imageThe interview

 

Remember it sir? I certainly do, clear as morning, although it must be well on seventy years ago now. It’s not the kind of thing you do forget easily. I was only a bit of a kid at the time and my mum and dad kept this inn. What was that, sir? Another inn?  No, indeed! This is the only inn in town and always has been. Bethlehem isn’t big enough to support two inns. We’re too close to Jerusalem and most people go there. We only get odds and ends of trade here. Still, it’s a living.

My dad was a bustling chatty, little man with a beard and some people claimed he never stopped talking. He had a whole series of stories which he thought were funny or interesting but I don’t think everybody agreed with him there. He used to wander about the place humming tunelessly to himself which could drive us mad. Still, he meant well and he ran a decent, welcoming inn. My mother, now, was never tuneless. She had a lovely voice and enjoyed singing, just as much as people enjoyed listening to her. She was very clever with her hands, always making little toys and gifts and clothes and things. She was a lovely woman and we were lucky to have her.

You were asking about a young couple from the north sir. Yes I do remember them very well. For once the inn was bursting at the seams and business was booming. My mum and dad were run off their feet and I was busy every minute of the waking day. The whole country was in absolute chaos. It was all the fault of the Government as usual. You’re not with the Government yourself, are you sir? No I thought not. You seem far too sensible. Anyway, the Government had this great idea of counting how many people there were in the Empire. Fair enough I suppose but the way they did it was crazy. If you or I had been doing it, we’d have gone from door to door asking how many people lived in each house and then added them all up. Simple, yes? But not this lot! Oh dear me no! Every man had to go back to his home town, taking all his family with him and sign some form or register there. So there were people wandering all over the country, staying in inns and such, while their own houses stood empty. Just to add to the fun it was the dead of winter and bitter cold.  Still it was great business for us and every other inn in the country.

Anyway, sir, the young couple. They’re what you want to hear about, aren’t they? They arrived one evening just as it was going dark. They’d been on the road for four days from Galilee and they were absolutely done in. She was heavily pregnant. He reckoned the baby was due any minute and they wanted a private room. We had nothing to give them, not a single space anywhere in the inn. My dad was explaining all this apologetically and at great length when my mum tapped him on the shoulder and had a quiet word in his ear.

“Well” said my dad after the quiet word. “We may have something. It’s not actually a room, more like a shed at the back. But it’s clean and it’s warm and it’ll be private for you. I’ll make sure of that. Come and have a look.”

The young couple were absolutely delighted with this offer and followed my dad to the shed.  We used to keep a couple of donkeys in there once but it wasn’t really used much these days. My dad lit a lamp while my mum helped them to settle in and sort their stuff out. I was packed off to find some blankets and clean towels and my dad went to get hot water and something for them to eat. When I got back with the blankets, my mum quietly but firmly showed me the door and my dad kept me busy for the rest of the night.

It was very late when I had a minute to myself and then I remembered the young couple. So I went round to the shed to see what was happening. I opened the old door as quietly as I could and tiptoed in. The young woman lay there propped up on some straw with one of our blankets round her. She was rocking her little baby and singing very softly. Her husband sat by her looking so happy and proud. My mum was tidying up a bit. She smiled at me and whispered “It’s a boy”. I’ve seen lots of babies since, sir, and I’m sure you have too, you being a doctor and all. This baby was different though. It wasn’t one of your bawling, puking little things but instead he just lay there in his mother’s arms, quite content, gurgling away very peacefully. This peace seemed to fill the whole shed. My dad came in and sat down beside me without a word. Then the baby’s mother wrapped him up in the blanket and put him down in our old hay-box. There was no-where else you see. He never made a sound just lay quietly and peacefully.

And then the door burst open and a crowd of shepherds came rushing in. Now, don’t get me wrong sir! I’m not prejudiced. Can’t afford to be in this job. I mean we get all sorts in this inn.  But shepherds are different. They’re a rough lot living out there in the fields at all hours and in all weathers. They never keep Sabbath or any of the other fasts and feasts and Heaven only knows what they eat!! And then there’s the smell, sir, the smell, sheep and dog and droppings and all sorts.  No sir, I have to admit, I’m no fan of shepherds.

This lot were in a rare old state. They had some tale of visions and angels and singing and saviours. I had no idea what they talking about. My dad was trying to ease them out of the door, when one of then pointed at the hay-box and yelled, “That’s the sign! The sign the angel told us about!! That’s it lads!!” and they were all suddenly silent. They fell down on their knees in front of the baby in our old hay-box. They bowed their heads to the floor in total silence as if they were kneeing before the Holy of Holies itself. I never saw anything like it. I swear the baby smiled at them. I know you’ll say that can’t be true but I saw it with my own eyes.

Then one by one they got up and bowed to the young mother. She thanked each one of them and they left. The silence and the peace and the happiness all stayed in the room with us and with the baby.

After a few minutes my dad picked me and took me to bed. I was absolutely worn out and I slept like a log.

I never saw the little family again. When I woke up next morning, there was a message from my Uncle Ezra. He keeps the inn at Emmaus. Like us he was packed to the rafters and he was very shorthanded. It seemed that the hands he was short of were mine. So off I went to Emmaus and when I got back, the little family had moved on. My dad said they left suddenly, heading south towards the desert and Egyp,t instead of back north. Perhaps they’d got wind of Mad Herod’s scheme to kill all the babies he could find. I know that sounds terrible now but things like that were very common when Herod was alive. I heard another story that some rich visitors came from the East on camels to see the baby but I don’t know anything about that myself. I only know what I’ve just told you.

Was that what you wanted to hear, sir?? Would you like another glass of wine?

 

Bernard Fyles

 


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