The fire danced in the firepit, casting a glow upon my face. I watched the sparks fly up, the flames eat up the chilly air. I drew my thin cloak tighter around me.
The smell of fresh-baked bread tickled my nose. I could hear the men of the family – my brother, my father, and two of my uncles – laughing and drinking. Mother, Grandmother, and I were all sitting in the same room as the men, but behind a silken screen. My stomach twisted in hunger, but we would all have to wait until the men were done.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
Mother and Grandmother retreated farther into the room so as not to be seen. I stayed where I was.
One of my uncles opened the door for the visitor. "What do you want?" he asked gruffly. Wine made him rude and harsh.
"Are you the innkeeper?" a tired voice asked.
"Why, yes, I am. What is it to you? I have no more room left. Everyone is staying here for the census."
The traveler motioned to a girl behind him who looked no older than I, sitting astride a swaybacked donkey. "Please, kind sir, I am looking for a place for my wife to rest, for she is with child."
It was then that I noticed the lady’s rounded belly, quite large for someone so small and pretty. Only thirteen, she was!
To my horror, my uncle shut the door on the man.
Yes, every room in my uncle’s inn was occupied, for Caesar Augustus had ordered that everyone under Roman rule must list their names in a register. Weary travelers from all over were coming to our little town of Bethlehem, dirty as it was.
I heard my uncle open the door once more.
The tired traveler was still there. His eyes brightened.
"I do have the stable in the back, if you’re interested," my uncle admitted. He pointed to the stable and told the man it was unlocked. The traveler handed him a few coins, thanked him, and gently tugged on the tired donkey’s bridle.
I took a step closer.
Just as the donkey was turning, the lady who sat atop it looked up and caught my eye. She flashed a quick smile in my direction.
I smiled back and turned back to the fire. Something welled up from deep within me, an unexplained happiness.
"Leah, why are you smiling so?" Mother asked.
"No reason," I replied. As I would later find out, there was a reason, I just didn’t know it yet.
Countless travelers, including women heavy with child, had come to the inn that night, but none of them had seemed so…so knowing, as if she knew something wonderful was about to happen. Though she was tired, she was joyful, and I now had that joy bubbling inside me.
Something wonderful was going to happen that night, I was sure of it.