Anna and Jacob ran through the crowd and headed for the marketplace. The two moved quickly in and out between ladies carrying baskets and pots, merchants with bolts of cloth over their shoulders, and farmers pushing carts of vegetables. There were even some herdsmen from outside the city, prodding sheep and goats along with sharp sticks. Roman soldiers on horseback galloped down the narrow streets now and then, scattering them all.
Anna and Jacob separated. Zacarias had suggested that people might recognize them more easily if they stayed together. As they entered the marketplace, Jacob was careful to avoid any of his old friends and neighbors.It was unlikely that anyone would know them, disguised as they were, but it wouldn’t hurt to be cautious. He watched Anna head for the vegetable stand with her basket.
Jacob sniffed the aroma of fresh, hot bread at a nearby shop, and drew out enough coins to cover the cost of a dozen loaves. The shopkeeper was so busy waiting on the many housewives bustling around his stand, that he hardly noticed Jacob. The boy handed over the coins, and stuffed the bread into a burlap bag he had brought.
He headed off to buy cheese at the next stand, and then a new cooking pot for the women. He saw Anna up ahead on the other side of the street. At this rate, they would be finished in no time.
Other beggars, some lame or blind, sat among the stands, pleading for money. Children were doing the same, begging for a coin to buy a loaf. Some were eyeing his bread hungrily. He wouldn’t be surprised if one of the little boys tried to snatch some out of his bag, so he held it close. He felt sorry for them, but he couldn’t give anything away. The people back at the Catacombs needed the food.
At the cheese stand, a man and his wife hurried to fill orders. Jacob got in line, hoping to be waited on quickly. He watched as an older boy herding a small flock of goats passed by. They were probably heading for the other end of the marketplace where livestock was being sold, or perhaps they were going to the temple where the goats would be used for sacrifices.
Suddenly the woman at the cheese stand ran out, and snatched a small child out of harms way. The little boy, no more than two, had wandered into the street.
“Sarah!” she called sharply. “Where is that girl? She’s supposed to be watching him!”
The next shop held pottery vases and cooking pots of all sizes.
People crowded around impatiently calling for service. Jacob was glad that there was so much going on. No one seemed to look at him twice. But that all changed in a split second.
He suddenly caught sight of a large pot jiggling on the shelf of the booth.
He looked to see what was causing the jug to move, and in horror saw that the child had escaped again. The little boy was tugging on the bright cloth covering the booth! At the same time, customers jostled and bumped the wooden framework. The tall jug swayed back and forth, as if in slow motion, directly above the boy.
Jacob sprang into action just as it toppled off the edge of the shelf! Dropping his bag, he dived for the boy, shoving him out of the way! The heavy pot shattered.
The little boy, having fallen and scraped his hands and knees, wailed in fear and pain.
Everyone was looking and chattering. People were running to see what had happened.
“You!” cried the pottery owner, pointing at Jacob. “You’re the one that did it!”
The child’s mother was scooping up the sobbing little boy. Jacob felt strong hands on his shoulders. Worse yet, as he looked back, his bread was disappearing as several beggar children snatched the loaves and dashed away. Across the way, he saw Anna running toward him, and tried to motion her to stay where she was.
“These beggars! You’ll pay for this mess, boy, or I’ll see you in prison!”
“No, you won’t!” came a voice, and Jacob realized that the man gripping him was the father of the child. Jacob suddenly found himself being embraced tightly instead of dragged off as he expected.
“I saw it all! He saved my son! That pot could have killed my boy! It was huge!” The man was beaming down at Jacob. “Thank you, lad! Thank you!”
“Uh….” Jacob moved away from the man. “I’m just glad I saw it….” He looked around, trying to think of a way to escape. Everyone was crowding around, staring at him. At least Anna was smart enough to stay put once she saw he was all right.
“I see you lost your bread! I’ll buy you more bread! And here! Take some cheese!“ He thrust a round cheese into Jacob’s hands. “Take more!”
When Jacob met Anna outside the marketplace, he was so loaded down with bread and cheese and dates and figs and vegetables — everything the man could think of — that he could hardly carry it all. Anna took some of it and stuffed it in her baskets.
“There’s enough here to last a good while!” Jacob exclaimed, jubilantly.
They hurried home. Wouldn’t everyone be surprised? And they had money left for the next time.
“The only thing is,” said Jacob, as they entered the secret entrance to the Catacombs,
“is that every shopkeeper in the area was staring at me. All of Mama’s old friends and business acquaintances. I hope no one recognized me.”
Zacarias was concerned about that, but not so much that they wouldn’t be allowed to go back in a different disguise.
“It’s God’s provision!” he said. “We’ve just found that our brothers who usually bring us food are in jail. We must be able to get it on our own. This will last a long time! You were right, of course, to help the little boy. We mustn’t be so afraid that we stop doing good as Jesus taught us to do.”
Jacob and Anna were happy that night. The group feasted and everyone had plenty to eat for a change. And the children looked forward to the next time they could go above, wondering what adventure awaited them.
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett