UNCERTAIN SUNS

words Karim Kattan . artwork Karl Moubarak

Bethlehem, Palestine. Population: 25,266 pious souls. Chief economic sector: tourism. Christian pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity peaks at Christmas and has been a fruitful industry for the past two thousand years. Bethlehem has more hotels than it can hold, and is known worldwide as the quiet little town where Jesus was born. So quiet, in fact, that when her fiery sisters, Nablus, Jenin or Ramallah, fall head first into uprisings, Bethlehem remains relatively placid. The quiet Bayt Lahem has had the same name for the past 3,500 years, its semantic shifting slightly over the years. The House of Meat in Arabic is the House of Bread in Hebrew and Aramaic. But long before that, some say, long before the advent of the Lord of meat and bread, it used to be the House of Lachama, the Chaldean god of fertility whose temple was erected some time in the third millennium BC on the hill of the Nativity. Throughout the ages, Bethlehem has specialized in understated and hushed miracles, the wacky kind that people seldom pay attention to.

The sun shone ambiguously as the crowds poured into the auditorium of the Terra Sancta College for boys in Bethlehem, one Sunday, in August 2013. Later, the most devout and the most business-savvy will both say with certainty that more than ten thousand people attended. Older Christian ladies clenched at the crosses they brought with them (gilded for the poorer women, wooden and traced with silver for the richer ones). Younger Muslim girls readjusted their hijabs and took selfies. The children were starting to fidget. The mothers, who had dragged them to be blessed, shushed them. They have all been waiting for a while now. They shared, each in their own bubble, the same excitement. Everyone was getting ready for the collective hallucination.

The males flexed their muscles; they had to be aloof, responsible, in charge. No miracle, and certainly not one brought about by a woman, for women, would dislodge them from their role. The auditorium, which seats five thousand people, was already packed. Even more people were outside, watching the large outdoor screens that had been conveniently installed around the auditorium. This was for the less lucky and the agoraphobic, who would only catch the televised miracle.

The screens showed the empty stage of the auditorium. She had not arrived yet. She was late. A helpful soul in the crowd informed whoever was within earshot that the ehtilal was probably keeping her at a checkpoint. Yes, naturally, the occupation would not even allow us to delight in this, our only thing - miracles. Bethlehem, Palestine: a picturesque little town best known the world over for its baby gods, its concrete walls and the beasts that slouch towards it, swimming in its waters, crawling in its ground. 

*

It consoles the town, and drives its economy. What a windfall for local businesses that God decided to be borne here; tourists visit year round, in hopeful droves, come rain, come war. They swarm around the Nativity, herded by their ever-watchful guide, himself supervised by the vigilant priests; all of them surveilled by the eye of the occupation. The herd is often European or Korean and its members are all immaculately dressed in white t-shirts and caps. They delight at the olive wood crosses, the mother-of-pearl bibles, the plastic Baby Jesus lamps. Sometimes, when they go back home, they upload videos of alleged Bethlehem miracles. One such video shows a Baby Jesus materializing, like a digital spectre, in the very place where he was born, far below the ground in the grotto of the Nativity. (The pious do not realize, for they rarely know, that this YouTube apparition bears an eerie resemblance to the eldritch digital baby that hounds Ally McBeal’s fragile mind.) 

As the tourists plod down the stairs that lead into the grotto where tradition holds Mary delivered the Christ Savior, they seldom notice, on the column next to the entrance, the 12th century painting of Jesus watching them.

*

The aptly-named Sadiqa, the cleaner of the Nativity, has very thin lips that are curled into an expression of either bliss or bafflement. On that clear morning in 1996, she has just entered the lavishly decorated church. Over the past twenty years, she has grown shorter, but her eyes have grown brighter: in order to enter the Basilica through the one-meter high Door of Humility, even the shortest pilgrims have to bend. Sadiqa understands that.

She is late this morning. Thankfully, the boorish priest is not around yet. Sadiqa sets off to work. She sweeps the floor. The lamps hanging above her are red, green, gold and blue. They jingle softly when the early morning breeze sneaks in through the Door of Humility. 

