My bones ached in the cold wind that rattled through Nazareth, and shook against the stalls at the market. The air smelled like spices, and everywhere was the business of the festival. Children ran past me, not watching for my cane. Nervous, I found an empty rock near a corner and sat myself down to catch up to my heartbeat. It was too much coming out here today. I rested my forehead against the smooth walnut of my cane and pulled my scarf low over my hair line. Perhaps if I closed my eyes and focused on the cold stone under my robes, I would not be so overwhelmed by the bustle near the market. I clutched my thin coins between my fingers, hiding them behind my long sleeves, and took one long breath and then another.
My meager coins wouldn’t buy much, just a few drops of oil to mix with my meal to make a small loaf of bread. Not the traditional food for the festival, but good enough when you dine alone. The warmth of fresh bread would help me sleep well tonight, despite the racket my neighbors are bound to make.
“Well, up we go.” I said to myself and I stood. My back protested, and I leaned into my cane for support.
A young mother walked near me. She sang softly to a young child she held at her hip. He was a sweet boy, with brilliant blue eyes, and dark curls. I could see from his expression that he was listening to his mother’s voice as she sang a simple song about the one high God. It was a pleasure to stand near them, though she didn’t notice me near her as I followed them into the shop. The child noticed me. His bright eyes twinkled as he smiled, and I couldn’t help but share a small smile back. He did not recoil, the way others do when they see my missing teeth, and the disease that ravaged the side of my face.
I turned away, and lowered my head as I spoke to the shop keeper about the oil. Joshua knows my need well, and he had my regular order quickly ready. I added it to the vessel that hung from my belt, nodded to Joshua for his service, then tried to leave the shop, but a crowd of noisy young men ran though in a celebration that nearly shook me from my sandals.
A soft hand steadied me. The young mother smiled at me, and I couldn’t smile back. Not at a woman so beautiful and dignified. There was an air about her presence that seemed almost royal. She would not care to see my broken smile.
“Could you help me?” she asked. I looked up at her askance. No one has asked for my help in a long time. Not since my sister’s husband removed me from her household. The young mother gestured towards her sweet son. “I fear I have my hands full, and could dearly use your help bringing my son home.” She carried the shanks of a lamb in a clean cloth, and it would take both of her hands to carry it without marring her clothing. I nodded, and offered my left hand. The young boy took it, and there was something remarkable about his hands. They were so soft, and gentle. He wrapped his tiny fingers around my index finger and stayed close to my side.
His mother spoke not of herself, but as we walked together, she asked me so many questions about my family, and my youth. By the time we reached her humble home I felt as thought we were true friends though she was young and fair, and I was ancient and bent. Through every step, her young son kept me company, and in his presence I felt peace. He smiled at me in acceptance, and when we reached the end of our journey, he hugged my legs in his tiny arms, and I felt warmth enter my chilled heart. He smiled up at me, and I smiled back. I leaned down to him, relying on my cane to keep me from toppling, as he put his tiny hands on both of my cheeks. I kissed his sweet face, while his kind mother looked on.
“Thank you so much, Elsa,” she said, referring to me, “for your help with my son.”
“Thank you, Mary,” I said in return. “Thank you for sharing him with me.”
She nodded, “It is my privilege.” She put the lamb over one shoulder, and held her hand out for her son. I turned and walked toward my home. The oil in my vessel full and heavy at my waist, but my steps felt light.
It was amazing what kindness could do. What one boy could do.
(Copyright Sheena Boekweg, 2013)