Wednesday, 24 December 2014

No-one was there

Another back story

The shadows are  where you are safest. These long nights at the turning of the solstice are a boon to me. From the shadows of the inner wall I watched with measured breath as the soldiers set their weight to the city doors, silencing the rasping hum of the desert winds. I waited as one man flexed the muscles in his chest and biceps, a preening gladiator, whilst the other picked up the longspears and held one arms length, a javelin against the other's chest. Words were spoken, rumbling laughter, then they strolled off with the rolling gait of the weary, arms circling their helmets like baskets of bread or fruit. Guards with their guard down, for there was no-one left on the midnight streets of Bethlehem. 

To that, even I would agree. It has occurred to me before now that 'No-one' is a very fitting name. The curse of a misbegotten body has refused my humanity. Beggar, homeless, unclean, it is all very much the same. No-one that matters. And so I live and I survive, by the wits few would honour me with. In shadows, by darkness, in quiet streets and the afterwards of city life. 

And so the census is no friend, filling streets with wandering incomers, glassy eyed at the markets, synagogues and fine houses. Filling up the nooks and crannies of every alleyway and courtyard with tents and awnings. Strange that in all this chaos their eyes still pick out 'No-one', their hands still reach to pick up a ready stone, still point the finger to warn others to get out of the way. This old nightwatch alcove near the gates is a refuge, a place to see and not be seen, but there no point being safe if you are freezing and your stomach is pleading for food. Hoping that the revelry at the end of a long day's travel will have sent everyone to bed, I leave my lair.

The blessing of a new moon offers some comfort though the night is full of stars so bright I could reach up and grasp one in my hand. Parched with thirst I head first to the nearest well. With the confidence of familiarity I circle the courtyard. Then I see her. A shadow in shadows. Another beggar? But no, without the fear that any beggar would have, she opens out her cloak to clear the dust and I see the outline of a heavily pregnant woman. As my eyes pick out the details, I recognise her. I remember her and a man, her husband I imagined, coming in on the tails of the last caravan of the day. But she is alone now. I can hear her breathing, laboured, deliberate. It seems this woman is about to give birth in the dirt and dust of a city street. 

My feet carry me forward before my thoughts do. I crouch by her side and whisper to her that she is not safe, that she must have someone, somewhere to go. But she is not listening,intent on the movement within her she is rocking with each keening breath. She reaches out and grabs my hand. It has been so long since I have even been near another human being, the touch is like lightning, firing through me. I hold on. Then, footsteps turn to the sound of running as the man enters from one of the side streets.   'Miriam,' he calls desperately, and kneels to cradle her, 'there is nowhere, nowhere.' He looks across at me. Even in the light of the new moon he can see the scars and sores of my suffering. He lifts his cloak across his face, the whites of his eyes showing disgust and tries to pull the woman away. But she is holding on to my hand; fingers pulsing with the contractions that are getting closer and closer. 

'You have to get her somewhere safe,' I tell him. Rocking himself now with fear and apprehension, the man gasps, 'There is nowhere. No room anywhere.' 

My wonderful, hospitable city that cannot find a room for a man of the line of David and a woman about to give birth. My heart screams out to the God who has forgotten the outcast, the stranger and the weary. My mind races, searching for answers I have given up on.

I tell him 'There is somewhere. Somewhere close. If you can carry her. I can find you somewhere.' He lets the cloak fall and sets his face in a way that, even I can see, speaks of courage and determination. 'Thank you,' he says and lifts her into his arms. 

I race ahead. There is a house owned by a kinsman of mine with a stable nearby where the animals winter. As I approach the building, the dogs bark a warning. 
Their owner peers warily from the door curtain. 'Any closer and the dogs can have you.' His bark far worse than the animals but no bite. 'No nearer, cousin, I promise. Just a favour, a call for the hospitality of old, a call to your heart.'

'If it's shelter you're after you can sleep round the back, just be gone in the morning.' He pulled his head back into the warmth of his own home and fastened the curtain so that not a glimmer of light escaped. I took it as all the permission I needed and led the man to the lean-to and the cave within. I tethered the animals together at the front rail and gathered the straw for the woman to lie on then dragged one of the feeding mangers over, thinking it would be a place for a baby to avoid being stepped on. I could tell that it wouldn't be long. 

I stood calming the animals and staring into the starry night. After so many years as an outcast here I was in the most intimate of moments. I wondered what sort of sign God was offering. Then a cry like the bleat of a lamb. The baby boy gleamed with new life, I prayed that he would never again know what it was to be unwanted and alone. The man looked up from wiping his wife's brow - a gesture so lovingly helpless. 'I'm sorry,' he said. And then as I made to leave, 'You don't have to go'.

'I shouldn't be here,' I replied,' after all, that baby will need all God's blessing.' 

'Well, he has that already.' There was a smile on the man's lips. 'But thank you again. When we tell him of this night can we tell him your name?' 

'No-one,' I answered,'tell him that No-one was there on the night he was born. 



Jetana deGaia said...

Such a wonderful retelling of the Nativity story! I believe it's closer to the truth than the Gospel of St. Luke!

You have this pagan in tears. Thank you

Keith - Circle Blue said...


All the best places are still filled with No-one ... and aren't obviously the best.

Thank you.

Gelli Ma said...

Thank you both