When the stranger from the Levant entered the village, several young boys rushed out to him. He wore a long, black gown, a silk skullcap, and black pointed boots. His beard was long and gray.
Often visitors from the east collected charity for yeshivas in the Holy Land; they gathered a few coins here and there in broken Yiddish and then moved on. But this one spoke fluent Yiddish. He asked the eldest boy where the shop of Sarai daughter of Gershom was, and was told: It was the same location as his old shop.
The town had grown in twenty years. Alter did not recognize the faces or the buildings. People came to the thresholds of their houses to watch the exotic Jew walk down the street.
His old shop had expanded. There was an extension, a second floor, and several out buildings. When he entered, five apprentices and a master turned to look at him. The master approached Alter and asked if he could help him.
“May I see Sarai,” Alter answered. “Sarai the daughter of Gershom?”
“Yes,” the man answered. “Who shall I say is here?” There was a pause. All eyes were fixed on Alter.
“Her husband, Alter Ashkenaz.”
The man left and in a moment he returned with a hefty matron whose straw colored hair poked out from beneath her kerchief. If Alter did not know this was Sarai in front of him he would not have believed it. He could not even see the bare outlines of the young girl he had married two decades ago.
“Alter,” she said, and then again. “Alter?”
“Yes, its me…” he was going to continue but Sarai’s knees buckled from beneath her. She would have fallen if not for the apprentices surrounding her, who caught her and led her to the house. Alter did not know what to do so he simply followed.