As they walked, Ven asked Jophi questions about where she was going, why she was alone, and about her father. She answered them all dutifully, but with some reserve. She still wasn’t sure if she could trust him, and when she asked him similar questions, his answers made her suspicions rise even more.
“Some might say where I’m from is far, but others would say it’s near.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ven shrugged. “It means what it means.”
Jophi raised an eyebrow. “Okay… next question. Where are you going?”
“Yes, I know that, but what are you looking for? Is there an intended destination?”
“Well…” Jophi glanced sideways at him. “What is it?”
“I am in search of someone who needs my help.”
“Anyone in particular?”
He shrugged. “No, I wasn’t given any details, just that I’ll know when I find them.”
“What kind of–ow!” Jophi’s foot slipped and she fell backwards. Ven grabbed her, stopping her fall.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She firmed her stance and pushed him away. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She scanned the street, looking for what had tripped her. “I stepped on somethi–ah, there it is!” She bent down to pick up a small, clear marble resting at the entrance to an alley on their left. “Here’s the culprit.”
Ven poked the marble in her hand. “Hardly seems enough to trip–”
“Shh!” Jophi held up her hand to quiet him. “Did you hear that?”
“I thought I heard someone.” She took a step closer to the alley entrance, straining to listen. She was about to think she’d imagined it when a weak cough came from that direction. Jophi followed the sound ‘til she found a small girl about the age of 12 huddled against the wall. She wore a school uniform, but it was filled with holes. Probably the only clothes she has. Beside her on the street a game of marbles had been set up.
Jophi looked at the marble in her hand, then back at the ones on the ground.
“That marble must belong to her.”
Jophi jumped, startled at Ven’s voice.
The girl opened her eyes and gasped. Coughing, she stood and turned to run.
“Wait!” Jophi yelled. The girl doubled over, clutching her chest as she coughed. A man and a woman appeared from a nearby doorway and ran to her. The clothes they wore were also tattered.
“Kalina, what’s wrong?” asked the woman, wrapping her arms around the girl.
Kalina pointed at Jophi and her companion. The woman narrowed her eyes and the man stepped forward to challenge them. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh dear. I’m terribly sorry.” Jophi looked at Kalina and held out the marble. “I found this at the entrance to the alley and thought it was yours.”
Kalina, her coughing now eased, fixed her gaze on the marble.
“I didn’t meant to frighten you, I promise.”
The girl looked at Jophi, then at the woman. The woman nodded reassuringly. Kalina stepped forward and took the marble from Jophi. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Jophi’s heart felt heavy. She wished she could help these people, especially with Kalina being sick, but she needed to find a job and move on with her life. She looked at the father, “I wish you all well, but I must continue my journey. You will be in my prayers.”
As she turned to walk away, Ven brushed passed her and knelt down in front of Kalina. “Would you like to feel better, Kalina?”
She nodded. “But Daddy lost his job with the toymaker and we can’t afford to pay for the medicine that can help me.”
Jophi walked over to Kalina’s father. “You worked for a toymaker?”
“Yes. Until recently, that is. He was just starting to teach me how to make toys as well when one day, out of the blue, he said my services were no longer needed. Afterwards my son Kende, just a few years older than Kalina, left to go find work. But he hasn’t been back yet and we’re worried.”
Ven reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bottle of liquid. “Well, Kalina, I have something that will help. You see, my father is a doctor. He told me that I would find someone special to give this medicine to, and you’re that someone. It will take away your sickness and make you whole again.”
He nodded, smiling. “Really.”
Jophi fixed her gaze on the vial. Could it really heal the girl? If so, why hadn’t this man come to her back when her parents were sick?
Kalina touched the vial. “Will it help Daddy find a job and bring Kende back?”
“No, my dear.” Ven wrapped the girl’s fingers around the bottle. “But if you get better and pray really hard, I’m sure everything will work out soon.
She nodded. “Okay. I’ll do that.” She took her father’s hand in hers and looked up at him. “I’ll pray for you and Kende, Daddy.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” He took the medicine bottle from her, looking it over. “Are you sure this is safe?”
“I assure you, sir, it is perfectly safe. It is only meant to heal.”
Kalina’s father turned the bottle over and over in his hand, his brow wrinkled.
“Here.” Jophi extended her hand. “I just met this man today, and I don’t trust him anymore than you do. So if I take a sip of the medicine, you’ll soon know for sure whether or not it is safe for Kalina.”
“You would do that? For a stranger?”
Jophi nodded, still holding her hand out. He placed the vial in her open palm. She took a sip. The warm, fruity liquid traveled easily down her throat. Aside from her hunger pains easing, nothing else happened.
Jophi handed the bottle back to Kalina’s father. “My companion is correct. The medicine will not harm your daughter.
Kalina’s father gave the vial to his daughter. “I’m sorry. I just needed to be sure.”
“Completely understandable.” Jophi’s thoughts turned to her parents. Had someone mysteriously shown up with a cure for their illness, then, how desperate would she have been to try it? Or would she be skeptical as well? She couldn’t be sure. Maybe with a child it was different.
At her father’s urging, Kalina drank the entire contents of the bottle, then went back to playing with her marbles.
Jophi again headed down the alley, and this time Ven joined her.
“Wait!” Kalina walked towards them, carrying a small sack. Embroidered on the side was the name The Curio Box. “These are for you.”
Jophi exchanged a glance with Ven, then took the sack from Kalina. She opened it to reveal nine marbles. The clear one gave off a slight glow. “Oh Kalina! You don’t need to pay us!”
Kalina smiled. “Because of you two, I’ll be better soon, and my Daddy will have a job. These marbles are all I own, so please take them as my thank you for helping us.”
Tears filled Jophi’s eyes as she closed the bag of precious marbles. She knelt in front of Kalina and caressed her cheek. “Thank you.”
Kalina giggled as color returned to her face. She turned away from Jophi and ran into her parents’ arms.
Jophi sighed as her tears fell. They would be just fine.
To be continued…