‘Old Simon’s’ shop
“Come and show this urchin where to put the parchment.”
Exchanging a puzzled glance with her mother, Rachel left her mending and went through the connecting door between their home and the shop. Many of the oil lamps were lit and she wondered if some customer passing by would think the shop was open.
“It is alright, you will not be in trouble, the shop is closed and the door locked,” her father reassured her. “The storeroom is something you are more familiar with than I am,” he admitted.
“I thought you would have been too tired to do this, after that long journey home, Abba.” She was also surprised how amiable he seemed. This was the father she preferred, not the one who had come back angry.
“I am tired Rachel, but I want to put all the parchment away safely. It is the good parchment and I do not want it stolen from the cart while I sleep.”
Rachel was puzzled. When Doran had gone home, she had thought that her father would not unload the stock tonight. Besides, where had he found someone to help him? When he had left shortly after eating his meal, he had said he was going to put the donkey and cart away.
“Excuse me sir, where is it you want these?”
Rachel looked up and saw the son of the woman who lived nearby. She knew him; she knew the family and the difficulties they had since the father had been injured in an accident at the quarry he worked at outside Ephesus. She smiled at the boy as he carried in a stack of parchment.
Taking a small oil lamp, Meshua went to the storeroom.
Dare she tell him that he should light the mounted one, not put a household lamp on the shelf? She decided it would not be wise.
“Bring it in here, boy,” Meshua instructed. “Now where do you want it stored, Rachel?”
She looked at what he was carrying and pointed to the shelf where that type of stock generally was placed.
The lad went off to fetch more, and Rachel watched her father, puzzled. Why was he asking her where things should go when he said she was not to work in the shop anymore?
“Lad!” Meshua called out to him.
“My name is Seth, master,” he replied, as he came back carrying another bundle of parchment.
Nodding acknowledgment, Meshua asked, “How much more do you have to bring in?”
Rachel thought it would be a lot quicker if her father helped, then changed her mind. There was only a small access door leading to the lane behind the shop. It would be much too small for him.
“There are three more stacks of parchment, then the baskets with the other supplies you brought.”
“After you have put that where my daughter tells you, I will help.”
Rachel closed her mouth on the words.
“I will wait by the door and you can bring the goods from the cart. I will take them from there. By the time I have given them to my daughter to put on the shelves, you will be back with more. It will make the unloading quicker.”
Rachel set out the goods on the shelves in the way she had always done... when working in the storeroom was her task. She tried not to dwell on the fact it might be the last time she did this. Perhaps her brother would value her help.
“This is the last basket,” Seth said as he passed a basket of reed pens to Meshua.
“Good. Now, one last matter. Will you see to the donkey and move the cart?”
Meshua pulled out his coin bag, sorted through the contents and gave the lad a generous amount for his help. He might need him again.
“If you want help in the morning, I have no work arranged yet,” Seth said hopefully.
“Thank you, but my son will be helping me tomorrow, perhaps another time,” Meshua replied.
Rachel carried the oil lamp out of the storeroom and set it where it normally was placed, on her grandfather’s table.
Meshua locked the access door, looked around to see that all was in order and said to Rachel, “Now I really am tired. Is everything safe in here?”
“I have been putting all the other lamps out while you paid the boy.”
“Then let us close the shop.”
“You go over to the house door, Abba. I am more familiar with this place. I can put this lamp out and find my way to the door.”
Elizabeth was sitting at ‘Old Simon’s’ feet, rubbing in the liniment that Rhea had made for her aches, when Meshua and Rachel came back through the door to the shop.
“This is almost finished.”
“I shall ask Timon to go to your sister’s home and buy some more from her servant. It is the first thing that has given my feet relief,” ‘Old Simon’ announced.
Fear froze Elizabeth’s reply. Timon would find out that Rhea no longer worked for Sara. What if he found out that she was one of those... those ...followers... she could no longer think of them as heretics.
“I am going to bed now. It has been a long day, and a tiring journey,” Meshua announced.
“It is early yet. Rachel and I have some preparations to make for tomorrow. I will come into our room quietly so as not to disturb you.”