The light bounces off the lamps in shafts, onto the gilded iconostasis and into the smallest nooks of the murky church, slitting its persistent incense-induced fog. Sadiqa notices a stain. She gently sets her broom down, crouches, and lovingly cleans the floor. When she lifts her head once again, to fix her disheveled half-puff, she notices a shaft of light beaming on the 12th century face of Jesus. It is not just any face, too: it’s her favorite, the one on the Corinthian column. Jesus has dark rings beneath his puppy eyes, and looks disoriented, as if emerging from a sleepless night. Puppy Jesus blinks at her, once, twice. Then he starts shedding tears of blood. For a full minute, he cries as Sadiqa watches. She is dumbstruck. Her thin-lipped mouth opens, showing her gums, her missing teeth; and she breaks into a huge smile. 

Sadiqa is a beautiful woman. It is apparent only when she smiles, although since the end of the Intifada, her laughter had become a cackle. "Unhinged," she heard some say. Her eyes are of the rarest colour of all: the elusive shade of perse. The light, being the forgetful being it is, drifts away, somewhere else, but Sadiqa is forever changed. The colour of her eyes is now fixed. She sits in a corner, still gazing at the Christ that had turned back into a painting. She regains her composure, and sets off looking for that boorish priest.

Most international media were quick to point out, as they came to Bethlehem to cover the story a few weeks before Christmas, that Sadiqa was a Moslem. (In the late 1990s, CNN still wrote the word that way.)

The word travelled quickly in Bethlehem. Doubt was not on the agenda. What Sadiqa said made sense. Armchair experts, whose expertise mainly consisted in having read a few more books than the average, were dispatched. They listened to Sadiqa, and to other onlookers who saw Jesus blink or cry. Christ was shedding his tears for humanity. Not exactly: for his brethren, the Palestinians, some specified. Yes, others concurred, it is the occupation of Palestine that made Jesus cry. Isn’t he, after all, as oppressed as we are? Our town’s biggest star is back. It was about time. The armchair experts told the TV that the sight had been seen by many in Bethlehem, and that this was not the first occurrence. Jesus had cried before the great earthquake of 1927. We are a town accustomed to such visions. A catastrophe is at hand; perhaps the fall of empire. 

The city was shaken. The world would look at us now, they thought. They had forgotten us for so long, hidden us under news reports, and Palestine, and clashes, and Christmas. After the end of the uprising in 1993, with the historic compromise that signed the end of all hope, they had wandered into oblivion. The Nativity business was hit hard. Palestine was all but forgotten; Bethlehem only existed sporadically as a place to pray in or cry on. Sometimes, when the air was cool and the sun shone and the sky assumed its most dazzling blue, Bethlehemites felt like the denizens of someone else's padded dream. Now Bethlehem had swollen once more with flesh. Here was god, incarnate, crying tears of blood. As real as it gets.

Some even claimed that this was a sign of the times; the world was to end the following week. Families told their children to prepare for the joyous occasion. They were not aware they were instilling in them, forever, the feeling of having lived through, and survived, armageddon. 

Sadiqa said none of that. To her, Jesus cried and it only meant that people should stop prevaricating. That they should walk straight, love and respect the church and God, as she kept saying on TV. But the city had become a single mouth, and its voice was stronger than Sadiqa's. The baker told the housewife in the morning, who whispered it to the greengrocer, who told his wife, who proclaimed it to her friends while they played bingo: Jesus cries because the world is evil, irreversibly corrupt. Don't be fooled by the sun at midday in winter. The occupation can only exist because the world is evil. The beast is snarling, and dangling the tantalizing end of the world in front of our eyes. For us only to see, because he has seen us as the victims. 

Somehow, no one - save for a few young children - cared about the end of the world; everyone felt that if the world ended, they would finally be vindicated. 

Sadiqa's countryside accent was on national and international TV. Her face, creased by years of Dettol and secret sobs, was in all the newspapers. She did not care about the exposure. She knew the world was not ending. She looked at the people who were rushing to get their last affairs in order before the end with confusion. Jesus had only asked her for love.

And indeed, a week afterwards, the world still existed. The occupation was as sturdy as ever. The year 2000 was right around the corner, and it was to be Bethlehem's star year. Preparations would be in full swing soon. People carried on. Over the years, they forgot. Most of them remember the occurrence, but confuse it with others. "Wasn’t it the Virgin who cried?" asks one of them; another: "I think my mother saw the tears."

And thus, the week the world ended drifted into the fog, and disappeared altogether from the memory of the city.

*

She has arrived. Vicka, the clear-eyed visionary. Where does she come from? The east, someone says, meaning Eastern Europe. No one really cares to know the actual name of the country, but it is said that the sun is often topsy-turvy in her land; sometimes, it is even haloed by crosses and hearts. Revelations sometimes come in Snapchat filters. 

