Bruno explains to Gasner that Fisch and Berl need ship tickets to Palestine, and asks if the Rothsteins might pay for them. Yehudah Rothstein feels the blame for his actions at home. He decides to stow away in Zayit’s cart and go to Yerushalayim.
* * *
Yehudah awoke to the sounds of the Jewish Quarter stirring. He almost sat up and rubbed his eyes until he remembered where he was; then he made sure to remain still.
When the wagon stopped, he listened carefully and waited to hear Zayit moving away. Then he rolled out gingerly from beneath the stiff blanket and stood for a moment beside the wagon. After brushing himself off and regaining his balance, he took off, afraid one of his relatives would catch sight of him.
Only when he began to move did he fully realize that his real plan was to find Kalonymous. He couldn’t have just disappeared, and no one would suspect a twelve-year-old boy to be searching for the runaway.
While formulating his plan, he had neglected to take hunger and thirst into account, and his stomach was kicking up in protest. He looked around as though a set table was going to appear out of nowhere. He briefly considered showing up at his Tanta Esther’s house, but decided that the trouble he would get in would not be worth it.
He checked his pockets and found a marble his father had given him from when he himself was a boy. He’d called it a Flame and said it was special, so Yehudah thought he might be able to swap it for some food. He realized there was a shuk nearby and, after a few requests for directions, found himself in the middle of anything a hungry boy could want.
The most enticing aroma was that of baking bread. An old man hunched over a round oven pressed slabs of dough against curved stone walls until they baked and fell off, browned and delicious. Underneath were competing fragrances: bitter coffee, fresh fish, the burnt, chipped smell of roasted nuts and huge slabs of halvah, Yehudah’s favorite dessert.
Beyond the smells were the sights: dusty piles of aluminum pots, dishes, rugs, candlesticks and trinkets. If he weren’t so hungry he’d have gladly followed both his nose and his eyes.
The goal now was to offer the Flame in return for food. He looked around, trying to spot the vendor who would be willing to make the trade. He circled the shuk a few times, not looking at anything in particular, so everyone would see him and know he wanted something. He removed the marble from his pocket, rubbed it between his fingers and held it up to the light. He didn’t know how much it was worth, but he wanted the vendors to think it was very valuable.
On his third time around he caught the eye of another youth a few years older than himself, who seemed interested in his marble. He circled one more time then sidled up to the stall, which happened to be piled high with nuts and halvah. He wouldn’t mind eating bread, but he was perfectly happy to eat halvah for the next few days if necessary.
He pretended to be examining the goods when he was really sizing up the boy. Then, Yehudah carefully produced the marble and handed it over for inspection. The youth, too, held it up to the light and examined it carefully.
“It’s a Flame,” he said in heavy Arabic. “Handmade.”
“Aywa,” replied Yehudah. “Yes, it is.”
The fine strands of pulled glass shimmered in the mid-afternoon sun, and Yehudah felt a pang over parting with the gift. He knew his father had others, but this one had been given to him especially. It would be yet another sacrifice to be made in the name of Kalonymous Sperling.
The boy pointed to a large block of the sweet sesame delicacy, indicating what he would be willing to trade for the marble. Yehudah shook his head and clucked his tongue, determined to get both bread and milk from the deal.
After a few volleys, the halvah seller walked over to the pita oven holding a smaller piece of halvah and a bag of nuts, and held it out to the old baker, who looked at the offering and held up four fingers.
The deal was completed. There would be no milk, but finding water would likely not be too difficult. Yehudah gathered up his bread and halvah and grabbed a few nuts for the way. The boy rolled the marble around his palm and smiled deeply. He reached under the counter and pulled up a small cardboard box containing a handful of other marbles. He positioned the Flame in a place of honor in the middle of the box, and then gently closed the cover, dreaming of a time later in the day when he could take them all out and line them up by color.
He would have continued with his fantasy if his father hadn’t come up from behind and grabbed him by the ear. .
To be continued . . .