Here is Chapter Twenty…
Chapter Word Count: 3399
Monthly Word Count: 36,472
“I don’t know what you did last night, boy, but the whole town is after your hide.” Ambigo awoke to the sound of Andrew’s father admonishing his son. The team rose with a start at his words. “I am NOT going to be the one thrown down the mountain this time!” Jaime screamed in a panic. Father Garcia pulled Andrew’s father aside. “Is there a back exit that we could take to make a quiet escape?” Ambigo hurriedly grabbed their supplies and Simon stood protectively in front of Jaime. “Don’t worry. They’ll have to get past me to get to you, Jaime.”
Andrew’s father surveyed the alarmed team. “I don’t think you’re going to need to escape.” He opened the door and a crowd of people rushed in. Tad and Simon guarded Jaime and his precious eyes and braced themselves for the brunt of the crowd. The people flowed past them like a harmless rush of water and surrounded Ambigo, hugging him and pressing food, gifts and money into his hands. They were the friends and families of the divers that had been saved the previous night.
Lucio himself was among them, moving slowly for a man of his stature and age. He approached Ambigo and enclosed him with his strong, swimmer’s arms. “Thank you for saving my father. We would have lost him if you hadn’t crossed our path.” Ambigo shook his head, squirming in the embrace. “No, it wasn’t me. It was the woman on the shore. She was the one who knew what to do. She was the one with the blankets and the fire and the water.” Lucio whispered into his ear, still holding him in the hug, “Do you think she could have taken care of all of us on her own? My father would have been the diver that was lost last night. Instead, we all survived.”
Lucio released him and handed him over to other grateful family members. Ambigo’s skin crawled with the physical contact. After months walking to and back from Egypt without seeing more than a few people, it was a shock for him to encounter so many at once. He was eluded by that long awaited rest that Father Garcia and Simon had promised him. He spent the entire day, receiving grateful towns people, managing to eat a little of the food that was pressed upon him. He never managed to leave the house for more than a moment in order to relieve himself. He was brought back to the small room after each interlude and fell asleep that night, receiving grateful guests.
The next day, Ambigo awoke surrounded by food and gifts. Father Garcia and Tad had stayed with him the entire day, but the rest of the team joined Petros. “How is the woman… you know… um… Petros’ wife’s’ mother, I think?” Ambigo’s mouth tasted like the rotten meat they had mistakenly started eating right before they arrived in Wadjet. Father Garcia was clean and refreshed. “Get up, my boy. We’ll make you presentable and you can see how well she is yourself.”
Philip walked into the room. “Are you still asleep? You were the hero yesterday, but today, you’re just like the rest of us. Get up.” He gently kicked the bottoms of Ambigo’s feet. Ambigo sat cross-legged on the floor and reached his arms to the ceiling in a long, stretch. Philip picked through the gifts and food. “Where are they?” he mumbled to himself. “I thought you might be interested in… these…” He held up a pair of sandals. “One of the divers noticed that your feet were sorely in need.” Father Garcia laughed. “I hope they fit better than the ones I made for you.”
Ambigo eagerly reached for them, but Philip held them back. “You’re way too stinky to be putting these fine sandals on and I worry that you will never be good enough to wear this…” He held up a robe that was similar to the clothing that the divers wore. It was made of a finer cloth than the rough tunics that the team had gotten from Marit. Tad replied, “Ironically, after yesterday, we have more than enough money to buy you twenty pairs of sandals. Now that we have the money, you don’t need it.”
Philip carefully packed up the sandals and the robe. “Let’s get you washed. You smell like work and salt water.” Ambigo stood up and followed Philip to the bath house. Philip spoke to him in a quiet voice, “Remember how you told us that God would provide sandals for you just like he provides for the birds?” Ambigo sighed. “That’s not what I said, Philip.” Philip corrected himself, “I know, I know. ‘Humans are adaptable.’ You kept saying that we are strong and we can take care of ourselves and that we don’t need a God to take care of us. ‘Good thing, too, because there is no God to take care of us and every advancement that civilization has made has come from man’s ingenuity.’”
