Later that afternoon, Jophi walked out of a bookshop and stuffed her hands in her pockets. Ven waited for her by a street vendor selling newspapers. “Any luck?”
She sighed. “No. They said business is slow, so they can’t hire anyone right now.”
“I guess our journey continues, then.”
Jophi’s stomach rumbled. The small taste she had taken of Kalina’s medicine had eased her hunger pains for a short time, but now they were back. She turned to Ven, hoping conversation would distract her. “So, do you always carry around special medicine for sick kids?”
Ven shrugged as they started walking. “No, not always. I was given that this morning and told I would know who needed it. It was obvious when we met Kalina.”
“But it worked instantly. Like a miracle.”
He smiled. “My father works mysteriously. He doesn’t always tell me why he asks me to do things.”
“Was she the person you were supposed to help?”
He stopped at a hat vendor further down the street. “It’s possible. It’s true that she needed the medicine, but you helped her, too.” He picked up a baseball cap and tried it on.
“Well what about me? Did he ask you to travel with me?”
He returned the cap to the vendor’s table. “No. That was my choice.”
“You seemed like an interesting person. That’s all. I like interesting people.”
Jophi frowned and observed him as they continued walking through the market, smiling at everyone they saw. Who was he?
Vendors called out their wares: sunglasses, jewelry, food. Jophi pressed her hand against her abdomen. The scent of bread, hot dogs, mustard, and french fries filled her senses. If only she had some money left.
As they neared the hot dog cart, the boy cooking the hot dogs pulled two out of the hot water and set them on the grill. Jophi’s mouth watered.
“Would you like a hot dog?” He wore a blue cap and looked young. Too young to be working.
Jophi shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have any money.”
He gave her a polite smile. “Have a nice day, then.”
Jophi waved awkwardly and walked on.
“He seemed nice.” Ven stopped at a booth selling self-help books. “I’m sure he would’ve given you a hot dog.”
“Maybe. But that’s his living. I couldn’t take that away from him.”
“No no no! Why am I so stupid?”
Jophi and Ven looked behind them. The boy leaned against the door of his freezer, his back to them.
Jophi approached the boy. “What’s wrong?”
He looked at her, then cast his eyes downward. “I forgot to pick up more hot dogs from the store last night. I was so tired, that after I closed up for the night I crashed. The only hot dogs I have left are currently in the water, and it’s not enough to make it through the day.”
Jophi lifted the lid to the water table. Ten, fully cooked hot dogs drifted in the hot water, awaiting their fate. Her stomach growled and she slammed the lid back down. “Can you go get more now?”
He shook his head. “The store is on the other end of the street, and I don’t want to leave my cart unattended. I’m afraid someone will steal it. Selling hot dogs is a good business, but the carts don’t come cheap. I had to work hard to get mine, and I’m not going to let someone steal it.” He took his cap off and sat down on his stool, shoulders slumped. “I’ll have to count today as a loss and close up early.”
“I could go for you.”
The boy perked up. His eyes opened wide. “Would you really do that?”
Jophi nodded. “Certainly. I know what it’s like to struggle.”
He crouched out of site for a moment, then came back up with a wad of cash in his head. “Get ten packs of hot dogs. That should get me through the rest of the day, then tonight I’ll make sure to buy more.”
Jophi took the money. Ven followed her as she walked to the end of the street where the grocery store was. When she got inside, the sight and smells of food assaulted her. She looked down at the money in her hand. What if she bought the cheaper hot dogs, and used the remaining money to buy herself some food. The boy wouldn’t have to know…would he?
Ven walked up beside her. “What’s the matter?”
Jophi blinked and pushed back the distrustful thoughts. No, she couldn’t use this money for herself. The boy had worked hard. It was only right that every penny was used for his business, and the change returned to him. “Nothing. Let’s get the hot dogs.”
They returned to the hot dog cart, both carrying bags holding ten packs of hot dogs.
The boy reached over and took the bags. He opened up a few packs and dropped them into the boiling water to cook, then put the rest away in the freezer. “You don’t know how much you’ve saved me today! I don’t have much to offer in repayment, but here.” He pushed two boxes over to Jophi.
She opened the box closest to her. Inside were five hot dogs, each nestled inside a bun. She peeked inside the other box and found the same.
“Are you sure?”
He grinned wide. “Are you kidding? You and your friend saved my business today. It’s the least I could do. You can also take a drink each from my cooler.”
“Thank you so much!” Jophi took the boxes, handing one to Ven. She retrieved two bottles of water from the cooler, then walked back over. Ven tapped her arm and pointed at the boy’s cap. White lettering was embroidered across the front. The Curio Box. She gasped. That was the same name on the bag of marbles that Kalina gave her. Could he be Kende, her brother?
“Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Where’d you get that hat?”
He removed the cap again, and ran a finger over the embroidered name. “Oh, it’s from my dad’s old job. He used to work for the toymaker but recently got fired. That’s why I left to start my own work. To help out. You see, my little sister is real sick and needs medicine. I had to quit school to work, but she’s worth it.
“Yeah! How did you know?”
Jophi laughed. “We actually just met her and your parents this morning. Your name is Kende, right?”
“Yes!” He came around to the front of the cart. “How were they? How’s Kalina?”
“They’re doing okay. And Kalina, well…” She looked at Ven, who only smiled at her. She took Kende’s hands and gave them a squeeze. “Kalina has been healed. She doesn’t need that special medicine anymore.”
Kende’s mouth opened and he followed her gaze to Ven. “What? That’s incredible! But how?”
Ven shrugged. “She simply found a miracle.”
“Woohoo!” Kende sprang into action. He pulled the hot dogs from the water and put them away in the freezer. Then he turned everything off and started folding up his cart. “This is fantastic news! My sister is healed!” He thrust his arms around Jophi and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you! And I appreciate you going to buy the hot dogs for me, I really do, but this is the best gift ever! Kalina is healed!”
Jophi watched as Kende pulled his cart behind him, walking as fast as he could. How strange that these two encounters were connected, and that she was able to not only help Kalina, but to help her brother, too, and bring the family back together. If only fixing her own circumstance was as simple.
When he was out of sight, she found a table for her and Ven to rest. She ate two of the hot dogs, then put the rest in her backpack for later. She looked over at Ven. He hadn’t yet eaten any of his. “Are you not hungry?”
“Not really. But you can put these in your bag with the others for now.”
“Okay.” She took his box of food and placed it on top of hers, then zipped the bag up. She stood up and slung her backpack over her shoulders. “Let’s try a different street.”
Ven led the way, turning at the first street that came up. Growling and barking came from the corner up ahead. They followed the sounds to a Catholic school where a nun cowered against the wall, the skin of her hands white from gripping her rosary beads. In front of her stood a dog, his lips pulled back in a snarl as he moved closer.
To be continued…