Here is Chapter Sixteen…
Chapter Word Count: 3640
Monthly Word Count: 23,184
The next morning, Ambigo saw Petros whisper to Andrew and Philip. The team eagerly watched the three men head toward the lake and breathed a sigh of relief at the privacy. A heated discussion ensued in English, starting with Simon. “Permission to speak freely, sir.” Father Garcia chuckled to himself and shook his head. “Give them five seconds to get out of hearing range, Simon.” Simon rolled his eyes and seemed to be counting to himself. After five seconds elapsed, he looked to Father Garcia again, awaiting permission. “Go ahead, Simon. It’s not as if I could stop you.”
After given permission, he seemed to falter at where to start. “I strongly recommend that we do not continue with this contamination. We should send them back to Bethsaida so that they will be in the right place when Jesus comes to gather them. For all we know, he is there, right now, ministering to the crowds.” Father Garcia breathed deeply. He wiped his face with his hands. “Father Judean. Will you tell the team your theories on the subject?”
Tad looked like a scared animal. “Father Garcia, I have reconsidered. I have no theories on the subject and I believe we are doing the best that we can do.” He pretended to tend to the fire while the rest of the team watched him. Simon swooped over to him in one quick and fluid motion. He twirled Tad to face him, spitting the words in his face. “Father Garcia gave you an order! You WILL tell us what you think about this!” The two men who had fought alongside each other faced each other in an animal-like stand-off.
Tad’s face was relaxed and calm. “You will not hurt me, Simon. You cannot intimidate me. If I tell you anything, it will because I want to, not because you threaten me. You can’t threaten me. You have no power over me. I answer to a higher power than either you or Father Garcia.” The stand-off was over and Simon tossed him back on the ground, disgusted. Tad continued, “Before the trip, I had some strange theories, but now, I don’t know what to think. I don’t think it’s helpful to contaminate your minds with my paranoia.”
Father Garcia scratched his face. “I can’t force you to share, but you didn’t ask for my confidence, so I am going to tell them what your concerns were before you became… confused.” He took a big breath and ran his hand over his overgrown hair. “Before the trip,” he paused, staring into the last remains of the fire that Tad was trying to stoke back into existence. “…Tad thought it was… interesting that our names seemed to correspond to some of the apostles. Jaime is a Hispanic version of James. Simon and Thaddeus,” he motioned toward Tad. “…are direct correlations. Madi, your name might even be affiliated with Mary of Magdalen.”
He waited, looking at Ambigo. “The final name that set Tad over the edge was yours. Ambigo Thomas. You say your mother was a comedienne, but she may have been more intuitive about your destiny than she may ever know.” Madi interrupted, “What do you mean?” Father Garcia smiled, “If we were speaking Latin instead of Aramaic right now, you would understand. Ambigo is a conjugation of the Latin word, ‘to doubt.’ His mother named him Doubting Thomas, Madi.” She drew in a breath of air. “Wow! Now I really feel stupid. Are there any other saints hiding around here? Do you have Matthew in your pocket? Was that old man in the street Saint Jude?”
Tad laughed with a puff, “No, silly. I’m Saint Jude. My name is Thaddeus Judean.” She looked at him with her steely eyes. Ambigo noticed how dry they looked, no longer glossy like the eyes of a normal human being, but shrunken and stiff, like a taxidermied animal. “You’re Saint Jude? If you’re the patron saint of lost causes, we are seriously fucked.” She folded her arms and turned back to Father Garcia.
Simon stood up and then sat down and then stood up again. “You’re saying that I’m Simon? Not Peter Simon, but Simon the…” He sat down. “…Simon the Zealot. You think I’m… Oh, sweet mother of Jesus, my name. My name means zealot in Latin.” A chill ran down Ambigo’s spine as he remembered the words of Tad before they left, “I know who I am and I know who he is. Do you know who you are?” Ambigo asked the question, “Who are you, Father Garcia?”
Father Garcia took in a deep breath and shook his head. “Who am I or who does the Vatican think I am?” Ambigo answered quickly, “Both.” Father Garcia looked to the heavens. “I am a priest. I am a servant of God. I am a man who was told he was either the Anti-Christ or the Second Coming his whole life.” He looked at the team members. “This story is too hard to tell. I… I can’t tell you the whole story of who I am right now. I can tell you that the Vatican believes that I am the foremost scholar on Jesus. The reason I am, however, was unknown to them.”
