis.” The servant replied in his gravely voice.
“I know.” Iskender said, “But it looks like someone stayed here recently.”
“That’s because someone did.” The other man said.
“Who was here then?” Iskender probed.
“That girl Juliana and her half-breed Jew she convinced her father to let her marry.” The gardener rolled his eyes. “His parents are higher-ups back in Jerusalem or somethin’. Really rich.”
Iskender looked back at Simay who was covering her mouth with one hand, hope in her face.
“Do you know Juliana’s husband’s name?” Iskender turned back to the gardener.
“Look,” the gardener held up his blade, “I’ve got alotta work to do. These things don’t prune themselves, you know.”
“Yes, I know, sir, but this is very important.”
The servant rolled his eyes again, gave a heavy sigh and looked at the bothersome Ephesian with annoyed eyes. “If I tell you his name will you go away?”
“Yes.” Iskender nodded emphatically.
“Alright then.” The man said. “Her husband’s name is Avraham – at least, that’s how the Jews pronounce it.”
“Did you ever hear anyone call him anything else?” Iskender immediately asked.
“I thought you were goin’ to go away.” The man glared back at the Ephesian.
“I need to know, sir. I won’t ask you anything more. Just answer this one last question.”
Reluctantly, the servant nodded, “Okay. Fine.”
“Did anyone ever hear anyone call Juliana’s husband by another name?” he repeated.
“I’m thinkin’.” The gardener said rudely.
The two men stood there in silence for the better part of a minute before the servant spoke again. The quietness was filled with a combination of annoyance, anticipation and anxiety.
“Well, they were only here for a couple days – left yesterday morning in fact – and I didn’t really hear them talkin’ much. Only heard the other servants callin’ him ‘Sir’ or ‘Master.’ But…” he paused, “I do remember one time when the mistress came outside – into this very garden in fact – and called out a name. And I think it was…” the gardener scratched his head for a moment. “I think it was ‘Ibrahim.’”
At the sound of her son’s name Simay began to cry, relief welling up in her heart. But soon the relief mingled with sadness as it dawned on her that she had missed finding her son by a mere day.
“Thank you, sir.” Iskender sighed as he turned around and walked back over to his wife and step-daughter. The gardener, neither understanding the strange line of questioning, nor caring why the man needed to know something so random, returned to his pruning.
Little Hadassah looked up at her weeping mother, “We’ll find him, mama. God wants our family to be together again – I know He does.”
The expression of childlike faith caught Simay off-guard and she stopped crying as the truth of the girl’s statement came to rest in her heart. She looked back at her daughter through teary eyes. “You’re right Hadassah, He does.”
“Let’s go back home for now.” Iskender said as he came up to them. “We can’t do anything else here.”