The flat stone made a perfect roof. Now Jesse’s little rock village had four houses, a market, a woodshop, and an inn. “This will be my best village yet,” Jesse said.
“Jesse!” Jesse’s brother Benjamin ran toward him from the pasture. “Jesse! Come with me!”
Seated on the dirt, Jesse frowned.
Benjamin poked Jesse. “Come on!”
Jesse argued. “I’m building a village.”
“Your village can wait. Something terrific happened last night. I want to show you.” He grabbed Jesse’s hand.
Jesse yanked his hand away. “I’m busy!”
Benjamin grasped Jesse’s shoulders. Jesse kicked. His foot knocked over the village inn. Stones from the inn toppled the market. Rocks from the market broke the houses and the woodshop.
“Look what you made me do!” hollered Jesse. Benjamin rolled his eyes.
Jesse grunted. He would make Ben sorry. Hurrying into the house, Jesse wrapped a chunk of bread and three figs in a cloth.
“What’s in the cloth?” asked Benjamin.
Jesse glared. Ben shrugged.
Hiking toward the hills, they passed the sheep pasture. Jesse’s favorite lamb skipped toward him. “Figgy wants to join us,” said Ben, laughing.
The lamb was white with one brown ear shaped like a fig. Jesse and Figgy played in the pasture every day. Whenever Ben and Jesse camped overnight, Figgy slept beside them.
“Stop following me!” Jesse yelled at Figgy. Figgy jumped backward. Then she slunk away.
The brothers hiked over a ridge and down a valley. Jesse grew hungry. He slowed down to let Benjamin get ahead. Opening the cloth, Jesse ate the bread and one fig. Then he scurried to catch up. “Ben,” said Jesse, “I’m thirsty.” Benjamin opened his water pouch and gave Jesse a drink.
They walked on. The ground was stony and rough. Suddenly Jesse tripped over a rock. “Ow!” Jesse examined his knee. It was bleeding. “You rotten stones!” Scooping some pebbles, he flung them hard.
Benjamin raised his arms to his face. “Watch where you’re throwing!”
Jesse glowered at Ben.
At last the brothers neared Bethlehem. Ben pointed to a cave tucked into a hillside. “Let’s run!”
Jesse hung back. When he finally reached the cave, he looked inside. Benjamin knelt on the floor, gazing at a mound of straw. Across from him sat a woman and a man. Nearby a donkey slept.
Jesse crouched next to Ben. Everyone stared at a baby resting on the straw. The baby, wrapped in rags, lay on his back, awake.
Jesse had seen many babies. Some lived at his house. They could not talk or climb or build stone villages. Yawning, Jesse asked, “Ben, can we leave?”
Benjamin ignored him. Jesse squirmed.
“This is Jesus,” Ben whispered to Jesse. “I met him last night. An angel told us where to find him. The angel said this baby is sent by God to free us.”
Jesse wrinkled his nose. Benjamin must be joking. Jesse knew his people wanted a savior. But wouldn’t God send a grownup?
Jesse examined his knee. Where the stones had cut him, he found smooth skin—no blood, no scrape, no bruise.
Then Jesse realized his toes were tingling—all ten of them. He jiggled his feet, but the tingling continued.
“May I touch the baby?” Jesse asked.
Jesus’ mother nodded. Stretching out his hand, Jesse touched the baby’s forehead. Ripples ran up and down Jesse’s back. The ripples felt like his mother’s fingers sliding over his skin.
Jesse patted the baby’s rags. Jesus looked at Jesse’s eyes. Jesse looked at Jesus’ eyes. Jesse’s face warmed, like it did in the pasture on summer afternoons.
“Jesse,” said Benjamin, “we must go now.”
Jesse blinked. Ben stood up. Jesse stared once more at Jesus. Then he followed Benjamin.
Heading home, Benjamin hummed and watched the birds. Jesse hummed and watched the dirt. He saw the hole in the ground. He saw Benjamin’s foot above the hole. “Ben, look out!” cried Jesse.
Benjamin stopped, his foot in the air. “That was close. Thanks, Jesse.”
They hiked across the valley and up the ridge. Jesse’s stomach rumbled. “Ben,” he asked, “are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Ben answered, “but I brought no food.”
Jesse handed Benjamin the two remaining figs.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Ben asked.
“A little,” replied Jesse, “but I already ate.”
They hiked toward the pasture. “The walk home seems shorter than the walk to Bethlehem,” said Jesse.
Figgy stood at the pasture’s edge. She did not run to meet Jesse. She backed away. Jesse called her softly. “Figgy?” He eased closer. “Figgy?” Stroking her brown ear, Jesse teased her. “Your ear looks like a fig.” Then he rubbed his face against her neck.
Outside their house, the brothers viewed Jesse’s broken village. “Can I help you rebuild it?” asked Benjamin.
They sat on the ground. Benjamin began stacking rocks.
“This time,” said Jesse, “the village must have a cave.”
“Like Jesus’ cave?”
“Yes. Ben, why would God send a baby to free us?”
“I don’t know,” answered Benjamin, “but that’s what the angel said. Anyway, babies grow up.”
Jesse dug his hand into the dirt to make a cave. Then he noticed something. His toes were still tingling—all ten of them.
© Suzanne Werkema