Father Garcia was quiet and the team waited for him to continue. He ran both of his hands through his hair. “What I’m going to tell you will change your view of me. It makes me want to hide it even more, but you need to know this…” He shook his head and his cheeks puffed out as he blew out a large breath of air. “When I was five, I was removed from my family in Peru and taken to the United States. I was told many things about my past that were later verified…” He stood up and paced.
“The family that I was placed with was convinced that I was the Second Coming of Christ or…” His hands were shaking. “I can’t… I can’t tell you this story. My upbringing was… not healthy. It took me a long time…” He looked at their faces. Ambigo was confused, “Father Garcia, I feel like I’m a step behind everything… Are you trying to tell us that you think that you are Jesus?” The remaining members of the team drew in surprised breaths at his question. Father Garcia shook his head. “No. I don’t believe I’m Jesus, but my whole life I was told that I was Jesus. Either Jesus or the Anti-Christ. They never could really make a decision on that account.”
The priest paced uncomfortably. “They quizzed me and drilled me. The reason that I can quote scripture verbatim is because it was the only language that was spoken to me from age five until I left for Seminary. Finally, I heard sane words when I entered Seminary. It took me years to ascertain that I’m not Jesus and only now am I realizing that the years I spent being brainwashed were in preparation for this…” He paused, holding out his hands, indicating the scenery around them. His gaze rested at the growing fire. “…All that suffering was just practice for this… journey.”
Ambigo stood up and shook out his hands. He was oddly angry. He had just been told that the leader of the team had a Jesus Complex and he’s “over it” now. He didn’t believe Father Garcia was so easily healed. Ambigo had the sick feeling in his gut that the priest believed he was sent here to be a sacrifice. The fury built up inside of him until it burst out aggressively.
“Not to live up to my name or anything, but I don’t think you’re Jesus and if you are, why are we walking all the way to freakin’ Egypt?! I don’t know if you know this, but my feet are bloody hamburger! So, you think you’re the Savior? Well, if you ARE Jesus, then let’s just get back to where Jesus would be and turn you into the Romans and staple you up to a crucifix right now and get this damn thing over with! I’m tired! And I’d really like to not be chased by an angry mob ever again!”
Jaime interrupted Ambigo’s rant, “I sacrificed my eyes for nothing!” He stood up and threw a large rock in Father Garcia’s general direction, missing him completely. He lunged toward Father Garcia, but Simon nabbed him quickly in a large, enclosing hug. Jaime’s wiry frame squirmed against Simon’s brawn, but there was nothing that he could do to escape the soldier. Ambigo was familiar with Simon’s bear hug and remembered how healing it was. The team allowed him to quiet.
When Jaime finally ceased crying, Father Garcia answered him, “You’re wrong, Jaime. You’re wrong, and Ambigo is wrong and Tad was wrong. I never believed any of it. I knew better…” He trailed off, staring at the roaring fire that Tad had brought back to life. “I found it so strange that I would have more faith than these people who thought they were raising the Second Coming.” He sat there, quietly. His mouth twitched and his chin quivered a bit. “But now…” He breathed deeply. “…now I don’t have to go on faith. Now, we know. Joseph told us yesterday and my faith was reassured by knowledge. Jesus is alive and was sold into slavery in Egypt as a child…” He looked up at them and shook his head. He sounded genuinely happy and almost surprised. “I’m not Jesus. All the brainwashing of my past could never counteract the one thing that I knew for sure, which is Jesus is the Son of God.”
He turned toward Ambigo. “You ask why we are going to Egypt? I’ll tell you why. Because his past was there. If we keep following the trails of his past, we will find him.” He approached Jaime and placed his hand on his shoulder. “You think you sacrificed your eyes for nothing? You’re wrong. I suggest you let Madi do your adjustment as soon as possible. I’d hate for you to miss your chance to see him.” He turned toward Madi, “You think that Jesus was personally put on this planet to protect you from the atrocities of your past, you are right. When you meet him, he will know who you are and heal your scars, both inside and out.” He crouched near Tad, “And you. You, who could look into my soul and see my pain of the past. You said that you don’t know what to think. You better decide soon because much will be asked of you before we go home.”
