HOTEL BETHLEHEM, A CHRISTMAS FABLE Bill Bayley
'Trustee' Batman and his sidekick Robin were warming their backsides at the huge fire in the lounge, and chortling with glee. They were standing in the only hotel in Bethlehem, known to the townsfolk as “Gregall”. This large and ramshackle building had been given to the Town by a rich old Jew, Levi Gregall, to be a place where the Youth could meet and pray. 'Trustee' had taken it over years ago and made it into a nightclub, then a cafe, and finally a gymnasium, but hardly anyone came to it now. Trustee had applied to Jerusalem for planning permission to knock down the old Gregall and build hovels. He was delighted because he had just heard that this was soon to be granted.
“See, Robin, I want to be famous, I want to go down in 'istory. No chance of that in this dump. Knock it down and build a village here, that's what I wants. It'll be called “Batville”. Named after me, see. That'll make sure my name survives for ever.”
Robin, ever the sycophant, smirked up at him. “That's right, Trustee. Don't forget, you promised to call the pub there “Robin's Nest”. That'll perpetualateify my name too, won't it, Trustee?”
There was a knock at the door. Trustee opened it, and saw the Mayor of Bethlehem.
“Whatch you want?” he said rudely. He loathed the Mayor, who was always complaining to him about the Gregall not being open, and how Trustee had stolen it from the little Town of Bethlehem.
“Listen, Trustee,” said the Mayor, hiding his dislike of the landlord. “There's going to be a census in the area. Lots of people will be arriving soon and need accommodation. Will you open the Gregall to put them up? It's really important. It could be good for tourism, really put our town on the map!”
“Will I 'eck as like!”, spluttered Trustee. “The Gregall is closed, mate. C-L-O-S-E-D, right? We can't afford staff, and we're expecting demolition any time now. So the answer's NO!”
Trustee rubbed his hands together after the Mayor had left. “That sorted him! Pompous git!”, he sniggered.
A few days later, a young couple knocked at the door, and asked for lodging. Trustee snarled at them, “No! No room at the inn. And your missus looks far gone too, mate. Go to the hospice down the road. No chance here!”
Robin tiptoed up to the couple as they were leaving disconsolately. “Pssst! You can doss down in the Cadet hut at the back. We call it the Stable, and there's a few animals in there, they won't hurt.” So the young man led their donkey with the pregnant woman on its back into the Stable, and shut the door.
Later that night, Robin ran up to Trustee in a fluster. “'Ere, Trustee, I think that couple's gone and had their baby, and it's upset all our animals! I took a butchers in, and they're all kneeling! The animals are! Gathered round the crib, and sort of....worshipping the blinkin' baby, of all things! And it's all lit up too! Whatcher make of that?”
“That's not all, Robin! There's a dirty great light overhead, like a huge star! What's that all about then? It can't be anything to do with that baby. It's right above us, like some kind of sign. A good advert, that, if we was open!”
“Dunno,” said Robin. “ 'Ere, what's that row now? Sounds like a load of damn sheep!” They looked out of the window. There outside the Cadet hut was a crowd of shepherds, together with their flock. They seemed to be kneeling in the snow, gazing in through the open door. The interior of the Stable was mysteriously illuminated by an unseen source.
Trustee opened the window and bawled out, “Clear orff, you lot of peasants! This is a classy place, this is. Gerout! And don't come back!”, and he slammed the window shut. “That's sorted 'em!” he grinned malevolently.
Robin went outside, and returned very agitated. “I say, Trustee, there's a Great Light shining all around! The centre is the Stable, and I swear I heard the beating of huge wings! And singing! Like it comes from...from....Heaven!”
Trustee frowned, and smacked Robin round the head. “Don't be so stupid, son! You'll be saying there's angels in the stable next, you idiot! Shut up! It could damage our permission! And frighten the builders!”
“But, Trustee, I really do think there are angels in there!”, said Robin, all quivery. “What if it's the Birth of …of....the Messiah? It could be, you know, Trustee! It's predicted in the Bible! It says.....”
Trustee cuffed him again. “Shut up, you twit! This is the Gregall! Where does it say the Messiah was born in the Gregall? They could refuse us permission if you blather on. So shut it!”
Robin was not so easily silenced. “But, Trustee, the baby was not born in the Gregall, was it, it was born in the Stable! And look! Look there! It's three rich blokes! On camels! What do they want?”
“I don't know what they want,” said Trustee, “But I know what they're going to get! A blinking good hiding, that's what! And it's me, Trustee of the Gregall, that's going to give it to them!”, and he marched out, rolling up his sleeves as he went. “Oi! Clear orff! We don't want your sort round 'ere! Muckin' up my Stable yard with your blinkin' foreign camels! You're dragging down the tone of the place! Who d'yer think you are? Get aht of it, you ragheads! Go 'ome!”
The three Kings looked at him in silence. Then one pulled out a bag of money, and gave it to Trustee. “Take it.” he said. “That's all you want. It's more than you deserve, you scoundrel. Now depart. We have bought your tumbledown Gregall for the Community. Your name will indeed go down in history. But not in the way you wanted it!” The three Kings started to laugh at Trustee's crestfallen face. So did the shepherds, and all the animals. Soon the whole world was laughing, and the angels sang out from on High, “Alleluia! For joy shall never cease at Christmastide!” Only Trustee was not laughing as he slunk away through the snow in disgrace, until he disappeared into the darkness.