Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joseph’s story

She’s sleeping now.

I managed to clean her up as much as I could,

And the women from the inn took away the birth straw.

They were far too busy after that to be bothered with her anymore.

The rooms were all full and the guests were shouting for their dinners and liquor and calling for service.

It was kind of the woman to give us some old birth cloths to wrap him in,

Said they were old, but clean, even if they had been used before.

She didn’t seem to mind.

The boy has blue eyes.

Seems like a healthy lad, at least as far as I can tell.

That’ll be a blessing anyway, it’s hard enough feeding her and me just now.

Business has really fallen off since the Romans started squeezing the last coins from our pockets to pay for all their foreign wars.

He’ll have to get used to hard work if he wants to keep his place by the fire and share what little food there is.

As I say, he looks sound enough, but what do I, an old man, know of these things, I never had a son before.

I wonder, were his father’s eyes that piercing blue.

I’ve known her since she was very young.

Her father recently asked me to marry her as I was still alone, even after all these years.

He made me a good offer because he already had three other girls and she was, well, she was the least comely,

And he simply couldn’t afford marriage portions for all of them,

That was how he put it.

When I agreed, he gave me a longer lease on the workshop and said he wouldn’t press too hard for rent,

If I wasn’t doing so well that quarter

Nice of him to do that, I thought

The only condition he wanted was to announce our engagement soon

Because she was expecting a child and he did not know who the father was.

Neither did she apparently, except that it came from heaven,

Or so she said, some daft story about an angel,

And her being chosen for a special task.

Don’t suppose it makes a lot of difference anyway.

I'd been having some really odd dreams about this time and I found that I didn’t mind about not being the father,

Although it took a bit of getting used to at first.

The men in the wine shop said I was a fool,

Said I could have held out for a lot more

Called her father a skinflint, said I was doing him a real favour

While the women talked about her in corners,

Making pointed references to certain dates in the calendar

And the arrival of a new cohort of Roman soldiers in the town.

But she simply put her hand in mine

And said she would be a good wife to me

And after that,

I found that it really didn’t matter at all.

She’s a strong little thing.

I’ll say that for her, and when we were told we had to make this winter journey to get registered for the new taxes,

She didn’t make a fuss, but just gathered her few bits and pieces

And went to see to the donkey.

She put what we needed in a bag and handed me the reins

And said we should start soon, as it looked as if the weather would be closing in.

She never once questioned the reason for having to go so far,

It kind of seemed like she was almost expecting it.

I thought we would make it all the way.

Except she couldn’t go on any longer as she was far too tired and her feet were bleeding.

And when her waters broke and the baby started coming, she simply asked me to find her somewhere to lie down,

And she said she would be alright if I didn’t stray too far away.

This inn was just down the road,

But the landlord said he was full up with paying guests

Unless of course I had enough money to pay for his best room

And by the look of our condition, he said he somehow doubted it!

I told him we were broke.

He just stood there with his huge fists on his hips and laughed

And shook his head and told me to get lost and not to waste his time.

His wife understood though, and said he should be ashamed and that we could use the stable

As long as we didn’t mind sharing with the animals.

She came with her mother and old cloths and hot water later

But as I said, they couldn’t stay long

She asked us not to think too hardly of her husband,

Said that he was a good man really.

She didn’t want me then.

Told me to go away and not to come back until it was finished.

I began to argue but she was insistent,

Said that this was something she had to do alone and that she would receive all the help she needed, but she didn’t say from where.

Just told me not to be too far away.

She was right of course, what was I really going to be able to do to help, what experience do I have of these things

She only screamed out once, a man’s name I think,

But I didn’t catch it.

Then, later, the strangers started to arrive.

You would have thought that they would had more consideration.

I mean it’s bad enough trying to manage a new birth,

On your own, in a cowshed, without constant interruptions.

First a crowd of smelly sheepherders, the poorest kind who live out on the hills all year round, not much better than brigands and thieves,

Men with rough hands and even rougher speech, and dressed in fleeces which stank

They all insisted on crowding in to see the child

And wouldn’t take no for an answer.

The landlord tried,

He wouldn’t let them in at first.

Said he ran a classy house and said they had no money to spend

and that they would only frighten his paying guests.

He took some real persuading, but they were very persistent.

Their leader kept going on about angels telling them about the baby and how they had to come and witness his birth.

It’s all nonsense of course, they’d probably all been drinking,

But they did seem genuinely pleased to see the boy

She didn’t say anything, she just smiled.

Just as she was about to go to sleep the professors turned up.

Said they had come a long way and pointed at a star they claimed to have followed, but among all the others blazing away on that freezing cold night, I couldn’t make it out.

They at least brought some presents, but these educated types have no common sense at all.

What is a simple carpenter going to do with myrrh? She can probably use the frankincense to air the clothes, but God knows what I’ll do with the gold.

I’ll have to hide it from the taxman, and hope no-one gets to hear of it.

They talked a lot of blather most of the time, or so I thought,

But isn’t that just like academics all over.

They did tell me not to go home to Galilee just now

Seems it isn’t safe because the King has been asking a lot of questions about some other king being born.

That rules us out of course

But I think I‘Il take their advice anyway, it doesn’t pay to pick quarrels with kings, priests or politicians.

It’s a lesson to teach the boy when he’s older,

No point in looking for trouble if you don’t have to.

I’ll have my hands full just teaching him the trade

Seems strange now looking at his tiny hands to think how will they ever get used to managing the skills of the carpenter.

But he looks strong, he’ll learn, and when he’s finished his apprenticeship, I’ll take him into the business with me.

That’ll be good, the two of us working together.

And when he has learned enough to be about his father’s business,

We should be able to bring in enough to rent the olive grove behind the workshop,

And maybe buy some goats for his mother.

I’ll teach him all my skills so he won’t hurt himself.

Just making a simple joint to hold two pieces of wood together is a complex operation,

If they are going to last and draw from each other’s strengths.

Using hammers and saws needs time to learn,

The slightest slip when working in wood can cause great pain,

I couldn’t bear to think of the flesh of his hands being torn by nails.

No doubt you’ll say its an occupational hazard for a carpenter

But he seems different somehow, I can’t really explain it.

Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age.

We’ll leave in a few days

When she’s stronger and there’s more colour in her cheeks and she can feed him properly.

I’ll thank the innkeeper of course, but frankly, he’s been acting a bit oddly since the professors left and keeps touching his forehead and calling me sir!

We’ll have to register another time, when it gets a bit easier.

We have to think of a name for him as well. I expect she’s already thought of that, but if she has, she hasn’t let me know.

She’ll probably say the angel told her.

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