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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Story for Christmas - "What Child is This?" (The Innkeeper's Defense)

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
© Marcia Gunnett Woodard, 2015

🎆 I didn't know! How could I have known?

They were just one more young couple, clearly short on cash. When I first saw them, he was pushing that broken down old pickup that he mistakenly called transportation. She was sitting in the cab, steering, and I have to admit, I thought the less of her for it, until the truck ground to a halt in my parking lot and she opened the door and eased down to the pavement.
Although her drab, shapeless dress and stretched-out sweater were both too big for her, still they were unsuccessful at concealing her hugely pregnant state. Her face, though extraordinarily beautiful, was at this moment marred by pain and exhaustion. In spite of it all, her eyes held an undeniable serenity.
His jacket was threadbare and patched, his jeans were blown out at the knees. His wiry muscles and thin face with hollow cheeks told the tale of a hard-working man who had spent many evenings insisting he wasn't that hungry, attempting to be certain that the woman and the little one she carried had enough.
She waited patiently as he retrieved their one meager backpack from the truck bed. He turned to offer her his support and as soon as they began to make their way to the front entrance of the hotel, I knew the truth. She was in active labor! They couldn't afford professional medical assistance, and thought they would give birth here, in my hotel! Oh, no they wouldn't. I told Samantha, the night clerk, to take her break, then I personally met the pair at the front desk.
"Oh, I am sorry," I lied through my artificial smile. "We just booked our last room."

🎆 How could I have known? Do you tell me YOU would have known?

The young man looked at the worn toes of his boots. He knew I was lying, and being lied to humiliated him. His glance slid to the girl-woman by his side.
A tiny frown creased the space between her eyebrows. "What will we do?" Her voice sounded soft and tired, with the slightest hitch at the end, when she was caught off-guard by the next contraction.
"Excuse me, sir." The young man was incurably polite even in the face of my blatant lie. "Excuse me," he said to his boots. "Do you know someplace we could go? My wife—"
He and I both turned to look at her. She was now bent nearly double. Labor had begun in earnest. I suddenly realized something worse than having these two deliver their offspring in one of my rooms—having the kid born in the lobby! I clung to my calm, unruffled exterior while on the inside I scrambled frantically to come up with an alternative location. That was it!
"You know...we have an underground parking garage with an attendant's room. Our attendant has Christmas Eve off. You can spend the night, it has a space heater, and a couple cots with pillows and blankets, you should be fine there." I finished all in one breath, deliberately ignoring the fact that this was a young woman in active labor, who would quite possibly give birth in a small, dark, cluttered room, two stories below ground.
The young, soon-to-be father sprang into action, slinging the small pack over his shoulder and scooping his wife into his arms.
"Where do I go, sir? How do I get there?" His voice was quiet but intense. His body was calm and gentle with her, but his eyes glanced wildly in all directions, searching for the route to the meager refuge I had offered.
"Go across the lobby and through that doorway. Turn left into the hallway, and you should see the elevator about ten feet ahead on your right. Once you get on, hit the button 'BB' for the sub-basement. When the doors open, you will see the office."
"Thank you, sir," he said softly, and he was gone.

🎆 I swear to you, I did not know! If I had known, I vow I would have chosen differently.

I went on about my shift and barely gave the couple a passing thought until about three in the morning. I was on my lunch break when Samantha burst into the employee break room, a freaked-out look on her face.
"There are mechanics here! In the lobby! What do I do with them?"
"Mechanics? Mechanics for what? Who called them?" I couldn't figure out what she was talking about.
"Mechanics! Auto mechanics. They say they're here to see 'the baby'. What baby are they talking about?"
I stuffed the last few bites of my turkey sandwich into my cheeks, and followed her back to the lobby. As night manager, I have to stay on top of what's happening at my property.
We arrived back at the front desk to find half a dozen or so rough looking men of various ages, still in their work uniforms and smeared with a blend of auto lubricant and mud.
"May I help you, gentlemen?" I wasn't sure if I choked on the remains of the sandwich, or the word gentlemen.
The group murmured among themselves, searching for a spokesman before settling on one big guy with a mop of curly, dark hair. He stepped forward and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He stared at his hands, then wiped them on his "Del's Auto Repair" shirt with the label "Sam" stitched above the pocket. He stuck out the right hand to shake mine.
"Howdy! I'm Sam...Sam Johnstone. Wurr's the baby?  We's here t' see the baby."
"The baby?" I didn't remember anyone checking in with a baby. I had temporarily forgotten the young couple in the parking garage.
"The new borned baby. He's borned ry-cheer t'night, and we has came t' see him."
Born here? Oh yes, the couple in the parking garage! I puzzled to myself how these mechanics had heard about a child born to an impoverished couple, twenty-plus feet underground, in the middle of the night. Sam the mechanic spoke as if he had heard my question and was answering it.
"Me 'n' the boys wuz out muddin' after work, up on the mountin, when all the sudden, the sky was full up wit angels, singin' in the tops ah the trees, 'bout a baby borned in a parkin' g'rage." He stopped for air. "So me 'n' the boys, we's here tah pray, seein's how the baby's part ah God or sump'n."
The story was outlandish, but at least now I knew what baby they referred to. I stood pondering whether to point them to where the young family slept or to pretend ignorance and send them on their way.
As I considered the options, my attention was caught by a stir outside. A stretch limo, bearing the consular flag of an Asian ally, swept up the hotel driveway and glided to a stop at our front entrance. I had to act quickly!
"This way...gentlemen." I choked the word out again, and strode quickly toward the elevator. "You handle our new arrivals," I tossed back over my shoulder to Samantha.
I made quick work of the mechanics, taking them down in the elevator, pushing the buttons for them—to make sure that later, we didn't have to scrub off mud and axle grease.
Imagine my surprise, when we arrived at the garage level, to see the little family spruced up and apparently expecting company. The new mother, exhausted but radiant, sat in a worn office chair and gazed at her newborn son, who slept in a pulled-out filing cabinet drawer. The young father leaned against a battered desk, with the quiet confidence of a man who has just delivered his own child.
The scene tugged at my heart, begging me to linger, but responsibilities called, and the thought of Samantha upstairs, trying to deal with our important arrivals, prodded me back into the elevator and out to the front desk.
I found Samantha, trying to communicate with our guests, who consisted of a bodyguard/chauffeur, a personal attaché, and the ambassador—who cradled his infant son. The baby, who appeared to be about six months old, was screaming at the top of his lungs while Samantha added to the uproar—trying to make herself understood by talking louder and more slowly.
It was time for me to take charge. Stepping into the room, I bowed to the ambassador and asked him how we could be of assistance. The ambassador nodded to the attaché who rushed forward, unfurling an astrological chart which he claimed to indicate that a world renowned physician would be in this place on this day.
"I must see him," the diplomat explained. "My son has been sick from birth, and none of the others have helped him."
As I mentally prepared a response, I heard a sound behind me and turned. My three year old daughter, Emma, stood in the doorway of the manager's office, sleepily rubbing her eyes. The property owners had been wonderfully understanding since her mother had died, allowing me bring her and have her sleep in the office while I worked night shift. Having her near was especially important to me, since she....
I glanced from Emma to the ambassador's son and back. A similarity in the children's appearance told me that as the fathers of special children, we shared a common burden.
"Daddy, me wanna see baby," Emma fussed.
I started to lead her toward the ambassador, but she tugged away from me and ran toward the elevator.
"No! New baby! Me wanna see new baby!" She was shrieking now.
Just as she reached the elevator, the door opened, and the mechanics streamed out, their faces aglow as they talked excitedly amongst  themselves. It was clear they had experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event. The ambassador and his companions exchanged looks and hurried toward the elevator. Afraid for my daughter's safety, I rushed to her and scooped her up, out of harm's way. The Asians hurried into the elevator, chattering with the mechanics as they went, finding out which floor to choose. The closed silently. I stood by the sealed door and listened as the elevator cabin whirred its way into the depths. I strained to hear the distinctive ping at the bottom of the elevator shaft, announcing the ambassador's arrival at the birthplace. All I heard was the inconsolable sobbing of my heartbroken daughter, who drooped in my arms.
"Mee-ee wanna-ah kih-iss bay-ay-bee-ee!"
When I turned back to the lobby, the mechanics had already left, singing as they went. In the stillness they left behind, I heard the TV news anchor's urgent monotone, announcing that the authorities were searching for someone. ...the couple in my parking garage! Not wanting any trouble, I didn't hesitate before calling 9-1-1. Although it was probably only fifteen minutes or so before the police arrived, it seemed to take forever.
While we were waiting for the authorities to show up, the ambassador and his entourage rode back up in the elevator and left the  building—completely silent, except for the happy cooing of the baby, who looked somehow...different. Less like my daughter's distinctive look, and more like his father.
Eventually, the police arrived, with SWAT teams storming both the outside entrance to the garage and the elevator, but the couple was gone—vanished into thin air. They were never found, and to this day, when I look at my daughter, I wonder what might have been.

🎆 I swear I would have done it differently, if only I'd known. Sure, a couple people said something about it, but they were poor, and lower-class, and foreigners—not s I would trust. If someone with some money, some clout—someone with a Name—had told me who this Baby was, I could have believed. I would have left everything and taken the elevator to that little room in the sub-basement. I would have brought my own little one with me, and knelt in His  presence until I received my answer. But the message came from those I don't trust. Before you judge me, tell me that you would not do the same—that you have not done the same as I did. Tell me, if you can, that you have never let preconceived ideas keep you from seeing God with you, right there in the room.