So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
If labor was coming, Mary didn’t feel it. Not yet.
Joseph leads the donkey over dusty roads leading to Bethlehem, his steps light over hills and streams. Stone walls separate fields, homes dot the hillsides, thatch roofs shine with morning dew as the sun rises overhead.
Yards grow narrower as more homes appear. Animals bay nearby, bark, scavenge in the streets. Joseph’s steps quicken as he reaches a low wall skirting a house tucked into a hillside.
“We’re here, Mary.” He says, looking up at her. “We made it.”
He leads the donkey into the gate and stops before the door where they already hear shuffling and steps within. Before he can get Mary down from the animal, the door swings open and a gray-haired woman steps out.
“Joseph?” A broad smile quickly turns to worry and then disappears, as a man–her husband–steps to her side.
“Joseph!” He calls and claps Joseph on the shoulder.
“Cousin! Mary this is my cousin. His wife.” He gestures to each, relief flooding his face, their long journey over.
“Pleased to meet you.” She says, still sitting on the donkey. She laughs despite herself. “Joseph?”
“I believe she wants down from that animal, cousin!” Joseph’s cousin laughs and directs them to a large stone that stands up to a man’s knees. She climbs down with her husband’s hand and now on solid ground, stands before her new relatives–chest heaving, belly low as the baby has been shifting down as these hours passed.
Noticeable worry spreads across the two faces before her. Worry and shame, she realizes.
“There is no room?” She hears Joseph say as roaring fills her ears.
“With the census taking place, many travelers have passed through.” Joseph’s cousin begins. “We filled our last bed last night.” He scrubs his hand over his face, his neck, inspecting the dirt between their four sets of feet.
“We won’t take much room.” Joseph offers.
“I would put you in my own floor, Joseph. In my own bed–”
“–But, your baby comes. Doesn’t he?” The woman comes to Mary’s side and squeezes her tiny shoulder. “There is no midwife here. No bed. No extra linens.” She peers into Mary’s face, into her eyes, soul to soul. “But he’s coming.”
Mary is frozen to her spot, waiting for the couple to send them away when Joseph’s cousin turns him around and leads him into the house. He ties the donkey to a post next to their own sturdy animal and leads them across a dirt floor, past rabbits in cages and sheep baying, to a set of wooden stairs. With Joseph’s help, Mary climbs each step until she stands in a room above the stable. Light streams through windows, candles burn on a table, people crowd into the room from another doorway, food in hand.
A home. A place to rest.
“Eat and drink! Let’s catch up,” Joseph’s cousin gestures to the food and the extended family standing around the room, including Joseph and Mary.
“But there is no room for us to stay.” Joseph says carefully. His cousin eyes him from across the table.
“The room below. It is okay for your bride?” An invitation.
Joseph looks to Mary, who cringes at her husband. The first pains of labor striking after a long morning of travel. But, there, across her brow and in her eyes–relief.
“God has provided.” Joseph smiles at his cousin as he takes a plate of food from one of the relatives, setting it in front of Mary.
“Eat, Mary. Then we’ll rest with the animals below.”
Mary smiles at her husband, knowing there will be little rest tonight.