Again the solemn stillness; and then with one voice the children cried out in response to the auburn-haired lady’s question:
“We have come to bring gifts to the Child in the cradle!”
“Come, then,” she replied.
Then, as I watched, great books were opened and the lady began to read the names that were written in them. In her strong, sweet, musical voice she tolled them out one by one, calling the roll of all the children who were present in that impossibly beautiful place at the edge of the sea. One by one the children came forward as their names were called and knelt at the foot of the cradle. And as each knelt, the lady would smile and say, “What gift do you bring?”
For a long, long while I lay in the boy’s arms watching them approach the cradle one after the other, each at the sound of his or her name. Name after name was called, and still I did not hear my own on the lady’s lips. Time passed and I waited, ears cocked and eyes fixed upon the reader’s face, every little muscle in my tiny body tense with anticipation. I was as taut as a bow-string, yet strangely free from even the slightest of anxious doubts.
More time passed, and I seemed to see myself in a dream. As if out of another world or another age, a time only dimly recalled, a memory came to me: a girl tensed upon the edge of her seat, leaning across her desk into the aisle, listening to the teacher calling out scores at the head of the class, fully confident of a good result, yet nearly sick with the strain of waiting, endlessly waiting. I felt as if my entire existence, from the day I sat at that desk in that other world up to this very moment, had been nothing but one long spun-out strand of expectant longing, of wishing and hoping for something shortly to be revealed.
It was the voice of the auburn lady that roused me from my reverie. “What gift do you bring?” I heard her say again. Blinking, I opened my eyes and watched as the little pilgrims streamed forward, each in turn bowing and kneeling before the cradle. Amazed, I saw what wondrous things they brought forth from the folds of their white robes in answer to the lady’s question. Though I would be hard pressed to name a single one of those gifts now, I well recall that each and every one of them bespoke skills, possessions, wisdom, and experience out of all proportion with the size and appearance of the bearers. I marveled that this should be so. And I wondered what gift I would offer when my time came.