Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A stranger in the night

Surprised at his own embarrassment, Salman smiled boyishly and returned to the window, “Thank you, we do feel welcome. I'm curious though, that field is completely bare. Your King leaves no crops around the edges for the poor?”

“Hunger makes slaves of us all,” Rahab answered.

Salman considered her reply while observing something else out the window. In the distance, a lone dark figure rode towards the city on a camel.

“Indeed it does. Some people are sold into slavery, but others sell themselves.”

“Either way, they’re both slaves,” said Rahab.

“True,” Salman chuckled, enjoying the game of cat and mouse.

“Still, you've done well for yourself,” Phinehas interrupted, “to live so close to the gate?”

“Nothing comes cheaply for a woman,” she replied.

Salman sensed Phinehas overstepped the mark, and his suspicions were confirmed as Rahab dutifully cleared the half eaten meal. Quick, change the subject, he thought.

“Is it common to open the gate after sunset?”

“Sometimes,” Rahab cautiously replied.

Salman turned again to the window and watched the camel rider approach the gate. He looked athletic but slender, about thirty years of age and carrying a long thin sword over his shoulder. Although a headpiece covered most of his face, a rope burn scar was clearly visible around his neck. Strange, Salman thought, that face looks familiar. The rider’s whispered conversation with the Gatekeeper aroused even more suspicion.

The sound of the gate opening put a wet blanket on the conversation. Everyone knew they should keep talking but nobody wanted to. The silence was all the more disturbing as they strained to hear what the guards were saying (without admitting they were eavesdropping).

“So you're from Egypt?” asked Rahab.

“We're tired, sorry,” Phinehas replied, in a manner that was really asking her to leave.

“Too tired to answer questions, but not to ask? I should leave you alone then.”

“Wait,” Salman interrupted, “how could you tell?”

“Your accent, of course.”

“Yes, of course,” Salman responded, strangely amused that for the first time in his life he was aware of this fact. How ironic.

Rahab politely bid the gentlemen good night and quietly moved to the other bedroom, by the window on the inner wall overlooking the city square. Through the wooden shutters, she watched the camel rider dismount and embrace Giddel like a brother returning from a long and dangerous journey. The two men walked off briskly into the palace, as the gate to the city shut with an ominous finality.

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