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Friday, April 22, 2011

Fiction Friday: One More Time, Chapter 6

Previous chapters can be found on previous Fridays...

The night seemed to last forever, but at last the morning came. Sarah woke Tamara.

“Where’s Papa?” she asked, rubbing her eyes and yawning. “Did he go already?”

“I’m not sure where he is, Tammy. Come with me now, we need to go to the big house so I can fix the morning meal for Hamath and his family.”

“Okay,” Tamara said. She dressed and picked up her doll. Sarah combed Tamara’s hair and then her own. When they were ready to face the day, Sarah shut the door behind them. Tamara skipped on ahead of her mother, but stopped to play with Keddy in the courtyard.

Sarah hurriedly prepared and served the meal and cleaned the cooking area. She headed for the hallway to find Martha, but Hamath stopped her.

“Where is your husband,” he demanded. “Why hasn’t he showed up to meet with the physician? The physician will be here this morning.”

“Paulos didn’t return last night, sir,” Sarah said. “I’m afraid he might be lying hurt somewhere. I searched for him last night, but couldn’t find him.”

Hamath acted as though he were beside himself with fury. “After I went to the trouble to locate a knowledgeable physician? Is he a coward, or just an ungrateful lout? Well, don’t ask for any future favors for Paulos. He may continue his life of begging for his bread. Perhaps you should begin eating with the servants and forget taking food home for him!” Hamath continued ranting for a few minutes, then turned and stomped into the house.

Sarah stared after him in amazement. After all, now there would be no physician’s fee. His rage appeared a little overdone, somehow. She wondered if there were more to this picture than was on the surface. Or is it just my suspicious nature? She shrugged and continued on her way to find Martha.

When she found her, she asked Martha to go with her to the marketplace. Martha shook her head. “I’m sorry, Sarah. Dorcas wants me to make four new curtains.”

“So be it.” Sarah sighed. “Would it be all right to leave Tamara in your keeping?”

“Of course. I enjoy her company. Such a dear child, she’s no trouble at all. She plays so well with the other children, and with the puppy, too. Everybody loves her. Why, just the other day...”

“I’ll return in time to prepare the next meal.” Sarah took a step backward.

“I certainly hope you find Paul, Sarah. I know you’re worried about him. He’s such a sweet man, and Tamara would be so devastated if you didn’t find him. What will you do if you can’t find him?” Martha wrung her hands and appeared determined to worry on interminably, but Sarah needed to go. She backed away, nodding, then waved and made her escape.

Sarah told Tamara to stay with Martha and hurried to the marketplace. She asked every merchant and shopper she saw if they’d seen Paul. One person remembered seeing Paul--Esther, the seller of chicken, quails, geese, and other types of fowl.

“I saw him over by the city gate yesterday afternoon when I was leaving for the day. He was talking to a cloth merchant, probably asking for money. I don’t know anything more, though. I left before the merchant and Paul were finished talking.” Esther talked as she pulled feathers from a goose.

“Is the cloth merchant still here?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see him this morning. If you ask Jonas over there, he might know.” Esther pointed with her chin to a vendor with bright-colored cloth displays.

Sarah rushed across the street to Jonas’ stall. He bent over a crate, sorting colors and fabrics in the bolts of cloths. “Good morning. Are you Jonas?”

Jonas, a deeply tanned man with a short, neat beard, looked up from his work. “Yes. May I help you?” His voice was so deep it sounded like it must have come from his sandals.

“I’m looking for my husband. Do you know Paulos, one of Hamath’s servants?”

Jonas squinted as he looked at her, and Sarah wondered if he were a little nearsighted. “Is he the one who has the broken leg?” When he straightened, Sarah could see the 40-ish man was thin, probably six inches taller than she, with dark brown eyes that invited confidence.

“Yes. Did you see him yesterday or today?” Sarah caught herself wringing her hands and dropped them to her side.

“I saw him yesterday talking to a cloth merchant, but I haven’t seen him today.”

“Do you know if the cloth merchant is still in Tyre?” Her fingers twisted the edge of her cloak.

