Now this takes the biscuit, thought Mary, as she lay back down on the hay and stared at the ceiling.
It was bad enough that she’d found herself in this situation in the first place. It had raised more than a few eyebrows,and it was fair to say not everyone fully believed her story. All things considered, Joseph had been very understanding. Having said that, there was still a little flicker of suspicion in his eyes from time to time.
But that was no excuse for the travel arrangements. She’d told him time and time again that a donkey ride was not exactly ideal for a heavily-pregnant woman, but he hadn’t listened.
“The census is taking place this winter,” he’d said. “We have to go. These Romans don’t muck about.”
But then to find out, after the most uncomfortable three hundred miles she’d ever endured, that he’d failed to book any accommodation at the other end? That was too much. He might have been a carpenter from the sticks, but surely even he could have realised that all the hotels would have been full? It was the holiday season, after all.
So far, so bad. But when he’d suggested bedding down in a stable she seriously began to wonder if he’d lost his mind.
“Joseph – are you quite mad?” she’d asked.
“I don’t know if perhaps it’s escaped your attention, but I am with child. Quite heavily with child. So heavily, in fact, that I think a light sneeze on my part and we’ll need a two-seater donkey for the trip home.”
“I’m sorry Mary, but this is all there is. It’s got to be better than sleeping on the streets.”
Her mouth tightened into a grimace. She said, “My cousin Valerie had a home birth. It was lovely, by all accounts. And do you know why?”
He shook his head.
“The distinct lack of domestic animals. That’s why.”
She reluctantly agreed to have a look at the stable. It was every bit as awful as she’d imagined. Small, cramped and distinctly lacking in what you could call home comforts. And then there were the other inhabitants. She didn’t mind the lambs so much, but the oxen were really trying her patience. But the night was drawing in and there was really very little more she could do.
It must have been all the stress that had caused the baby to make its appearance. It was not an experience that Mary would have liked to repeat again in the near future, but at least he appeared healthy. Exhausted, she lay down while Joseph fussed around her.
Then there were the shepherds.
“Begging your pardon, but we’ve been told to come,” they had said, wide-eyed and trembling in the cold night air. It was unexpected, to say the least.
“Who does that?” Mary asked after Joseph had eventually shown them out again. “I mean, is this normal for this part of the country? Do you often get agricultural workers making unannounced appearances at occasions such as this? What next, olive-pickers showing up at funerals?”
“They just wanted to pay their respects, Mary. And, look on the bright side, you got a lovely sheepskin rug off that last one.”
Mary rolled her eyes.
“Oh yes, it’s positively luxurious in here now, isn’t it?”
There was another knock at the door.
“Oh, now what?”
The knock was followed by a booming, heavily accented voice. “We come from afar, to see the newborn.”
Mary looked accusingly at Joseph. “It’s like an open day here, isn’t it? See what they want, will you, and get rid of them.”
But the three kings were not quite so easily put off. There was something in their manner that made it clear they weren’t going to wait for the morning. Their robes and headgear bore the marks of a long, sand-blasted journey. And it was clear that they’d spent a lot of time recently in the company of camels.
“We followed a star,” one of them said. “It brought us here tonight.”
Mary said, “Gentlemen, that’s a lovely story. Perhaps someone should write it down sometime. But if you don’t—“
“We have gifts for the young one.”
“Well, why didn’t you say? Please, come in, sit down. Pull up a sheep. So then, this star....?”
Actually, Mary had to admit that the three kings were quite nice. Gold's always good to have, and the frankincense would help to mitigate the general ox-based atmosphere that appeared to be prevailing. She wasn’t certain about myrrh, though. Was it some type of antelope? Never mind, she told herself.
Eventually the kings, with much bowing and scraping, left the stable. Mary and Joseph allowed themselves to relax. But then, just when they were getting ready to settle down for the night, a young boy came in.
“I have no gift to bring,” he said quietly. “Can I play you a tune instead?”
By this point, Mary was completely exhausted. She wasn’t thinking straight and just nodded wearily.
The boy pulled out a snare drum and a pair of sticks.
This cannot end well, thought Mary.