"Three kings, yeah. The magos found the Baby Jesus today," I said, glancing at the manger scene in the entryway. Flor and her sisters had carefully arranged it there a couple of weeks ago, as they do every year. Flor is intense. Sometimes I don´t understand what she is saying the first time around.
It´s Epiphany, Three Kings´ Day, and the pulpits of Spain are full of Incarnations and Expectations, Hope and Joy and Revelations. It´s the day Jesus´ uniqueness was revealed to the world at large, as shown by the three Wise Men who made the world´s first Christian pilgrimage. Here it´s no different. The bells rang and we all gathered in the chilly church for the second time in 24 hours, ready to mark the end of the long holiday that stretches over the 12 days of Christmas.
"No!" Flor said, waving away the plastic Bethlehem. "This is for real! We have a baby here, in Moratinos! A girl! My sister got an e-mail, it´s on the computer!"
"You´re joking," I told her. Holy Innocents day is like April Fools´ Day, and it was just past. Maybe Flor was doing one of her wonderfully clumsy practical jokes a couple of days late. Maybe another grandchild had arrived to one of the second-generation couples who now live in Madrid or Vittoria or Burgos, far from Moratinos. That generation is having a bit of a baby boom, but their babies are only seen on holidays and in summertime.
Flor heaved an elaborate sigh.
"Rebekah, you have amistad with Martina and Daniel, over at the hostel. And yesterday they arrived from their holiday. With a baby. A little girl! A newborn! You didn´t know?"
No. I was as surprised as anybody. "But Martina wasn´t pregnant!" I told her, trying quickly to recall what me and Martina have discussed in days past. Hmmm. Sauerkraut. Stöllen cakes. Angela Merkel´s fiscal policy. No mention of babies. But wait!
When Martina came over last, she gave me a little Christmas gift and told me another surprise may be coming for Three Kings day. A mysterious note arrived in my email queue while I was home in America, an email with attachments. I wasn´t using a secure computer, so I didn´t open it. Must´ve been Daniel -- who was just then in California on some "business matter." He tried to tell me, but I thought he was a spammer.
"Y que sopresa tenemos!" Flor said, skittering into the sanctuary in her stilletto-heel boots. Nobody knew, and she was there to tell. The church lit up with joy, once it was settled that Flor was not making a joke. Oliva and Milagros started to cry, even. And I of course choked up, too.
It was a wonderful Mass, charged with meaning -- a new baby, a living future for a dying town, a real sign of promise to a town of 20 people, none of whom is under age 40.
Paddy and I headed over to the Hostal Moratinos soon as church was over, and sure enough -- there in the dining room sat Maria Angeles, Daniel´s mother, with a tiny baby over her shoulder. We hugged the new parents, learned the details, laughed out loud. Little Isabel was born in late November in San Diego, a bit earlier than expected, via surrogate mother -- a procedure still not legal here in Spain. Daniel went over to finalize the judicial paperwork and bring the baby back home. She´s American-born, has a blue USA passport, even -- she is Moratinos´ second Americana.
Martina, the new mom, didn´t tell anyone in advance. She knew how many surprises can jump up at the last minute, and she didn´t want to crush the hopes of anyone else if the process didn´t work out.
But this time, the long-awaited hope came true. And after we went grinning home, the neighbors went too, to see the little miracle, just a few at a time, not so many that they´d be overwhelmed, just for a peek and a shake of hands, just to see what color her hair was.
Her name is Isabel, she is still very small, but she´s healthy and pink and very well looked-after. If her parents ever need a break, they have an entire village of kanguros lined up to spoil her rotten.
I am not sentimental, not usually. This little girl means so much, not just to her parents, but to this whole tiny village. We all filtered in to the Castillo restaurant to slap one another on the back and just grin like a gang of Cheshire Cats. Yeah, it´s wet and cold outside, there´s nothing going on, even the restaurant is closing tomorrow right through March.
But Moratinos, dwelling as we are in the January darkness, has seen a sweet light.
Her name is Isabel, but we could just as well call her Hope.