Eight by Pete Brammer

A canoe paddled by natives headed through mangroves and giant water lilies, towards the village of Puntagalula deep in the Amazon jungle. Here, Father Percy Whitaker would be taking up his ministerial work with the missionaries and two nuns. He had left his parish over a week ago. A parish in Devon that he simply adored. But God had called him, and Gods will must be done. He was twenty four, single and devoted to his calling, so it wasn’t too difficult to leave behind, all the friends he had made.

Housekeeper, Mrs Blades cried as she had handed him a leather shopping bag. Here Father, I have packed you some treats for your journey. I know you are bound to get peckish and love my baking and homemade lemonade. The bag may also come in handy for picking bananas or maybe coconuts and things that grow there. Even though there are no shops where you are going you could need a bag”. She wiped away a tear with the bottom of her apron. “I wish you didn’t have to leave us. You will take care, won’t you?”

“I will do my best I can assure you”.

“Please keep in touch, we will all miss you”.

“Thank you Mrs Blades, you have been very good to me. I don’t know how I would have managed without you”. He placed a kiss on her forehead. “I hope you will be as good and kind to my successor”.

“You know I will” she assured him.

Everyone had come out that day, in the little village of Waldercombe to wave the taxi goodbye. Percy looked through the rear window sadly waving back. “There is no turning back now” he thought, as a lump came up in his throat. His heart was heavy, but he was looking forward to the challenge ahead. As soon as they were out of sight, he settled down to read the Daily Express and later take a stab at the crossword.

“Where are we going father?”. The taxi driver had enquired.

“I’m going to the Amazon in Brazil. A village called Puntagalula in the heart of the jungle”.

“I wish you luck my friend. I am told there are fish that can strip the flesh off a man in a matter of minutes. They also say there are also enormous snakes called Anacondas, big enough to swallow a man whole” he shuddered. “Rather you than me”.

“The good Lord will protect me” laughed Percy.

“I hope for your sake you are right and that he is not at lunch when you are in need of his help”.

“We are all Gods children my friend”.

“If that is so father, then why did Jesus always receive preferential treatment?’

Percy could see he was being drawn. “You call it preferential treatment to be nailed to a cross?”

“What kind of father would have his own son deliberately nailed on a cross?”.

Percy refused to continue the discussion, going back to his crossword.

Arriving at the docks in Dover, he paid the taxi fare as the driver struggled with the cases.

“There you go father. Have a good trip and don’t get eaten”.

Percy waved.

“I’ll try not to and thank you”.

Clearing Customs, he headed for the ship that would transport him to Brazil. It had just unloaded a cargo of wood and was returning with machinery and mixed goods. Once on board, he was shown to his cabin that he shared with a Filipino sailor, who was also the ships fitter. It was a pokey room with a double bunk and smelled of machine oil. Reminding him of the garage where he took his Ford Anglia.

“Home sweet home”. He said to himself. “The village over there can’t be any worse than this”.

Their first port of call had been Funchal in Madeira, where two more passengers came aboard, along with more provisions. Then it was on to Mindelo in Cape Verde. Here they met up with another ship that had seen better days. Things were exchanged.

“I wonder if that is all legal and above board. They certainly look very devious”, he wondered. “Now come on Percy, a man of the cloth having such thoughts about your fellow man. Shame on you”.

One overnight stay in port, then it was on to Macapa in Brazil, on the Amazon. From Macapa they travelled further up rive to Santarem and Boca Do Valeria, where he alighted to join Indians from Puntagalula ready to transport him in a canoe to their little native village.

Arriving at the village he found the houses were all built on stilts at the river’s edge. A welcoming party, ( or to be more truthful, the whole village ) had turned out to greet him. They were covered in wonderful headdresses and carrying bows and arrows.

“Welcome to Puntagalula Father Whitaker. I am Sister Florence and this is Sister Margarate. We have been here for upwards of nine years”. A few words to the natives and his bags were quickly picked up. “They will take them to your hut. It isn’t very big, but it is quite comfortable”.

“I’m sure it will be Sister”.

Percy noticed the large wooden cross on the front facing wall of a white painted building.

“Ah, so that will be our church?”.

