Here is Chapter Twenty-Six:
Simon’s fever broke when the moon was highest in the sky. Ambigo fell asleep next to him after about an hour, safe in the knowledge that he would make it through the night. He awoke the next morning to Simon kicking his foot. “Wake up.” Ambigo sat up, confused at Simon’s energy. His coloring was good and he seemed completely unaffected by the previous night. “Lie down, Simon. We need to take it easy. I think we should go back to the shanty town. There’s shelter there, even though it’s rudimentary…”
Simon interrupted him, “That’s where we’re headed, Doc.” Ambigo gathered his belongings that had been thrown down in a rush before they pulled Simon into the lake. They had never set up camp properly and Simon was still wearing Ambigo’s extra tunic. Ambigo had fallen asleep in his wet robe. He gathered Simon’s discarded tunic from the night before and noticed that the fire had already been put out.
Father Garcia helped him gather his things. “We thought we would let you sleep for as long as we could…” his voice hushed to a whisper, “Simon seems to believe that your services will be needed quite desperately in the shanty town…” He paused and looked over his shoulder. “He’s rather insistent that we return. Nothing we could say could change his mind and in the end, we decided that it wasn’t worth arguing with him over it.” Ambigo hiked his pack over his shoulder and replied, “Whatever it takes to get him to a safe place.”
Simon led the team back to the shanty town at a quick pace. Ambigo stayed at the front of the group, watching his progress. For a man who had been crazy with fever the evening before, he looked remarkably well. Because of the problems with his sandals in the past, Ambigo had become accustomed to trailing the team. He now felt uncomfortable leading them, but he didn’t want Simon to get out of his sight. He felt like a German shepherd, wanting to circle around the back of the group to make sure no one was falling behind and returning to the front to make sure of Simon’s health. Instead, he walked in silence by Simon.
“Too many people,” Ambigo muttered in English under his breath. Simon nodded. “I can’t keep track of them all. All these saints look the same to me,” he whispered. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Philip, listening intently. Simon called to him in Aramaic, “You want to participate in this conversation?” Philip looked as if Simon had challenged him to a fight and blushed. “I was just trying to understand your language. It’s interesting to me.” Ambigo chuckled. “So, if I had said the same thing in your language, you would have ignored us?” Philip smiled, “Yes, probably.”
Philip caught up to them and flanked Simon’s other side. “I actually had a question for you, Dr. Thomas.” Ambigo looked past Simon. “Go ahead.” Philip looked at Simon and then back to Ambigo. “What was the significance of the baptism of Simon?” Ambigo looked from Philip’s face to Simon’s and then back to Philip’s. “Significance? Simon didn’t see John the Baptist.” Simon shook his head. Philip shook his head. “Last night you baptized Simon. Why did you do it? Why did it relieve him of the demon?”
Ambigo sighed loudly. He tried to think of a way to describe the concepts of infection and fever and hallucination in a manner that Philip’s mind could understand. “Simon was sick. His body temperature was too high and the water cooled him down.” Philip’s forehead crinkled in disbelief. Ambigo tried again. “There wasn’t a demon.” Philip shook his head. “He spoke like a madman.”
Simon stopped walking and interrupted their argument. He turned toward Philip, spitting the question into his face, “Have you ever heard an army of men launching a ground attack?” The eyes of the team were intently watching the exchange. Madi and Jaime quickly positioned themselves to film the interaction. Philip meekly replied, “No.” Simon pulled the man closer to him. “I have. These ears can hear danger miles before it catches up with me. I wasn’t filled with a demon last night. I heard the soldiers attacking the shanty town.” Father Garcia moved to Simon’s side, placing his hand on Simon’s and releasing his grip. “We discussed this earlier, Simon. That’s why we are returning to the shanty town. Philip, do you believe that it might be possible that Simon could hear things that you cannot?” Philip nodded eagerly.
“Then we are in agreement. Should we not continue?” Father Garcia started walking alongside Simon at the brisk pace that they had become accustomed to. Philip continued, “Father Garcia, what you say is law. Why did we baptize Simon last night?” Father Garcia calmly answered his question. “We didn’t baptize Simon last night. We put him in the water to cool him down. Baptism is a far more sacred act…”
Ambigo tuned out Father Garcia’s lesson on the sanctity of baptism. His mind focused on their destination and a ball of fear started winding itself in his stomach. He thought of the residents of the town and his feet instinctively moved faster underneath him. Simon picked up his pace to keep abreast of him. “Do you hear it?” Ambigo replied, “Hear what?” Simon broke into a run. “The crying.”
The rest of the team was stunned at the two of them, running toward the shanty town and hurried to catch up. After they had run a few hundred yards, Ambigo could hear it. “Simon! Stop!” Ambigo couldn’t breathe and Simon stopped, panting heavily. Ambigo panted out, “I can hear it! Are we safe? What if the soldiers are still there?” Simon shook his head. “The soldiers left hours ago. I’m sorry, Dr. Thomas, if you’ve never seen this before, you’re in for a shock.” He started running again and Ambigo rushed to keep up.
