You sprint, feet barely touching the ground and leap unobtrusively through a nestled cove of clay pots. Crouched low, your heart beats wildly in your chest. Gasping for air, you sink low on shaking legs; clasp a filthy hand to your mouth and frantically search through the busy, thick crowd.
An angry nearby voice shouts, causing you to bounce against a large vessel. The hardened clay pot's timbre gives little warning as its rumbling intensifies. Images of fragmented pottery heaped to expose your hiding place cause you to react quickly; you grit your teeth and reach behind the moving pot's rough surface to grab the massive vessel's lip. Tension from knotted muscles run down your neck, shoulders, to your arms. Digging heels into the hard packed soil, you grunt, lean hard into the quivering giant, and pray to all gods which come to mind.
You do not want to be caught fleeing far from errands. You have never been in trouble before, but not because of kindness directed. Your meekness comes from an understanding of what sometimes happens to slaves whom refuse to comply to their owners directives.
Which god? Scrambling names, calling deities by type with fast flowery thoughts meant to promote immediate help, you pray ... and the deep trembling clay stills to mellow tones. Stops. Trembling, you sink, grateful.
Hidden within this nest, you settle to calm, watch-full...watch-full.
The village in which you live teems with life. The expected crowd far exceeds all expectations, much to the delight of smiling shopkeepers and innkeepers. However, this day you have noticed small pockets of conversation among merchants and business personnel as they inventory their current stock under busy kiosks.
The crowd gathers in small knots, merge to press together, voices smooth and hoarse then stubborn as bargains are offered, procured.
You glance up to the bright skies and mark the sun's path, and wonder if there is truly room enough to temporarily house all here.
You smile as sheep bleat and huddle tightly together. Adventuresome, or perhaps confused, one occasionally breaks from their group and mournfully bleats until hearing their shepherd’s voice. Small children, as plentiful as the sheep squeal in delight as the crowd flows a thin open trail for the livestock to pass through.
Barking dogs chase after children and bite at the hems of billowing robes from the moving crowds. Goats, freed from the attentive eyes of their watch masters flee in panic as the mass hedges in; chickens cackle, scurry and dance, weave dangerously close to the feet of weary travelers, who unintentionally pry stones from the hardened dirt - allowing easy access of tiny morsels of food as tasty nourishment for the scraggly poultry.
Anxious to stick close to the shadows, you rise, compelled to follow.
You wind your way from kiosk to tent, tent to table.
Your stomach distracts, rumbling, growling. It is difficult to push thoughts of food aside; many tables still groan with potential sales: fruits, vegetables, sweetmeats, and honey coated dates covered in sesame. Nuts, fish, all manner of meats and breads. Your mouth waters as you try to ignore the growing need...
Dart, duck, scramble, you crawl underneath a table offering temporary refuge to hide beneath a curtain of brightly colored cloth, and sit noiselessly on the hard ground. Pulling your knees up, you raise the edge of your dirty apron to cover your mouth, and suppress a cough.
This day, as most others during this long season are uncomfortably dry. Dust plumes from every moving traveler. It sticks to skin moist with perspiration and covers clothing, yours included with a gritty fine layer, making you itch.
Unconsciously, you scratch at your head and gather unruly thick hair together. Twist it into a manageable lump, and secure it with a stick fished
from a small parcel emptied of all else.
Chin resting on drawn knees, arms wrapped around your legs and observed by none, your eyes continue to track past the moving crowd to the young couple who now stands resting underneath the awning across your pathway.
The man whom holds your attention leads a donkey. On the donkey sits a girl. Well, a woman, really, heavy with child.
You've followed them since morning. Watch as the Man occasionally stops. He’d reach deep into a parcel roped across his shoulders and pull out a small treat for the donkey. Offering it to the donkey, his hand would graze along the animal’s twitching neck and walk to the Mother's side. Often he reached up and touched her hand. Sometimes the Mother seemed to be in labor; she would straighten up as he offered her comfort, whispering words you can not hear. He'd lean against the donkey's flank, waiting until color came back into her face which occasionally winked through her covered head.
