In comparison with her new baby nothing was quite real. The overwhelming joy in the baby wiped everything else from Mary’s heart and mind. The baby was present, engrossing. All thought of miracles, and angels, and journeys stepped quietly back to make way for the huge presence of a new life. The birth of a son, the joy in him so great and so normal that it made everything else a little faded.
Johanna, who had delivered him, and in whose general-purpose room they were lodged, begged her to rest, but at first she could not, and sat up cradling her child. In the end, though, great waves of sleep began to overwhelm her.
‘Look,’ said Johanna, ‘We will do as I used to do when I was working in this room, we will lay him in the manger, make up a safe little place for him there, so he cannot roll, or, or anything. And you can lay down just by him and sleep a little, and be fresher when he wakes up in an hour or two. I’ll leave you, dearie, but if you need anything, you just call.’
And because Johanna had been so kind, Mary for once did as she was told and put her son carefully down, and lying still, just beside him, listened to his breathing. Everybody was happy again – she, Joseph, his cousins. No more to worry over, no more anger, no more strangeness.
She was sleepy enough to be disorientated when Joseph, forcefully evicted by Johanna, briefly allowed to see his wife and child, and then evicted again to allow them sleep, came quietly in.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, almost equally afraid of disturbing Mary, and of being caught disturbing her by Johanna, ‘but it is shepherds.’ Mary looked blankly at him. All she knew of shepherds was that they were a pretty rough lot. Not something she wanted to worry over just now.
‘It is shepherds’, repeated Joseph. It had been a horribly long night, full of worry and of not being able to do anything practical about it, on top of the journey, and everything else. Nobody had yet suggested Joseph might need a good sleep. ‘It is shepherds come to find a new baby – born tonight. They say they will find him in a manger.’ Mary, horribly awake, looked with round eyes at her son sleeping in his manger, while Joseph added: ‘I would not have disturbed you, but they say they saw – angels.’
Later Johanna found them all. Her workroom was packed with men and with the smell of sheep. They were sitting in total silence, looking at the sleeping bairn. Mary’s head was resting on Joseph’s shoulder. Johanna opened her mouth to protest, then – then she saw Amos, (an old shepherd who she knew and of whom she deeply disapproved) look into Mary’s eyes. Joseph caught the glance, a consciousness in his own gaze. There was a secret there which left her excluded, humbled. She shut her mouth, and left. They had not noticed her.