They look at their own, uncertain sun. They feel wistful: another uprising had gone horribly wrong just a few years prior. Everyone was resigned. Why does the Virgin appear there, to this clear-eyed visionary, why not here, where we the despondent, the broken, the ugly, need her? Do we not look like you, Maryam? Why would you forsake your children and your kin? Vicka steps on the stage. She is in her fifties and beautiful. Her smile is blissful; her eyes have the ocean-like quality of the insane. The audience recognizes it. According to some statistics, Palestine has the highest proportion of mental disorders in the Middle-East, and therefore the world. Vicka's eyes have crossed borderlines that most are not aware of. They have too. She is, like them, about to collapse. Like them, she is a PTSD miracle.

Is Sadiqa still alive? Is she here, an anonymous figure in the crowd, expectantly waiting to meet Vicka, her other self? She must have read it in the papers, a few days before, as she was drinking her morning coffee. On the day of the apparition, she rose before the sun. She prayed. She felt just like that day, when the shafts of light guided her towards the truth. She felt in love, tremendously so. She left her house early, she wanted to be among the first at the auditorium. She hailed a service car, squeezed her way to her seat between an old sheikh and an obese woman. Both of them had a musky body odor that overtook Sadiqa's senses but she smiled, all perfume, the color of her eyes still fixed. She did not feel the bumps on the road. 

She got off at the Nativity. She wanted to say hi to an old friend. She hadn't been inside the church for a few years now. The younger priests might not recognize her, and the older ones had been sent away, to higher callings. She bowed to pass through the door of humility. The familiar folding, followed by the opening, of the body. She recognized the smell. He was still here, Puppy Jesus, her friend who had begged her to love him.

*

When Vicka steps on the stage, Sadiqa does not realize that she is like a softer version of herself; one that has not had to weather occupation, poverty and humiliations. Sadiqa does not feel that life has been particularly unjust to her. Isn't she seated among the richest men and women of the world; those who have eyes enough to see miracles? She gazes at this woman. Sadiqa is not conniving or mean-spirited. She remembers those that said that of her, back in the day, accusing her of making all of this up. How could they so blatantly lack belief? The priest had confirmed her visions, although the Vatican had not; but who listens to this far away emperor who knows nothing of the smell and the texture of the land? His religion is disembodied, Sadiqa feels. Puppy Jesus is enough. 

She saw a miracle only once; Vicka sees the Virgin every single day of her life. She feels no pang of jealousy towards this woman, at having been bereft of an apparition for so many years. Perhaps by sitting this close to her, she can reconnect to this sacredness. She listens intently, as Vicka describes her discussions with Mary. Vicka explains how she was transported to heaven, then to purgatory, then hell, and describes each of these places in detail. Sadiqa loses interests in these quaint descriptions, but tries to detect, in Vicka's voice that coils in the air of the auditorium something of herself. Maybe she should talk to Vicka afterwards, rush to the stage, take her aside, tell her of her own private miracle. They did not speak the same language on earth but surely, they would communicate better than anyone else.

Sadiqa snaps out of her daydream all of a sudden. Something quivers. She caresses her sprayed half-puff. Her hair is as disheveled as ever. She must seem so innocuous to the others; a relic of a Bethlehem past, her clothes, her hair, even her lips. A trembling and frail survivor of the dark years. They cannot see how alive she is, at this instant. She is enraptured, to be exact: Vicka is recounting how she had marveled at the Virgin's beauty, who appears as an indescribably beautiful twenty-year old woman. Mary had answered: "I am beautiful because I love you. You must love in order to be beautiful." Sadiqa knew it. Yes, yes, she's always known: this is why she has always felt beautiful.

Vicka falls silent. The audience waits expectantly. Sadiqa's hands are joined at her heart. Then Vicka speaks again. Her voice has a new clarity to it, that makes the air tremble. "I have an announcement ." The audience, as a single body, holds its breath. Sadiqa knows what Vicka will say. She presses her hands harder against her heart. 

"The Virgin," Vicka says, her voice breaking, "will be with us today." 

*

When they left the auditorium, everything felt certain to them. The heart was not desperately wicked and the sons of men were not full of evil. The sun shone with renewed certainty. Something, in the ground or in their hearts, had shifted. It was unquestionable. The beast had fled. Bethlehem had been teleported back to the real world, after all these occult years. They knew the world would see them now. 

