The Light of Truth

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Chapter 17

CHAPTER 17

When Timon, Elizabeth and Rachel finished sorting out the orders, the door between the shop and the house was still closed. Occasionally, raised voices could be heard.

“How is Damaris? Is all well with her?” Elizabeth asked, while Rachel tidied the shelves.

“The midwives seem happy with the course of her carrying.” He glanced anxiously in Rachel’s direction. It wasn’t seemly to talk of such things with a young unmarried girl present. In fact, he wasn’t sure that it was something his mother should ask him about. Then he realized, she was trying to pass the time until the door between the shop and the home opened again.

Rachel returned to her mother and brother, “There is nothing more I can do,” she said.

“Timon, you go home. Your father cannot object if I am in the shop with Rachel, and it is closed anyway.”

“When we came here after noontime… that was the first issue that angered Abba. The shop was not open.”

“Even if the shop had been open, it is unlikely there would have been any customers,” said his sister. “At this time of year most of our customers are pagan businessmen who come in the morning. Saba would have tried to deal with them.”

Timon smiled at his sister. Her knowledge of the shop, the customers, astounded him. As they had waited and worked together, she had been giving him insights into the various people who had regular orders. Her grasp of the accounts also surprised him. She had also known which of the regular customers would not need the full order at this time of year, enabling them to save some stock for the shelves.

“Rachel, you should have been a son,” he had told her. “You know so much about this shop and the customers.”

Their mother laughed. Her father-in-law had said the same thing on more than one occasion.

“I have been helping our grandfather for many years. The Romans call this time of year, November. Many customers from the stricter sect of Jews, will not work and do business unless they know it will be completed before the Festival of Dedication starts. This is always a quiet time of year in the shop. Then there is that pagan Roman festival when all of us close up anyway. Business will be slow for a while and although there does not seem to be much parchment or many scrolls, trade is quiet from now until just before the beginning of our religious year. That is around the time that ships can safely sail again and one of the reasons that there should be enough supplies to last till the first shipment from Uncle Simon arrives.”

Timon realized she spoke the truth. Even in the marketplace, although his father had customers who bought from them during this period, not many of them were Jews. Until his sister had explained it just now, it had not occurred to him. But then, he had never liked working with his father, and lately he had been more concerned with his wife Damaris, the child she was expecting, and now, his own news.

“During these weeks since we returned from the Feast of Tabernacles, the shop has not kept the usual opening hours. Regular customers know to knock, and the others, they bang on the door anyway,” Rachel told him.

“I am sorry that I did not think of how Saba would manage when I agreed to go to Damaris’ parents’ house. I told him I had been asked to go, arranged for his return home, and he never complained at all.”

“He was probably thinking of how little they see you,” Elizabeth said gently.

‘Now was the time to tell her,’ Timon thought. Then he looked anxiously at the door to the shop, and changed his mind.

“Saba has been a little better since Aima has been rubbing his feet with Rhea’s liniment. That is true, isn’t it?” Rachel turned to her mother for confirmation.

“Yes, he has been able to walk about more comfortably. He is still in pain, but it seems the herbs Rhea puts in her treatments, go through the skin and ease the pain. That is why we went to her for more.”

“I know that Saba is intending to come into the shop more,” Timon admitted.

“You and he have been talking a lot lately,” Elizabeth said. “Are you planning to come and work here?”

Rachel whispered to her brother, “Saba told me your news when I was with him last night, Timon.”

Elizabeth frowned and looked at them. “What are you whispering about?”

‘It has to be now,’ Timon thought. The longer he left it, the more hurt she would be. “Aima, before I go home, I should tell you what Saba and I have been planning,” Timon sat on the edge of his grandfather’s low table.

“Your father was so angry I doubt that Rachel will be allowed to do any work for the shop again,” Elizabeth murmured.

“Aima, the rabbi spoke to Saba at the Feast, so the decision had already been made that Rachel would not be able to work in the shop.” He gave his sister an apologetic look.

Elizabeth moved closer to Rachel. While they were at the farm, unaware of all this, Rachel’s future in the shop had been decided. She knew her daughter would feel hurt.

“I understand, Aima,” Rachel said. She did not like it, but she knew the reason. She hoped that a marriage had not been arranged for her, as well. Jonas ben Asher’s unusual visit to the shop before the shop closed for the Feast had concerned her. He had never bought from her grandfather before, only her father. So, when he sent a message, wishing her father a ‘sweet year,’ it had concerned her. Although he seemed polite, his son was Thomas, one of her tormentors at her cousin’s wedding. She had never forgotten the troublesome pair, Thomas and Asaph.

Elizabeth asked, “What else was decided, Timon?”

“Saba wanted me to come and run the shop. He hired Doran to help me,”

“He has been doing well, being Saba’s legs, as he calls Doran,” Rachel said distractedly.

“Aima, I will tell you in more detail when it is calmer here, but I do want you to know that I will not be coming to work here.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said. She slumped down on ‘Old Simon’s’ stool, disappointed.

“I have told Saba. We have been making plans, but Abba doesn’t know yet, or he did not know,” he said as a loud shout was heard from the house.

