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We all knew it was going to be special night as soon as they entered. The man, holding fast to the end of the rope tied around the donkey’s neck, spoke softly to the innkeeper. His eyes held grave concern for the young woman astride the donkey. Her belly was swollen with the babe she carried in her womb.
The innkeeper told him that he had no room, but his turned down mouth indicated he didn’t wish to turn them away. He offered them a place in our stable. Not much of a place for a woman about to give birth, but their clothes were thick with dust from their journey and the donkey hung his head as if he could not carry the woman another step. The man with the long brown beard thanked him and shook the innkeeper’s hand.
With great difficulty, the woman climbed off the donkey’s back into the arms of the man. He held her until he was sure her feet were steady on the ground. They whispered to each other. My ears perked up but the words were spoken so softly I could not hear them.
The man marched over to a stall and began to rearrange the straw. His hands were large, with swollen knuckles. He hummed as he pushed the straw this way and that.
When he finished, the man stood and inspected his work. The corners of his mouth curled into a smile. He nodded before turning back to the woman and helped her sit in the mound of fresh straw.
The woman fell into an exhausted sleep. Soon she was awakened by the stirrings of the child wishing to makes its way into the world. I had felt such stirrings myself, many times. Now that time was past for me, but I wished to comfort this mother to be in some way. She was so young, so beautiful; and though her whimpers and moans told me her pain was great, there were moments when the man looked deeply into her eyes and she smiled. Careful to keep my voice soft, I mooed. The sheep’s bleating followed and then came the braying of the donkey. One by one the residents of the stable made gentle sounds to help ease the woman’s pain.
She labored long and hard, but sometime during the night the babe burst forth and the man cupped his naked, crying child as if he held the most precious gift the world had ever known.
The woman wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes and laid him in our manger. If the boy baby felt uncomfortable in the wooden box lined with hay, he did not cry of it. From the moment of his birth, a new sense of peace filled the stable from floor to rafters.
Not long afterwards, they came; the shepherds who guard their flocks at night. In the distance, I heard a pack of wolves howling, and I shuddered when I thought of those poor sheep left unattended by their caregivers.
There was one young boy among them. He turned when the wolves howled and his eyes grew wide with fear. He seemed confused as he scanned the older men’s faces for some reaction to the howls. He soon became captivated by the man, the woman, and their newborn son. Perhaps he felt a kinship to the father who guarded his new family in a way similar to how he guarded his sheep.
One of the older men told the woman of a bright light and the angel’s announcement of the “Savior’s” birth. She said nothing, but her smile was one of pure joy—a joy shared by the shepherds who sang their praises as they left and walked back to their sheep. I wondered what they would find when they returned.
As the woman held her baby close, the child drifted off to sleep. Her eyes fluttered and she stifled a yawn. The man kissed the top of her head, then strolled over to the stable door and pulled it closed. By the time he returned to her side, sleep had overtaken her. He scooped cold water from the pail into his hands and splashed it upon his face. He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and gazed at the sleeping mother and child. I doubted he would sleep this night.
The sheep and the donkey shifted in their stalls before exhaling deeply and lowering their heads. I suddenly felt tired too. The tiny snores of the child were like a lullaby and I knew sleep would soon claim me.
This was no ordinary child. He was special. The parents knew it. The shepherds were told of it. And as I drifted off I was certain that this “Savior” would leave his mark on the world.
Little Shepherd by Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a retelling of the Christmas story from a young shepherd’s point of view. The cow and sheep, along with the donkey, eagerly awaited the shepherds’ arrival on that miraculous night; and they witnessed their joy over the birth of the Savior.
If anyone leaves a comment here between now and the end of Cheryl’s tour on 12/17, they will be entered in to a drawing to win a gift basket filled with fun Christmas stuff. There is also a separate giveaway for those who purchase a copy of the book and provide Cheryl with proof of purchase. Details for both giveaways can be found at http://littleshepherdchildrensbook.blogspot.com/2010/09/giveaways-announced-for-little-shepherd.html
Posted in Character Interview
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