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Over the next year and a half Zoie grew like the proverbial weed. It seemed each day when I arrived home something was new. Smiles, rolls, sitting up, crawling, standing, walking, talking. I was awed by how quickly this baby becomes a small person. Before I realized it, she was running to meet me crying “Dwaddy! Dwaddy!” in her little voice.
Time passed and my house became crowded. I was thankful for the assistance of the healer’s niece, though now my home was overrun with women. It seemed the midwife and healer had felt sympathy for me, they took to visiting frequently. I used their kindness as liberally, for it was difficult to work and raise a growing daughter.
I was often seen running between my home and the fields. Neo would meet me each morning and run at my side. Without his humour the days would have been dark with the only speck of light from Zoie’s smiling, sparkling green eyes.
On her second birthday, I took Zoie with me to the fields. I had been promoted and was in charge of my own field. ‘My own’ in that if anything went wrong, I was held responsible, not meaning that I owned it. I owned nothing, except my daughter.
Zoie ran dark hair flying behind her like a shawl, for about two minutes, kicking up dust and squealing, before turning and running headlong back at me. I must catch her, spin her not once but twice, and lift her onto my shoulders. “It’s the rules, Dwaddy,” she had told me.
The various women in their stola fetching water and food each spared a smile for Zoie and I. I praised Hestia for the warmth Zoie had brought to me.
“Dwaddy! Bird!” she pointed upwards.
“Yes Zoie,” I replied.
“Dwaddy! Unca Neo! Down, down!” She bounced urgently on my shoulders. Chuckling, I reached up, lifted her over my head, and place her on the dusty ground. Immediately, she took off running towards Neo who was blissfully unaware as he stared at a pretty girl. Or two. This heedless contemplation was short lived when Zoie crashed into his knees.
Laughing, Neo fell carefully to the ground. “Wow, by Bellona, you’re a strong one Zoie! Be careful of your old Uncle Neo.” Neo pushed himself up off the ground. He began dusting off his tunic, but Zoie tackled him again, grabbing his hands as they dusted.
“Up, up, up,” she bounced. “Zoie want up, Unca Neo! Up, up!” Her enthusiasm made the plain tan tunic she wore swirl around her ankles.
Neo grinned as he placed Zoie on his shoulders. “Off to work with Dad and Uncle Neo, then, are you Zoie? Better be sure to listen closely. Threshing can be dangerous.” I watched as Neo bounced her along on his shoulders. He enjoyed Zoie nearly as much as I did. It was unfortunate Neo had yet to become a father himself.
We passed through the village and followed the well trod path to the fields the sounds of the birds accompanying us. I always arrived early, liking my stolen moments of solitude before the onrush of workers and chores began. This morning Zoie sat on Neo’s shoulders, mesmerized. Neo whistled a child’s song, but only for his own benefit.
The temporary shed, left up during harvest time to protect the tools, was at the end of our field. It got moved around as needed, the landowner not wanting his slaves and freedmen to spend any more time away from actual work than necessary. I lifted the cover and counted out a dozen scythes.
Zoie was down and running, again. I did not see her for several minutes, and then her head was bobbing above the wheat, her arms flailing as she yelled, “Dwaddy! Look at! Look at what I found, Dwaddy!”
Gently, I lay the scythes neatly on a piece of dry tarp from the shed, and went to see. She was a third of the way down a row of wheat, bouncing up and down on a large rock. “Look at, Dwaddy! I stand here and I see you work. I see all it from here.” Zoie nodded seriously, as only a child can.
“Yes, dear, you could. But it is dangerous to be in the middle of a field at threshing time, especially when you are so little. You might be injured if someone was working nearby and didn’t see you.”
“Oh,” Zoie sniffed at my rebuke, and sat down clutching her knees. “But I want to watch.” Her green eyes glistened with tears as she pleaded with me.
“Well, we have some time before the other workers arrive. Neo!” I turned and yelled for Neo who was resting near the laid out scythes. “Bring two scythes and come here!”
“Yes, sir, mister boss, sir!” was his brash reply. A few moments later he appeared, holding two scythes. “What’s up, Demetri?”
“Zoie wants to sit here and watch today,” I explained, “so we are going to clear the surrounding wheat. We don’t want any accidents.” Neo nodded. “I’ll take left, you take right.” I patted Zoie quickly on the head and moved off to thresh the area to the left of her rock.
Zoie came with me for threshing every year after that, and always Neo and I would clear the area around ‘her’ rock before the others arrived. Just in case.