Here is Chapter Seventeen…
Chapter Word Count: 3831
Monthly Word Count: 27,015
The walk to Wadjet was not as difficult on Ambigo’s feet as he thought it would be. When Joseph said that Jesus was last seen in Egypt, Ambigo’s feet actually tingled with pain at the thought of walking there. By the time they arrived, though, he was surprised and a little proud at the accomplishment. Of course, walking is less damaging to one’s feet than running from a town of angry villagers bent on destruction.
It was as if Wadjet was built solely for the Temple of Anubis. The temple stood in the middle of the town, towering above the small shacks and dwellings that surrounded it. The town was active with trading and people fed in and out of the temple freely. The team didn’t take a moment to rest. They didn’t inquire about lodging. They didn’t even pause by the fresh food and sweet smelling herbs. They walked directly into the temple and asked for the man in charge.
When Hery Seshta waddled into their presence, Ambigo was surprised. The last thing he expected was a short and corpulent jackal-headed overseer. The man couldn’t have been over 4’ 8” tall and he was nearly as round. Ambigo looked at Petros and smiled uncomfortably. Jaime and Madi flanked the group, filming Hery Seshta’s words and movements. Tad spoke for them in what Ambigo assumed was Egyptian.
The words from the overseer were muffled by the huge head piece. So much of the communication that could have been gathered from facial expressions was lost behind the unmoving face of the jackal. Ambigo couldn’t understand the words of Hery Seshta, so he concentrated on absorbing the beauty of the Egyptian temple. The jewels on the overseer’s headpiece alone mesmerized him with their exquisite intricacy.
After a brief conversation, they were led down a hall. Ambigo recognized the smell before they reached the room. In a panic, he called to Philip, pulling him aside. “You fainted at the sight of blood before. This room is going to have far worse sights for you. Are you capable of it?” A glimmer of fear swept across Philip’s face. “What are you talking about?” Ambigo stopped walking and they fell behind the group. “Based on the smell, there are dead bodies in this temple. Probably many dead bodies. Will you be able to stay conscious?”
The blood drained from Philip’s face and Ambigo had his answer. “You should wait outside the temple for us. I don’t want to have to revive you again. Get some fresh air.” Philip nodded and turned back toward the entrance, scurrying as he went. Ambigo rushed to catch up with the group. Nothing from his previous training could have prepared him for what he saw.
Seven bodies of men and women were laid out on tables. Each was in a different phase of the preparation for the afterlife. The first body they passed was that of a woman. The temple worker was removing her organs from her chest cavity. Ambigo was grateful again for his instincts and surveyed the other team members for signs of queasiness. Madi and Jaime filmed the bodies and workers enthusiastically. Hery Seshta was giving them a grand tour of the facility, but Ambigo was unable to understand the commentary. He watched in morbid fascination.
As an intern, Ambigo had befriended a young man named Angelo Mortari from the local funeral parlor. They had met in the quiet and ghostly bowels of the hospital and were still friends to that day. In fact, Angelo had been on the golf course the day Ambigo received the call. Angelo had come from a long line of family morticians. He could trace the lineage back to sixteenth century Italy and he was fond of telling people about it.
The two of them had bonded strongly in those early years. Ambigo was still nursing his broken heart and Angelo was the type of man who had a different woman every week. One specialized in a broken heart and the other specialized in breaking them. The bond didn’t come from love stories or lack of them, but rather from the strange shame that covers those that are employed in gory lines of work. Ambigo could talk of his surgeries to Angelo with no fear of that gray pallor that would some times overtake the looks of his other friends. Angelo could talk of his latest subject’s endings and solving the problems of presentation with no fear of the disgust that would some times overtake the looks of his other friends.
One day, Angelo had said to him, “You remind me of a monk. You work and you work and you never have sex.” Ambigo took a sip from his Tom Collins and responded, “This from a man who cannot stand the company of a woman for longer than a month.” Angelo smiled. “That is not true. I can stand the company of many women for many months.” The doctor nodded, “That’s the problem. What’s your point?” The mortician sighed and dipped his finger into his beer, playing with the foam. His pinky ring glinted in the dim light, reflecting the dark red of the stone. “You have to have something besides work in your life. You shun sports. You avoid the news. You only golf when we force you to. What would you do if you could no longer practice medicine?”
Ambigo looked at his friend from the rim of his glass. The tartness of the drink pulled on the back of his throat. “I would become an International Playboy and drive sports cars very fast.” Angelo laughed. “No, that’s what I would do.” They were quiet for a moment. The dark sheen of Angelo’s slick hair smelled like expensive men’s cologne. Finally, Angelo resumed, “I see people sometimes. They move and they talk, but they are as dead and lifeless as my clients. They are shells walking among us. They died long ago and their family forgot to bring them to me.” He took a large gulp of beer, swishing it in his mouth like a fine wine. “You, my friend, are one step away from being a shell. I fear that if you lose your work, you will be one of those undead people.” Ambigo sighed and finished the tall drink. “Then let’s hope that I never lose my work.”
