Ruth rounded the corner and tried in vain to stop. She reached out a hand, grasping the corner of the house in an attempt to steady herself as her feet slipped out from underneath her. Her momentum carried her several feet further and she landed with a thump on the icy surface of the road.
From where she sat, she gasped in amazement. The market place was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people. Never had she seen so many people in one place! There was a steady hum of voices, sparked with shouts from sellers, hawking their wares. A chorus of voices filled the air around her and she marveled at the variety of languages and dialects being spoken. Amongst the voices, she heard the braying of donkeys and the snorting of sheep along with the clip and clop of hooves on the frozen street.
“You’ll be trampled sitting there.”
Ruth looked up, recognizing the voice, even though the sun was setting behind the speaker, casting him in shadow. She smiled at him and lifted one hand toward him. Jacob reached down and helped her to her feet. He then escorted her across the road to stand in the sunshine, where her footing would be more secure. He stood silently at her side as she rattled on about all the sights and sounds and smells of the market, only nodding periodically when she turned her smiling face to him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this! It’s so exciting ... so many people! Look at that woman’s robe, she has pomegranates embroidered along the bottom. Exquisite! And look at that man. His beard is braided into three sections! Have you ever seen such a thing?” She laughed, “I can’t imagine Papa with his beard in braids! Oh, how Mama would tease him!”
They watched the crowd for several minutes until Ruth remembered her father’s words. “I’ve been sent for oil. Do you know where the oil seller has his booth, Jacob?” He nodded and stepped out into the flow of the travelers, beckoning Ruth to follow him. She skipped after him staring at all the people she passed, astonished and thrilled with the experience. Soon Jacob stopped in front of a cart and nodded to the merchant. Ruth stood on her tip toes and peered into the wooden cart. The man in the grey cloak raised his eyebrows and inquired, “And what do you need, young lady?”
“Oil for our lamps, please. My father has sent me.” She reached into her cloak and felt the coins. Suddenly feeling shy and unsure of herself, she paused. How much did oil cost? Why didn’t she ask her father how much to get and how much to pay? Would she get a fair deal from this foreign merchant? She opened her mouth to speak, but Jacob spoke first.
“Two jars, please.” Turning to Ruth, he murmured, “I fetched oil for your father last week.” Ruth smiled, relieved, and drew the coins from her pocket. The merchant reached into the wagon and pulled out two ceramic jars and set them on the table in front of him. He held out his slender hand and Ruth dropped four coins in his palm. Smiling, the merchant nodded and turned to the next customer.
“Thank you, Jacob,” Ruth smiled. He nodded and lifted a jar in each arm, resting them against his chest. Turning back toward Ruth’s house, he started walking away. “Wait. Wait ... I want to buy something else. My father sent me with money. For my ... for my birthday.” Ruth blushed as Jacob fixed his warm brown eyes on her. A faint smile played at the corner of his lips and he nodded silently again. “I don’t know what to get. Can we walk along here and look at the booths?” With a nod from Jacob, they started back into the market.
After peering into several stalls, Ruth stumbled upon a vendor with baskets filled with nuts. She inquired about the cost and counted the remaining coins in the palm of her hand. The merchant measured out a portion of almonds into a scrap of fabric and handed it to Ruth in exchange for her money. She nodded her thanks and turned to Jacob, smiling proudly.