“I doubt anything will disturb me after sleeping in the back of the cart every night all the way back.”
No one spoke for a few moments, then ‘Old Simon’ said, “That was wise if you could find no safe warehouse.”
Meshua nodded and left. He had no intention of saying that he did it to save costs.
When ‘Old Simon’ was sure that Meshua was really out of earshot, he asked Rachel, “How much parchment did your father bring? Enough to see us through till the first ship arrives?”
“Probably not, Saba.”
“Then let us hope that he has made arrangements with one of these places to send us some more.”
“Will Abba be making up the orders now, Saba?”
“Until I have my plans in place, probably he and Timon will make up the orders that are due. Why?”
“Because that old man, the one who writes, his order is due. Do you think Abba will fill it?”
Standing up slowly, ‘Old Simon’ tested his ability to walk, then turning to Rachel, he said, “Come with me and we will make that order up now.”
“What if Meshua comes back down?” Elizabeth asked anxiously.
“You heard what he said, nothing will disturb him,” ‘Old Simon’ replied. “Take that lamp, child, and come with me. Elizabeth, as you are anxious you can work here and see that we are not disturbed.”
Doing as she was told, Rachel took the lamp and led the way through to the shop. ‘Old Simon’ made it as far as his table and sat down heavily on his stool.
“Are you alright, Saba?”
“Fine. Now bring the order book, and a basket out of the storeroom, and we will make up the order.”
Rachel lit the overhead lamp in the storeroom and collected what her grandfather had asked for.
‘Old Simon’ had done this to test his ability. He needed to know what he was capable of before the argument with his son about his plans for the shop, that he was sure would happen. He also knew what they were doing, filling an order for one of the group Meshua detested, would cause problems when he found out. That was why he was going to sit here and make up the order so his granddaughter would not be in trouble.
Setting the basket on the floor beside her grandfather’s table, Rachel took out the record of regular orders and put it on the table.
“You can save me looking, child, are there any other urgent orders for regular customers?”
“The rabbi’s order is due also, but Abba will make sure that is filled first.”
“Not quite first, but he will not know. Let us do this and put the basket back in the storeroom.”
“Then he will see it.”
“No. You and your mother will take it to the old man after your father leaves in the morning.”
“What if he stays here to work in the shop?”
“I know your father. He will want to go check up on his booth. Timon hired a young man to help him, and there were times when that young man, Malachi, was alone. Your father will want to check that all is well. Plus, he will have his own stock to put in order. I think you can safely believe that your father will be busy all day. Now, fetch the parchment for this order.”
Rachel walked to and from the storeroom as she and her grandfather worked to make it up.
“Put some extra parchment in Rachel, but keep a record of it.”
“How much more, Saba?”
“Is there much on the shelf?”
“Enough for a few weeks.”
“Then put an extra quantity in. If your father has anything to do with it, he will use most of the parchment for the Jewish customers he wants to impress.”
Rachel was very thoughtful as she walked back to the storeroom. ‘What is going on?’ she wondered.
Bringing the extra parchment, she said, “This is the complete order for the old man, and I have added the extra parchment as you told me to do.”
“I have made out an accounting, and added the extra at the bottom of the sheet. Put it in the book where they are kept, and put this basket away.”
When she had done as she was bid, she turned out the overhead oil lamp in the storeroom and went back to help her grandfather rise.
“Wait a moment,” ‘Old Simon’ said.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I want to explain something to you.”
“I know you are competent here in the shop, but your father is correct. You are too old to work here. You must confine yourself to home duties...”
Tears, unbidden, came to Rachel’s eyes.
“We have been wrong using you this way. You should not have been so involved in this shop. But, I confess it suited me.”
“I enjoy working here, Saba.”
“I know you do, and perhaps, when you are married, you will be allowed to help your husband with his business, after you have reared your children.”
“Has Abba told you anything? Has he made any plans for me?”
“No, child, he has not said anything to me. But for the sake of a little peace, I will agree with him that you will soon leave the shop.”
“Ah, child, you do not miss much,” ‘Old Simon’ smiled.
“What do you mean?”