Seeing this gallery of dead reminded Ambigo of his cherished friend. He wondered if Angelo would have been interested. He had always seemed like a man who knew everything about his profession. He had the knowledge of the generations and could track his family back to sixteenth century Italy. What use for Egyptian morticians would Angelo have? He imagined the fat, dark haired man with his pinky rings turning his nose up at their techniques. It made him laugh to himself.
Tad was speaking to him, “Dr, Thomas!” Ambigo looked at him, surprised out of his reverie. “What?” Tad laughed. “Hery Seshta wants to know what you find so amusing.” Ambigo scrambled nervously. “Well, as strange as this may seem, this place,” he held out his hand, surveying the motionless bodies. “…reminded me of home.” Tad’s nose crinkled in disgust and he reluctantly translated for Ambigo. The voice of the jackal became animated and happy. The fat overseer took him by the arm and brought him to a subject. His voice, muffled by the mask, rose and fell with animation that hadn’t been there before. Hery Seshta poked at Tad, indicating that he wanted the priest to translate for Ambigo’s benefit.
“He says that they have performed the sacred rituals for the pharaohs since Isis reassembled Osiris. Look excited about this stuff, Ambigo. He seems to like you. They are preparing these people for the afterlife. You missed it, but earlier he was going into detail about each phase. Ambigo, ask him about Jesus.” Ambigo shrugged his shoulders and placed his hand on the overseer’s shoulder, near the bottom of the headpiece. “Do you know about Jesus?” he said in Aramaic. Tad obligingly translated, embellishing it with the proper explanations.
The overseer kept nodding, indicating the man working on the subject. He was blond and had bright blue eyes. The jackal-headed man indicated that he wanted Tad to talk to this young man and he wanted to take Ambigo on a tour of the temple. Ambigo and Jaime went on a graphic and gory exploration of the mummification process, while the rest of the team stayed with Tad and the blue-eyed temple worker.
Hery Seshta led them to the woman’s body at the entrance of the room. The overseer held up the canopic jars filled with her internal organs that had been removed, washed, and bandaged. Ambigo watched Jaime’s face, worried that the gruesome details might overtake him, but he showed no signs of the gray pallor that colored the face of the faint-hearted.
Ambigo was actually quite interested in the procedure and realized that he was being offered the tour of a lifetime. Jaime filmed eagerly and Ambigo was so grateful that his eyesight was fully operational. He imagined the Egyptologists of the world drooling over this opportunity. “Thank you, Angelo,” he thought to himself. “I would have never been offered this if it hadn’t been for you.” He showed the proper enthusiasm and did his best to understand the excited, short man underneath his mask.
When the tour was complete, Hery Seshta brought him back to Tad and the rest of the team. Tad and Father Garcia had been talking to the blond worker animatedly. They spoke in a different language than the one Hery Seshta spoke. Tad quickly asked the overseer a question and permission was granted. Ambigo saw the worker wash his hands and follow the team.
While they neared the entrance of the temple, Tad gave them a quick explanation. “This is Wetyw Nano Hotep. He was a Greek slave that knew Jesus when he was here. This is the boy that Joseph was shown when he came to buy back Jesus. If he had just been able to talk to the boy, Joseph would have gotten his son back.” Ambigo felt a sick regret grow in his stomach at the idea of a simple language barrier interfering with a family in such a manner.
They rejoined Philip outside the temple. Father Garcia and Tad continued talking with Wetyw Nano Hotep while Jaime and Madi eagerly filmed. Philip pulled Ambigo aside. “Was it bad?” Ambigo smiled at him. “Not for me. I’m a healer. I see that a lot in my homeland. It would have been bad for you, though. I’m glad you didn’t go in.” Philip breathed a sigh of relief. “Come with me to the town. While you were in the temple, I looked at the vendors. I found something that I think you will like very much.”
Philip led him to a man on the side of the street. He squatted over his wares and waved Philip to him. Spread out on a blanket were dozens of sandals. They were small and large and some of them were beautifully adorned. Philip held out his hand to them and looked to Ambigo. “We can purchase you a pair of sandals!” Ambigo looked at them greedily, but also imagined Tad’s thin money pouch. Philip read his face expertly. “Are you not pleased? I thought you would drop down to them like a child…” Ambigo placed his arm around the thin man. “You are truly a brother to me, Philip. Thank you so much for looking out for my welfare… It’s just… We have so little money, I fear that these sandals are far too much for me… Maybe he will take a trade. When Tad is finished talking to the temple worker, let’s see if he can negotiate for me.” He felt indebted to add, “Philip, thank you so much for thinking of me.”
