Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur

11/5/2004

Looking For Christ: Chapter Ten

Filed under: Looking For Christ — Laura Moncur @ 6:00 am

Here is Chapter Ten…

Chapter Word Count: 4476

Monthly Word Count: 4476

“Look who I found on the road to Galilee.” Simon had his arm around Petros’ shoulders, “It looks like he was going to leave us while we wait for our sister.” Ambigo had just come back from bringing water to the camp. They had started completing their respective duties to set up for the evening. Father Garcia approached Petros and Simon. He gently removed Simon’s protective grip from Petros, “I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding. Our friend Petros was clear that his wife could not spare him another day.” Petros relaxed at the removal of Simon’s hold. The glimmer of terror receded in his eyes, “Yes, I must return home.”

Father Garcia walked toward the camp, enticing Petros to follow him. He addressed his words to Petros, but he kept his eyes squarely on Simon, “You know that we can’t force you to stay with us overnight while we wait for our sister, but we would very much appreciate it if you would. If you are to be a fisher of men, then you need to learn which ones are large enough to keep and which ones need to be thrown back.” The entire team drew in large breaths at the words “fisher of men.” Petros seemed as if he was deep in thought.

Jaime moved closer to them, focusing on them with his uninjured eye. Petros addressed his words to Father Garcia, but kept his eyes squarely on Simon, “So that is what you call me? The Fisher of Men? How long have you been hunting me?” A quiet pallor fell over Father Garcia. He asked the team in English, “Did I just call him The Fisher of Men?” Ambigo vigorously nodded his head and Jaime was quick to speak, “I got it on film.” Simon shook with anger, “Jesus! Didn’t you listen during the MULTIPLE non-contamination meetings?!” Tad rushed to calm Simon, “None of us are beyond reproach. As I recall we all said things we regretted when we first realized who he was. Somebody called him The Rock and I believe it was you who said you were named after him. We’re all doing the best we can do.”

They faced him again with guilty looks on their faces. Father Garcia resumed in Aramaic, “You seem to be a fisher of men to me. Didn’t you say something about searching out men who have interesting thoughts?” Petros’ eyes flitted from one team member to another. He had inched away from Father Garcia, but the team surrounded him. He acted like an animal held in a trap. His gaze stopped on Ambigo, “Tell me the truth.” Ambigo squirmed under the desperate man’s question and the waiting eyes of his team members. Jaime turned his good eye toward him and squinted it accusingly. Ambigo stuttered out the truth, “W…we aren’t hunting you. We have heard stories about you, but we are more interested in…” Ambigo paused in thought, “We are looking for a rabbi from Nazareth. It was rumored that you know this man, but we weren’t looking for you. Now that we’ve found you, though, we want to stay close to you so that we can meet the rabbi when you see him again.” He heard the team breathe a sigh of relief.

Petros fidgeted and processed what Ambigo said. He looked as if he was torn, “I don’t know a rabbi from Nazareth.” Father Garcia broke in, nearing Petros, but the man backed away from him, “It may be that you know this man, but do not know his origins. You may have met him and found him interesting, but you didn’t remember him at first.” Ambigo saw the team crowd Petros again and felt himself instinctively move toward him. For a brief moment, he saw the situation as an outsider. Father Garcia, Tad and Simon were treating Petros like prey. It was no wonder that the man felt hunted. Ambigo stepped away from the team. Petros saw the opening near Ambigo and inched closer to him. Ambigo took the opportunity to speak, “I believe you. It appears that we were misinformed.” Simon watched him incredulously, but Father Garcia held up his hand. Ambigo continued speaking and backing away from the rest of the team, allowing Petros more breathing room. Petros asked him, “Tell me the truth. Why do you search for this man?”

Ambigo took another step away from Petros, and Petros followed him. He blew out a large sigh, “We heard he is a great man. We just want to listen to him talk and follow him around for awhile.” Petros’ eyes rested on Simon. He looked at Ambigo again, “Tell me the truth!” Ambigo shrugged his shoulders and took another step away from the hunted man, “You want the truth? I’m here because I thought it would be a fun adventure. Those guys,” he pointed at the rest of the team, “believe this guy is the son of God, so I guess they are here because they think they’ll go to heaven or something.”

