“The Main Course”
Part III. The New Sandals
The little man spoke, nodding to Felix, “Our scholarly friend does not forget his education. I for one am touched by his poetry, even if the women of Judea were not.” Felix smiled in return.
“Nor can I quote the holy words so well”, he indicated the loud man now. “So my story is neither learned nor lengthy.”
“It will be lengthy if you don’t get on with it!” the loud man barked in reply.
“So little patience, well, I will begin …”
Those sandals look thick, Benjamin thought. His own were falling apart, and he admired the pair, one among many, that was lined up outside the door to the house. He swiveled his head, and no eyes met his. He sauntered over to the sandals, and without bending over, stepped out of his, and slid his feet into the new ones. He then slowly walked away, enjoying the feel of his new stride.
Let no one say that I am a proud thief. I steal from high and low alike. He he had plenty money these days, his pouch was full of coins from recent activities. But why spend when you can take? He wore a fine robe, and drank wine every night now.
His sunny mood was clouded by a cripple who hobbled up to him on one crutch, hand outstretched. Benjamin looked in the other direction, and lengthened his stride. The beggar was not so easily discouraged, and quickened his pace to match his. “Lord, lord ….” Benjamin pretended to stumble, and his foot knocked the crutch forward, spilling the beggar into the dust. Benjamin turned a corner to escape from the cries of outrage.
That was odd. I am good at ignoring the wretched. Do the rich feel guilty all the time?
As he walked along, his stomach growled. A child was selling figs on the corner, and Benjamin bought some, not even bothering to haggle for the price. The child seemed surprised, and Benjamin was even more so. Lazy. Time for a drink.
He made his way to the foreign quarter, and found a small tavern he had not been to before. He sat at table, and waited for service. He was delayed by an argument between the tavern keeper and a customer. He listened, and learned that the customer owed a large debt, and the keeper would not serve him till it was paid. The customer was whining in a pathetic way, and the keeper, seeming to enjoy his mastery, persisted in toying with him.
Finally, Benjamin made his way to the bar in exasperation. “Let me pay this man’s debt” he told the tavern keeper.
Both men looked at him in surprise, but the keeper was glad to be paid, even if it meant the end of this little game. Benjamin even bought the customer, who was absurdly thankful, a skin of wine. Benjamin returned to his table, and the thirsty man, named Joseph, joined him, uninvited. The man poured out a tale of sorrows and Benjamin listened patiently while sipping his wine. He offered a encouraging remarks at appropriate moments, and even offered a smile or nod when Joseph expected one.
Eventually, the tavern closed and Benjamin made his way out in search of an inn. He gathered his rich mantle about him against the evening chill. Joseph followed him, still chattering away about the current troubles.
As he walked a voice called to him from an alley, “Lord. .. Lord … “
Benjamin turned, and saw a young woman leaning against the alley wall, beckoning to him. He approached.
“A fine lord deserves better company ” she said, inclining her head to Joseph.
Benjamin smiled, and stepped into the alley. “I am weary, and my companion is no burden. Perhaps it is time for you to go home too.”
Her smile hardened, and she held out a hand. “I have not received my wages for the night, though you can change that.”
“I think not.”
“Sinful woman, leave this man alone” Joseph shouted, butting into the conversation.
Raising her voice, she said “I might scream. Others will come.”
“You should be stoned,” Joseph said, now angry. Benjamin tried to hush him.
“You will be stoned!” she screamed.
Joseph fled, while Benjamin attempted to calm the woman. She slapped him, just as a group of laborers rushed into the alley. A strong hand grabbed his shoulder, and he was flung against the wall.
Hot words flowed from the woman, and the laborers pushed him into the street. He smelled the wine on their breath, and they were ready to work it off. Benjamin tried to explain , but they did not believe him. During the struggle his money pouch was ripped open, and the woman scooped up most of his coin before scurrying away.
He was struck a few more times, and fell to his knees. There was a break in the assault, and he stood up. He felt another hand on his shoulder, and resigned himself to the blow. But the voice that spoke for the hand held no anger, “I vouch for this man. He is my friend.”
Benjamin had been looking down, and the first thing he noticed about the new man were his bare feet. He looked up, saw the face, and a look there that told him that he was known, fully and completely. Benjamin lowered his gaze. The laborers were gone, and he could see just a few coins lying in the dust. He made as if to gather them up.
The new man spoke to him, “We have much to talk about, Benjamin. But first you must buy me some new sandals. And I know you have just enough money left to do it.”