Father Garcia stood up. “Now, before they come back, I need to talk to you. I think we should tell them everything we know about Jesus. The more they know, the easier it will be for them to recognize him when we come across him. Are we agreed, Simon?” Simon sat next to Jaime. “I’m Simon the Zealot.” Father Garcia laughed to himself and the rest of the team chuckled with him.
Ambigo playfully teased him. “Yes, Simon. You’re a saint. What’s Simon the patron saint of?” Madi answered without emotion, “Curriers and sawmen.” Ambigo laughed out loud. “Can you just imagine it? A bike courier with a cappuccino in one hand and a band saw slung across his back!” Ambigo pretended to ride a bike. “What’s the band saw for?” Ambigo called back to himself. “If the package doesn’t fit in the mail slot, I cut it in half.” The team laughed together and even Jaime seemed to enjoy the visual image of the courier cutting his precious package in half to fit it into the mail slot. Madi quieted him with a grim note. “You forgot to ask me what you’re the patron saint of.”
Ambigo quieted and looked at Madi. She stared back at him with her steely gaze, “Blind people.” Ambigo blew out a puff of air and deflated before her. She scowled at him. “Not so funny now, is it? Plus, it’s not couriers, it’s curriers, you idiot. He’s the patron saint of people who tan leather.” She looked at them with disgust, “I don’t believe it. You pathetic men are NOT saints.” She looked at Father Garcia. “And you are NOT Jesus. And I AM NOT A PROSTITUTE!”
Father Garcia looked unsure what to do, but Jaime inched his way near her. He hugged her and whispered unintelligible words to her and she calmed. Father Garcia addressed the team, “The question at hand remains. I think we should tell them everything. Do you agree?” The team nodded in agreement. Tad asked, “They are going to ask us questions. Do we tell them we’re from the future?” The answer was a unanimous, “NO!”
Jaime spoke. “I know we were planning on leaving today, but I think I should have my adjustment before we go. Can we stay here one more day?” Simon approached him. “You don’t need to worry about that. We’ll bring you along and you can have your adjustment later.” Jaime responded, “Considering what we’ve just learned, I don’t want to waste one more second blind. Can we, Father Garcia?” The priest worried for him. “Are you sure, my boy? I don’t want you to suffer. If the doctors said that you shouldn’t have more than one adjustment within two days, I don’t think we should risk it.” Madi shook her head. “They never said that.” Jaime blushed. “I’m sorry, Father Garcia. I…” his eyes wiggled strangely. “I would have said anything to avoid an adjustment yesterday.”
Father Garcia looked to Simon and the decision was made. The two of them looked at Ambigo’s dark and calloused feet. “Yes, Jaime. We will stay here another day. I wish there was a place I could go where I couldn’t hear your screams.” Ambigo pulled Madi aside. “I think we should include Andrew in the adjustment. He was so interested in your ability. I think he would be less interested if he saw what you two go through for this.” Madi was still dark and moody, but she nodded. “Why don’t you go get him?”
Ambigo headed toward the lake. He heard the voices of the heated argument. It was Andrew speaking. “Petros, listen to me. These men are searching for God. They are looking for God in human form. They REALLY believe they are going to find God incarnate. It’s such a strange concept. It’s so Pagan. It reminds me of the stories of the Romans where Zeus takes the form of a cow and impregnates a woman. Yet they are not Pagans. They believe in the one true God. They have all the training of the rabbis. These are fascinating men and so interesting to watch. I wonder what will happen to them when they are unable to find God. Will they just go back to their mysterious homeland? Will they die of despair? I’m just so excited to see what they are going to do.”
Petros interrupted him, “Andrew, you’re wrong. I have seen them call each other Jesus when they speak their strange language.” Philip interjected, “Yes, remember, Andrew. The blind man called the healer Jesus when he was injured.” Petros spoke again, “I heard the soldier call the Father Jesus, once. They thought I couldn’t understand, but I remembered that word. Plus, the song. Oh! I forgot to tell you about the song!” Petros was excited and shifted awkwardly. “The healer, Ambigo, sang a song about a woman at a well. There was a part of the song with the word Jesus and he said it meant to have a closer relationship with God.”
Andrew spoke again, “You see! I don’t even think THEY know what this Jesus is, yet they look for a man in his place. It’s such a grand quest in so many ways that I can’t count them.” Petros shook his head. “They are unusual people. The woman. Have you seen the woman? She is scarred, just like the Nubian prostitutes. They say that she isn’t a prostitute. She is not a wife of theirs. They say she is a sister, yet she looks like none of them.” Andrew and Philip nodded at his observations. Philip answered, “We know. We know, but she’s not a prostitute. She is a healer. She can restore sight to the blind.”