“Yes Father” said Sister Florence. “I will show you round”.

The coolness inside the church came as a blessing after the oppressive humid heat outside.

“Allow me to introduce you to Ambladela”. The sister held out a hand to a very pretty native girl. “Come here Ambladela. This is Father Whitaker. He has taken over from Father Dyson” looking back to Percy. “She is quite fluent in English. A very clever young lady. Ambladela will care for all your needs while you are here Father.” turning back. “You may go now young lady and get on with your chores”.

“It is very sad really. Believe it or not, she has seven children, darling little souls they are too”. She looked very thoughtful. “Her husband went into the jungle looking for monkeys for food, and never returned. We think he must have gone too far into the jungle to be killed by another tribe.” she sighed. “Unfortunately these things do happen. At the end of the day, they are still savages. That is why we are here” she smiled. “It is our duty to educate them into the ways of the Lord”.

“Alleluia” came the voice of Sister Margaret standing in the doorway. “Savages or not, they are all God’s children and we must bring them into his loving fold”.

“Thank you Sister Margaret. Would you be so kind as to show Father Whitaker to his quarters please” then turning back to Percy. “You will have to excuse me Father, but I have other things to attend to”.

“Of course Sister Florence. I’m sure Sister Margaret will look after me”. Sister Margaret blushed a little as she bowed her head. “I will show you to your hut, if I may. Please follow me”

Turning to the door, she glided out like a feather in the breeze. Percy’s hut was a bit cramped, but he could see it would be comfortable. It contained a rough wooden table, a couple of chairs, a blistered cupboard and a hammock that had seen better days.

“I have never slept in a hammock before Sister. I hope I don’t sleepwalk. That would pose a problem, wouldn’t it?”

Sister Margaret blushed again. “It surely would Father” with a slight bow. “If you will excuse me Father, I must take my leave to assist Sister Florence over at the School”.

“Thank you. You have been very kind. I’m sure I will manage”.

After unpacking, he ambled over to the school. Entering the classroom, around thirty children turned their gaze towards him. Immediately he was struck by their dark brown eyes and beautiful smiles showing brilliant white teeth.

Sister Florence tapped her table with a stick. “Children, this is Father Whitaker. Jesus has sent him to us. Let him see how hard you can work” turning to face Percy. “Would you care to address them Father?”.

“Thank you Sister”.

As he spoke to the class he was aware that all eyes were open wide and fixed firmly on him, with hardly so much as a blink.

That night a party had been arranged by the village elders. The chief sat high up on a throne in a truly magnificent headdress. In one hand he held a long spear, whilst in the other, a highly decorated shield. Some sort of wild animal roasted over a fire on a spit. A table decorated with leaves and grasses was covered with various fruits of the jungle, along with several bowls of coloured drinks. White rice looking balls were eaten with everything, as were round pieces of flat bread cooked on a large round metal plate.

Percy thought the meat tasted very similar to pork, but decided not to enquire as to what it was. The fruit tasted delicious. Fruit he had never seen before, let alone tasted. But some of the drinks left a lot to be desired, leaving a nasty after-taste on the palate. Again he refrained from asking as to their origins, not wishing to know at this moment in time.

Dancing went on long into the night, around the camp fire, with much drink being consumed. At times the dust kicked up from their stamping feet left quite a haze throughout the village.

“At least they won’t have white laundered sheets to be worried over”. Percy thought.

Ambladela entered his cabin the following morning to tie back the window blinds.

“Good morning Amb…Amb…I’m so sorry I have forgotten your name dear”.

“It is alright. My name is Ambladela. I will write it down for you” she gave him a lovely warm smile. “Would you like me to fetch you some food please? I always fetched it for Father Dyson before he left us, because he could not walk very far”.

“No, that’s alright I wish to mix with everyone. That is how I can get to know you all”.

“That very good Father. I not mind”.

“Tell me Ambladela, what happened to Father Dyson? I have heard many stories about him”.

“The father been swimming in the river. Little fish, it manage to go into his body. It lay some eggs and father, he take very sick and die”.

“Where is he now?”

Father Dyson, we bury him behind village school. I take you. You would like?”.

