The Inn Keeper’s Christmas Carol

Sullatober Dalton

Welcome to Bethlehem, do you mind if I sit down beside you, just for a minute. The inn’s busy and I’m out of my wife’s eye here.
It’s always busy this time of year, people can sleep outside in the warm weather but in the winter we all like to be inside for a bit of warmth, don’t we?
Mind you, it’s not nearly as busy as the year we had the census. They came from all over, even Nazareth, places like that.
The evening before the counting, I’d just put the last donkey into the stable and settled down to something hot when someone knocked at the yard door.
‘No good knock, knocking,’ I shouted through the door. ‘There’s no room in here. I couldn’t squeeze in a sparrow. Go away and find somewhere else,’ I shouted.
Didn’t make any difference, chap kept hammering, and in the end the misses came out.
‘My wife’s pregnant,’ this fellow shouted. ‘She’s already in labour.’
I’d have sent him away but you know what women are.
‘Find them a corner somewhere,’ my wife told me. ‘You can’t leave her to have the baby out in the street, people would talk, and an inn needs a good name.’
Anyway, I opened up the door and let them in. ‘There’s no room,’ I told the chap again. ‘The only place that’s empty is a stall in the stable.’
The chap was a bit doubtful but his wife looked at him. ‘Please, Joseph,’ she pleaded.
Well, a rent’s a rent, if the chap had been gentry I might have thrown someone out or squeezed them in somehow. Don’t get me wrong, he looked all right, an artisan, builder or carpenter, something like that.
‘It’s a bit smelly with the donkeys and the others but nice and cosy,’ I told him.
‘Oh, oh,’ the woman shouted. ‘It’s coming Joseph, it’s coming soon.’
‘Go and get the physician,’ I shouted at Phineas, my boy, but he is just staring as the woman lay down and smiled at her husband.
‘Take it easy, Mary,’ her man told her, but when a babe decides it wants to get out there’s no taking it easy.
Well, out came a boy. The yell he let out I can still hear. It sounded as if he’d left paradise and found himself in a stable with a donkey and what not. But, after that first squawk, he was fine. The man cleaned him and then wrapped him up and looked round for somewhere to put him down so he could help the woman, there was only the crib but it had a nice layer of straw and the baby settled down quite happy.
Well, I’d just brought them some hot milk, there was no stew or anything like that left, when there was another hammering at the yard door.
‘There’s no room,’ I shouted, ‘Even if your wife is having a baby.’
That only made whoever it was hammer all the louder.
‘We’ve come to see the babe,’ they shouted. I could hear there was more than one. ‘This isn’t a circus or a freak show, go away and let all of us get some sleep,’ I shouted back.
It didn’t make any difference. They just hammered on the door, louder than ever. I grabbed a club to teach them some manners and opened the door but there were more than I’d expected, a whole bunch of really smelly shepherds. Well, I’m not a snob, but one has one’s standards.
‘I’m not letting you in here,’ I told them, ‘this is an inn, not a place for vagrants.’
‘Some angels came and told us the Messiah had been born here,’ they shouted and just pushed past, as if they had every right to come in. I hate people like that, after all, one is entitled to keep rabble out, don’t you think?
As if that wasn’t enough, they were no sooner in than they started to hallelujah and hozanna away, loud enough to wake the whole inn. Crazy, the lot of them. Something to do with the moon, or that star, I suppose.
That’s when the moon decided to sneak behind a cloud. There were plenty of stars but there are some gloomy corners in Bethlehem in the middle of the night, so I lit myself a torch and went off to get some help to throw the shepherds out, not easy at that time of night. Of course, the watch was off on his rounds and refused to help. ‘You’re supposed to keep the peace and those shepherds are disturbing all the peace there is,’ I told him.
‘Got to do my rounds,’ was all I could get out of him and he went off calling his ‘One o’clock and all’s well’ nonsense. You pay taxes for these people to protect you but when you need help, where are they?
All I could do was go back to the inn.
Luckily, they’d gone and I was just locking up when there was another knocking, more discrete but with more authority. Oh, oh, I thought, someone’s complained about the shepherds and here’s the Centurion and the guard. That’s all I need. They’ll be demanding food and wine, I should have sold this place to that Armenian and gone somewhere I could get a night’s rest. The trouble is, if you don’t open the door to those people, they break it down, so I undid the bar and bolts and opened the door just a crack and held my torch out to see who was there.
There stood an enormous chap with a turban.
‘Open for the Magi,’ he said.
‘What Magi?’ I asked. ‘I don’t need any magicians.’
‘Not magicians, wise men from the East,’ this giant told me. ‘They’ve come to see the Babe.’ Before I could stop them, a whole crowd pushed past. Three very well dressed chaps and some servants. Even the servants were better dressed than me and they were carrying some rather nice boxes.
I tried to see what was going on but the giant and his pals kept me back.
The servants left the boxes and trooped out while the kings, or whatever they were, talked to this Joseph chap for a while and then left.
As I was shutting the door after them the giant chap spoke to me. ‘If Herod’s people come asking, you’ve seen no one tonight,’ he told me.
That’s when I got worried.
‘Why would they come asking?’ I wanted to know.
‘They think this babe’s special, going to be some kind of leader in their opinion. We’ve been following his star for months, we have. Herod isn’t too keen to have a rival,’ he told me. ‘But you’ve seen nothing, understand?’
That’s when I got mad. ‘Seen nothing!’ I said. ‘Some shepherds come in here shouting, halleluiah, and then a cavalcade of kings drops by, and I’ve seen nothing? You think the neighbours are blind?’
“Maybe this will help you forget,’ one of the others said and put this purse in my hand.
What could I do? I thought, all right, I’ll take your money but I’m not being tortured over this. The first signs of a thumbscrew or a hot poker and I’ll tell the lot.
I was on eggs until the census was over. I’d have thrown the family out, but my wife refused to let me. I hadn’t told her about the giant, or the money, and once you’d got to know that boy it was impossible to just send him away.
As it was, nothing happened, and they all went home after the census.
Afterwards, Herod’s men came looking but somehow or other, the neighbours had heard nothing, and I wasn’t getting involved with confessing that that babe, whoever he was, had been born under my roof.
Well, I can’t explain it, but we’ve been happier since that night. It’s still a struggle to turn a shekel, but, somehow, giving people a warm bed seems more important than the money now. It’s as if that babe was still here. Sit awhile and you’ll begin to feel it yourself.
The other thing is, since that night, I’ve been giving my wife and the children a present this time of year, just like those Magi chaps. It helps remind me of that babe and how he smiled at me as they were leaving.
You want some more stew? Let me go and see if I can get you some bread to go with it.

THE END
Merry Christmas from Sullatober Dalton