Petros drew in a noisy breath of air. “Have you seen this?” They shook their heads. Andrew responded, “She says she can only do this for her brother…” Ambigo heard the quiet pause fall over the group. Andrew finally continued, “They say it’s painful… we heard the screams of the man.” Petros whistled. “I heard those screams two nights ago. I had you in sight, so I knew it wasn’t you being tortured. Why would they torture their own man? It was too much for the soldier. He ran to rescue the man, but it sounded as if the woman fought him off.”
They quieted and Ambigo thought of approaching them again, but they started talking again, much to his interest. “Their language is peculiar, don’t you think?” Petros nodded at his brother’s comment. “Yes. Their language is the main reason I still think they are Romans, despite all they say.” Philip shook his head. “It’s not Latin. I know Latin. My mother taught it to me as a child. It’s not Latin, but their names. Their names are Latin, but you’re right. The language…”
Petros shook his head. “The language sounds like the language of the Praetorian guards. You forget how much traveling I have done in my ‘fishing for men’ as they call it. I’ve seen the Roman Emperor. I know the men that guard him. They’re different than normal Roman soldiers. It’s not the language of Rome. It’s the language that the guards spoke amongst themselves. I can’t remember what it was called, but this strange language of theirs reminds me of the Praetorian guards of Rome. Say what you will, brother, but there is something odd about these people.” The three of them shook their heads and Ambigo decided that it was his time to interrupt.
He made noisy footsteps toward them, rustling the bushes as loudly as he could. He called out as if he were far away, “Andrew… Petros… Philip… Where are you?” They called to him and he pretended to run toward them. “Andrew. Madi is going to help Jaime with his eyes. We thought you would want to help us.” The three men looked at each other. It was Philip who spoke, “I thought he was going to walk to Egypt blind rather than endure the pain.” Ambigo shook his head. “He had decided it is important for him to be able to see, just in case someone throws a blanket at his head again.” Philip blushed and they headed back to the camp.
“Do you have any questions that you need me to answer?” Ambigo thought that it might be better for them to have logical and non-religious answers to their questions. The three of them looked at each other guiltily. Petros stopped walking. “Tell us the truth about Jesus.” Ambigo looked him in the eye. “I don’t believe he is God. I don’t even know if he is a real person. There are a lot of stories about him that the team is going to be telling you and I can’t verify if they are real or not. That’s why we’re here. To see if they are true.”
Philip asked the next question, “Why did the blind man call you Jesus?” Ambigo sighed and tried to find the right words to explain. “Have you heard the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain’?” The three of them nodded. Ambigo continued, “Sometimes when things are really bad, some of us break that commandment. Jaime had just been thrown down a hill head first. He was…” Ambigo gave them an uncomfortable smile in an effort to put them at ease. “…he was in pain and he was really scared because he had broken his eyes and he knew how much it would hurt to fix them. He didn’t call me Jesus. He was… cursing.”
Andrew squinted at him. Petros asked him, “What is the significance of the figs? If one were to eat a lot of figs, it would make them very sick. It’s not very good advice.” Ambigo laughed and started walking toward the camp. “No, it’s not. I don’t know your word for ‘peaches.’ Figs were the closest I could remember. Even eating a lot of peaches is not very good advice. It’s supposed to be funny, but I never really understood why. I think it’s because the word peaches is funny to say. Don’t you think it sounds funny?” The three men repeated the word “peaches” several times.
Philip made the decision. “No. It’s not a funny word. Maybe it’s funny because if you ate a lot of figs you would end up relieving yourself all day. You would never be able to sin because you would be so busy with…” he paused, laughing to himself. “…other matters.” They laughed together as they entered the campsite.
“Andrew, do you wish to join us?” Ambigo saw the fear growing in Jaime’s eyes at the sound of his voice. Madi, Andrew and Ambigo led Jaime to a field on the other side of the lake. Not Cosmas nor Damian could help him. Not Lawrence the Illuminator nor Lucia of Syracuse. Not Raphael the Archangel nor Thomas the Apostle. None of the patron saints of blindness came to Jaime’s rescue that day and after the adjustment, Andrew never asked about cures for blindness again.