Father Garcia and Tad cringed at Ambigo’s words. Petros took another step toward Ambigo and queried, “Heaven?” Ambigo looked to Father Garcia to answer the question, but the Father was motioning toward Tad and Simon. He shrugged, “Yeah, heaven. That paradise place that you go after you die?” Petros involuntarily shook his head and took another step toward Ambigo, unaware of the rest of the team creeping closer toward him from behind. Petros replied, “Worm food. That’s what happens when you die.” Ambigo started to respond, but he was interrupted by the rest of the team.

Simon moved first and held Petros firmly. Father Garcia and Tad rushed him and helped hold him still. Within seconds, Simon had the man bound tightly. The crowd waiting for John the Baptist only gave the activity a cursory glance as if men were attacked and bound every day. Ambigo was livid and cursing in English, “God dammit what are you doing? Have you lost your minds?” Father Garcia calmly responded in Aramaic, “Petros is very important. We can’t leave our sister, so we will assure that he stays with us until tomorrow.” Ambigo turned toward Simon still speaking in English, “He doesn’t trust us. He thinks we’re Roman spies. Tying him up isn’t going to help the situation.”

Simon held up his hand to Ambigo and spoke in Aramaic, “That was perfect, by the way. That move where you backed away from him, drawing him closer to you so that we could surround him. I bet you didn’t know that it was Julius Caesar who first invented that military tactic.” Ambigo protested in English, “I wasn’t trying to draw him closer to me. I was trying to give him some breathing room. We were crowding him and he said we were hunting him. I wanted to put him at ease.” Tad nodded and responded in Aramaic, “You did.”

If Ambigo thought that there was terror in Petros’ eyes before, he was wrong. The man was shaking with fear and screaming to the crowd to help him. Simon rushed him, covering his mouth, “Quiet or I will bind your mouth as well as your body.” The captive man scanned the faces of the team, resting on Ambigo, “Why? I am a good man. I pay my taxes to Caesar. Why? What have I done to anger Rome?” Ambigo shook his head, “Nothing. We ARE NOT Roman spies. Everything I have told you is true. We are just…” He scanned his team mates in shame, “…we just really need to find this rabbi.”

Tears began forming in Petros’ eyes, “I know nothing of this rabbi. I have to get home to my wife. I’ve done nothing to you.” Ambigo looked to Father Garcia. The priest answered Petros, “We cannot leave our sister. We will take you back to your wife tomorrow morning when she is released. I promise you that we will take you home tomorrow…” his eyes focused on Simon, “…unharmed.” Father Garcia’s eyes were warm and calm. Petros’ breathing slowed and the fear leeched from his eyes. He watched them finish setting up camp as if he were an animal meant to be the main course.

Ambigo took over Madi’s job of collecting firewood. As he collected, he encountered a young girl. She spoke with him freely, “Collecting wood?” He looked at the ringworm on her arm and cringed, “Yes,” She watched him continue to pick up pieces of wood, “Why did you tie that man up?” Ambigo shrugged, “He’s our friend, but he was trying to leave early. We need to make sure he stays with us.” She nodded, “My uncle has the demon. Sometimes we have to tie him up so that he won’t hurt himself.” Ambigo nodded and realized that a lie of that sort would have been a more plausible story than the truth.

He kept collecting, avoiding the little girl, but she insisted on following him. “Why do you collect so much wood? Aren’t you going to come to the bonfire?” Ambigo stopped collecting, “Bonfire?” She moved closer to him, “Yes. Every night my town hosts a bonfire for the visitors. You can buy the necklaces I make for your woman.” She pulled his tunic for him to follow. The shanty town set up near the cave looked primitive and temporary, unlike Marit’s very permanent homestead. Ambigo saw the preparations for the bonfire and he was surrounded by women peddling wares. He lost his young guide, but he was able to find his way back to the cave.