“Yes. I would like that very much, Ambladela. Thank you”.

Percy stood over the resting place of his predecessor. A long mound of soil surrounded by round smooth boulders. A wooden cross stood at one end with a bouquet of wild flowers at its base.

“Father Dyson was a very tall man, wasn’t he?”

“Oh yes. He very big man. Carry children on shoulders. Very sad” she began to cry.

Percy put his arms around her in an effort to give comfort, pulling her close to him, their eyes met. He wiped away her tears and smiled. Then in a mad moment of passion their lips met. He had never experienced those feelings before, but liked them.

Gripping his hand she led him into the edge of the jungle. Percy found he was unable to resist. Moments later they emerged back into the clearing. He was now a more enlightened and happier man.

Whispers began finding their way through the village and eventually reached the ears of Sister Florence. Being the strict sister she was, word quickly found its way back to England and Father Whitaker was therefore quickly ordered back home. Once home, he was summoned to attend a disciplinary meeting where he was excommunicated, leaving the church in disgrace.

“God” he thought “I’d only been there just over a day, and succumbed to temptation. How stupid could I have been?”

For the next seventeen years he worked for an advertising firm in Bristol – A & G ARTFORM LTD.

The staff were aware that he once was a man of the cloth, and as such, religious quips were made in his presence, such as;

“Say a prayer for me Father” whenever he kneeled down. Percy took them in his stride, trying to live a normal life. It was hard, but he had little choice.

One day the managing director, Mr. Gordon., one half of Anderton and Gordon, summoned him to his office. “You sent for me sir?”

“Yes, Whitaker. I believe you have visited Brazil”.

“That’s right, but only for a short while”.

“Good that will suffice. We have a young lady starting with us today. She is at present down in reception. This lady originates from Brazil, and I would like you to take her under your wing and show her the ropes”.

“No problem Mr. Gordon. I will put her right”.

“Good. That will be all”.

Percy returned to his desk to work on an advertisement for Virgin Atlantic Airways. He had met Richard Branson who had been very particular regarding the artwork and colours. This was an extremely important contract for the company. He really could have done without having to wet nurse this new starter, but when Gordon gave an order it had to be obeyed. Anderton wasn’t such a stickler. One could offer one’s ideas to him, and he would listen. Maybe not accept them, bet at least he would listen.

Suddenly all talking ceased in the office as a beautiful tanned skinned youg lady entered the room.

“I am looking for Mr. Whitaker. My name is Capitula”.

Maurice Dinsdale, one of the designers pointed towards Percy. “He’s over there luv. That’s the Bishop”. Capitula made her way through the desks and tables towards Whitaker. All eyes followed her every move. She had a figure to die for.

“Mr. Gordon said I had to report to you, Mr Whitaker”.

Once Percy had shown her what the job entailed and taken her around the works, they ended up in the canteen. Over a cup if coffee Capitula asked him why they called him ‘Bishop’.

“Oh it’s a long story. I was once a priest and spent time with a tribe up the Amazon. That’s why Gordon chose me to show you the ropes”.

“Where on the Amazon did the tribe come from?”.

“I don’t suppose you will have heard of the village. It was called Puntagalula”.

“Puntagalula?” she cried. “I originate from Puntagalula. That was my birthplace”.

Percy went cold as if someone had walked over his grave. Now he could for the first time, see Amblabela in this young girls pretty face.

Nervous;ly he asked. “Your mother wouldn’t be called Amblabela by any chance , would she?”. “Why yes it was. My mother, she died in childbirth when I was born. You knew my mother?”

Before he had time to answer, her eyes became so wide, they almost popped out of their sockets. “You…You…You are my father aren’t you? You are the priest the nuns told me about, aren’t you?”.

Percy began to cry. “Yes I’m afraid I am dear. I am so sorry to hear that your mother has died. I loved her very, very much. Capitula grasped his hands.

“Please don’t cry. I have longed so much to know who my father was, and now with Gods help, we have been brought together. I never thought it possible”.

“You are so like your mother. She was beautiful. Very beautiful”

“The nuns gave me my name. It means ‘Eight’. I was my mother’s number child eight.”

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