Editors Note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part Christmas story by Monique Nagel. You can read Part 2 here. Look for Part 3 coming soon.
I left the baby on a pew in the church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Christmas Eve. It was too cold to leave him on the steps and just knock. I was afraid the baby would freeze to death or something. It was dark already and the chances of it being seen before daybreak were pretty small.
Just a few minutes away I stopped at a payphone outside of a Wal-Mart and believe it or not there was still a phone book hanging by its metal cord. The store windows were full of Christmas decorations and sale notices. I looked up the church and dialed the number. I hoped this would be quick— all I had on was a t-shirt and a windbreaker.
“There’s a baby in the church.” I said quickly, before they could get a word out. I wanted to hang up.
“There’s what? “ The male voice was old and scratchy.
“There’s a baby on the back pew. I put it there. Put him there. His name is Manny.”
“Young man,” the voice countered. “You can’t leave a baby in a church.”
“I can’t keep it father…sir.” I didn’t know if it was a priest or not. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Where is the mother?”
“She’s dead man, she died after having it and I can’t keep him. I can’t take care of him.”
“Okay, it’s okay. Tell me what happened son.”
I didn’t reply right away. Snowflakes were dancing in the lights of the parking lot, just like Maria, all light and grace. We had danced and laughed about what kind of Christmas trees we would have and how Manny would love the lights when he got bigger. He was so lucky to have both of us. I grew up on the streets, alone. We had planned everything to be different, but Maria was gone. Dead in childbirth on the back seat of my old green Chevy. End of that happy little story. She’s gone, and there I was, walking out of the hospital with a newborn baby in my arms. An eighteen year old with a crap job, how am I gonna raise a kid? Our apartment was three doors down from a crack house. I explained all of this to the old man on the phone.
By now I was crying. Big, fat stupid tears rolled down my freezing cheeks and my nose was running like crazy. Orphan Joe abandons his baby. How’s that for karma? Snowflakes blew past a row of shopping carts and I noticed a flier trapped between two of them advertising Christmas toys and nativity sets.
“What’s your name son? You can call me Jim.”
“Joe. I’m… just Joe.”
“Okay Joe. Are you still in town?”
“Not for long,” I said. “Don’t you have like… nuns that can go get him?”
“Nuns are with the Catholic church. We’re Baptist but don’t worry, I’m not 5 minutes away. Who was the mother, Joe?”
“Maria.” I choked. “Maria Lopez. She said she went to your church.”
“I know that name. Little Maria Lopez from Brown St. that moved here last spring?”
“Yea, that’s her. She said go to her church.”
I watched a couple get out of their car and head inside the store. The lady almost fell but the man grabbed her arm and steadied her. They both laughed and she held onto his arm while they went inside. Shivering uncontrollably, I balanced the phone on my shoulder and stuck my hands into my pockets.
An old man stepped out of the Wal-Mart. He was pushing a cart full of toys and Christmas wrapping paper. His long brown overcoat and a black fedora looked warm. I shivered so bad I dropped the handset and it banged on the phone booth. I picked it up and apologized quickly. I’m not rude, just really poor.
I spit on the sidewalk and the old man nodded at me absently. When he went past I could see that he was on a cell phone. Shivering uncontrollably, I turned my back on him and tried to hunch up in the corner to get out of the wind.
“We didn’t make it to the hospital in time. She had him on the backseat of my Chevy. There was so much blood. It all went down so fast man, so fast. The nurse gave me the baby and when I got out to the car I panicked.”
“I get that.” The man’s voice sounded louder. “I would have panicked too.” I realized the voice was behind me. A gloved hand gently patted my shoulder and I spun around. Rheumy old eyes stared out from under the brim of the black fedora. They were kind eyes. “Let‘s go get him together. We can figure out the rest later.”
“You? You’re Pastor Jim, or uh R-Reverend, F-Father, Sir?” My teeth were chattering.
“Yep,” he held his cellphone up, “the wonders of technology. You call the church and I can answer from the dairy aisle in Walmart. Now,” he rubbed his hands together, “good golly son, you’re freezing. Come on, let’s go get that baby.”
I started to protest but the old fellow must have read my mind. “We don’t have to make any decisions right this minute; we just need to see to him. We’ll take it from there, okay? You’re not in any kind of trouble here.”
“So,” he said as we got in his car. “Manny. Is that a nickname?”
“His name is Emmanuel but we were gonna call him Manny- after her father I think.”
“Emmanuel. You know what that stands for, don’t you?”
I looked at him in confusion and he chuckled.
‘She certainly did name him after her father; and yours and mine too.”
“I don’t get what you mean.”
“Emmanuel is another name for Jesus. It means God with us.” The old man smiled and nodded. “That’s a pretty good thing to know the day before we celebrate His coming into the world, wouldn’t you say?”