At some point, Philip’s voice changed and sounded like Ambigo’s didactic monologue on evolution. “But, really what you told us was that eventually God would provide for us. You just refuse to call it God. You call it ‘adaptation’ and ‘invention’ when really it’s a spark of divinity.” Ambigo entered the bath house and Philip followed him. The men were in various stages of dress, some sitting in the warm water, others leaving it. Philip kept speaking as Ambigo stood awkwardly, not knowing the proper etiquette. When he hesitated too long, Philip started undressing him, not even pausing to breathe.
“You talk about how creative man is and how many inventions that have helped us, but you cannot tell me how they got the ideas. You treat creativity like it’s a measurable phenomena, but you can’t tell me where it comes from. You say it is men that discover the workings of the universe, but you can’t tell me how. You skirt around the issue, but the fact of the matter is that God gives men the ideas. God tells them how to invent. God provided you with the sandals and decent clothing.” He held Ambigo’s tunic as if it were a dead and rotting animal. “You say that you do not believe in God, but I tell you that you do. You just call him by a different name.”
Philip pushed his naked and shivering body toward a tub. One of the men in the bath motioned for him to sit and joined the conversation. “There is a saying from the old Greek empire. ‘The gods help those who help themselves.’ Maybe your friend is more independent like the Greeks.” Ambigo sighed, “What I had been trying to tell him is that there are no gods. The act of helping ourselves may appear like the gods providing, but in the end, we provide for ourselves.” Philip handed him the soft lard soap. “What I’m saying is that God provided you with the sandals you so desperately needed.”
Ambigo took the soap and started washing vigorously. “God didn’t provide me with the sandals, one of the families of the divers did.” The man in the tub looked at Ambigo again. “You’re the healer that saved the divers?” Ambigo shook his head. “We just came upon them when they were suffering and took them to the woman who lives on the shore. She was the one who knew how to care for them.” The man laughed and jabbed him painfully in the shoulder. “Still it was impressive. When divers sickness strikes that many, we usually lose one or two. They say they lost none this time. From the talk about the town, you would think that you were a Greek god. I guess everyone looks humble when they’re naked, huh?”
Ambigo blushed and laughed with the man. Philip continued the argument. “The divers gave you the sandals because you saved their lives. God gave you the opportunity to save their lives.” Ambigo faced Philip and stared at him with stony silence. When he finally spoke, he commanded the attention of every bather in the room. “I refuse to believe in a god that would endanger the lives of so many for a pair of sandals. I would rather believe that there is no God. Those divers were the victims of cold water and surfacing too quickly. We will not discuss this any further.”
Philip blushed at the rebuke and stayed silent while Ambigo hurriedly washed. The happy banter of the bathers had dissipated and refused to resurface while the two of them were in the room. What was a warm and pleasant gathering earlier became an uncomfortable reprimand on them all. When Ambigo emerged clean from the tub, Philip wrapped him in the new robe. Ambigo strapped on the new sandals and they walked back to the house in silence. Every step that he took felt like a reprimand. He could almost hear the sandals talking to him with each step, “Divers… might… have… died…” The sandals had become tainted by the conversation.
When the two of them returned to Andrew’s home, Father Garcia greeted them warmly, “Welcome back! Doesn’t it feel good to be so clean?” He immediately noticed the somber mood between them. “What’s the matter? Was the bath house not to your liking?” He put his arms around Philip and Ambigo. Philip started to confess, but Ambigo stopped him, “Nothing’s wrong, Father. We just had a disagreement.” He removed himself from the priest’s touch and came to Philip’s other side.
“It’s alright, you know. We don’t have to agree. You can believe what you want and I can believe what I want and in the end, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to know that we’re still friends. Will you say you’re my friend, Philip?” Philip sighed. “Of course we’re still friends… I’m sorry… I just thought this whole thing would prove that God existed…” Father Garcia and Tad looked confused at their words, but stayed silent.