UNCERTAIN SUNS

words Karim Kattan . artwork Karl Moubarak

Bethlehem, Palestine. Population: 25,266 pious souls. Chief economic sector: tourism. Christian pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity peaks at Christmas and has been a fruitful industry for the past two thousand years. Bethlehem has more hotels than it can hold, and is known worldwide as the quiet little town where Jesus was born. So quiet, in fact, that when her fiery sisters, Nablus, Jenin or Ramallah, fall head first into uprisings, Bethlehem remains relatively placid. The quiet Bayt Lahem has had the same name for the past 3,500 years, its semantic shifting slightly over the years. The House of Meat in Arabic is the House of Bread in Hebrew and Aramaic. But long before that, some say, long before the advent of the Lord of meat and bread, it used to be the House of Lachama, the Chaldean god of fertility whose temple was erected some time in the third millennium BC on the hill of the Nativity. Throughout the ages, Bethlehem has specialized in understated and hushed miracles, the wacky kind that people seldom pay attention to.

The sun shone ambiguously as the crowds poured into the auditorium of the Terra Sancta College for boys in Bethlehem, one Sunday, in August 2013. Later, the most devout and the most business-savvy will both say with certainty that more than ten thousand people attended. Older Christian ladies clenched at the crosses they brought with them (gilded for the poorer women, wooden and traced with silver for the richer ones). Younger Muslim girls readjusted their hijabs and took selfies. The children were starting to fidget. The mothers, who had dragged them to be blessed, shushed them. They have all been waiting for a while now. They shared, each in their own bubble, the same excitement. Everyone was getting ready for the collective hallucination.

The males flexed their muscles; they had to be aloof, responsible, in charge. No miracle, and certainly not one brought about by a woman, for women, would dislodge them from their role. The auditorium, which seats five thousand people, was already packed. Even more people were outside, watching the large outdoor screens that had been conveniently installed around the auditorium. This was for the less lucky and the agoraphobic, who would only catch the televised miracle.

The screens showed the empty stage of the auditorium. She had not arrived yet. She was late. A helpful soul in the crowd informed whoever was within earshot that the ehtilal was probably keeping her at a checkpoint. Yes, naturally, the occupation would not even allow us to delight in this, our only thing - miracles. Bethlehem, Palestine: a picturesque little town best known the world over for its baby gods, its concrete walls and the beasts that slouch towards it, swimming in its waters, crawling in its ground. 

*

It consoles the town, and drives its economy. What a windfall for local businesses that God decided to be borne here; tourists visit year round, in hopeful droves, come rain, come war. They swarm around the Nativity, herded by their ever-watchful guide, himself supervised by the vigilant priests; all of them surveilled by the eye of the occupation. The herd is often European or Korean and its members are all immaculately dressed in white t-shirts and caps. They delight at the olive wood crosses, the mother-of-pearl bibles, the plastic Baby Jesus lamps. Sometimes, when they go back home, they upload videos of alleged Bethlehem miracles. One such video shows a Baby Jesus materializing, like a digital spectre, in the very place where he was born, far below the ground in the grotto of the Nativity. (The pious do not realize, for they rarely know, that this YouTube apparition bears an eerie resemblance to the eldritch digital baby that hounds Ally McBeal’s fragile mind.) 

As the tourists plod down the stairs that lead into the grotto where tradition holds Mary delivered the Christ Savior, they seldom notice, on the column next to the entrance, the 12th century painting of Jesus watching them.

*

The aptly-named Sadiqa, the cleaner of the Nativity, has very thin lips that are curled into an expression of either bliss or bafflement. On that clear morning in 1996, she has just entered the lavishly decorated church. Over the past twenty years, she has grown shorter, but her eyes have grown brighter: in order to enter the Basilica through the one-meter high Door of Humility, even the shortest pilgrims have to bend. Sadiqa understands that.

She is late this morning. Thankfully, the boorish priest is not around yet. Sadiqa sets off to work. She sweeps the floor. The lamps hanging above her are red, green, gold and blue. They jingle softly when the early morning breeze sneaks in through the Door of Humility. 

