Here is Chapter Nineteen…
Chapter Word Count: 2900
Monthly Word Count: 33,073
When they arrived in Judea, Simon’s first instinct was to systematically interview the inhabitants in each city surrounding Nazareth, but Petros disagreed. The two of them brought the issue to Father Garcia. “I know how things work in this team. Everything goes through you. You decide where we go. I’ve seen it time and time again. Sometimes, these people won’t even talk without a nod of your head. Decide this issue for us.” Ambigo watched in fascination as Petros appealed to Father Garcia. “What do you think we should do, Simon?” The soldier came to attention and presented his case, “I recommend a thorough survey of the cities surrounding Nazareth. If Jesus didn’t find his way home, maybe he found his way almost home.”
Father Garcia turned to Petros, “What do you recommend, Petros.” Petros sighed. “I think we should go back to Capernaum and Bethsaida. You keep saying that I must have already met this man, but when you asked me, you said he was a rabbi from Nazareth. I didn’t know a rabbi from Nazareth. A carpenter from Egypt, however…” He shrugged. “There is a carpenter in each town. I don’t know either one well enough to know if they learned their trade in Egypt, but…” Petros fidgeted. “I just think they’re a much better starting point than interviewing every person in every town surrounding Nazareth. That seems more…” He glanced at Simon fearfully. “…like brute force.”
Father Garcia sat and pondered the argument. “Simon, my boy, I believe Petros has a good point.” Simon didn’t argue. He curtly nodded, “Understood. We will set course to Capernaum.” His eyes flitted to Ambigo’s feet. “Are your feet able to handle the journey, Dr. Thomas?” Ambigo nodded assuredly. Andrew muttered with anticipation, “Home.” His eyes searched out Philip, who had fallen behind the group. Andrew called to him, “Home!” He and Petros hurried back to him. “We’re going home, Philip!”
Father Garcia smiled. Simon responded, “I don’t believe the carpenters in their towns are viable leads, Father Garcia.” The priest looked at him, “I’m pretty sure they would have sworn an oath that one of those carpenters was from Egypt if it meant that they could go home.” He breathed deeply. “We’ve been traveling for a long time. I think the team needs a rest, Simon.” Father Garcia looked at Ambigo’s feet carefully stepping on the road, avoiding sharp rocks. “I believe Petros’ home is a good resting place for us, don’t you think?” Simon nodded. “A good soldier rests whenever he can.” Father Garcia smiled. “Then we are in agreement.” They continued walking and listened to the happy men behind them.
By the time they walked into Capernaum, Ambigo was ready to rest. He ran his hand along his stomach, hoping for a warm meal waiting for him at Petros’ home and was surprised at the muscle and bones that he felt under his hand. Every ounce of fat that he had carried when he arrived to this ancient land had melted away with the walk through the wilderness and Egypt. He smiled to himself at the thought of the abdominal muscles that protruded from his belly instead of flesh. “Goat cheese, meat and figs,” he thought to himself, “Who knew the perfect fitness and diet plan involved lots of walking and healthy food?”
Ambigo’s private smile did not go unnoticed. “You are thinking of my wife’s wonderful food, are you not?” Ambigo laughed. “Actually, I was feeling a little pride at how thin I’ve become. I never knew I could be so strong.” Petros put his arm around the doctor. “My wife will fatten you up again. Maybe you can find a wife of your own here and stay with us. The women of your homeland could never compare to our beautiful maidens.”
Andrea’s face flashed in Ambigo’s mind. “Beauty is not the only asset a woman can have. I’ve found that… beauty fades.” He wondered what she looked like now. The last time he had seen a picture of her, she was receiving an award. Her dark hair was tightly wound behind her head, pulling the curls straight. She looked happy to be receiving the award, but her waist had been thicker. To Ambigo, though, she was just as beautiful as the day that she left for school. The very essence of her shone through her eyes and out of the low-resolution photograph. Not even pixilation could hide her power and force on Ambigo’s heart.
“Yes, my friend. You’re right! I would rather have a hard working wit than a dull beauty. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a woman with all the lovely assets? Beauty, humor, diligence and patience? My lovely wife has all of that.” Andrew laughed loudly. “Listen to him. The longer he is away, the more beautiful she becomes.” Philip laughed and added, “And the better her food tasted.” Ambigo smiled to himself. “So, tell me the truth. Should I be excited about her food waiting for us? Will she really fatten me up or will I stay thin and lean?” Andrew and Philip smiled at each other. “She will fatten you up, healer. You will waddle out of the house.” They laughed together as they neared the modest home.