“There’s going to be a bonfire at the little town over there. We should go.” The rest of the team looked at Petros. Jaime voiced their worries, “What do we do with him?” Ambigo shrugged, “Let’s bring him along.” He deposited his firewood and removed the bindings from Petros’ feet. In English, he muttered to the team, “Maybe this is where Peter is supposed to meet Jesus. Maybe he’s among us right now and we just haven’t found him yet.” Father Garcia smiled at Ambigo and shook his head, “You’re just hoping they feed us. You’re sick of goat cheese.” Ambigo laughed and replied in Aramaic, “I thought no such thing.” Jaime laughed, “I did.”

Ambigo led the team to the makeshift town that had camped near the cave. The light was fading and the air was starting to cool. For the first time, Ambigo saw people of all different kinds. Asians, Mid-Eastern, Caucasians and a wide variety of mixed races were there. Ambigo felt more at ease with the assorted faces. He commented to the team in English, “I guess we didn’t need a homogenous mix of skin color. Anyone could have come.” Jaime was busy filming the multicultural collection of beggars and salesmen. Simon had his hands full leading Petros. Tad replied, “I had no idea…”

Ambigo’s young friend approached them. Her arms were lined with necklaces, “Buy a pretty necklace for your woman. She is chosen of God. She needs a necklace.” Ambigo patted her on the head, “I have no money.” Jaime looked at the necklaces, “Tad, let’s get one for Madi.” Tad crinkled his brow, “No. We only have a little bit of money. We need to save it for essentials.” The young girl was an adept salesgirl, “To a woman, a necklace is a necessity.” Tad laughed at her. Ambigo worried about the ringworm on her arm, “Where is your mother? I need to talk to her.” The girl responded politely, “My mother is gone. I am alone. That is why I sell necklaces.” Tad laughed again, “Tell your mother that we will only do business with her. Maybe I will buy a necklace if you find your mother.”

The young girl sulked away and Tad responded, “We’ll see how quickly she comes back with her mother. I’ve heard the same story so many times whether they are selling necklaces or chicle. They are all the same.” Ambigo observed the priest with skepticism, “Well, this little girl has ringworm and I need to talk to someone who can help her.” Jaime placed his hand on Ambigo’s arm, “We can’t cure them all, healer.”

The scent of freshly cooked meat attracted them, but the prices that the vendors were charging for it were so exorbitant that Tad refused to allow a single coin pass from his hands. The team found a warm spot near the bonfire and tried to enjoy their goat cheese. Soon the crowds were sitting with them. Singing started and eventually a jovial fellow offered his leftover meat to the team. They gratefully took it and ate heartily.

When they finished eating, the man stood up, “Sing!” he commanded them. They looked at each other and shook their heads. “You must sing! You ate our meat; you must entertain us with a song.” Father Garcia tried to dissuade the happy man, “We are from a distant land. All the songs that we know are in our native tongue. They would not be enjoyed.” The man would have none of it. The memory of the team singing “Amazing Grace” haunted Ambigo. He couldn’t bear to sit through another hymn. He volunteered, “I’ll sing.” He saw Simon breathe a sigh of relief and Father Garcia motioned for him to stand before the crowd.

When he stood up, he realized that he had no idea what he was going to sing. He was so averse to hearing more hymns that he had volunteered with nothing in mind except his own comfort. He scanned his mind for songs. The only thing he could think of was the lovely vision of Andrea’s face. She loved music. Her favorite had been a strange country singer who sang about drug addicts. Ambigo searched his mind for the name and the tune jumped into his mind, “This song,” he talked to the crowd, “is about a man who is saved by a woman.” He started out slowly at first, not quite remembering the words or the tune, but by the time he got to the chorus, he was singing proudly and loud.

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go into the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own

As he sang, he thought of Andrea during her country music phase. She had convinced herself that country music was the lost folk art of America and she listened to nothing but that genre for years. While Ambigo and the rest of the teens of his generation listened to the technological wonder of Automatic Music, the Andrea obsessed over the obscure and famous of years past. She had found John Prine by way of John Denver and listened to every note of music produced by the man.

Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naive
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve
Well, she danced around the bar room and she did the hoochy-coo
Yeah she sang her song all night long, tellin’ me what to do

Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go into the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own

There was a time when Ambigo thought that he would enjoy a life of simplicity with Andrea. He remembered singing this very song with her in her beat up old car that she had found for a steal. She played the song over and over until he was able to sing every word just as flawless as she did. It was the only song that he truly knew the words to. Automatic Music was different every time it played and fed off the emotions of the listeners. Country music seemed to be something one listened to when one was depressed or sad, but this song always felt happy to him.

Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place
When just as I was leavin’, well she looked me in the face
I said “You must know the answer.”
She said, “No but I’ll give it a try.”
And to this very day we’ve been livin’ our way
And here is the reason why

We blew up our TV threw away our paper
Went into the country, built us a home
Had a lot of children, fed ‘em on peaches
They all found Jesus on their own

When he finished singing, the crowd of people gathered around the fire burst into shouting and noisy approval. He was surprised at their reaction, but he was even more surprised at the look of horror on the faces of his teammates. He realized that he had done something horribly wrong and hurried to sit down, but the jovial leader of the shanty town pulled him back up, “Now you have to teach us!” Ambigo shook his head and tried to pull away from the man, but he was held tightly in the fat man’s grip.

“Tell us the story of the song!” the ruler demanded. Ambigo looked to Father Garcia for guidance. He didn’t know what he had done wrong. For all he knew, he had just offended them for singing about a topless dancer, but when he looked to Simon, he was just as disgusted with Ambigo. He looked at the leader and tried to smile, “It is the story of a man who meets a woman. She tells him what he needs to do in his life to be happy.” He hoped that was enough, but the leader asked questions, “Where did he meet this woman?

Ambigo crinkled his brow and tried to think about an equivalent for a topless bar, “He met her at a place where you can drink.” The man translated for the crowd, “They met at a well. “ The crowd inexplicably cheered. At those words, Simon stood up and pulled Ambigo away from the leader. The leader took his arm instead and asked Simon the questions, “Why didn’t the woman have a chaperone to keep the man from talking to her?” Simon looked at the crowd, “She was a prostitute.” The crowd burst into laughter. The leader voiced their joy, “A prostitute told the man how to be happy?! What did she tell him? What gates of pleasure did she open up to him?” The crowd laughed with raunchy merriment and Simon gave a panicked look to Father Garcia.

Father Garcia shrugged and Simon grabbed Ambigo, nearly throwing him back to the jovial man. “So, tell us. What wise words did the prostitute tell the man?” Ambigo looked at the crowd. They were expecting an exciting and sexually explicit story and all he had was a bunch of peaches, “I’ll teach you. She said, ‘Blow up your TV.’” He said the English lyrics and explained them in Aramaic to them, “That means you shouldn’t spend too much time entertaining yourself. Then she said, ‘Throw away your paper.’ That means you shouldn’t worry too much about bad news. ‘Move into the country’ means find a peaceful place that brings you closer to nature. ‘Build you a home’ Build a home. Find yourself a place that you can call your own. ‘Plant a little garden’ means plant a garden and live off the sweat of your brow. ‘Eat a lot of peaches’ means eat a lot of…”

He faltered. He couldn’t think of the Aramaic word for peach. He hadn’t seen a peach for months. He thought to himself that if he had known that he wasn’t going to be able to eat a peach for five years, he would have had one before he left. “It means, eat a lot of figs.” He couldn’t think of a fruit that he had seen that was closer to a peach, “That part is just funny and you’re supposed to laugh at that. And last she said ‘Try and find Jesus on your own.’ That means you should find a closer connection to God and you have to do it alone.” Ambigo looked to the man, hoping that he would finally be released.

The man paused as if he was thinking, but Ambigo could tell that he was acting for the benefit of the crowd. He screamed with a happy voice, “That is good advice! Good advice from a prostitute!” The crowd burst into a roaring cheer and the energy of them scared Ambigo. “So, tell us! What happened to the man? Did he find happiness?” Ambigo looked at the team, wondering if he should continue. They had a look of angry resignation, so he answered, “He married the woman. They stopped spending time entertaining themselves. They stopped worrying about bad news. They moved to a peaceful place where they felt close to nature and built a home to call their own. They planted a garden and survived off the land. They had a lot of children and fed them a lot of figs. And…” He paused for effect. The crowd watched him silently. He finished loudly like a man possessed, “And they were close to God!” The crowd burst into cheering and applause.