By the time they returned to the temple, Tad and Father Garcia were saying their friendly good-byes to the fair-haired man. A few words were exchanged with Simon and they headed out of the city. Philip tried to stop them. “I found a vendor that sells sandals in the town. May we look at them before we leave?” Simon stopped and looked at Tad. “Our funds are very limited, Philip. We don’t have enough to spend on sandals.” Philip came to his defense. “You don’t even know how much they are. Can’t we take a moment and check before the long walk back?”
The team looked to Father Garcia and the priest turned toward the town. “Show us, Philip. Show us the vendor.” They returned to the man squatting over his wares. Tad spoke with him. Tad shook his head and told the team the price. It was more than all the money they had been able to earn. “Sorry guys.” Ambigo suggested, “Ask him if he’ll take my sandals in exchange. They are hardly worn.” Ambigo turned to Father Garcia and the priest produced the sandals from his bedding.
The old man looked at the sandals and spoke with Tad. Ambigo could tell what he was saying without translation, “Terrible quality. Poor craftsmanship. Bad. Bad. Bad.” Tad told them the bad news. “He says he’ll give the sandals to us for half price with the exchange.” Ambigo shook his head. “No, Tad. It’s not worth it. I don’t need them that bad.” Tad took the sandals back, but Philip protested. “No, Ambigo, you need something for your feet for the walk back. Don’t let his frugal nature,” He waved his hand in Tad’s direction. “prevent you from getting what you deserve.”
Ambigo put his arm around the young man. “Don’t worry, Philip. I’ll be okay. Man has been walking without the aid of sandals for thousands of years. If they could do it, then I can too.” Philip looked at him and scanned the faces of the rest of the team. Simon turned toward the gates of the town and they followed him. Ambigo continued, “Think about it. The birds don’t have sandals.” Philip laughed. “The birds fly. They don’t need sandals.”
Ambigo shook his head. “Ok, well the birds don’t have little coats to protect them from the winter. They don’t have nice houses or plant gardens. They do just fine on their own. If the birds can survive without any help, then I can walk without sandals. There’s more to life than the clothes we have.” They started on the road back to Israel and Simon kept a quick pace. Father Garcia added, “I have a feeling, Philip, that God will take care of Ambigo’s feet just as he takes care of the birds.”
Ambigo interjected, “No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that humans are highly adaptable creatures and that generations of men have walked this land without sandals. I can also. Just as the birds have adapted to their environment, I can, too.” There was irritation in his voice. Father Garcia responded quietly, “I know what you were saying, Ambigo. I was saying that God will provide for us, just as he did when we arrived here.” Ambigo was angry, “God? God didn’t provide for us. Marit did. Tad and Simon’s skills in persuasion provided for us. We paid for these clothes with a month’s worth of hard labor. God had nothing to do with the lambs that I brought into this world healthy and strong.”
Father Garcia was calm. “He didn’t?” Ambigo seethed, and there was an uncomfortable silence hanging over the group as they crunched along the road. Tad finally spoke, “Don’t you guys want to know what Father Garcia and I learned?” The sandals and the argument were instantly forgotten. They clamored for the story and Tad obliged them.
“Nano Hotep grew up with Jesus. Both of them had a similar contract. They were to work at the temple as slaves without compensation until the age of ten years at which point they had a choice. They could continue working at the temple as freemen, but they would not be allowed to advance higher than the position of Wetyw. If they did not want to work at the temple, they could find work elsewhere. Nano Hotep stayed at the temple, but Jesus decided to apprentice himself to a carpenter in the town. The two of them stayed in contact for awhile.”
Tad shook his head in regret, “Joseph was so close to retrieving his son. If only he had been able to understand Nano Hotep, he could have found the carpenter in town.” The group was silent with the thought of losing a son because of the lack of words. Petros asked, “So, why are we leaving town?” Father Garcia responded, “Because he no longer lives in Wadjet. After Jesus became a master carpenter, he left. Nano Hotep believes that he returned to Judea to find his family, but, as we know, he hasn’t found his family yet.”
Ambigo’s heart sunk to his stomach. “So we’re right back where we started.” Simon’s voice was clear and sure. “No we’re not. We know Jesus existed. We know he lived to be at least twenty-five years old. We’re not back where we started at all and I’ll pummel you to bits if you say that again.” Father Garcia calmly intervened, “Don’t threaten the team members, Simon. We all felt discouraged when we realized that he wasn’t here.” Simon apologized, “I’m sorry. I… I just don’t want to hear any negative talk. If we allow the darkness in, it will just grow within us until we are full of it.” Father Garcia responded, “You’re right, Simon. We have to stay positive throughout this journey.”