You try to pick up their voices, but their conversations fragment through the noisy atmosphere. Though their words are unclear, muffled, the body language projected by both is clear. A tenderness which you do not understand, but long to learn more of in spite of repercussions.
You sigh, watch as the donkey and travelers pause among the foreigners.
To your immediate right, a vendor menaces forward. Waving his arms, he barrels out from the shadows. Anger heats his words and fills his face with fire as he shouts, advancing towards the young couple you've been watching. He smacks a palm against the donkey's flank and shoves, gesturing in broad sweeping motions for them to move. He curses loudly, accuses them of purposely blocking precious space - keeping potential customers from purchasing his fine wares.
The couple slowly moves forward. Swept into the tide of the flowing sea of strangers, the husband, mindful of his fragile cargo wearily leads on.
You continue to mark their progression, scramble along the ebbing human massed shoreline, staying within the shadows, or behind merchant's wares.
Your sandal-less feet, long accustomed to freedom lite lightly across the hot ground. You lift your gown high, careful not to trip on the hem. Hair once
again free from its knot, it cascades, banters to dance with the wind, and you run.
Shadows stretch long as the sun searches for its evening bed. It sets a rich fiery blaze of colored ribbons to blanket a tapestry that quilts across the sky. Tucked edges around the horizon, it sets an example of settled rest.
The crowd thins, yet the Mother's beloved quickens their donkey's pace, looking for a room.
He knocks on every innkeeper’s door. Most are answered by curtly shaking heads and voices raised to be heard from packed rooms. Many were impatient, slamming the doors solidly before listening. Often the young man's shoulders would sag, his head cast down, yet every time he turned to face his love, he'd stand tall, square his shoulders, return to check on his precious cargo, and move on.
You worry that this baby will not wait and notice Mother sitting straight, taking deep long breathes. She clings tightly to her robe, sitting as motionless as possible.
"Please..." you whisper to the infant, "be patient for just a little bit longer."
One more Innkeeper prepares to turn them away. He notices their great distress and calls them back, offering what he has: a stable just beyond his courtyard.
"Come," you hear him invite, opening the gate.
You follow, peek around an old knarled olive tree. In front of you is a stable, built into the side of a small hill. The large wooden stable door is opened wide, allowing the animals a comfortable access to their protected home.
The largest of the livestock mills about, swishing tails, shaking manes, snorting quiet greetings. Chickens and pigeons rousted from their sleep by this unexpected activity quiets to roost, knowing no threat holds claim to their peace.
You move without sound, daring a closer view.
The husband reaches up, carefully slides his love down from the donkey's back. Unsteady, she softly laughs as he reaches out to her shoulders, helping her regain her balance. Reaching into a small bag, he pulls out a candle, and holds it between them. Light flares, sparks, and then spreads a golden hue to dance through the stables perimeter. Their eyes lock. She reaches up and strokes his weary face. He takes her hand in his and brushes his lips against her skin. Smiling into each other's eyes, he turns to face a small pile of fresh hay. He grabs great handfuls, spreads a thick layer of aromatic sweet hay and alfalfa to the stable's floor. Unrolling their bedding on top of the hay, he offers her his hand and steadies her to the soft makeshift bedding.
Leaning against the tree, you watch as the young woman is coaxed, encouraged, and helped by her husband.
Time crawls forward, and you watch a pearlized moon lifts to be cradled against the night skies.
Rosemary, the sweet scent of date blossoms are rich in the air. Frogs and crickets pepper the night sounds as voices fade. Leaning against the tree, you sit, and then lie on the ground, boldly facing the stable, sleepily wait.
A baby's cry startles you awake. You jump to your feet on wobbly legs and rub sleep from your eyes.
Your heart skips a beat, for you realize that it must be morning, and you are no longer hidden. But you want to find a way to see, just a peek at the infant.