The light bounces off the lamps in shafts, onto the gilded iconostasis and into the smallest nooks of the murky church, slitting its persistent incense-induced fog. Sadiqa notices a stain. She gently sets her broom down, crouches, and lovingly cleans the floor. When she lifts her head once again, to fix her disheveled half-puff, she notices a shaft of light beaming on the 12th century face of Jesus. It is not just any face, too: it’s her favorite, the one on the Corinthian column. Jesus has dark rings beneath his puppy eyes, and looks disoriented, as if emerging from a sleepless night. Puppy Jesus blinks at her, once, twice. Then he starts shedding tears of blood. For a full minute, he cries as Sadiqa watches. She is dumbstruck. Her thin-lipped mouth opens, showing her gums, her missing teeth; and she breaks into a huge smile. 

Sadiqa is a beautiful woman. It is apparent only when she smiles, although since the end of the Intifada, her laughter had become a cackle. "Unhinged," she heard some say. Her eyes are of the rarest colour of all: the elusive shade of perse. The light, being the forgetful being it is, drifts away, somewhere else, but Sadiqa is forever changed. The colour of her eyes is now fixed. She sits in a corner, still gazing at the Christ that had turned back into a painting. She regains her composure, and sets off looking for that boorish priest.

Most international media were quick to point out, as they came to Bethlehem to cover the story a few weeks before Christmas, that Sadiqa was a Moslem. (In the late 1990s, CNN still wrote the word that way.)

The word travelled quickly in Bethlehem. Doubt was not on the agenda. What Sadiqa said made sense. Armchair experts, whose expertise mainly consisted in having read a few more books than the average, were dispatched. They listened to Sadiqa, and to other onlookers who saw Jesus blink or cry. Christ was shedding his tears for humanity. Not exactly: for his brethren, the Palestinians, some specified. Yes, others concurred, it is the occupation of Palestine that made Jesus cry. Isn’t he, after all, as oppressed as we are? Our town’s biggest star is back. It was about time. The armchair experts told the TV that the sight had been seen by many in Bethlehem, and that this was not the first occurrence. Jesus had cried before the great earthquake of 1927. We are a town accustomed to such visions. A catastrophe is at hand; perhaps the fall of empire. 

The city was shaken. The world would look at us now, they thought. They had forgotten us for so long, hidden us under news reports, and Palestine, and clashes, and Christmas. After the end of the uprising in 1993, with the historic compromise that signed the end of all hope, they had wandered into oblivion. The Nativity business was hit hard. Palestine was all but forgotten; Bethlehem only existed sporadically as a place to pray in or cry on. Sometimes, when the air was cool and the sun shone and the sky assumed its most dazzling blue, Bethlehemites felt like the denizens of someone else's padded dream. Now Bethlehem had swollen once more with flesh. Here was god, incarnate, crying tears of blood. As real as it gets.

Some even claimed that this was a sign of the times; the world was to end the following week. Families told their children to prepare for the joyous occasion. They were not aware they were instilling in them, forever, the feeling of having lived through, and survived, armageddon. 

Sadiqa said none of that. To her, Jesus cried and it only meant that people should stop prevaricating. That they should walk straight, love and respect the church and God, as she kept saying on TV. But the city had become a single mouth, and its voice was stronger than Sadiqa's. The baker told the housewife in the morning, who whispered it to the greengrocer, who told his wife, who proclaimed it to her friends while they played bingo: Jesus cries because the world is evil, irreversibly corrupt. Don't be fooled by the sun at midday in winter. The occupation can only exist because the world is evil. The beast is snarling, and dangling the tantalizing end of the world in front of our eyes. For us only to see, because he has seen us as the victims. 

Somehow, no one - save for a few young children - cared about the end of the world; everyone felt that if the world ended, they would finally be vindicated. 

Sadiqa's countryside accent was on national and international TV. Her face, creased by years of Dettol and secret sobs, was in all the newspapers. She did not care about the exposure. She knew the world was not ending. She looked at the people who were rushing to get their last affairs in order before the end with confusion. Jesus had only asked her for love.

And indeed, a week afterwards, the world still existed. The occupation was as sturdy as ever. The year 2000 was right around the corner, and it was to be Bethlehem's star year. Preparations would be in full swing soon. People carried on. Over the years, they forgot. Most of them remember the occurrence, but confuse it with others. "Wasn’t it the Virgin who cried?" asks one of them; another: "I think my mother saw the tears."

And thus, the week the world ended drifted into the fog, and disappeared altogether from the memory of the city.

*

She has arrived. Vicka, the clear-eyed visionary. Where does she come from? The east, someone says, meaning Eastern Europe. No one really cares to know the actual name of the country, but it is said that the sun is often topsy-turvy in her land; sometimes, it is even haloed by crosses and hearts. Revelations sometimes come in Snapchat filters. 