“No. He left yesterday just before the gates closed.” He looked intently at Sarah. “Is your husband missing?” he asked, his voice soft and gentle.

Sarah’s eyes filled with tears. “Yes.” This was so frustrating. She had never been a weepy female, and here she was tearing up in front of a complete stranger. Impatiently, she dashed the tears away.

“I’m so sorry.” He brought his hand to his chin and rubbed it as his gaze focused on a bolt of cloth. “I don’t believe I saw your husband again after the merchant left. Might he have gone with them?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m sure he wouldn’t have left with anyone, at least not willingly. We have a daughter, and he adores her. He wouldn’t have deliberately left her fatherless. I don’t think, anyway.”

Jonas tilted his head to one side and one eyebrow raised in question. “You don’t say anything about him adoring you. Tell me, did you argue?”

It was too much for Sarah. If the man had been scornful, critical, or just curious, Sarah would have been able to handle him, but his obvious caring undid her. She burst into uncontrollable sobs. She turned to run away, but Jonas caught her arm.

“Here—act as if you’re looking over the materials,” he whispered.

“This is not easy to hear, I know, but the cloth merchant won’t return for several months. However, some other vendor here might have seen more. Try all of the vendors, at least those within sight of the gate. Or would you like for me to do that?”

Sarah nodded, not trusting her voice.

“If you will stay here at my stall, I’ll ask the other vendors. If a customer comes in, tell them I’ll be back in a short time.”

Sarah’s tears continued falling, but she nodded and struggled to get herself under control. “Thank you,” she croaked.

When Jonas returned a half-hour later, two customers waited. Sarah had dried her tears, although her eyes were still red and swollen. She waited while Jonas bargained with the two women who wanted materials and again when another one more arrived. When he finished taking care of them and they were out of earshot, he turned to Sarah. “I don’t have good news. No one saw Paulos after the merchant left with his caravan. One of the vendors, Micah the silversmith, said there several men, he thought from the caravan, gathered around Paulos. But then Micah had a customer and lost track of what happened with Paulos. He said the same as the others—he didn’t see Paulos once the caravan left.”

“Where was the caravan going, do you know?” Sarah’s heart felt like it would tear in two, but she determined she would not lose control again.

“I don’t know. They could have gone anywhere, since they had just packed all the camels with materials to sell. Once he has sold most or all of his merchandise, he will return to Tyre to restock. Does your husband have any family in another village?”

Again, her “memory” kicked in. “Yes. Paulos has two brothers, one in Paphos on Cyprus, a brother in Berytus, and a sister in Ptolemais. I’ll send word to them somehow. Perhaps he went to them, although I still can’t believe he’d leave us like this. Thank you for your help, Jonas. You’ve been more than kind.”

Jonas moved a bolt of cloth from one pile to another. “If I hear anything further, I’ll send word to you, or come to you. Where do you live? Are you also one of Hamath’s servants?”

“Yes. I come to the marketplace regularly to buy food for the household.”

“I thought so—I think I’ve seen you with Martha.”

“Yes, Martha and I sometimes come to the marketplace together. I’ll check with you whenever I come here.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for listening, thank you for checking with the other vendors, and thank you most of all for caring.”

“I did nothing anyone else couldn’t have done. However, perhaps I understand what you’re going through more than some. My wife is also missing, abducted and placed into slavery by a band of thieves.” His eyes glinted. “I could find out no more about her than that, even though my brothers and I spent four years searching the entire west coast and many of the inland villages. And I’m not the only one. Several others here in Tyre had older children, spouses, and even parents disappear. There has to be a slave trader who finds his slaves in this area.”

“Oh, no.” Impulsively, she touched Jonas’ elbow. “I’m so sorry, Jonas! How long has your wife been gone?” Sarah again yearned for a computer, police, modern search and rescue officials, a cell phone, or a fast car.

“For ten years. Though it has been so long, it remains a raw place in my heart. I’ve not given up hope of finding her. Her name is Mariah.” Jonah rubbed his chest.

“I hope she’ll be found and returned to you, Jonas. I hope we both find our lost loved ones, and soon. I don’t know how, but we have to find them.”
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