Ambigo nodded. “I know, Philip. To you, it probably seemed like proof. To me, it is a coincidence.” Philip muttered, “Just another word for God.” Ambigo rolled his eyes. “I know you feel that way, Philip. I feel differently and it’s okay. I still like you.” The two of them made a silent concurrence. They agreed to disagree.
“Let’s go to Petros’ home and check in on your patient, Ambigo.” The four of them nodded and they walked to the saint’s home. Simon greeted him at the door, his head shorn. “Hey! Look who’s here!” He roughly grabbed Ambigo and held him down while Jaime cut his hair. “We stayed with Marit and Armoni for 30 days and never thought to ask for a pair of shears! Time to make you less fuzzy!”
Ambigo laughed and giggled as they awkwardly cut his hair. They cut it so short that it didn’t matter that they did such a poor job. After they were finished, he ran his hand over the soft bristles on his head. Little bits of hair flew into the air and got into his eyes and mouth. “I believe it’s my turn now, boys. I’d prefer you don’t hold me down, however.” Father Garcia sat for his haircut. Simon joked with him. “The woman at the shore will be so disappointed!” Jaime stopped cutting and exclaimed, “Of course, this means we’re married now.” He appropriated the woman’s accent and continued cutting, “I reckon yer too old for me, but that’s alright wit’ me.”
Soon everyone was smooth headed. Jaime wiped his nose and signaled. “Alright Madi! It’s your turn! Get over here, girl!” Madi laughed and shook her head. “You’re not getting near me with those things. You all look like fools!” They all immediately put their hands to their heads in a brief moment of self consciousness. “Beautiful fools, but you’re still fools!” They smiled and laughed with her and an odd sense of camaraderie fell over them.
“This feels like home.” Simon said it with a sigh. Madi crinkled her brow and looked at Petros’ small house. It barely held them all. There were men sitting on chairs and the floors and the beds. “Home? Do you mean home, home or just it feels comfortable like a home?” Simon looked at her and chuckled at himself. “I guess I mean home home. You know… when we were all new recruits and they cut our hair…” Ambigo could tell that Simon was remembering something that none of them could reminisce with him about.
Petros pulled Ambigo toward the back room. “Come, see my mother-in-law.” Ambigo smiled and walked into the tiny room. The woman lay in the bed and Petros’ wife was at her side. She thanked him and stood up, motioning for him to sit. Ambigo took the seat next to the old woman and took her pulse. He looked to his wrist to time the beats, but there was no watch. He laughed at himself. He tried counting the pulse and counting out ten seconds at the same time and realized that he was completely unable to do it. In the end, he just felt her pulse. It felt neither fast nor slow and that was enough for him.
Her coloring was good. She still had a little fever. He asked her to lean forward and he placed his ear to her back. There was a slight rattle in her lungs when she breathed. “You stay in bed.” The old woman nodded. He turned toward Petros’ wife. “Come here and listen.” He showed her how to place her ear on the woman’s back. “Do you hear that wheeze?” He imitated the wheezing sound. She placed her ear on her mother’s back. The look of recognition overcame her face. “As long as her breathing sounds like that, she should stay in bed.”
He looked around the room. “We need to boil water and bring the pot into the room. When it stops steaming, take it back into the kitchen, bring it to a boil again and then bring it back in here. We should block off this doorway with a heavy blanket to keep the steam in this room.” She nodded and went to the kitchen to start the water boiling.
He told Petros. “She’s not completely healthy yet, but she will get better. The worst has passed.” Petros looked at him and pulled him aside. He took a big breath and it looked like he was going to talk, but he didn’t. He put his hands on his hips and then crossed them over his chest. Then he ran his hand over his shortly cropped head, rubbing it like someone would rub a Buddha belly. “I…” he started to say, but then he paused again. Ambigo patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay. I know that was scary, but the worst has passed. She’ll be alright.” Petros shook his head. “No…” Ambigo patted him again. “Yes, I’m pretty sure that she will do fine.”