The makeshift gathering of tents that they had left yesterday was a shambles. Ambigo made a list in his mind of all the people Where are they? Where is the jovial master of ceremonies at the bonfires, the young man who cooked the meat, the horde of shy and covered women who eyed him warily, and the young girl who sold necklaces? Ambigo’s blood ran cold as he thought of the little girl. He had felt such pride when he saw that her arm was scar-free and healed of all signs of ring worm. Where was she? Where was her proud father? Where was her crazy uncle who was regularly tied down when he became unruly with his insanity? The living were begging to him and he scanned their faces.
The next few hours were a blur of treating the injured. Ambigo treated the superficial wounds of a woman as he watched Matthew and Bartholomew drag the body of the jovial master of ceremonies to the mass grave. He could hear the man urging him to sing and a chill ran down his spine. He returned his focus to the face of the woman. She would wear a scar, but she would live.
She spoke as he treated her wound, “Please, don’t cry, healer. I need you to be strong for me.” Ambigo wiped his tears off with his sleeve. “You need to keep this wound clean. I’m afraid you will have a large scar.” She sighed, holding back her tears. “This wound saved my life. It bled so much that they thought I was dead. I’ll gladly wear the scar.” Madi placed her hand on the woman’s arm and nodded, knowingly.
When the mob of injured had been treated, Ambigo hastily ran to the mass grave. He scanned the dead and made the tallies. There was the young man who cooked the meat and one of the shy and covered women. His stomach lurched at the sight of the father of the young girl who sold necklaces. Where was his daughter? Too many to number, Ambigo sat next to the crazy uncle’s body. Where is your niece?
Father Garcia approached Ambigo and placed his hand on his shoulder. “You are looking at the wrong people, my son. Try searching among the living.” Ambigo stood up. “They’re all dead, Father Garcia. They all died over two thousand years ago. I don’t know why I even tried to help. They’re all dead.” Father Garcia put his arm around him. “I don’t think you’ll talk like that when you see who survived.” Ambigo clenched his jaw and held back more tears.
He allowed Father Garcia to lead him to John the Baptist’s cave. Shivering from her recent bath in John’s underground spring, was the little girl that Ambigo had searched for. “When we found her, she was drenched in blood.” Philip explained, “It’s a miracle that she is alive.” The young girl shook her head while Ambigo hugged her, “No it wasn’t,” she whispered in his ear, “I hid under my uncle and stayed still. They thought I was dead, but I fooled them.” Ambigo looked at her and she continued, “One soldier stood on my foot and I stayed quiet.”
Ambigo hugged her again, “I don’t even know your name.” He inspected her foot and moved the joint around. “It was the other foot. My name is Martha.” Ambigo carefully moved her other foot. He could see the large red welt where the soldier had stepped on her. It would bruise, but the bone was solid. Ambigo looked to Phillip. “Does she know?” Philip crinkled his brow, “She hid under the body of her uncle all of last night and this morning. She must know.”
Ambigo took her by the shoulders. “Martha, your father and your uncle are dead.” She nodded. “Do you know what dead means?” She patted Ambigo like a child, “I know what dead means. My momma died.” Orphan. The word struck Ambigo in the face. He looked to Philip’s face and to Father Garcia. Injured, he could heal. Dead, he could bury. But orphaned, he was lost. All the terror and gore hit him full force and he broke down crying. Martha patted his head and hugged him with her thin arms. “There, there, healer.”
Simon approached them, “I suggest that we evacuate the survivors as soon as we are able to bury the dead. This area is not safe.” Father Garcia nodded. Simon continued, “We could use your help digging the graves.” His eyes flitted to Ambigo, who struggled to hold in the hysteria he felt at the mayhem. Simon lifted him up. “Sorry you had to see this. You thought that earthquake was bad. Natural disasters are nothing compared to what men can do to each other. Help me dig. The exercise will help calm you.”
It was twilight by the time they returned to the road toward the man who heals cripples. They lead the band of refuges from the shanty town toward the safe haven of the lake behind the swell. It was slow going because there were so many injured and when they finally reached the lake, they collapsed, tired and hungry.
“Tad, how are our supplies?” Father Garcia exhaustedly called to Father Judean, “We’re going to have to feed these people. What do we have?” Tad’s rosy complexion lost all of its color as he looked into his satchel. He stayed silent and closed up the satchel looking straight ahead. Father Garcia chided him, “I know we don’t have much. Just tell me what we have.” The priest looked up and took the satchel off his shoulders. “We have plenty of money, but there’s no place to buy food here. Maybe we should continue to the next town.”
Simon stood up and shook his head. “The next town is more than a day’s walk from here. We have a half-day’s walk until we near Marit’s home, but she couldn’t feed all of these people. Just give me the food. We’ll make it work.” Tad handed the satchel to Simon. He looked into the bag and became pale. He sat roughly on the floor. He held the bag toward Father Garcia, but Madi intercepted it, “What’s the fuss about? What could possibly be in there?” Madi reached in and pulled out the contents. There were five loaves of bread and three dried fish.
