[First instalment of a Christmas story by Ruben Saillens, original title Le Père Martin, translated from French.]
You don’t know Papa Martin? He is only a shoemaker whose workshop, living room, bedroom and kitchen are all together in a little wooden building at the corner of Place de Lenche and rue des Martégales in the centre of the old quarter of Marseilles. There he lives, not too rich, not too poor, resoling shoes for everyone in the neighbourhood, for since his eyes have grown old he doesn’t make new shoes anymore.
The fishermen know him well, and the sellers in the marketplace, as well as the schoolchildren who pass by his door in swarms.
He has repaired shoes for them all, he knows where a shoe pinches. The mothers don’t trust anyone else to put solid heels on the shoes of their children who wear out the best store bought shoes in two weeks.
Papa Martin has recently gained a reputation for being devout. Since he began going to those meetings where they sing and pray and speak of God he has changed. He has a large book which you can often see him reading if you look in the window of his shop. He appears to be happier than he was before, this book seems to be the cause.
Papa Martin has had his sorrows. His wife died more than twenty years ago. His son went to sea and hasn’t returned in six years. As for his daughter, if one asks what has become of her a shadow passes over his face and he only shakes his head.
It is Christmas Eve. Outside it is cold and damp, but the shop of Papa Martin is warm and well lit.
He has finished his work and eaten his supper. His stove rumbles and seated in his wicker arm chair, glasses on his nose, he leans over the table and reads, “There was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7).
He stops here to reflect. “No place,” he murmurs, “no place for Him!”
He looks around the clean and neat little room, “There would have been room for Him here, if He had come. What happiness it would give to receive Him! I would have given them the whole place. . . No place for Him. Oh, why doesn’t He come and ask me for a place?”
I am alone, I have no one to care about. Everyone has their family and their friends; who is there in the whole world to care about me? I would love it if He would come to keep me company.”
“What if today was the first Christmas? If this was the night for the Saviour to come into the world? What if He would choose my shop for His coming? How I would serve Him and worship Him. Why doesn’t He show Himself today like He used to?”
“What would I give Him? The Bible says the Magi brought gold, incense and myrrh. I have nothing like that, they were rich, those Magi. But what did the shepherds bring? It doesn’t say, perhaps they didn’t have time. Ah, I know what I would give Him!”
With that, Papa Martin got up and reached up to a shelf where two baby shoes were carefully wrapped.
“This is what I would give Him, my best workmanship. The mother would be happy! But what am I thinking?” He sighed, “How can I imagine such things? As if my Saviour needs my shop and my shoes!”
The old man sank into his chair. It was getting late and it appears that he fell asleep.
“Martin!” said a gentle voice close beside him.
“Who’s there?” cried the cobbler. But as he looked towards the door, he saw no one.
“Martin, you wanted to see me. Watch the street tomorrow, from dawn until evening, you will see me passing by. Try to recognize me, for I will not make myself known to you.”
The voice ceased; Martin rubbed his eyes. The oil in his lamp had run out and it was dark. Midnight sounded from all the clocks: Christmas had come.
“It was Him,” said the old man. “He promised to pass by my shop. Was it only a dream? No matter! I will wait for Him. I have never seen Him, but haven’t I admired His portrait in all the churches? I will surely recognize Him.”
With those thoughts Martin crawled into bed and for a long time his mind was occupied with the strange words that he had heard.
— To be continued —