They look at their own, uncertain sun. They feel wistful: another uprising had gone horribly wrong just a few years prior. Everyone was resigned. Why does the Virgin appear there, to this clear-eyed visionary, why not here, where we the despondent, the broken, the ugly, need her? Do we not look like you, Maryam? Why would you forsake your children and your kin? Vicka steps on the stage. She is in her fifties and beautiful. Her smile is blissful; her eyes have the ocean-like quality of the insane. The audience recognizes it. According to some statistics, Palestine has the highest proportion of mental disorders in the Middle-East, and therefore the world. Vicka's eyes have crossed borderlines that most are not aware of. They have too. She is, like them, about to collapse. Like them, she is a PTSD miracle.

Is Sadiqa still alive? Is she here, an anonymous figure in the crowd, expectantly waiting to meet Vicka, her other self? She must have read it in the papers, a few days before, as she was drinking her morning coffee. On the day of the apparition, she rose before the sun. She prayed. She felt just like that day, when the shafts of light guided her towards the truth. She felt in love, tremendously so. She left her house early, she wanted to be among the first at the auditorium. She hailed a service car, squeezed her way to her seat between an old sheikh and an obese woman. Both of them had a musky body odor that overtook Sadiqa's senses but she smiled, all perfume, the color of her eyes still fixed. She did not feel the bumps on the road. 

She got off at the Nativity. She wanted to say hi to an old friend. She hadn't been inside the church for a few years now. The younger priests might not recognize her, and the older ones had been sent away, to higher callings. She bowed to pass through the door of humility. The familiar folding, followed by the opening, of the body. She recognized the smell. He was still here, Puppy Jesus, her friend who had begged her to love him.

*

When Vicka steps on the stage, Sadiqa does not realize that she is like a softer version of herself; one that has not had to weather occupation, poverty and humiliations. Sadiqa does not feel that life has been particularly unjust to her. Isn't she seated among the richest men and women of the world; those who have eyes enough to see miracles? She gazes at this woman. Sadiqa is not conniving or mean-spirited. She remembers those that said that of her, back in the day, accusing her of making all of this up. How could they so blatantly lack belief? The priest had confirmed her visions, although the Vatican had not; but who listens to this far away emperor who knows nothing of the smell and the texture of the land? His religion is disembodied, Sadiqa feels. Puppy Jesus is enough. 

She saw a miracle only once; Vicka sees the Virgin every single day of her life. She feels no pang of jealousy towards this woman, at having been bereft of an apparition for so many years. Perhaps by sitting this close to her, she can reconnect to this sacredness. She listens intently, as Vicka describes her discussions with Mary. Vicka explains how she was transported to heaven, then to purgatory, then hell, and describes each of these places in detail. Sadiqa loses interests in these quaint descriptions, but tries to detect, in Vicka's voice that coils in the air of the auditorium something of herself. Maybe she should talk to Vicka afterwards, rush to the stage, take her aside, tell her of her own private miracle. They did not speak the same language on earth but surely, they would communicate better than anyone else.

Sadiqa snaps out of her daydream all of a sudden. Something quivers. She caresses her sprayed half-puff. Her hair is as disheveled as ever. She must seem so innocuous to the others; a relic of a Bethlehem past, her clothes, her hair, even her lips. A trembling and frail survivor of the dark years. They cannot see how alive she is, at this instant. She is enraptured, to be exact: Vicka is recounting how she had marveled at the Virgin's beauty, who appears as an indescribably beautiful twenty-year old woman. Mary had answered: "I am beautiful because I love you. You must love in order to be beautiful." Sadiqa knew it. Yes, yes, she's always known: this is why she has always felt beautiful.

Vicka falls silent. The audience waits expectantly. Sadiqa's hands are joined at her heart. Then Vicka speaks again. Her voice has a new clarity to it, that makes the air tremble. "I have an announcement ." The audience, as a single body, holds its breath. Sadiqa knows what Vicka will say. She presses her hands harder against her heart. 

"The Virgin," Vicka says, her voice breaking, "will be with us today." 

*

When they left the auditorium, everything felt certain to them. The heart was not desperately wicked and the sons of men were not full of evil. The sun shone with renewed certainty. Something, in the ground or in their hearts, had shifted. It was unquestionable. The beast had fled. Bethlehem had been teleported back to the real world, after all these occult years. They knew the world would see them now.