The man watched as the boisterous group arrived at the courtyard. He followed them quietly, set apart. He didn’t always feel as if he were really part of this group he dedicated these past years to. But they needed him, and he needed that.
Shimron, by far the loudest of the group, bellowed at the gate. It opened and a surprised Eleazar, Meret and Miryam welcomed everyone in.
The brother and his youngest sister radiated joy.
The older sister smiled, but Yehudah could see panic in her eyes as Meret quickly disappeared.
The group crowded around their leader as he greeted Eleazar and Miryam. The greeting was long and affectionate. Yehudah couldn’t help but notice that as their leader embraced Eleazar, it was Miryam that he was looking at.
Meret slipped back into the crowd with water. Then she disappeared again. Once the group was done greetings and washings, they followed Eleazar back around the house and made themselves comfortable.
Once again, Meret was there. This time she was bringing tea. There weren’t enough cups for everyone. Yishai and Yochana were not only given chairs but were the first to drink, as the honoured leader and his patroness.
Yehudah watched. The people were tired and hungry as Yishai began to speak but his mesmerizing voice calmed them down.
Miryam wriggled closer to Yishai. Shimron glared at her and moved closer to Yishai himself. Yehudah moved back into the shadows, away from the quiet fawning and the fighting. He nearly bumped into Meret as she came back, this time with bowls of figs.
He saw the red tiredness in her eyes which were still sharp with worry. He saw the stiff set of her jaw. Her hands were rough and calloused. Last time they visited, there was a servant here. Now there obviously was not. Feeding so many people would be hard.
Meret glared at Miryam. Miryam didn’t notice. Meret moved closer and touched Miryam’s shoulder but was shrugged off. Meret whispered into her sister’s ear and Yishai turned. The crowd grew still.
“What is the problem?” he asked. Yehudah knew that tone. Yishai could make anyone feel loved and belittled with the same whisper.
Meret turned red but straightened her shoulders. “Do you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Please tell her to help me.”
Yishai stared at her disapprovingly and Meret shrank back, arms curling forward to protect her from it.
“You are worried about so many things, but there is only one thing that is important, and Miryam has chosen it.” It was final. Miryam glowed.
Meret fled back to the kitchen. Yehudah followed.
Meret looked up, and wiped away tears. “Does he think I want to be in the kitchen feeding all of his followers? Does he think I wouldn’t rather sit and learn?”
Yehudah watched her pound the dough with vengeance.
“Do you know why I think women have not been allowed to study the Torah?” she whispered. “It isn’t because we are evil or stupid like many say. It is because the men want to eat but they don’t want to make the food. If we really had the choice, we’d study too and then who would chop the onions?” She laughed.
Yehudah sat down on the floor in front of the cutting tool. He grabbed one of the vegetables on the floor mat and began to slice it against the blade.
He finished the first one and began another before he noticed that Meret was staring at him.
Yehudah cleared his throat. “You know, Yishai is always saying that the greatest among us must be the least.”
Meret smiled as she flipped another flatbread. “How humble are the others, letting us be greater than them.”
A rare smile cracked Yehudah’s face. “You know, I have only heard our leader speak of this. I must remind him that we simple folk need to see him demonstrating his teachings as well.”