“What plans?” Elizabeth asked, anxiously.

“Abner has bought a small fleet of ships.”

“Damaris’ father?”

“Yes, Aima. This was the reason that he wanted Damaris and me to go home with them after the Feast.”

This time it was Rachel trying to comfort her mother. She knew what was coming and she knew her mother would be hurt.

“You are going to work for Abner?”

“He has asked me to take charge of the fleet.”

“But you know nothing of shipping.”

“I said the same, but it will work out.” Timon kept looking more and more anxiously at the connecting door.

“I know some of what is happening,” Rachel said, “Saba told me last night.”

“We were going to talk about that on the journey,” Elizabeth upbraided her daughter. “You knew about this and said nothing.”

“Aima, we both forgot. There was so much to do. While you were rubbing Saba’s feet with the last of the liniment this morning, I went to the neighbor and asked her son, Seth, to hitch the donkey and cart.” With a sideways glance at her brother, she said to her mother, “We talked about other matters as we traveled to Rhea for the liniment.”

Elizabeth nodded. It was true. They had worried what would happen if Meshua found out that Rhea was, in his eyes, a heretic. That had led to a discussion on what they had heard the day they had been at the meeting, then on to wondering how Esther was faring at the farm. It had been hard for Elizabeth being so close, but having no time to go the extra distance and visit her younger daughter. Which brought Elizabeth back to thinking of another child moving away, “So, this means you and Damaris will be moving away?”

“Yes, Aima.”

“When? How soon? How will I see my grandchild? I had thought you would stay here in Ephesus with your family...”

“Aima, hush,” Rachel soothed.

“I do not know when, but it will be soon. As for the rest, we will be like other families in the synagogue, and meet at the festival season.”

“Yes, there is much to be worked out,” Elizabeth said, staring at the connecting door. “You go home now. I will accept this, as all mothers do.”

“Are you sure I should leave?”

“Yes, go home to your wife.”

“It sounds calmer in the house,” he mentioned.

“I will lock the door when you have gone,” Rachel told him.

With a smile for Rachel and an embrace for his mother, Timon left, glad that his mother knew his plans. If his grandfather had not told Abba about them by now, he soon would.

When he left, Rachel locked the shop door and extinguished most of the lamps. Walking over to where her mother sat on the stool her grandfather had used, she looked down at her, “Are you alright, Aima?”

“Yes. And I am thinking if your father is going to continue in tempers, then it is better Timon and his family are going. Good that Timon does not have to work with him each day. How about you, my child, are you alright?”

Although she had put on a brave front when her brother was there, nevertheless she was distressed by the decisions that had been made. “I know I could never have run the shop instead of Saba, but I am hurt that females are so valueless.”

“Perhaps not in all families.”

Rachel’s mind flew back to her encounter with Benjamin after the meeting they had attended. “Some people...”

“Stop!” Elizabeth interjected. “Say nothing that you don’t want to be overheard.”

Rachel wanted to ask why those people’s behavior was so different if, as they claimed, they worshiped the same God. She wanted to ask why her father had been so angry. To her knowledge, he had never threatened her mother before and that had scared her. She kept the questions locked inside. Dropping to her knees and putting her head on her mother’s lap, Rachel sobbed as she had not done since she was a small child.

Elizabeth stroked her daughter’s hair soothingly while loathing for her husband grew in her mind. He had been a good husband... as long as she never questioned a decision, accepted his authority over all happenings, and kept the peace. It was the lot of many wives. But now she had seen that some women were treated as people with feelings and thoughts. She remembered a comment Rachel had made after they had attended the meeting with the old man. ‘He treated me as a person.’ She said this of the great-grandson. Elizabeth closed her eyes to shut down the direction her mind was taking her and bent over her daughter, “Come now, child. Be at peace. Your grandfather will talk sense into your father.”

“Aima, he scared me,” Rachel said wiping her tears away with the back of her hands.

Offering Rachel the corner of her shawl, Elizabeth couldn’t think of anything to say.

The door to the house opened.

“It’s late. You had better come and make our meal,” Meshua called through the door.

Rachel stood up and held out her hand to help her mother rise. Putting out the remainder of the lamps they made their way to the doorway, dousing the last lamp on their way through to the house.

Responding to his father’s stare, Meshua addressed his wife and daughter, “I was hasty in the way I spoke to you both. Abba has explained he sent you with the order. I allowed my hatr... dislike, of that bunch of heretics, to blind me.”

Elizabeth knew that this was the nearest to an apology they would receive. She inclined her head gracefully and said, “Thank you Meshua,” nudging her daughter to do the same.

It was too dark to see outside now, so they had to use the indoor cooking hearth. Mother and daughter were soon immersed in preparations for the meal.

“Did Timon go home?” Meshua asked as he watched them work.

“Yes, he did. All the orders were completed. The shop is locked and all the lamps are out.”

“Good, good.” Meshua was at a loss, not knowing how to behave. He had never lost his temper so badly until these last two nights, and never before with his family. Rachel had been crying, he could see that. His status in the Jewish community had much to do with his future position. If anyone from the synagogue had been nearby when he raged at his wife and daughter, there would have been no explanation he could offer.