They walked for many miles in the silence and Ambigo fell behind the group, as usual. He found it easier on his feet to step in the footsteps of his team members. They trod down the dirt and made it smoother for him. It was a process that worked, so he trailed the group, just as he had done for the walk to Egypt. Philip, Andrew and Petros quietly fell behind also. After a while, Philip finally spoke, “I have some money of my own. We can get you some sandals at the next town.” Ambigo put his arm around the young man, “Thank you, brother, but I meant what I said before.”
Petros responded, “About what you said before. What did you mean by adaptable?” Ambigo glanced ahead of him. The rest of the team didn’t hear their question. Their voices were lowered. They wanted to talk about this subject without Father Garcia’s input. Ambigo was reluctant to talk to them without some documentation of what he said. He whispered to them, focusing his attention on Andrew. “Is it okay if Jaime talks with us?” He knew that Andrew had bonded to Jaime in the same way anyone who experienced an adjustment would. Andrew nodded, “He is welcome, of course.”
Ambigo called to Jaime and the wiry young man walked slowly with them. “Petros just asked me what I meant by adaptable.” Jaime squinted at them and responded quickly, “We should ask Father Garcia.” The three additions to the group noisily objected. Andrew spoke the clearest, “We understand Father Garcia’s thoughts on the subject. It was Dr. Thomas’ ideas that needed clarification.”
Jaime faced the four of them, walking backwards. He squinted without blinking. Ambigo spoke, “I just thought that you would like to SEE this conversation, Jaime.” He annunciated the word “see” in an effort to communicate to Jaime. Very quickly, Ambigo spoke in English, “I don’t want to contaminate them.” Jaime answered, “Then don’t.” “Then what do I tell them?” “You’re the doctor. Think of something.” “I thought we couldn’t change history. It doesn’t matter what I tell them.”
Petros interrupted angrily, “I don’t know what the two of you are saying, but you have an oath with me, Dr. Thomas. You told me that you would always tell me the truth. That’s why we are asking you these questions. We want the truth.” By then, the entire team was eagerly listening to Ambigo. Madi followed Jaime’s lead and faced them, walking backwards; an additional witness to his words. Father Garcia responded, “Yes, Dr. Thomas. Tell them the truth. Explain the concept of adaptation. In the end, it is merely God’s manner of working in the world.”
Madi squinted at him, challengingly. Jaime did the same and Ambigo cringed under their gaze. “It’s a really complicated concept, Petros.” Andrew was insulted. “And we are too stupid to understand it? Is that what you are saying?” Ambigo shook his head. “No… I just… I just don’t know where to start.”
Philip put his arm around his shoulders, “Start at the beginning.” Ambigo laughed. “At the beginning? At the beginning… okay. There are some people that don’t believe God exists.” The three men nodded. Petros spoke for them, “Yes. We know many people who don’t believe God exists. How can the Romans say that their Emperor is a god? How can the Egyptians say that their pharaoh is a god? How can there be the one true God of the Jews? How can all of these be true? There must be no god. Yes, but these people can’t explain why we are here and how we got here. Even the Confucians believe that the world started out with Pangu, but he died. A dead god is still a god.”
Ambigo was speechless. He looked to Andrew and Philip, but the two of them seemed familiar with the concepts that Petros had so easily expressed. He looked at Jaime and Madi. They were no longer squinting at Ambigo. Their eyes were opened wide at Petros. They had stopped walking, so the four of them stopped also. Simon had kept his pace, but Father Garcia called him back.
Tad was the one who was able to speak first. “You have encountered Confucians?” Petros nodded. “What did I say that was so shocking?” Ambigo couldn’t count the number of things that Petros had said that were so surprising to him. He had always thought the saints were strict Jews, untainted by the ideas of the world. Knowing that they had been exposed to many lines of religious thought made their eventual faith in Jesus seem even more valid. Father Garcia answer his question, “We didn’t know that the Confucians had traveled this far.”
The three fishermen nodded, “Quite regularly, actually.” Simon started walking again and the group followed suit. Petros looked at Ambigo again, “What does this have to do with being adaptable?” Ambigo looked at the back of Father Garcia’s head. “I can’t do this, Petros. There’s just too much to tell.” Petros sighed. “We have a long walk ahead of us, Dr. Thomas. Let’s talk about something besides the life of Jesus. I’ve had enough stories of this Jesus fellow.”