As the boss sauntered into spitting range, Shelach trembled. He should let sleeping dogs lie. If he restrained himself, Hevel would remain calm.
But Shelach’s nostrils flared. He spouted, “The Lord hates the wicked. He sends them fiery coals and flaming sulfur.”
A scowl fell over the man’s face, he twitched his rodent nose.
The two little boys sucked in sharp breaths. One put a finger to his lips and shook his head at the other. They collected their polished chestnuts into their little cloth bags, and glanced from Shelach to Hevel and back.
Hevel twisted his empty sack and unleashed his own volley. “Blast them with your anger, Lord.”
The temple boss sneered. “We’ll see who gets what.” A Sidonian accent marred his words.
Shelach closed his display sack and stepped into the man’s path. He’d never been this close to confrontation before. A kid challenging a grown man. Brave and strong or brash and foolish?
From the chestnut tree in the center of the plaza a hoopoe called, oop-oop-oop.
The man drew closer. His nose hairs grew into his mustache. Slavers driving children to this man’s brothel had murdered Liev. The boss leaned left.
Shelach thrust his chin in the way. “Not your hired thugs, rat-face. You and me. Right here.”
The two little boys clutched their bags and dashed out of sight.
Red blotches spread on the boss’s face. As he ducked past Shelach, he shoved a load of cabbages onto the far side of a donkey.
“Hey, you!” The cabbage owner yelled. Then she stood back, her eyes opened wide. She slapped her hand across her mouth.
The boss ducked and scuttled between farmers and shoppers. At the temple, he slithered through the huge marble portal.
Hevel wadded his empty bag and dashed it on the ground. “The snake hides with the little boys and girls Liev tried to help.”
Shelach eased out a lungful of air. With exaggerated care, he crouched by his display sack and rolled down the sides. His hands shook. Although he puckered for a tune, his lips blew only wind.
Standing, he smoothed the front of his tunic. “We almost knocked knuckles with that creep.”
Hevel’s eyes flashed. “Great fun. Too bad Mika missed it.”
Shelach looked down, silent. Maybe he shouldn’t have spouted off. The man could have killed Hevel.
As a customer scrutinized the figs lying fresh in the sack, Shelach pasted on a smile. “Welcome!” But he forgot the opening line to his sales pitch. Beating up the temple boss wouldn’t be fun. Not really. Besides, temple guards would have swarmed all over him. What did his dad say? Too soon old. Too late smart.
When Shelach had sold three sacks of figs, Gera’s wife Hodiah appeared with Liev’s widow Keren. What did they have to do with the temple boss?
Keren walked straight up to Shelach. Dark bags still hung under her eyes. “Gera needs you and Hevel. Mother and I will sell your figs and pomegranates.” Her pained stare urged him to do whatever she wished.
Yet, when Uncle Gera needed help, he asked politely, and he spoke to Shelach’s father.
Shelach stepped back. He slipped off his headscarf and ran his fingers through his hair. To directly refuse an adult made his chest tighten. “Look, um. We’ll help Uncle Gera first thing after we sell this fruit.” He knelt and adjusted the edge on his display sack.
“Please go.” Keren spoke over his shoulder. “He needs you right now.”
“But it’s market day.” Uncle Gera knew how he had picked, sorted, and bagged figs. How his father assigned him a strong donkey, and this morning he trudged for an hour through the dark to set up his stall before first light. His place was right here, selling fruit to eager customers.
“No, Shel.” Keren stepped between him and the figs. “Gera needs you this moment. Mother and I have sold more fruit than you’ll ever see, and we’ll earn more for your families.”
“Please, son. Your Uncle Gera’s expecting you.” Hodiah laid a hand on Shelach’s arm. Her eyes pleaded. “Go now. For Liev.”
Shelach shrugged and led Hevel across the threshing floor. “I don’t like this.”
They turned right out of the gate.
Hevel said, “Maybe Uncle Gera’s got a grove for me too.”
Shelach – Nehemiah 3:5
Issachar is a strong donkey – Genesis 49:14
“Whom shall I fear?” – Psalm 27
Gideon – Judges 6
Joshua’s march – Joshua 6
“The Lord hates the wicked…” – Psalm 11:6