‘Old Simon’ reclined on his couch, exhausted, feeling too old to cope with his son’s behavior. When Meshua had been a young man, he had a temper, but after winning against his brother, he seemed to settle. ‘Oh how I hope the moods, and tempers do not start again,’ ‘Old Simon’ reflected. Watching his son, he pursed his lips thoughtfully. As long as he was well enough to manage his own shop, Meshua would have to accept his position as a younger son.

Meshua glanced surreptitiously at his father. He had given him a cruel shock by virtually telling him that he would not necessarily inherit the shop. His older brother Simon was the firstborn, by rights he should have the inheritance. Meshua had all these years dismissed that possibility because his brother had shown no desire to leave Egypt where he had a successful business. But earlier his father had reminded him that his brother had sons. One of whom was coming to lodge with them and learn this part of the business. If the inheritance went to Simon he could pass it to his sons, and Meshua would be left with his stall in the market but no home. He had to start rectifying the situation. “I should ask the rabbi to come and pray for you,” Meshua said to his father.

'Old Simon' smiled, guessing the thoughts that had been running through his son’s mind. “He has prayed before... but if you think it will help then send for him.”

“I will see him tomorrow and ask him to come to see you.”

Elizabeth called that their meal was ready and Meshua set a small table next to his father’s couch, “There, Abba, that will make it easier for you.” Then turning to his wife and daughter said, “Set Abba’s meal here where it will be easier for him than struggling to come to the eating area.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, wondering what her father-in-law had said that had caused such a change in her husband.

“This is the first, wholesome, home-cooked meal I have had in all these months,” Meshua said when he finished eating.

Elizabeth looked at him, wondering if there was a sharp comment to follow.

“You did not have pleasant food while you were away?” ‘Old Simon’ asked.

“Yes, when I was at the Feast of Tabernacles...”

“Where did you stay during your traveling?”

Meshua did not want to tell his family anything about his doings when he was away, so he said casually, “Well, for the most part, the inns were not suitable. But I found out where the local synagogue was and went to see the rabbi there. He usually knew of someone who had room to take in a stranger.”

“You went many places, you were away a lot longer than I expected,” ‘Old Simon’ said with a trace of disapproval in his voice. “While Elizabeth and Rachel clear away, I would like to know where you have been, and what arrangements you have made.”

Meshua nodded, and swallowed. He was glad he had actually gone to Patara, although not when he had told them.

“You did arrange for more supplies?”

“Well... yes.”

“Why the hesitation?”

“I have to go back to Patara.”

“You have just come from there.”

“I know, but the man I bought your best quality parchment from, knew of more that he could buy.”

“He did not tell you?”

“No, he was cunning. He said I would have to go back after he received it.”

“When will that be?”

“The beginning of the Roman year.”

‘Old Simon’ stared at his son thoughtfully, turning alternatives over in his mind.

“I have to go and inspect it, Abba. Make sure it is the quality we need.”

“And your own grade of parchment, Meshua, you unloaded it at the booth before you arrived home. Was there enough of that to keep you supplied?”

“Yes, Abba. Pergamum was an excellent source for ordinary grade parchment. It was finding the quality that you use that was more difficult.”

‘Old Simon’ was unsure how to respond. He was unsure if his son was telling the truth; if he was trying to make him feel guilty, or if he had some other motivation. He decided to say nothing.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” he asked his father.

“No, we need to talk more about the supplies. They are our lifeblood, but for now I would like Elizabeth to put the liniment on my feet, give me the medicine, and help me to bed.”

“Elizabeth!” Meshua called.

“I am coming.”

“And I will say goodnight,” Rachel said, following her mother.

Elizabeth turned and looked at her. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, Aima. I am tired though.”

A slight nod, a knowing look, and a gentle smile, were the only responses Elizabeth dared make. It had been a long and worrying day, culminating in the clamor on their return home.

“I will fetch the liniment, and rub your feet now.”

“While you do that, Elizabeth, I would like to hear what is happening with Esther,” Meshua said.

As she settled herself at ‘Old Simon’s’ feet and poured out some liniment into a small bowl, Elizabeth tried to overcome her rancor toward her husband. “Joanna asked that Esther stay and help Aminta as she recovers from the fear of almost losing her child.”

Meshua started to say, “She should be over...” the unsaid part was that she should be over it by now. It was left unsaid, but his wife knew what he meant.

“You know how long it takes...” Elizabeth said, reminding him of the death of their firstborn son.

“Well, blessed be our God, your niece did not have to face that loss,” he said, trying to regain the favor he could sense he had lost with both wife and father. “So, when is she to come home?”

“When she is no longer needed, I would think.”

‘Old Simon’ grunted as Elizabeth rubbed a little too hard.

“Sorry,” she apologized. “It is done now, I will fetch your medicine and help you to your chamber.”

Meshua was at a loss. Before he had left, everything revolved around pleasing him. Now, it was as though he had no place in anyone’s life.

*****

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