Running towards the stable, you stop. Bewildered. There is a great light shining down. It is not morning, yet the source of light is so strong that it brings warmth with it. You squint and lift your eyes to the sky.
Your heart soars...
A star above the stable, navies the black backdrop. The whole of what is above is flung with great handfuls of diamonds sparkling above the cool still air as far as you can see...and sings!
You blink, rubbing your eyes as the stars descend, floating on quiet wings. All with faces, iridescent gowns woven from light, and they all sing with one voice.
Praises! Anthems of promise lifts on their wings it blows downward through sound, chimes through trees, bushes, tufts of grass, sinks into the heart of earth; anthems of song carries through the lips of winged creatures thicker than every grain of sand you’ve walked gathers beneath the very ground where you stand, moves upward, and into the goose-bumped hairs on your arms.
Bright as a perfect morning, the stable glows. Yet the stable door is closed.
You sneak up and press your ear against the rough hewn wood, straining to hear inside. You open your eyes wide; amazed over the wood’s texture as the poured light cleans out the shadows, sure that the gold dusted across the exterior will rub off on your fingertips.
As the song merges from above to wash over you sinking deep and warm, you listen again for sounds inside the stable. The murmurings behind the door are undecipherable, but filled with the same gentle laughter you've heard before, the same soft voices.
You fidget and wait until the family slumbers, wanting to take a peek.
Casting fear aside, your fingertips curl around a rope used to pull the door, and ever so slowly, creak it open. You stop; listen for the even breathing patterns from the couple and their new child.
Opening the door only wide enough to squeeze through, you step on dry scattered hay. It pops, crackles. You freeze, looking over to Mother, whom returns your stare with a gentle smile.
Blood drains from your body and you flame with embarrassment. You can't seem to move, only shyly look down. Raising your vision from the hay strewn across the ground, you slowly look up to the Mother...who is watching you.
You decide to flee, and start to turn, but catch a movement from the Mother. She has raised a finger to her lips, indicating quiet. She points to her husband, curled up and sleeping next to the animals feeding trough.
It is then that you notice movements inside the old wooden box.
Your curiosity is piqued, but you are unsure what to do.
The Mother, with a small nod, slowly flicks her finger, inviting you forward, into their temporary home.
Slowly, you measure every step, are magnetized, pulled towards the makeshift cradle.
The child, this baby is not asleep. Tiny fingers, freed from swaddling, dance out and up.
Standing close enough to touch him, you hold back, afraid.
The baby turns his head toward you, tracking your movement as you have tracked this family's.
For one heartbeat, your eyes meet.
Child and infant.
A ewe, nudging against your leg distracts, and the baby's eyes disengage, following the sheep.
You reach forward, and touch the downy silky hair that feathers and crowns
across his head. Your fingertips tenderly lite against his smooth forehead, brow and cheek.
Glancing back to the Mother, she once more nods, giving permission for you to pick him up.
Ever so carefully, you slide your hands beneath his warm tiny body and wrap the soft cloth to swaddle him close. Creating wings of your splayed fingers, you lift him up to your chest, nestling him tight, feeling your heart beating in rhythm to his.
You raise him to your shoulder and slowly caress his cheek against your own, breathing in the pure scent of his skin.
Gingerly you carry him to his Mother, place him in her waiting arms, and walk away to the dawn of a new day.
All this took place to fulfill what the lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel." which means, "God is with us."
Read more articles by Karen Rice or search for articles on the same topic or others.
Well done; vivid, alive, real. I like that. To be granted as a writer to take another to places we've been, to share the heart we bear is a gift and it seems you already know this. There are some difficulties here that fortunately do not do injustice to the writing; likely because I got caught up in that moment and simply forgot to look more closely for things writers are supposed to look for. Which says even more for your gift. I was disturbed by the "non-ending" and then I realized that His coming has no end....the ever present Him, Emmanuel. A story started that will have no end. Amazing, isn't it? what the Spirit will show a reader when the writer never knew just what would be seen.