“To explain that I must tell you something that only Timon and I know.”
“All those times you have been in your room talking?”
‘Old Simon’ studied her briefly. “I believe you can keep a secret.”
“Yes, Abba, I can.” She thought of the secret she and her mother were keeping about having attended a meeting of those ‘heretics.’
“Your brother is leaving the stall in the marketplace...”
“I know, he is coming to run this shop.”
“Only for a short time.”
Now, he had her undivided attention. All her ideas of what he was about to say, had gone.
“Your brother will take over a small shipping fleet that his father-in-law has bought.”
Momentarily speechless, Rachel stared at her grandfather.
“The young man he hired to help him, Malachi, will come here to work. Timon thinks he is capable.”
“…Has yet to be told. You saw the mood he came home in. He would not have coped with any more news.”
“So when will Timon be leaving?”
“His father-in-law has said he can take a few weeks to see that everything is running smoothly here. But your father did not come directly home, or he delayed starting.” Seeing her raised eyebrows he explained, “I know that journey. It does not take three weeks, to make. I also know my son. Now this means that two weeks have passed of the time that Abner gave your brother to hand over his part in this business.”
“And that is why both of you have been talking so much in your room.”
“And this person that Timon hired, will he want to come and work in the shop?”
“Timon thinks so. Your father can hire his own helper. He will probably prefer to do so anyway.”
“Will it mean that Timon and Damaris have to move away?”
“Timon will need to live in the port city. I am not sure which port the ships are based in. I think at the moment, one of the ships is in Egypt, one at Fair Havens, another is held up in Cyprus somewhere. The other is in Miletus, waiting for the seas to be safe.”
“It will be difficult for Aima.”
“When is Timon going to tell her?”
“When all the plans are worked out.”
“There is more?”
“Yes, child. This young man, Malachi, will learn from Timon... and you.”
“I thought you said I was not to work in the shop anymore.”
“To begin with, you will need to show them how you run the storeroom. I intend to be here as much as possible, which is one of the reasons why I came with you to pack that order.”
Rachel stared at her grandfather.
“The other reason that I packed the order is to save you from trouble if your father objects.”
“Thank you, Saba.”
“So, I have discovered that I can come in here and sit again at my table, as I used to do... and there is also that young lad I hired when we came home. He can do the lifting.”
“Yes. He is too young for much responsibility yet, but he can help the other lad, this Malachi, and learn. Then if I am not well enough to be here, they will be able to manage.”
“You have done a lot of working things out.”
“I have, and so has your brother. I will be sorry when he moves away, but I have discovered these past two weeks that he is far more competent than he was allowed to be. Not that I am saying your father did not let him, just that the work he was doing did not allow him to use all his gifts.”
As this information whirled in her mind, Rachel could only think of how her mother would feel about this. Esther was at Levi ben Nathan’s farm, Timon would be leaving; her mother would be lonely with only one daughter.
“There is something else,” ‘Old Simon’ cut through Rachel’s thoughts.
‘How come all these changes are happening?’ Rachel asked herself.
“I can guess what you are thinking, child. But this arrangement was made a long time ago. You know that you have an uncle and cousins in Egypt?”
“Yes. That is where your supplies of parchment and papyrus scrolls come from.”
“One of your cousins is coming here to learn this part of the business.”
“It was an agreement made a long time ago. Your cousin, Judah, will come on the first ship with the supplies.”
“Are you intending that he take over here?”
“If he wants to stay here rather than return to Egypt after he has been here all season; if he has any aptitude for the work; if many things work out. There are many matters that will affect the decision. But no decision will be made until we know each other, and find out if it will be profitable.”
“My Saba, always the merchant,” Rachel laughed to cover her turmoil.
“So during the next week, much will be changing.”
‘And my father will not like it,’ Rachel thought.
The door between the shop and the house slowly opened, and Elizabeth looked around, seeking them. “Is everything alright?” she asked. “You have been there for a long time.”
“Just talking, I am sorry if we worried you, Elizabeth,” ‘Old Simon’ said as he turned and looked at her.
“It is late now. We should be retiring for the night.”
