Saturday, December 14, 2013

by Marvin Payne

         “Grandmother, why are you smiling?” Ezra’s feet hurt, and they still had so many  miles to walk. Ezra didn’t think anyone on this dusty road should be smiling. Nobody else was.
         “I smile because the sun is shining and the breeze is cool and we are strong enough to walk, my son.” Grandmother always called Ezra “my son.”
         “Is that reason enough to smile?” Ezra asked.
         “Perhaps not. Sometimes there are reasons for smiling that we don’t know.” And they walked on.

         “Grandmother, why are we walking?”
         “We walk, my son, because the Emperor far away across the sea has commanded us to walk”
         “Because he’s gathering everyone in our land to the towns where their families came from.”
         “So his men can count us and take our money.”
         “To buy food and swords for his armies.”
         “Is that reason enough for us to walk?” Ezra asked.
         “The Emperor thinks so,” she answered, “but sometimes there are reasons to walk that even he doesn’t know.” And they walked on.

         “Grandmother, why are you singing?” Nobody else on the road was singing. His grandmother’s way of singing was to hum very softly, with a word or two of old prayers creeping in. As she sang, she sometimes closed her eyes, even when she walked.
         “My son, I sing because God loves me.”
         “Is that reason enough to sing?”
         She stopped. “Oh yes, my son!” Her eyes were bright. Ezra could almost feel them shining on him. She walked again. After another step or two, she said, “And Ezra...”
         She called him “Ezra.” She must have had something very important to say.
         “Yes, Grandmother?”
         “There are reasons I don’t know.”
         “For singing?” Ezra asked.
         “No, for God loving me.” And she walked on, singing.

         They walked, and walked, and walked, and came long after dark to the tiny town of Grandmother’s grandfathers. It was overflowing with all the distant relatives of the few folk who still lived in it. Now even Grandmother was tired. And there was, as they should have expected, no room for them in the inn.
         But the innkeeper didn’t turn them away. For days, he had been preparing his large stables, hanging blankets between its many stalls and lofts and corners. He let the animals wander in the mild night, so there would be pretend rooms he could rent to weary guests.
         Ezra and his grandmother spread out some straw on the rutted floor. She leaned on his shoulder and folded her tough old bones and lay them down on the straw.
         “Grandmother, why do we have to sleep in a stable?”
         She was too tired for much of an answer. The smile was gone, and the singing, too. She closed her eyes and said, “My son, sometimes there are reasons we don’t know.” In just a moment or two, Ezra heard a weary little snore from under her blanket.
         Ezra tried to sleep, too. But a couple was quarreling in the loft overhead. Off in the other end of the stable somewhere a toddler whined. Against the boards separating Ezra from the next stall an old man was muttering in his sleep.
         Still, the boy was so tired that he barely heard the low, quick whispering as one more young couple came in out of the night. The husband swept straw into a pile. He eased his wife stiffly down against it. She hurt. Ezra could tell. Something was wrong. Ezra was tired.
         A few cows shifted and clumped outside in the starlight. One cow, from her steady moaning, seemed offended that her particular stall was taken over by a dirty-faced runt with only two feet. Dirty-faced Ezra finally sank into sleep through the stubborn sounds washing around him.         

         Deep in the night he woke up a little, as his grandmother groaned and knelt to lie down again on the straw next to him.
         “Grandmother, why were you up?” he mumbled.
         “Someone needed help, my son.”
         “Help with what, Grandmother?”
         “Getting born.”
         “Getting born? That’s... that’s reason enough to get up!”
         She smiled into his sleepy eyes and added, softly “Reason enough for everything.” Then she whispered, “Look!”
         Ezra leaned up on an elbow and blinked between the boards. Just beyond lay a young woman, really just a girl. Her hair hung damp and her face was pale--but oh, so lovely as she gazed on a gurgling baby, minutes old. Her husband was farther off, kicking straw out into the night and gathering more from a manger.
         Ezra drifted again into sleep, imagining the most amazing music on the wind.

©2008 by Marvin Payne

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