“Sorry. I have to rest a minute.” Her face grimaced as another pain took her breath away. She grabbed her over-taut stomach and pleaded with her eyes.
He sighed with concern. They had stopped way too many times so she could rest along the seventy-mile trek. As he watched her ease herself onto a nearby rock, his heart melted. How could I have brought her with me on this dangerous trip? Thieves were known to occupy this territory. However, the law demanded she travel with him. All citizens had to be counted, and they had to be there in person to sign in.
The journey had been long and tedious. Almost a week on foot over rocky mountains and terrain. It took much longer than they anticipated. Mary caught her breath to ease the pains that were starting to come with good regularity. Her husband watched in dismay as many travelers passed them by; they had lost valuable time in their journey, and darkness was upon them. He had to get Mary to a place where she could lie down. He saw a man pass with a burro in tow. Maybe he could buy it.
“Sir,” he said as he approached the man, “my wife.” He glanced Mary’s way. “Would you consider selling me your burro?”
The man looked at Mary sitting on the rock, her arms clutched around her belly. Kindness flooded his eyes. “I don’t need the burro,” he said. “You can have her. Let the mother ride the rest of the way.”
Joseph was grateful; they could be on their way again.
By late night, they finally reached Bethlehem, the small village of their ancestors. They had no family or friends in town, no reservations either. They had to take their chances at finding a place to stay. From place to place they asked, but the answer was always the same, “Sorry, we are full. You should have come earlier.”
Joseph didn’t want Mary out in the cold and dark with the baby soon to come. Only one place left to ask. “Please,” he pleaded. “My wife needs to lie down. Her pains are great, the child is soon to come.”
The innkeeper watched the young girl bending over the burro’s neck, gripping the mane with one hand, holding her stomach with the other. He looked back into the inn behind him. It was raucous with laughter; he had already let too many in for the night. Yet, he knew he couldn’t turn them away or leave them in the cold. He took pity on the young mother-to-be. “There’s a small space by the animals – out back,” he pointed with his head. “Best I can do. There’s just no room here.” He shrugged his shoulders and went back inside.
Joseph had other thoughts about the innkeeper while he bunched the hay into a makeshift bed, but he said nothing. He put his robes over top of the hay and helped Mary down as she clutched her belly.
“Help me…” her eyes pleaded as she contorted with another contraction.
…to be continued.