Petros opened the door and the team followed him in. The laughing and joviality were lost the instant they saw his beautiful wife’s face. The panic and dread that was there spread throughout the team so quickly that the members at the back were worried and anxious and didn’t know why. “Petros, thank the lord, it’s you!” She pulled him in a rush to a back room of the home. The rest of the team exchanged apprehensive looks. “Ambigo!” Petros called his name and he hurried to the back room.
The older woman had a ghostly pallor and was sweating profusely. Petros’ wife spoke so quickly that Ambigo had trouble understanding her. He had caught a few words, like pesky flies swatted with a strap. “…mother… fever… please God Almighty don’t let her die…” Petros just looked at him expectantly. Ambigo went to the older woman, feeling her face with the back of his hand. “How long has she had this fever?” Petros’ wife answered, “She started feeling poorly last night. She went to bed early. She didn’t get up this morning and when I tried to raise her, she was crazy with this fever.”
The old woman looked at him with fearful eyes. Suddenly, she shrieked with terror. Petros’ wife continued, “She has waking dreams. She sees things that are not here. Is it a demon?” Ambigo called loudly, “Simon! Andrew! Philip! Come here and help me carry this woman!” The men filled the room and the four of them carried her out of the small home and toward the water. Ambigo barked out orders, “We need to get her fever down. Simon, do you think the water will be cool enough?” Simon shook his head, struggling with the weight of the elderly woman. “I don’t know, sir.”
Andrew answered, “The water is fairly warm at this time of the day unless we can get her into the deeper water. She should float, though.” They grunted and groaned with the burden, but they got her to the sea fairly quickly. Petros’ wife and the rest of the team followed them down to the water. Madi and Jaime rushed to film the action, catching the light reflecting on the water and rushing over the old woman’s body. Her tunic, which had been damp with sweat, became translucent and Ambigo averted his eyes.
The fever left her with relative speed. The woman floated on the cool water and became cognizant of her surroundings. They brought Petros and his wife to her. The two of them continued to support her and kept the waves from splashing on her face. They spoke gentle words to her and the men who had so awkwardly carried her to the water backed away slowly.
“Father Garcia!” The call came from Jaime. Ambigo noticed that the young man had taken a moment to film the local fishermen and divers in their picturesque beauty, but now the young man had noticed that something was awry. Father Garcia followed the line of Jaime’s pointing finger. “I’m sorry, Jaime. I can’t see as well as you can. What is the matter?” Jaime called, “Simon! Dr. Thomas! I think those divers are drowning!” Simon and Jaime immediately started running toward the flailing men. Jaime called over his shoulder, “Madi! Stay with Petros!”
Ambigo ministered to Petros and his wife, “Keep her here, but don’t let her get too cold. If she starts shivering, bring her back to the shore. You may need to bring her in and out of the water several times.” He looked to Madi. “Help them with her. This is the best way we have of bringing her fever down. I’m going to go take a look at what’s going on down the shore.” He waded as quickly as he could back to the shore and then ran toward Simon and Jaime.
By the time he arrived, Simon had assessed the situation. “They aren’t drowning. They say that they are suffering from divers disease. I don’t know what they mean.” There were five men afflicted. They writhed on the sand in pain, moaning loudly. One stayed eerily still. Philip had followed Ambigo and arrived a few seconds after he did. “Heavens, I know these men.” He knelt down next to a man close in age to himself. “This is Lucio. He is my brother’s friend. What ails you?” The man complained of pain in his joints and head. He panted uncomfortably. Philip turned to Ambigo. “Dr. Thomas, he suffers from divers sickness. Can you cure him?”
Ambigo scanned his mind. The locals seemed to know what this “divers sickness” was, but he had no idea how to ease their suffering. “Tell me what happened.” Lucio moaned out the story. They had been diving just as they do every day. The water was particularly cold. They decided to call it an evening. By the time they had swum back to shore, they were all aching. “It’s diving sickness, you fool! Help us get home!” Simon whistled loudly. Tad signaled to Andrew and Father Garcia. The three of them ran toward the stranded divers, leaving Madi behind with Petros.
Ambigo was still trying to assess the situation. “Philip, how deep do the divers go?” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m a fisherman. They are pretty impressive. They can stay under for what seems like forever. I would guess they go very deep.” Ambigo asked Lucio, “You started aching AFTER swimming back to shore?” Lucio nodded. “We need to get to a warm place!” He was panting uncomfortably. “Hurry, please! This will be harder on my father than it is for me! It could kill him!” Lucio indicated the older man, who lay still.
“The bends!” Ambigo screamed it out. “Simon! They have the bends. He’s right! We need to get them to a warm place.” The rest of the team helped them heave the divers to the nearest home. Simon pounded on the door. “We have men sick with divers disease! Let us in!” The homeowner opened the door and ushered them in, grabbing blankets. She stoked the fire and the little house became uncomfortably hot. Ambigo paced and gave orders, “They need to drink lots of fresh water.” The homeowner was well aware of this and she had already brought the jar to their lips.