Petros shook his head. “No, that’s not it…” He fidgeted again. “I’m…” He looked Ambigo in the eyes and took a big breath. “I’m sorry. I thought you were Roman spies and you were acting so weird…” He shrugged. “I just… I guess it’s hard for me to trust.” Ambigo smiled. “Oh, that… That’s ok.” He leaned closer to the man. “We DID act strangely. I don’t know what came over them when they tied you up. I… I’m sorry.” Petros looked at him. “You said you wouldn’t lie to me.” Ambigo shook his head. “I haven’t… I haven’t lied to you.”
Petros bobbed his head in a repetitious nod. “I know… Tell me… where are you from? Why do you keep your homeland a secret?” Ambigo sucked in a breath of air. “Petros…” he started, reprovingly, “Why? Why do you ask? What does it matter?” Petros nodded. “Yes? What does it matter?” Ambigo shook his head. “There is no way you could go there. There is no way you would have even heard of our homeland. There is no way I could take you there. There is no point in talking about it.”
A small panic overcame Petros. “How can a room full of dead people remind you of your homeland? How can a room full of men cutting each other’s hair remind Simon of his homeland? What kind of land do you come from where these things are common place? It must be a horrible territory to come from. If it is so distant that not even I have heard of it, how did you get here? You promised me…”
Ambigo stopped him. “I haven’t lied to you. I am a healer. Sometimes people die under my care. I would like to say that I could cure everyone, but I can’t. There is nothing I can do about it. Sometimes a lot of people die and I see every one of them. They pass through the doors of my employment. I’m sorry it was gruesome, but the Temple of Anubis DID remind me of home, but I am not like most people. Neither is Simon… I would think that you know that already.”
Ambigo put his hand on Petros’ shoulder. “Listen to me. Even if I tried to tell you where my homeland is, you wouldn’t understand.” Petros quipped back, pushing his hand off. “Try. I am not stupid. I understand all your ideas about the origin of man and how we could be here without the presence of a higher being. If I can understand all of this, can I not understand simple directions to your homeland? Just tell me. Is it east of here?” He looked to Ambigo for an answer.
The voices of his team members echoed in Ambigo’s head. “Duh, Ambigo. You can’t change history.” “Jesus! Didn’t you listen during the MULTIPLE non-contamination meetings?!” “I think we should tell them everything.” “I strongly recommend that we do not continue with this contamination.” “Do we tell them we’re from the future? NO!” All the voices argued with each other until Ambigo shook his head to clear them.
Petros mistook his head shake for an answer. “Ok, so is it south of here?” Ambigo put his hand on Petros’ shoulder again. “No, listen. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. I don’t even really know. The way we got here wasn’t explained fully to me.” Petros pushed his hand off and he whispered, “Weren’t you conscious? If you came from so far away, how do you know me? I am just a fisherman. I’ve traveled and I’ve seen many things, but I am still just a man. How do you know me if your land is so far and your language so strange?” Ambigo shut his eyes in frustration. “I can’t explain it to you.”
“Now, you are lying to me. I can tell by the look of your face that you are able to tell me but you choose not to.” Ambigo exhaled noisily and glanced at the old woman. She had fallen asleep despite their quiet disagreement. “Let’s ask Father Garcia.” Petros growled, “No! I am asking you! I know his answer. His answer is ‘I don’t want to contaminate you.’ As if the knowledge would dirty me somehow.” Ambigo folded his arms. “If that is Father Garcia’s answer, then that has to be my answer.” Petros shook his head. “Why? Why can’t you tell me? Why would the information soil me? Are you hunted? Do the Romans look for you?”
Ambigo shook his hands in Petros’ face. “Again with the Romans! What is this obsession with the Romans?” A guilty look swept across Petros’ face. He performed the same awkward movements that he had when they started the conversation. Finally, he whispered, “If you are hunted by the Romans…” He paused, making sure that Ambigo had his full attention. “…and… if they know I’ve associated with you, they will assume I know. They will torture me until I die because I can’t give them the information.”
Ambigo rolled his eyes. “The Romans don’t care about us, Petros.” His voice was tinged with irritation at the man. Petros folded his arms across his chest. “Yes…yes they do.”