She stared at them and then looked at the crowd of hungry and injured people. She looked to Father Garcia. Ambigo saw nothing to be surprised by, “That looks about right. I saw you pack before the trip and it has been a couple of days since then. I’m surprised we have that much. What’s the matter with you people?” Matthew swatted him on the shoulder, “It’s not enough to feed the multitude.” They shook their heads. Father Garcia seemed determined, “No, it will be enough.”
Petros scoffed. “Are you kidding? There must be at least a thousand of them.” One of the Thunder Brothers punched him in the arm, “Petros, you’re as dumb as a rock. There are not more than a hundred.” Simon nodded, “I counted. There are eighty-four, including us.” Philip asked, “How are we to feed them with five loaves of bread and three fish?” Father Garcia stood up and took the food from Madi’s hands. “Let us bless the meal. It will be enough.” James started to argue, but Petros silenced him with one glaring look.
Father Garcia blessed the bread and broke it into twelve equal pieces. He tore the fish into twelve equal pieces. He distributed the baskets. “Have the people break up into family units. It will be enough, I assure you.” Each of them looked at their basket. John and James said in unison, “This isn’t enough.” Simon pulled John’s hair and whispered into his ear, “If Father Garcia says it will be enough, then it will be enough. Got it?” Philip looked at the interaction and started toward a family group.
Ambigo held his basket in his hands. It held the tail portion of a fish and a crust of bread. He broke the crust into several pieces, hoping it would go further. Madi put her hand on the crook of his arm. “We can’t change history, Dr. Thomas. I promise you it will be enough.” He looked into her steely eyes. Once again he noticed how dry and small they appeared. She walked with him as he approached the first family. Madi explained, “We don’t have much, but we will share what we have. Please take what you need.”
The woman took a small crust of the bread. “We have some food to share.” She placed some fruit and dried meat in the basket. Ambigo’s basket was returned to him heavier. He turned to Madi and smiled. At each grouping, the family took some and gave some and when they returned to Father Garcia, there was food enough for the team.
Philip returned, his basket overflowing with food. “It’s a miracle. Each family was willing to share what they had.” He turned to Father Garcia, handing him his basket. “You fed a thousand people with five loaves of bread and three fish.” Father Garcia shook his head. “I always wondered how he did it.”
That evening, Ambigo slept uneasy. His stomach was full, but a nagging memory from his childhood nibbled at the back of his mind. Loaves and Fishes. He had done some volunteer work for Loaves and Fishes. He washed the dishes while his church group fed the homeless. He brushed the memory away, but it still swirled until he realized the significance. He sat up in cold sweat. “Lie down, Dr. Thomas.” Simon called from his bundle. “Five loaves of bread and three fishes.” Jaime called to him, “Yeah, we all caught it when Madi pulled them out of the bag.” Philip called out in the night to him, “You participated in a miracle, today, Dr. Thomas. Do you still denounce God?”
Madi sat up, upsetting Martha, who had fallen asleep next to her. “That was NOT a miracle, Philip, and that was NOT five thousand.” One of the Thunder Brothers stretched and threw a small rock at her, missing her, but hitting Father Garcia in the head. “No one said it was five thousand. Go to sleep.” Father Garcia sat up and Madi begged him, “Tell them, Father Garcia. That was not a miracle.” Father Garcia sighed sleepily. “Let’s ask Dr. Thomas what he thinks. If he thinks it was a miracle, then it was.”
Ambigo was swimming in catechism memories of Jesus and the loaves and fishes. Jesus had fed five thousand on five loaves of bread and three fish. As a child, it had made perfect sense to him. Five loaves, five thousand. The fishes were just extra. He had no concept of five thousand faces as a child. Even now, he couldn’t imagine what five thousand faces would look like.
The entire team watched him intently, waiting for an answer. Philip scoffed, “What would it take for you to believe in God? Even this is not enough?” Had he witnessed a miracle today? With all the gore he had seen, he could not say it. How could he tell them that this was not a miracle? “I believe what we saw is the goodness of man. I guess there are miracles within us, just waiting to come out if we are just willing to let them.” He saw Madi nod angrily in the dark and lie back down, waking Martha again.
He added, “After seeing the evil that man can inflict on each other this morning, it was…” he didn’t have a word for it. He struggled with his thoughts. “I’m just glad to see that people can be good as well as evil.” Father Garcia concluded, “Then it is decided. What we experienced today was not a miracle. It was the goodness of man.” Madi added her final words for the evening, “Not a miracle, do you understand, Philip?”
It had become so dark that Philip was just a voice among them, “I’m beginning to believe that nothing could convince Dr. Thomas.” Ambigo shivered and blamed it on the cold. Martha left Madi and put her arm around him. “There, there, healer.”