He tried to slip away and they cheered and hit sticks together, but the portly man held him tightly, “Teach us to sing it! Teach us to sing this song!” Ambigo sang the chorus over and over for what seemed like hours until their Aramaic tongues could sing the country western words. Flasks of wine were passed around and the voices became slurred and sloppy. By the end of the evening, the crowd was expertly singing the chorus to a song that wouldn’t be written for almost two thousand years.

When it was time to leave the bonfire, Simon took a flaming log with them to start their own meager fire by the cave. They lead Petros back to their small camp and made him as comfortable as they could, while keeping him bound tightly. Petros was full of questions, “That song that you sang. Is it the story of your woman?” Ambigo could see him by the orange glow of the fire, “No… It’s just a song from my land. Madi is NOT a prostitute. What would make you think that she is?” Ambigo looked at him firmly.

Petros scanned the team. He had the attention of all of them, “She is tattooed like the prostitutes of the far south. She does not have the dark skin of the Nubians, but she has the scars of their concubines. You say she is your sister, but she looks like none of you. You keep your eyes away from her scars as if they are a mark of shame. If she once was a prostitute and you married her, there is no shame now. Why do you deny it?” Ambigo looked at him incredulously and was unable to answer.

Father Garcia stepped in for him, “She is not and has never been a prostitute. Her father gave her those scars. He was an evil man and he was punished for the crime. She is closer to God because of this. That is why she was willing to come with us to this land to look for the rabbi from Nazareth.” Petros nodded, “Yes, she is chosen of God. When she was cleansed, the spirit of God flew out of the cave. She is chosen.” Jaime interceded, “Actually, that’s not true. I saw that bird walk into the cave. I watched the cave carefully the whole time and it was the same bird that was chased out. It wasn’t the spirit of God, it was a just a bird.” Father Garcia looked at Jaime as if to ask if it was true and Jaime nodded in response.

Petros queried, “If she is not a prostitute, why did you give her to John the Baptist for the evening?” The team looked to Father Garcia for the answer, “I did not give her to him. She is staying with him so that he can…” A look came over Father Garcia as if he never realized how the exchange may have looked. “She is staying with him so that he can tell her his sins. You’re right, Petros. She has been chosen, but she was chosen by John to wash his sins from him, just as yours were washed from you.” Guilt and shame covered Petros’ face and Ambigo felt the rush of blood come to his face as he thought of his encounter with John the Baptist.

“I didn’t realize that it might be perceived differently,” Father Garcia revealed. “I have made many mistakes today. I hope that I can do better tomorrow.” The priest looked at the bound hands and feet of Petros, “If I release you, will you run away from us?” A noise that sounded like a cross between a screech and a burp escaped from Simon. Petros answered, “No. I won’t run away. It’s not safe to travel alone in the dark. I will stay with you here until tomorrow morning when your woman is free.” Father Garcia struggled with Simon’s expert knots and was unsuccessful at untying them.

He turned to Simon, but the something had changed in the soldier. A strange formality overcame him, “Is this a good idea, sir?” Father Garcia replied, “This is not the way to make friends, Simon. Of all the mistakes I’ve made, this is the only one I can undo…” he struggled with the knots some more, “…and even then, I need to ask you to help me undo it.” Simon’s slim and nimble fingers removed the bindings on Petros’ feet and hands. “Don’t make me regret this,” he whispered to the captive man. Simon moved his bedding, which had been close to Petros before, even closer. Petros rubbed the chaffed spots on his wrists and ankles, “After all that wine, I wouldn’t make it further than the road.” Simon sniffed and lay on his bedding with the quiet anger of a soldier following orders. “We have a long walk ahead of us tomorrow, fisher-boy. Get some sleep.”

The wine and the meat stirred in their bellies while the small fire they had lit warmed half their bodies. Ambigo fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down and all worries about his song and the rowdy crowd slipped away from him without another thought.

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