The following is a piece I wrote while living in Berlin. It’s a contemporary take on the Christmas story.


They hurried, shivering from the cold as the snow swirled round them. They tried hard to avoid the shoppers, laden down with parcels, bad moods and impatience. The gaunt young man looked concerned and placed his arm protectively around the girl with him, who couldn’t have been much older than sixteen. She stumbled and her coat flapped briefly open to reveal her heavy pregnancy. They walked past the brightly lit market stalls, trying to ignore the tempting aromas of roasted chestnuts, popcorn and sweet hot mulled wine. They had spent almost the last of their money on rolls and two cups of coffee earlier that day.

At last they found the place, a cheap hotel with a flashing neon sign above the plastic fronted door. They shuffled inside and made their way to the reception counter. The man glanced up from ogling the centerfold in his tacky magazine and grunted what could have been a welcome at them. Joseph began, “We called earlier; you said you might have a room free.” The man laughed harshly, “You must be joking sunshine; this time of year with all those celebrations. No chance.” He settled back to his magazine. “But isn’t there anywhere” pleaded Joseph. Mary reached and touched his face gently. “Don’t worry, we’ll find somewhere soon. At least I hope we will, because my feet ache and my back hurts.” He kissed her tenderly and pulled her hood back over her head as he guided her outside.

They wandered around the back of the shops and then saw large cardboard boxes scattered around, many near the heating outlets, and with tarpaulins over them. As they approached one, they heard the sound of snoring inside; from another, laughter. They stopped before one with a faint light inside and the gruff sound of men’s voices. Joseph pulled the curtain back and the men turned sharply, one knocking over a bottle onto the playing cards, to the curses of the others. “What do you want?” asked one of them, redfaced and with grey stubble all over his chin.

“My wife and I, we’ve got nowhere to go and I thought maybe…..”. His voice trailed off as the man’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Mary’s voice came from outside, , “Hurry Joseph, I think it’s started”. “Who’s she? What’s started” the man said, then saw Mary behind Joseph clutching her stomach in obvious pain. “O Gawd” he croaked, then turned to one of his companions. “Ned, get old Susan over here. She used to be a cleaner down at the ‘ospital. She’ll know what to do.” Ned hurried away to return a minute later with a woman who looked fifty but was probably only thirty-five. “You great oafs get out of here. This is women’s business” she said, and then smiled kindly at Mary. “Don’t you worry lovey, I did all my sister’s kids.” She turned again, barked out a few orders and within minutes, gathered from the surrounding cardboard boxes were a few towels and a water heater pushed through the curtained opening. Mary sank gratefully to the floor, stunned at the swift reaction and care of this little cardboard community.

As morning broke, a loud cry came from inside the box and Mary’s voice, tired but happy, sobbed out “It’s a boy Joseph, just like we were told, it’s a boy.” The older men gathered around Joseph, thumping him on the shoulder and back, roughly congratulating him. As Susan emerged from the box with the small pink bundle wrapped in a grubby teacloth, the men stared wide-eyed with wonder. ‘It’s a miracle, that’s what it is” said one. “E’s special. You can tell just by lookin’ at ‘im.” said another.

They clustered around like little children receiving a present, looking at the little one, who was at home with the homeless, cherished by those who have no-one to cherish them.

© Glyn Norman, Christmas 1993

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