Ambigo pulled at Father Garcia’s tunic and spoke discretely in English, “I don’t know what to do. At home, we would put them on oxygen until we could get them to a decompression chamber. There’s nothing like that here. What do I do?” Father Garcia watched the homeowner refreshing the divers. “Ask her.” Ambigo approached her. “What do we do?” She huffed at him, her thick arms folded across her chest. “’Bout time you asked for directions ‘steada givin’ orders.”
She assigned each diver to a member of the team, showing them how to massage the aching muscles of the men. Her accent was so think that Ambigo could barely understand her, but she showed them expertly with her pudgy hands. “Don’t think this helps ‘em much, but it distracts ‘em ‘til they can breathe again. You gotta listen to ‘em breathe. When they don’t need the air so much, then you can move ‘em home.” She stood up and opened the door, scanning the seascape. “When it gets cold all sudden like this, we gets lots of diver sickness. Hope these fellas are the only ones t‘night.”
She fanned herself at the door. “Looks like the lady you put in the sea is coming out. She’s walkin’ on her own. She got the fever?” Ambigo looked up from Lucio’s aching limbs. “Yeah,” he responded, continuing to massage carefully. “That was smart o’ ya. Not many folks remember the sea is cold when their babies are burnin’ up.” She looked at him approvingly. “I live so close ta the sea thet I don’t get to forget how cold it is.” She closed the door. “It comes a’knockin’ on my door on a regular basis.” She surveyed the divers and approached Lucio’s father, helping Jaime massage the older mans legs and arms. Lucio’s father responded to the touch and moaned quietly.
By the time the breathing of the men slowed to a normal pace, Ambigo could hear the screaming start again outside. He opened the door and it was obvious to him that another group of divers were suffering. He called to the team and they ran out to the shore to bring them into the woman’s home. She had blankets waiting for the new victims. The team cared for the divers all through the evening and night. At one point, Madi, Petros and his wife brought over some of her most delicious food. Ambigo coaxed the divers to eat it, forgetting about his own growling stomach.
Throughout the night, wives and mothers came to claim their husbands and sons. The wailing was louder than the suffering men when they realized that they could have lost their loved ones had it not been for them. When the men were breathing steadily the mothers and wives were sent home with admonishments. “Don’t you go lettin’ him work for tomorrow or the day after that. Even if you go hungry for a couple days, it’s better than him goin’ back out there and having the sea take him from ya.” She looked the women in the eye. “Ya hear me? If I see them divers back out in the water tomorrow, I’ll take it out on your hide, not theirs. They gots to rest. You lets ‘em rest.”
When the last man went home, clinging to his young bride, Ambigo suddenly felt lost. It always felt like that when the danger was gone. There was always the brief moment of not knowing what to do with normality after the turbulence. He sighed and ran his hand through his shaggy hair. “Ya done good t’night. We mighta lost the old man if you hadn’t got him up to me so quick.” She patted him on the back and pulled his hair a bit. “You a Nazarite?” Ambigo shook his head. “No. We just came from a trip through the wilderness. We have no one to cut our hair. Would you cut it for me?”
The woman snorted. Her fat belly and breasts jiggled from the joke. “You get yerself a woman. I’m too old to cut yer hair.” Ambigo looked to Simon, confused. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect. I…” He ran his hands through the messy afro of curls. “… I just really need a haircut.” The team laughed tiredly. Father Garcia added, “We all do, my boy.” He stood up and indicated that the rest should follow him. “Thank you, my dear woman, for opening your home to us and the sick divers.”
The woman blushed and took Father Garcia’s offered hand. “I’ll give YOU a haircut. I don’t reckon I’m too old fer you.” He smiled at her politely. “You are a very good woman. Thank you for helping us protect the divers from the sea.” The men left her warm house and were shocked at the cold sea air when the door closed behind them.
“Andrew, my boy.” Andrew came to Father Garcia’s side. “Yes, sir.” Father Garcia laughed. “Just because Simon calls me ‘sir’ doesn’t mean you have to.” They slowly started walking toward Petros’ home. “I’m uncomfortable calling you ‘Father,’ so I thought ‘sir’ would be better.” Father Garcia shrugged and continued, “Do you have a home of your own?” Andrew blushed. “No, I still live with my father.” Father Garcia stopped walking. “Do you think it would be inappropriate if we stayed at your father’s home? Petros and his wife already have a guest and Madi… and…” He hesitated.
Jaime cut in, finishing Father Garcia’s unspoken implication, “… and Petros seemed like he REALLY missed his wife. Maybe they need some privacy.” Andrew smiled. “I think my father would be honored to meet you.” The men turned and headed the opposite direction, following Andrew to his father’s house.