“Come on then, Rachel. Help me up please, and turn off last of the lamps. I want to ask your mother about the liniment that she has been putting on my feet.”
“Do you need me to help you to the house?”
“No thank you, child. Just see that all is well here,” ‘Old Simon’ replied, before hobbling away.
Hurrying around the dimly lit shop, Rachel made sure everything was safe and the lamps properly doused. A fire would put her grandfather out of business. When she finished, she made her way back to the door into the house.
“Is all well?” ‘Old Simon’ asked.
“Everything is safe, Saba,” she said as she put down the lamp she was carrying.
Elizabeth settled ‘Old Simon’ onto his couch, and brought him his usual medicine from the healing woman. “This should help you sleep.”
“You said earlier that you would ask Timon to go and fetch some liniment,” Rachel said.
“Yes, that is true. I want to keep using it and your mother says it is almost finished.”
Elizabeth nodded her agreement.
“Saba, while we were working, you said the old man’s order should be delivered early, before...” Rachel’s comment tailed off.
“Before your father can object. Yes.”
“Did you intend to ask Timon to deliver it to the old man?”
Elizabeth gave her daughter a puzzled look.
“No. Not at this time. In fact, there is no need for Timon to know at all. You and your mother can deliver it, as you did once before.”
“We will not be able to leave until Abba has gone to his booth.”
“He will leave as soon as it is light, I know my son.”
“He unpacked his own supplies before he came home,” Elizabeth interjected, beginning to see what Rachel was about to propose.
“Yes, he did,” ‘Old Simon’ agreed, “but you will not need the donkey and cart to deliver his order to John, the apostle.”
Rachel and Elizabeth exchanged surprised looks. This was the first time they had heard John described as an apostle in this home.
“What I was thinking, Saba, is that Timon will not be here until later. Abba said to the lad earlier that Timon would help him tomorrow… So, I think Abba would go first to his market stall,” Rachel reflected.
“That is possible.” ’Old Simon’ replied, “Besides, Timon will need to discuss plans for the stall and the shop with his father.”
Elizabeth looked puzzled, but Rachel hurried on, “Saba, it will take some time for Rhea to make the mixture, so whoever goes, should leave early.” Before he had a chance to object, she hurried on. “Aima and I could take the donkey and cart, go to ask Rhea to make some of that liniment for you. On the way back we could deliver the order to the old man’s home.”
Unsure if there was more to this suggestion than he could see, ‘Old Simon’ considered his response. Eventually he said, “You would not have to explain who you are to Rhea. You have seen her recently. When was the last time she saw Timon?”
“It would have been a long time ago. She does not attend the Feast of Tabernacles with Sara and Micah...”
“Then yes, what you say makes sense. I thought of him because he is young and fit, and could walk the distance quickly, but if you take the donkey and cart, it will not take too long. I do want the liniment, Elizabeth,” ‘Old Simon’ turned to face her.
“I know, and I could ask her to make a regular supply for you.”
“Well, that is settled then. You had better go to bed,” ‘Old Simon’ said as he turned to hobble off to his room.
“I will make sure the fires are safe,” Elizabeth said, watching his retreating figure. When his door closed, Elizabeth turned to her daughter, “That was wise of you. While you were both in the shop making up the order, I worried about how to explain to Timon that Rhea is no longer working as my sister’s servant.”
“I thought that would be so.”
“Will you be able to hitch up the donkey and cart?” Elizabeth asked.
“Seth, the young man who helped Abba unpack the cart, also put it away and stabled the donkey. Obviously, he knows how to handle a donkey and cart.”
“What are you saying?”
“He told Abba that he has no work tomorrow. I am sure Saba would give him a few coins to hitch up the cart and donkey.”
“We cannot have him take us where we are going tomorrow,” Elizabeth protested. Both tasks are involved going to the homes of followers of the Way.
“No, Aima. Just to help me hitch them up. I have driven a cart before.”
“Then you had better retire for the night. It will be a busy day, and morning will come soon.”
“Yes, Aima. Sleep well.”
“And as we travel, you can tell me what you and your Saba were talking so long about,” Elizabeth said.